While nowhere near to the extent of the West Coast, damaging earthquakes can and do affect much of the eastern half of the country.
For example, across the Tennesse River Valley lies the New Madrid Fault Line. While much smaller in size than those found farther west, the fault has managed to produce several earthquakes over magnitude 7.0 in the last couple hundred years.
In 1886, an estimated magnitude 7.0 struck Charleston, South Carolina along a previously unknown seismic zone. Nearly the entire town had to be rebuilt.
The eastern half of the U.S. has its own set of vulnerabilities from earthquakes.
These older rocks have had much more time to bond together with other rocks under the tremendous pressure of Earth’s crust. This allows seismic energy to transfer between rocks more efficiently during an earthquake, causing the shaking to be felt much further.
This is why, during the latest quake in North Carolina, impacts were felt not just across the state, but reports of shaking came as far as Atlanta, Georgia, nearly 300 miles away.
Reports of shaking from different earthquakes of similar magnitude.
When a magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck Virginia in 2011, not only were numerous historical monuments in Washington, D.C. damaged, shaking was reported up and down the East Coast with tremors even reported in Canada.
There is no way to accurately predict when or where an earthquake may strike.
Some quakes will have a smaller earthquake precede the primary one. This is called a foreshock.
The problem is though, it’s difficult to say whether the foreshock is in fact a foreshock and not the primary earthquake. Only time will tell the difference.
The United State Geological Survey (USGS) is experimenting with early warning detection systems in the West Coast.
While this system cannot predict earthquakes before they occur, they can provide warning up to tens of seconds in advance that shaking is imminent. This could provide just enough time to find a secure location before the tremors begin.
Much like hurricanes, tornadoes, or snowstorms, earthquakes are a natural occuring phenomenon that we can prepare for.
The USGS provides an abundance of resources on how to best stay safe when the earth starts to quake.
While children around the world check their school supplies list and prepare to attend classes, 4,000 Palestinian students are caught up in uncertainty.
They do not know when – or if – they will be able to return to their familiar hallways and classrooms.
Despite their worries, like all pupils in Gaza, they began the academic year on August 16. However, classes took place in different schools, as their original educational facilities remain under investigation.
The chain of events started in May as an Israeli air strike damaged two, side-by-side, United Nations schools in the neighbourhood of Zeitoun, Gaza: the Preparatory Boys’ School “A” and the Elementary Boys’ School “A”. Both operate under the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
Two weeks after a ceasefire, while assessing the damage and how to safeguard the premises from missiles, UN personnel found a cavity 7.5 metres in depth. And, from there, things quickly escalated.
Hamas, the group that controls Gaza, has acknowledged building a network of tunnels under the Gaza Strip for military purposes, but has not officially commented about the controversy surrounding these specific UN schools.
Last week, in order to verify whether the schools were safe to open for the academic year, a group from the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) tried to conduct a follow-up risk assessment of the structures.
Local police prevented the expert team from operating.
“Then we spoke to them [Palestinan authorities] again and the excavations are supposed to start again this week,” a spokesperson for UNRWA told Al Jazeera.
“UNRWA condemns the existence and potential use by Palestinian armed groups of such tunnels underneath its schools in the strongest possible terms”, noted a UNRWA statement. “UNRWA installations are inviolable, and their neutrality must be respected at all times.”
The UNRWA spokesperson said “the situation is being resolved”. For now, the students are attending other UNRWA schools, in different shifts, while they wait for clearance and are allowed to, hopefully, return to the schools they are familiar with.
Education in Gaza
With 278 schools across the strip and nearly 10,000 people serving as teaching personnel, UNRWA is responsible for the basic education of more than 290,000 Palestinian students.
Because of the shortage of facilities, some UNRWA schools operate on double and, more rarely, even triple shifts.
During Israel’s latest attack on Gaza, at least 51 educational facilities were damaged, including a UNRWA training centre, 46 schools, two kindergartens and parts of the Islamic University of Gaza.
“To be a child in Gaza today means that you have inevitably witnessed a level of trauma that your peers elsewhere in the world have not,” said UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini in early July.
In a report issued in the same month, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said 91 percent of Gaza children suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after the 11-day Israeli offensive in May.
According to the report, the recent Israeli attack had a huge effect on children: 41 lost one or both parents, almost 50,000 had their homes partially or completely destroyed, and thousands remain displaced.
With odds against them, there are still additional challenges for the students of Gaza. The delicate economic situation increases the risk of student dropout, as it puts pressure on children, particularly boys, to help support their households with additional income and leaves some families unable to pay for transportation or school materials.
