Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston warned that the UK needs to be prepared with future conflicts “won or lost” in space.
He claimed that Russia and China were both involved in “questionable” activity like flying their satellites too close on a day by day basis, and the UK needs to protect its interests in space.
The £1.4billion Space Command HQ is aimed at preventing attacks 60 miles above Earth, with Russia and China considered the main threats, and it is another layer to the UK Armed Forces.
The Air chief told The Telegraph: “A future conflict may not start in space, but I’m in no doubt that it will come very quickly to space, and it may well be won or lost in space.
“If we don’t think, and prepare for that today, then we won’t be ready when the time comes.”
Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, head of Britain’s Strategic Command, also pointed out the importance of satellites and their “critical capabilities” for the military as well as for people’s everyday life.
The Ministry of Defence has said that attacks on UK property could have a massive impact on defence and the overall economy.
It comes following a Pentagon report earlier this month which said that the chance that nuclear weapons will be used in a regional or global conflict have increased.
The 67-page report, titled “Joint Nuclear Operations” says that while the US has tried to “reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons, others, including Russia and China, have moved in the opposite direction
In previous years, China insisted that its posture was “minimum deterrence.” It possessed about 200 nuclear warheads, far fewer than the thousands maintained by the United States and Russia. China eschewed keeping missiles on launch-ready alert like the United States and Russia. By all accounts, China poured resources into modernizing conventional or nonnuclear forces. Before the latest disclosures, China had about 100 land-based ICBMsdivided among 20 or so silos, with the rest on mobile launchers.
But China’s nuclear ambitions are rising. Matt Korda and Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists discovered the new missile silo field with satellite imagery from Planet Labs. They found identical domed structures sitting atop silos under construction as were evident at Yumen and at Jilantai, a training site at Inner Mongolia. All told, they say, China now has 250 silos under construction, “the most significant expansion of the Chinese nuclear arsenal ever.” They add, “The number of new Chinese silos under construction exceeds the number of silo-based ICBMs operated by Russia, and constitutes more than half of the size of the entire US ICBM force.” China’s effort is “the most extensive” since U.S. and Soviet missile silo construction during the Cold War, they note.
When the first new field appeared, speculation arose that China might be playing a shell game, moving a few missiles among many silos. But the discovery of a second field throws this theory into doubt. The second field is unsettling evidence of a major Chinese nuclear weapons expansion, which Adm. Charles Richard, head of U.S. Strategic Command, warned of in testimony to Congress in April.
China already is aiming at creating a land-sea-air triad like those of Russia and the United States, and soon it will have the capability of multiple, independently targetable reentry vehicles, or MIRVs. Adm. Richard said China has “moved a portion of its nuclear force to a Launch on Warning (LOW) posture and [is] adopting a limited ‘high alert duty’ strategy.”
An unanswered question is what China thinks it will gain by vaulting to a nuclear posture closer to that of the United States and Russia. The response by the United States and the West is either more nuclear weapons — a new arms race — or nuclear arms control, in which China has not shown much interest. The new missile silos are an ominous sign of a growing challenge, made even more vexing by the other tensions between Washington and Beijing.
The apparent growth of China’s ICBM force has received international attention in recent weeks.
That growth is only one facet of China’s rapid and ongoing military expansion.
That expansion worries China’s neighbors, which are now expanding their own missile arsenals.
Recent reports based on satellite imagery show that China is building as many as 230 new silos to hold intercontinental ballistic missiles that could deliver nuclear warheads as far away as the US.
The construction may indicate a massive expansion of those capabilities and would be the latest chapter in China’s meteoric military growth, which, along with Beijing’s aggressive actions in places like the South China Sea, has already sparked a different kind of missile race.
Countries in the Indo-Pacific region are acquiring or expanding their own arsenals of long-range missiles, largely with China in mind. Those missiles are conventionally armed but also have offensive capability.
“In response to China’s past and recent rapid expansion of missile capabilities, there is indeed a missile race ongoing in the Indo-Pacific,” said Patrick Cronin, the Asia-Pacific Security chair at the Hudson Institute think tank.
Those countries — Cronin cited South Korea and “the Quad” of India, Japan, Australia, and the US — see the threat China poses differently, but the cumulative effect is clear. “It’s a full acceleration of a missile race, frankly,” Cronin told Insider.
China’s military, particularly its navy and air force, is now one of the largest in the world and is developing the capability to conduct and sustain long-range operations.