In a conflict where both sides are accused of war crimes, schools need a backup plan. In 2012, UNRWA launched UNRWA TV – a response to emergency situations in Gaza and Syria.
The YouTube channel provides self-learning supplements for students, teachers and families in emergencies who have limited or disrupted access to formal education.
Today, almost one decade later, the channel has more than one million subscribers, some 260 million views, and an average of 150,000 visitors a day.
For people who have access to the internet, it ensures that children can continue to learn in unstable areas and in conflict and post-conflict settings.
Considering everything that Palestinian pupils need to go through, the education ministry in Palestine has a psychosocial support (PSS) programme for students.
It assists educators in helping children overcome, mentally and psychologically, the aftermath of conflict. A recent example of its efforts could be seen in the summer camps launched in early June.
In 150 centres across Gaza and with more than 50,000 students enrolled, the camps provided primary school students with knowledge, entertainment, emotional release and workshops related to Palestinian identity.
The financial support to establish the camps came from the ministry’s local and international partners and amounted to about $100,000. A high price. However, as the Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh stated: “No matter how high the cost of education is, the cost of ignorance is much higher.”
Engaged in educational activities, children so often betrayed by authorities, conflict and circumstance can at least try to find solace in one place: their minds.
HONG KONG: Militaristic China is prioritizing the mass deployment of ballistic missiles
.The country has secretively engineered vast missile silo fields able to host nuclear weapons has ramped up nuclea production and deployed new shorter-range missile types.
The People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) controls China’s ballistic-missile arsenal, and this includes vast silo fields currently under construction from which to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).
To date, the open-source intelligence (OSINT) community has discovered three large missile silo sites deep inside China. The James Martin Center for Non-proliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies unearthed the first, an ICBM field of 120 silos near Yumen in the Gobi Desert, in late June.
Then, in July, Matt Korda and Hans Kristensen from the Federation of American Scientists announced the discovery of 110 missile silos near Hami in eastern Xinjiang.
The latest revelation on August 12 was by Roderick Lee from the China Aerospace Studies Institute, who uncovered a third silo field in Hanggin Banner in Inner Mongolia.
Construction on a grid layout similar to the other two had commenced by mid-May. Satellite imagery showed two clusters with 29 potential silos in total, of which 13 were sheltered by typical inflatable domes to cover sensitive construction details.
Lee estimated that the site would boast 30-36 silos at a minimum. Advantages of the Hanggin Banner site compared to Yumen and Hami are its proximity to ground-based fibre-optic communications nodes, and its shorter distance to the PLARF’s central warhead handling and storage facility in Taibai County, Baoji.
Of course, it is not confirmed that every new silo will indeed house a DF-41 ICBM, for some could be decoys, and actual missiles could be rotated around silos in a kind of shell game.
Realistically, the DF-41 is unlikely to contain more than six nuclear warheads per missile. However, if each silo did house a DF-41, then China’s projected inventory of ICBM launchers would equal the Minuteman-III ICBMs operationally deployed by the USA.
In addition, the PLA has nuclear missiles mounted on submarines and carried onH-6 bombers and on the future H-20 stealth bomber. These silo discoveries reinforce what the US military has been alluding to in recent years about the fast expansion of Chinese strategic nuclear forces.
Huntsville, Alabama earlier this month, “The explosive growth in their nuclear and conventional forces can only be what I describe as breathtaking. Frankly, that word ‘breathtaking’ may not be enough.”
The imminent expansion of China’s DF-41 ICBM arsenal is reinforced by a revelation that the China Nuclear Engineering and Construction Group Corporation Limited has received a fourfold expansion in military contracts in the first seven months of 2021 compared to last year.
The state-owned company reported on 18 August that it had been awarded CNY17.2 billion (USD2.65 billion) in military contracts this year to date.
China Nuclear Engineering and Construction engages in both civil and military nuclear projects. Its military engineering arm enjoyed a 332.4% year-on-year increase in May, and 302.2% in June.
This is well in accord with the discovery of missile silos, for facilities must be built first so that ICBMs can be installed later.
The South China Morning Post quoted Song Zhongping, a former PLA instructor: “The numbers indicate a trend of expanding our nuclear weapons and power systems, which come under the nuclear military engineering sector. It is necessary for us to expand our capabilities in this field in order to maintain national security on our own, as the
United States is increasingly challenging China and interfering in China’s internal affairs more deeply.”
These silo field discoveries, with perhaps more on the way, indicate a fundamental transformation in China’s military and strategic posture. At the foundational level, it gives any would-be adversary a more challenging set of targets, simply because static sites have been multiplied more than twelvefold. Furthermore, these silos give the PLARF the ability to quickly launch missiles – in a retaliatory way only if Beijing’s No First Use policy is to be believed.
Admiral Richard of STRATCOM warned, “It really doesn’t matter why China continues to modernize. What matters is they are building the capability to execute any plausible nuclear employment strategy – the last brick in the wall of a military capable of coercion.”
One can authoritatively say that China has moved beyond minimum deterrence. Indeed, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a meeting of Asian foreign ministers in August “how Beijing has sharply deviated from its decades-old nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence”.
The STRATCOM commander again: “China has correctly figured out that you can’t coerce a peer – in other words, us – from a minimum deterrent posture.” He said for the USA, “Business as usual will not work.” The USA’s new policy could be one of “integrated deterrence”, a concept to be explained in a forthcoming nuclear posture review.
Interestingly, Admiral Richard encouraged OSINT communities to continue their hunt for Chinese missile sites. He said, “If you enjoy looking at commercial satellite imagery or stuff in China, can I suggest you keep looking?”
This was a strong hint that more Chinese silo fields await discovery. In fact, some experts assess that discovery of the first 230 silos is perhaps only 30-40% of the full picture.
Until now, the PLARF possessed just 20 operational silos for DF-5 ICBMs. Eight new silos for the older DF-5 are thought to be under construction, plus new ones are beingbuilt in Jilantai, likely for training.
Nor is China wholesale replacing older and less-capable ICBMs. For example, there is no evidence that older DF-31 and DF-31A ICBMs mounted on transporter-erector-launchers (TEL) are being withdrawn.
Decker Evelyth, the researcher who discovered the first missile silo field, offered some thoughts as to why the transformation in China’s nuclear posture caught so many by surprise:
(1) Over-estimating bureaucratic inertia in Chinese strategic culture and organization/underestimating Xi’s goals and influence. Reading of reaction from Chinese experts/ex-PLARF people makes me think this is genuinely a shock to some of them.
(2) Not appreciating how China’s shift from regional/non-peer power to global/near-peer power might influence nuclear posture.
(3) Not appreciating how much thinking about national prestige and using nuclear weapons as symbols of state power might drive the program forward.
(4) Simple speed of change. I made an argument in my thesis about a gradual shift from assured retaliation to escalation or something else. I did not think things would accelerate so quickly.
There is speculation about China’s intentions for its ICBM arsenal. Thomas Shugart, an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, suggested that perhaps the PLA is developing a large dual nuclear-conventional ICBM force that could strike the continental USA in time of war. A conventional DF-41 might thus be equipped with a large unitary high-explosive warhead (i.e. a single charge), or perhaps a warhead that carries precision-guided sub-munitions to cause damage over a wide area.
Certainly, despite all these new China Nuclear Engineering and Construction contracts, Beijing definitely could not quickly create enough fissile material to fill every silo with a nuclear warhead.
Using conventional warheads would help to fill out numbers, however. The Second Artillery Corps, the PLARF’s predecessor, has discussed in the past using conventional ICBMs to strike targets beyond the range of other missile types. Indeed, there have been subtle references to this in more recent documents as well. The circular error probable (a measure of accuracy) for such missiles could be in the single-digit meters, which means China can deliver such a conventional missile precisely even at intercontinental ranges.
Of course, using the same intercontinental ballistic missile for dual missions is fraught with risk, for a targeted country does not know whether a conventional or nuclear warhead is fitted. This could quickly rise to nuclear retaliation, even if China did not intend it.
This is one serious criticism of China’s dual-nature DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile, for example. However, the DF-26’s fielding shows that China is already comfortable with this ambiguous situation.
Meanwhile, Ma Xiu, an analyst at BluePath Labs, and Peter W. Singer, a strategist at New America, assessed that these silo fields might affect the PLARF’s order of battle.
They wrote: “The PLARF exploded in size between 2017 and 2019, growing more than 33% in only three years. Ten new brigades were added, with the six bases growing to accommodate them. However, the construction of two [now three] entirely new missile silo fields could make that existing structure inadequate. Assuming roughly 6-12 silos for a typical ICBM brigade, each field could easily require multiple brigades, even if only a fraction of silos were filled. Currently, all PLARF bases oversee between six and seven brigades and seem unlikely to grow much further.