The missiles that China is fielding, particularly the DF-21 and DF-26, also erode the physical buffer that countries like Australia and the US have long seen as an advantage.
“The tyranny of distance is no longer quite as tyrannical. It’s not so distant either,” Cronin said. “So all of these countries have to start filling in their own offensive capabilities.”
US allies in the region, particularly Japan and South Korea, were long able to rely on the US military for their defense, but uncertainty over the US’s commitment has prompted them to bolster and diversify their own firepower.
“The US has, over time, both demonstrated a great ability to defend allies but also occasional lapses to follow-through,” Cronin said. “It’s entirely possible that these countries don’t want to rely exclusively on the US. They want to hedge their bets.”
Worried about Chinese activity in its waters, Japan is increasing the range of its Type 12 anti-ship cruise missiles from about 200 km to 900 km, with the eventual goal of 1,000 km. Tokyo is also putting Type 12s and anti-aircraft batteries in the Ryukyu Islands, which sit between Japan and Taiwan.
Japan has plans for two hypersonic weapons: the Hypersonic Cruise Missile and the Hyper Velocity Gliding Projectile. The HVGP is expected to have a range of about 500 km and a warhead designed to penetrate the decks of aircraft carriers. Tokyo hopes to deploy it by 2026.
Australia is pursuing a military buildupas it moves into what Prime Minister Scott Morrison last year called “a new and less benign strategic area” amid competition in the region. Morrison said Australia will expand its plans to acquire long-range maritime and land strike capabilities.
In July, South Korea successfully testeda sub-launched ballistic missile for the first time, firing it from an underwear barge. The missile, believed to be a Hyunmoo-2B, is reported to have a range of 500 km and will likely be fitted on future Dosan Ahn Chang Ho-classsubmarines.
Following the US’s recent agreement to lift restrictions that limited South Korea’s missiles to a range of 800 km, Seoul can now build longer-range missiles.
This missile proliferation isn’t limited to the major Indo-Pacific powers.
by David Albright and Sarah Burkhard Institute for Science and International Security Press, 2021, 502 pp., $93.90/$7.99 e-book
This new book by experts David Albright – a former senior weapons inspector in Iraq – and Sarah Burkhard from the Institute for Science and International Security, is an important eye-opener.
Albright and Burkhard were granted unprecedented access to documents from Iran’s secret nuclear archive, seized by Israel from Teheran in early 2018. They also talked to Israeli officials and others familiar with the archive.
This book is a collection of reports published on their Institute’s website, with added necessary context and conclusions. It is not an easy read, loaded with technical terms and details – but the result is astounding. Several important facts stand out after reading it:
Fact one: Khomeini gave the order
The regime in Teheran fears internal dissent and seeks immunity from external threats. These fears are not irrational, based on the trauma of past foreign interventions from Russia, the US and UK (such as the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953) and the war with Iraq (1980-88).
The decision to “reactivate the nuclear program” was taken by the leader of the Islamic Revolution, Supreme Leader Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini in April 1984. Quoting an internal IAEA report, Albright and Burkhard reveal that, following Khomeini’s decision, then President of Iran Ali Khamenei (who is now the Supreme Leader), told the regime’s top echelon that acquiring atomic bombs was:
Khamenei’s words rebut Iranian claims that a never-published fatwa (religious decree) by Khamenei has forbidden building nuclear weapons as un-Islamic, supposedly proving the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program.
Fact two: Iran knows how to produce a home-made bomb
The amount of resources devoted to this plan, to keep it going and secret, was staggering. This includes assistance from foreign experts including Russians, Pakistan’s nuclear proliferator AQ Khan and others, materials and equipment procured abroad, and participation of various government bodies and ministries – from defence to intelligence and customs.
Factories were constructed across Iran for producing fissile materials. The Al-Ghadir plant was built in the early 2000s to enrich enough uranium to military-grade for one or two nuclear weapons per year. Testing, research and development of key elements of the project were conducted in other locations, such as Parchin, where high explosives for the warhead were tested.
Eventually, Albright and Burkhard note, Teheran developed “in house capability to understand and design a miniaturized nuclear warhead”, and to analyse and test it. By 2003, the Iranian warhead prototype design was small enough to fit the nose cone of the re-entry vehicle of Iran’s Shahab-3 ballistic missiles.