This means that each of these sites would likely be too large to fit within the existing force structure and could easily become a base in its own right. This would make them the PLA’s first new ballistic missile bases in over 50 years.”
Speaking at the same Alabama conference as Admiral Richard was General Glen D. VanHerck, commander of the US North American Aerospace Defense Command.
He reported that China had “just demonstrated” a “very fast” hypersonic vehicle, a referenceto a missile carrying a warhead that travels at hypersonic speed.
VanHerck said such warheads would challenge current US early-warning systems. He did not clarify whether this was a new type of hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) or an existing one. China is known to already possess the DF-17 HGV, which was carried on a 10×10 TEL at a Beijing military parade in 2019.
Recently, a photo of a new type of missile carried by 12×12 TELs appeared on the Chinese internet. The missile body is longer than that of the DF-17, and it features a similar HGV warhead. It is not known if this was the type referred to by General VanHerck. Some speculatively call it the DF-27, but the identity of such a third- generation missile with sufficient range to reach Hawaii is by no means confirmed.
Any “leak” of such a photo is obviously sanctioned by the Chinese government. Furthermore, Chinese state media reported on 22 August that China had successfully tested two new short-range conventional missiles. This new type can overcome “complex electromagnetic interference” to destroy facilities (e.g. enemy communications) in a “fast-reaction” operation.
Indeed, PLARF officers claimed such an operation now took half the time it did previously, and required involvement of fewer people. CCTV reported the missiles “successfully hit the target in an enemy camp equipped with multilayer defenses several hundred kilometers away and effectively paralyzed the enemy’s key communications node”. The outlet broadcast images of the live-fire drills in northwest China.
In a takeover of Taiwan, for example, China could attempt to first knock out communications and networks with a barrage of such missiles.
Wu Shaomin, a senior engineer from the 1st Conventional Missile Brigade (a unit designation not previously known), noted, “Before we can gain control over the sea and air, we can use these kinds of missiles to destroy the enemy’s bases and then we can send over fighter jets, ships and amphibious vehicles.”
The CCTV report suggested that the missile is some kind of electromagnetic weapon. It is tentatively analyzed as a member of the DF-15 short-range ballistic-missile family that entered service in 1991.
The modified DF-15A has a 600km range and carries a high- explosive warhead, the 725km-range DF-15B possibly adds a radar correlation terminal guidance system, and the DF-15C with earth-penetrating warhead appeared in 2013.
Since the United States withdrew its troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban have taken control of power more quickly than expected. Chaos reigned at the Kabul airport as Afghans – women who fear being oppressed, as well as Afghans who assisted the U.S.-backed government or military – desperately tried to flee the country.
As the world witnessed the aftermath of the U.S. decision to withdraw its troops from a country where it spent decades to confront extremists in the name of “freedom” and “democracy,” the significance of strengthening self-defense capabilities among U.S. allies in disputed regions is going to be emphasized more than ever.
This week, Washington has tried to soothe concerns from the media and allies alike, amid frequently raised questions over the credibility of the United States. U.S. President Joe Biden emphasized that the U.S. has no “vital national interest” in Afghanistan, aside from “preventing a terrorist attack on American homeland.”
“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” Biden said.
Still, concerns over the possibility of a U.S. military withdrawal have loomed among allies.
Biden said in an interview with ABC News on Thursday that “there is a fundamental difference between Taiwan, South Korea and NATO” and “we made a sacred commitment to Article Five that if in fact anyone were to invade or take action against our NATO allies, we would respond.” He added that it applies to South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan (although administration officials later clarified that Biden misspoke when he included Taiwan, which does not have formal relations with the U.S., on the list).
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, also made clear that Afghanistan and South Korea are fundamentally different and emphasized that Biden has no intention of drawing down forces from South Korea.
Seoul has not officially expressed concerns over the possibility of U.S. troops withdrawing from South Korea. However, some conservative hawks and politicians have expressed concerns that South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s peace process on the Korean Peninsula may finally lead to the withdrawal of the U.S. troops and may create a vulnerability in national security. They are asking the government to build a much stronger relationship with the U.S. under the “blood alliance.”
“The U.S. will not withdraw a significant number of troops from South Korea anytime soon,” Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, told The Diplomat. He added that the situations in South Korea and Afghanistan are not comparable.
“In addition to shared interests for U.S.-South Korea security cooperation regarding North Korea, Washington won’t pull its troops off the peninsula anytime soon because that would be perceived as geopolitically ceding Asia to China,” Easley said.
Experts and the majority of South Koreans believe that South Korea would not be the next Afghanistan, but some analysts still moot the need for preparing for the worst-case scenario – a U.S. troop withdrawal and a Second Korean War triggered by North Korea.
Some have repeatedly stated that the country needs to consider the redeployment of strategic nuclear weapons if U.S. troops disengage from the country. However, experts say that it would not be a realistic bargaining chip to negotiate the denuclearization of North Korea, nor an effective measure to entice China to take a key role on North Korea issues.
“The current South Korea-U.S. joint defense posture would remain even if the U.S. withdraws its troops from South Korea. It is a completely different situation now than it was in the Korean War,” Kim Young-jun, a professor of national security affairs at Korea National Defense University and a member of National Security Advisory Board for the presidential Blue House, told The Diplomat.
“The existence of U.S. troops in South Korea has no decisive impact in the current situation, where the South Korean military already recognizes the signs of [a hypothetical] North Korean attack with aviation and satellite surveillance assets,” Kim said.
In a statement from Kim Yo Jong, sister of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, published last week, she implied that “the U.S. troops in South Korea” are the “root cause” of tension on the Korean Peninsula. Kim Yo Jong criticized the South Korean-U.S. joint military exercises even though her brother had expressed his understanding of the necessity of the U.S. military presence and joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea in summit talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in 2018.Authors
Mitch Shin is Chief Koreas Correspondent for The Diplomat.
Israeli forces held fire in Gaza clashes fearing harm to women and children, officials claimYaniv KubovichJosh BreinerAug. 23, 2021 2:00 AM
Israeli defense officials believe that Hamas is ready for another round of fighting with Israel following the violent clashes on the Gaza border on Saturday.
The assessment is that Hamas has an array of rockets that will suffice for another round of fighting, since its rocket caches weren’t badly hit during the last round in May. The civilian pressure on Hamas within Gaza is what will determine whether the group launches another round, defense sources say. The sources believe that it was such pressure that prompted Hamas to encourage the escalation over the weekend.
Israeli snipers fired some 45 bullets at the protesters, on top of several dozen Ruger bullets, which Israeli military officials say were aimed at protesters’ legs. Forty-one Palestinians were wounded, including a 13-year-old in critical condition.
Border Police officer Bar’el Hadaria Shmueli, 21, was critically wounded by Palestinian fire shot through a slit in the border fence.
Hamas did not take responsibility for the shooting of Shmueli, and has been transmitting messages through intermediaries that it was not involved in planning the incident. But the quantity of grenades, explosives and the pistol carried by the rioters who approached the soldiers cast doubt on Hamas’ claim.
Border Police investigation
A preliminary Border Police investigation of the events showed that during the demonstrations Palestinians tried to grab the weapons of the undercover unit’s sharpshooters two or three times. “They rushed the gate surrounded by their women and children, and sent them forward so that we shouldn’t fire at them,” a police source said.
Another source noted that the security establishment didn’t correctly assess how violent the demonstration would be. “The arrival of a mass of people so close to the Israeli forces and an arm’s length from the fence is something that cannot happen,” said a security source. Security officials said that Israel is preparing now for another demonstration of thousands of Palestinians.
According to the Border Police investigation, the force got to the site of the demonstrations near the Karni Crossing at around 4 P.M. on Saturday in an effort to keep the Palestinian crowd from breaching the fence and entering Israeli territory.
At the start of the demonstration, which involved an estimated 2,000-3,000 people, a Hamas force blocked the masses from coming within a hundred meters of the fence. But at 5:30 P.M., according to the investigation, the Hamas men left the site and some allowed a few hundred youths to approach the fence.
According to a security source, at this point the Israeli forces were prevented from firing at the youths who ran toward the fence because they had surrounded themselves with women and children.
The source said the forces had to use crowd-dispersal methods, but did not do so to the extent necessary. “When there’s a main inciter with two women standing near him and maybe even a child in his arms, it makes the situation more difficult,” said a police source.
The findings show that the demonstrators got to the fence and tried to grab the soldier’s weapons through cracks in the fence. The forces, who until that point were using crowd dispersal methods like sharpshooting and Ruger bullets, were surprised by the fact that the Palestinians were moving closer and responded with live pistol fire at Palestinians each time they tried to grab their weapons. “The disturbance became violent and dangerous, and the close range forced the use of pistol fire,” said a police source. “Every effort was responded to with live fire.”