From Iran’s Nuclear Archive: Schematics of a nuclear warhead in a Shahab-3 re-entry vehicle, May 17, 2019 (Source: ISIS report)
Fact three: The “peaceful” civilian nuclear program IS the weapons program, rebranded
Teheran had to change its strategy after being caught in 2002, when opposition groups exposed the secret uranium enrichment plant at Natanz.
Archive documents show that Amad was not dismantled in 2003, but instead rebranded. The already existing weapons-related sites were put under the authority of the ‘civilian’ Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI), and the whole program marketed as a ‘peaceful’ one for energy and scientific purposes. The regime cynically claimed that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which was bluntly violated by the Amad plan, gave Iran an “undisputed” right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
For instance, after the Al-Ghadir plant was uncovered in September 2009, it was renamed Fordow and is now run by the AEOI.
Part of the price of making its nuclear program public, explain Albright and Burkhard, was that “sites would be subjected to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitoring or inspections to defuse international condemnation.” A whole culture of fraud regarding this monitoring followed. The archive contains carefully organised files on methods for deceiving IAEA inspectors, with records up until 2006.
It should be noted that Iran’s nuclear program is not viable as a ‘civilian’ one. The “commercial centrifuge program is a failure; any other country would have cancelled it by now if it were judged solely on economic, civilian grounds”, explain Albright and Burkhard.
Fact four: The JCPOA enabled Amad to continue
To address the Iranian threat, then-US President Barack Obama chose engagement. Together with the EU, China and Russia he devised the 2015 nuclear deal, termed the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA). The agreement was a trade-off: Iran’s nuclear program was given a stamp of approval in exchange for temporary limitations on fissile material production capabilities, as well as invasive monitoring.
The aim of the JCPOA was to appease Supreme Leader Khamenei so he would be convinced not to order a breakout towards the bomb, at least in the short term. This was a sweet deal for the ayatollahs – they received increased regime sustainability through an easing of sanctions which released billions of dollars into Teheran’s coffers. That money was quickly funnelled to Iran’s terrorist proxies across the region, oppression of the Iranian people, corruption, and criminal activities. A special sweetener within the JCPOA was the sunset clauses, which gradually remove almost all limitations on Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities beginning in 2025.
Another carrot was effectively forcing the IAEA to stop investigating “Possible Military Dimensions” (PMD) of Iran’s program after an inconclusive and unconvincing “final” report on PMD in early 2016. This meant Teheran enjoyed impunity for past sins and was effectively able to continue concealed warhead development activities without scrutiny.
Teheran nonetheless violated the JCPOA from day one. Keeping the archive that documented Amad – the recipe book for cooking up an atomic bomb – without revealing it to the IAEA was the gravest breach.
Meanwhile, work on refining a nuclear warhead also continued after 2003, clandestinely and under academic cover. Former Amad project head Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was in charge of this effort until he was killed in late 2020.
In addition, Teheran continued its development of the means to deploy weapons of mass destruction on ballistic missiles. The JCPOA ignored this aspect of Amad and implicitly accepted Teheran’s narrative that these missiles were part of country’s legitimate defence strategy. However, Iran is the only nation in history to develop a 2,000 km-plus range missile without first developing a declared nuclear weapons capability – exposing the real aim of Teheran’s missile program.
Conclusion: Engagement failed
Findings from the archive seized by Israel were an important factor leading to then-US President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the JCPOA in May 2018.
Trump then initiated a “maximum pressure” policy on Teheran by reinstating pre-JCPOA sanctions and imposing new ones. The impact was dramatic – Iran’s economy shrank considerably and its foreign exchange reserves fell from US$122 billion in 2018 to a mere US$4 billion by the end of 2020.
Teheran responded by gradually and carefully escalating its JCPOA breaches, slowly restarting the fissile materials arm of Amad. It did not however ‘race’ for the bomb, deterred by the possibility that Trump would be re-elected in 2020 and the pressure on Iran would increase.
When Joe Biden was elected President in 2020, he fulfilled a campaign promise and quickly launched (indirect) negotiations on a US re-entry to the JCPOA.
The ayatollahs repaid Biden for his eagerness to engage with a vastly accelerated rate of JCPOA breaches.
Armed with a renewed sense of confidence after surviving Trump’s campaign, the regime has now effectively abandoned any pretence that it seeks civilian nuclear capabilities. Instead, many Iranian steps can only be explained in connection with bombmaking, such as the production of enriched uranium metal, usable only for the core of a nuclear weapon, and enriching uranium to 60% – almost military-grade. Teheran also aggressively undermined supervision of its program by increasing harassment of IAEA inspectors and removing electronic monitoring devices from sites.