According to the investigation, the forces did not notice the pistol carried by one of the Palestinians due to the smoke from the tires that were burned during the demonstration, and even after the shooting, they initially thought that a stone had been thrown. Shmueli was wounded in the shooting, and was evacuated by helicopter to Soroka Medical Center. In videos from the incident one sees a few Palestinians approaching a position in the fence, throwing stones on the Border Policeman’s weapon, while one of them fired through the crack.
According to the IDF, the position, which was erected in 2018 when protests near the border fence began, was built without a clear line of sight toward what is happening on the Palestinian side of the wall, which is why the fighters had difficulty responding when there were attempts to grab weapons and to the shooting through the crack.
The United States signed its first arms agreement with the Soviet Union in 1972. Since then, there was always a caution that if its adversary in Moscow failed to live up to the terms of the agreement, then the United States had to preserve the capability to expand U.S. nuclear deterrent.
The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) I of 1972 allowed a five-fold increase in Soviet and U.S. nuclear warheads—even with limits placed on overall strategic nuclear delivery vehicles known as SNDVs. This breakout treaty was less of an issue then than it is today. Despite the huge increase in allowed Soviet multi-warhead land-based missiles, U.S. officials have described the SALT deal to be consistent with the new era of “détente” and peaceful coexistence.
The 1979 SALT II Treaty continued this build-up, but modestly limited SNDVs to 2250 but still allowed the growth in strategic or long-range nuclear systems to near twelve thousand warheads. At the same time, the companion arsenals of theater or short-range and lower-yield or battlefield nuclear weapons were not placed under any limits given serious difficulties in locating and accurately counting such arsenals.
Thus, at that height of the Cold War, U.S. Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger estimated all Soviet nuclear weapons at somewhere around thirty-five thousand—with the dissolution of the Soviet empire, the archives in Moscow and more open Russian officials exposed the fact that the real number was closer to forty-five thousand.
The START I Treaty and Start II Treaty process markedly reduced strategic nuclear warheads in agreements made in 1991 and 1993. Thus, the issue of “breakout” became more real. The Reagan administration laid out in numerous NSDD’s or National Security Defense Directives the framework for the START reduction process and the companion rationale for the modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal as early as 1981.
What was critical to signing these agreements with Moscow—whether the Soviet Union or the Russian Federation—was America’s ability to “hedge” against a collapse of the treaties supporting reductions.
However, after the end of the Soviet Empire, the United States went on a very extended procurement holiday during which our nuclear elements were not replaced or modernized. The ability to hedge was a problem. The Trident submarine production ended in 1992; the B2 bomber was terminated at only twenty airplanes in 1997 by Congress; and the new Peacekeeper 10 warhead land-based missile was stopped at fifty missiles, and the small mobile intercontinental ballistic missile, dubbed “Midgetman” was terminated.
After all, Russian president Boris Yeltsin and President H. W. Bush had agreed to big reductions in the START II treaty of January 1993. Yeltsin spoke at the United Nations in favor of both steep reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons and the deployment of global missile defenses in cooperation with the United States.
But the Russian Duma turned away the START II treaty, and the United States lost an opportunity to implement the treaty’s ban on multiple-warhead “heavy” land-based missiles. The Duma cleverly added a requirement to the agreement that all future U.S. missile defense work be kept in the laboratory, a ploy tried throughout the history of the Cold War first by the Soviets and then the Russians. Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev tried the ruse at various summits with President Ronald Reagan, and subsequent Russian leadership tried again and again to stop U.S. missile defenses, both those missile defense systems protecting the continental United States and its allies in Europe and Asia and the Middle East.
In fact, it was the Soviet’s General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev who called President-elect Richard Nixon in 1968 and urgently proposed that the two countries must ban missile defenses. The reason? The Soviet leader was convinced the previously announced “thin” missile defense proposed by the then Johnson administration to deal with China’s growing but still small nuclear arsenal was really aimed at blunting the Soviet’s nuclear deterrent and thus had to be eliminated.
Of course, those discussions continued, culminating in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that effectively banned missile defenses from being deployed by the United States. The treaty allowed each party to deploy one hundred interceptors to protect their capitol (Washington and Moscow) or a nuclear missile base. But for the United States, both were politically untenable. Protecting only Washington but not America’s heartland was a political non-starter. And protecting U.S. missiles but not people could easily be defeated by the Soviets simply launching an extra one hundred warheads at the U.S. base to deplete the deployed interceptors.
With the Moscow Treaty of 2002 and the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) of 2010, the United States and Russia deployed nuclear warheads were further reduced from six thousand (the START I level) to twenty-two hundred and then to 1550. The SNDVs were reduced to no more than seven hundred. That’s a nearly 90 percent reduction from the peak levels of both nation’s nuclear warhead arsenals reached in the late 1980s.
Ironically, in 2002, the United States also jettisoned the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, especially in light of rogue state missile threats such as from North Korea and Iran.
But nonetheless, Moscow continued with these two agreements with Washington to cut strategic nuclear forces by nearly 75 percent, establishing there was nothing incompatible with deploying robust missile defenses while simultaneously establishing a strong, credible, modern nuclear deterrent, albeit at very much lower levels.
In the face of much lower levels of nuclear warheads—levels not seen since the 1950s—the breakout by the Russians could markedly change the strategic balance as the Russians still have large, heavy land-based missiles capable of deploying thousands of additional warheads. In the case of overall Russian systems, although they have just above five hundred SNDVs now deployed, that number could climb to seven hundred under the New START Treaty and give the Russians an additional capability in excess of the current breakout capability of building to four thousand to five thousand strategic, long-range nuclear warheads.
Each president since the end of the Soviet empire has emphasized in four consecutive nuclear posture reviews, also known as NPRs, that the United States must have a credible and sufficient hedge capability, including a responsive infrastructure, to be able to balance any possible future treaty breakout by Moscow.
The future U.S. force of 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles, which includes 12 future Columbia-class submarines each with 16 missiles, and 60 nuclear-capable bombers, could deploy another 1,280 fast-flying missile warheads. Also, there are 800 additional intercontinental ballistic missile warheads and an estimated 40 more warheads for each of America’s 12 deployed submarines—with 16 D-5 missiles per submarine. Combined, that’s a total of 2,770 warheads. If bomber weapons are included in that figure, then the number reaches a maximum of just below 4,000.
But there are two caveats to that number. In the nuclear business, fast-flying intercontinental ballistic missiles are the “coin of the realm” and in the hands of U.S. adversaries more worrisome than relatively slower delivery vehicles such as strategic bombers.
Thus, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles would number under three thousand but would take some four years to reach that number given the logistical challenge the United States faces in building the “hedge” it has in its force.
But now the United States is facing two additional challenges. One of its own making and one from China. Both are deadly serious.
As Policy Analyst Patty Jane-Geller has noted, Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, has said that the military is “witnessing a strategic breakout by China.” He warned that China is capable of bringing force to bear “any level of violence, in any domain, in any geographic location, and at any time,” Jane-Gellar stated in a nuclear analysis published by the Heritage Foundation.
U.S. satellites have discovered some 350-400 new Chinese missile silos, each laid out in a grid pattern some three kilometers apart. These new intercontinental ballistic-missile “launchers” are designed to hold the DF-41 missile. The DF-41 is a ten-warhead missile. Added up, the Chinese potential sprint to nuclear superiority may indeed be materializing, a possible four-thousand warhead builds that would be 266 percent of the total deployed warheads currently in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
More worrisome, China’s future nuclear force could be 400 percent of today’s U..S. alert nuclear forces.
The second challenge the United States faces is one of its own making. As Jane-Geller explained, “the Biden administration was reported to be considering delaying the Pentagon’s plan to modernize the United States’ Cold War-era nuclear forces. Worse, just a few days prior, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) sent a letter asking Biden to consider reducing U.S. nuclear forces.”
The House Armed Services Committee chairman wants the administration to jettison all of the U.S. land-based missiles particularly the new ground-based strategic deterrent, also known as GBSD. Previous proposals in his committee to do just that failed 13-42, and on the floor of the House 166-266.
But despite these votes—in a Democratically controlled House—the administration yielded to pressure from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to once again study whether the GBSD is needed and whether there can be a cheaper and strategically viable alternative of either extending the life of the fifty-year-old Minuteman-III or perhaps jettisoning intercontinental ballistic missiles altogether. (Life-extending an eventual obsolete asset such as the current Minuteman-III would accomplish that objective.)
The satellite images, analyzed by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies show how weapons-testing engineers have worked intensively over the last few months to make ready the shelter facility, shipping containers and other objects next to the launch pad.
Pankovo is the same location from where the 2017 Burevestnik launch to place, a weapons test that made worldwide headlines when displayed by President Vladimir Putin in his annual state-of-the-nation speech in March 2018.