Today, Iran is only a whisker away from achieving the strategically crucial status of nuclear threshold state. The archive documents, as analysed by Albright and Burkhard, tell the story of how Teheran got there, and how the international community fumbled its efforts to stop one of the world’s most dangerous regimes.
Dr. Ran Porat is an AIJAC Research Associate. He is also a Research Associate at the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation at Monash University, a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya and a Research Associate at the Future Directions International Research Institute, Western Australia.
JEDDAH: Iran claimed on Wednesday that it had the ability to enrich fissile uranium to 90 percent purity — the level required to build the core of a nuclear weapon.
“Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization can enrich uranium by 20 percent and 60 percent and if … our reactors need it, it can enrich uranium to 90 percent purity,” President Hassan Rouhani told a Cabinet meeting in Tehran.
The outgoing president, who leaves office next month, also blamed hard-liners in the ruling theocracy for the failure so far to negotiate a revived Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the 2015 deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
“They took away the opportunity to reach an agreement from this government. We deeply regret missing this opportunity,” Rouhani said. “We are very sorry that nearly six months of opportunity has been lost.”
The JCPOA collapsed in 2018 when the US pulled out and President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
Tehran responded by incrementally breaching its obligations under the terms of the deal, increasing its stocks of enriched uranium and levels of enrichment, which the agreement caps at 3.67 percent.
Indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington aimed at reviving the deal have been taking place in Vienna, where the sixth round of talks adjourned on June 20.
No resumption has yet been scheduled, and Iranian and Western officials have said significant gaps remain to be resolved.
Iranian officials said Ebrahim Raisi, the incoming president, planned to adopt “a harder line” in the talks, and the next round of talks might not take place until late September or early October.
Members of Iran’s nuclear team could be replaced with hard-line officials, but top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi would stay “at least for a while,” they said.
One official said Raisi planned to show “less flexibility and demand more concessions” from Washington, such as keeping a chain of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in place and insisting on the removal of US sanctions related to human rights and terrorism.
Two US Air Force C-130J Super Hercules from the 37th Airlift Squadron landed in Israel last week with equipment and troops from US Air Forces in Europe and Air Force Africa Airmen and ended on Tuesday.
Juniper Falcon focused on scenarios that would see the deployment of US forces in Israel under fire during conflict and saw troops train in several locations across the country.
According to a statement released by EUCOM, the drill, “ serves as an opportunity for US military personnel and the IDF to exercise together and learn from one another” and “represents another step in the deliberate and strategic relationship between the US and Israel and contributes to overall regional stability.”
During the drill Lt.-Gen. Steven L. Basham, Deputy Commander of US Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa came to Israel and met with senior IDF officials including the head of the Operation’s Division Brig.-Gen. Oded Basiok, the Head of the IAF Maj.-Gen. Amikam Norkin and the Commander of the Air Defense Division Brig.-Gen. Gilad Biran.According to the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit, the officers discussed the fighting between Israel and Hamas in May and the conclusions the military came to following the fighting “with the aim of learning and deepening Israeli-American cooperation.”
The 11-day Operation Guardian of the Walls saw over 4,360 rockets and missiles fired into Israel from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, around 400 munitions daily – almost four times the daily average of rockets fired per day during the 2014 Operation Protective Edge and 2006 Second Lebanon War.
The IDF has said that while they struck dozens of Hamas targets, including weapons manufacturing plants and multi-barrel rocket launchers during the fighting, they were not able to destroy the group’s rocket arsenal.
Juniper Falcon “is in accordance with long-standing bilateral agreements between US European Command and the Israel Defense Forces,” EUCOM said in a statement, adding that it was a “long-planned event” that is “designed to test simulated emergency response procedures, ballistic missile defense and crisis response assistance in the defense of Israel.”
Washington and Israel have signed an agreement which would see the US come to assist Israel with missile defense in times of war and a week before the drill began the IDF released an updated intelligence assessment that said that the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group has an arsenal of between 130,000-150,000 rockets and missiles and could launch some 3,000 projectiles a day for at least a week should fighting break out.
The exercise was a continuation of a virtual air defense drill that took place in February with IDF troops operating in Israel and American troops in Germany where EUCOM is based.
Despite corona affecting the ability to hold in-person training, the IAF took part in close to 20 drills in the past year.