Among other new nuclear weapons systems, Putin bragged about Burevestnik, saying it was an un-stoppable nuclear-powered cruise missile with nearly unlimited range. What the president didn’t say was the at least one of the tests is rumored to end badly with the missile crashing in the Barents Sea.
The Barents Observer has via online AIS shipping services tracked at least two cargo ships staying stand-by outside the Pankovo site on the western shores of Novaya Zemlya, a few tens of kilometers south of where Russian nuclear weapons designers are conducting sub-critical tests in tunnels into the mountains.
Obtaining information on what’s going on here is a puzzle consisting of many different sources, including vessel traffic services, satellite images, NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen), Notice to mariners, media reports and publicly available military announcements. Work on re-establishing the facilities at Pankovo started last summer and autumn, as previously reported by the Barents Observer.
This part of Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic is the world’s largest military closed-off area, totally in the hands of Russia’s nuclear weapons complex.
“Pretty soon, other open-source indicators showed that a launch was imminent,” Dr. Jeffrey Lewis writes in a tweet. Lewis is Director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
It was CNN that first reported about the Institute’s analyses of the new satellite images.
Dr. Lewis and his colleagues have processed satellite images taken as late as August 15, showing that the skeleton of the shelter for the Burevestnik missile at the pad is in launch position.
“This shelter was retracted revealing a large object on the launch pad which is a possible SSC-X-9 Skyfall launcher,” he writes at the blog site Arms Control Wonk.
The crazy feature of the missile, built to carry a nuclear warhead, is the built-in mini-size nuclear reactor supposed to provide a range far longer than any previous non-ballistic cruise missiles ever have seen. Radiation challenges, however, are obvious: For size and weight reasons, such a small airborne reactor has limited possibilities to hold a closed cooling circuit, likely causing radioactive isotopes to be released into the atmosphere.
Secondly, testing such a flying reactor is risky. It will eventually have an impact zone, whether crashing at sea or ground as planned or by accident mid-air. The infamous accident in the White Sea outside the Nenoksa test site in 2019 happened on a barge during the salvage work of a crashed Burevestnik missile. Five Rosatom experts were killed after the explosion, which also caused a spike in radiation over the nearby city of Severodvinsk.
Illustration photo: Thomas Nilsen
The Nenoksa radiation accident is likely one of the reasons for conducting further tests at the faraway remote Novaya Zemlya, where releases of radiation are unlikely to harm civilian population.
In Severodvinsk, public fear of a repeated accident at the military test site Nenoksa has several times triggered radiophobia, latest on Wednesday this week. To calm people down, local city authorities in charge of radiation monitoring invited media to come to see the hour-by-hour measurements, showing that levels did not rise above background radiation at any of the instruments in the well-equipped network in and around the city.
Severodvinsk is home to Sevmash and Zvezdocka, Russia’s main yards for the construction and repair of nuclear-powered submarines.
Also neighboring Norway, Finland and Sweden have expressed concerns for testing of weapons systems in the Russian north involving small nuclear reactors.
Last year, then-Director of the Norwegian Intelligence Service, Lt. Gen. Morten Haga Lunde, highlighted the danger in his annual open threat assessment analysis.
Big accident risks
“We must expect development and testing of new advanced weapons systems in the areas east of Norway. Several of these will have nuclear propulsion systems,” Haga Lunde said.
“The development will bring, additional to the military challenges, also challenges related to both environment and security. In 2019, about 25 Russians were killed during military activity near Norway,” the Intelligence Service Director said and added:
“I consider the risk for more such unintended incidents in our neighborhoods to be big in the years to come.”
Screenshot from FlightRadar24
Russia’s development and testing of new weapons systems are closely followed by NATO eyes. During the first week of August, the U.S. Air Force’s WC-135W, often referred to as the “nuke sniffer” made several missions over the Baltic Sea. The flight happened as the wind direction to the Baltic came from Russia’s northwestern region, including the White Sea area.
The plane carries measuring equipment to collect air samples to monitor for spikes in radiation levels. The same plane, flying out from the RAF Mildenhall airbase in the United Kingdom, has previously had intelligence missions over the Barents Sea.
U.S. Air Force, though, has not published any information about the nature of the flights.
Periodically, civilian radiation protection agencies measure isotopes at their air-filter stations around the Nordic countries. For week 31 (August 2-9), the Norwegian watchdog agency DSA reported findings of small levels of Iodine-131 at its station at Ørland, southern Norway. The DSA did not elaborate on possible sources for the isotope that has a half-life of only 7 days.