Babylon the Great Finally Updates Her Nukes

PHOTOGRAPH: CHARLES HAYMOND/U.S. AIR FORCE

The Air Force Finally Ditches Its Nuclear Command Floppy Disks

The Air Force Has Stopped Using 8-Inch Floppy Disks for Missile Command

For decades, the Air Force’s Strategic Automated Command and Control System—an internal chat protocol—has relied on 8-inch floppy disks running on an IBM Series/1 computer. To be clear, if and when the order comes down to launch nukes, it’ll route through SACCS. As recently as 2014, USAF officials insisted that running on obsolete, isolated tech actually made the system more secure. But they’ve apparently had a change of heart, as C4isrnet reports this week. As of June, they’ve upgraded to a “highly-secure solid state digital storage solution.” It’s unclear to what extent the rest of the system has been upgraded as well, but at least they’ve said goodbye to 70s-era data storage.

It’s too late: Iran Deal to be Sealed with Blood (Revelation 6:6)

U.S.-Iran tensions could potentially escalate into a major conflict. All recent efforts at de-escalation have been futile. World leaders with close relations to President Donald Trump have tried to intercede, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and leaders of Iraq and Oman. And now Pakistan has offered to mediate. But only international and regional diplomatic approaches will lead to a solution that might be acceptable to both Washington and Tehran.

Relations have soured since the 1979 hostage-taking and embassy-ransacking by Iranian militants that were endorsed by then-Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, but the current dispute began with President Donald Trump’s May 8, 2018, decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This has been followed by stringent sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.

Under the JCPOA, Iran’s nuclear program was tightly restricted and the quid-pro-quo was the end of sanctions that had severely damaged the nation’s economy. The U.S. and its European allies agree that Iran’s nuclear activities must be curbed beyond the ten-year term of the agreement and that Iran must curtail its ballistic missile program and curb its destabilizing actions in the region.

Tensions intensified a few weeks after Trump pulled out of the JCPOA when the U.S. demanded, inter alia, that Iran drop its nuclear program and pull out of the Syrian war or face severe sanctions. Tehran rejected all the U.S. demands. With the imposition of the first round of sanctions (originally lifted as part of the JCPOA) on August 7, the U.S. has continued to tighten sanctions and put “maximum pressure” on Iran to compel it to agree to a new deal.

In addition to economic sanctions, the U.S. designated the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization. That designation came with wide-ranging economic and travel sanctions on its members. The U.S. has also targeted Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei and associates, and subsequently Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif (whose Ph.D. dissertation I supervised at the University of Denver Graduate School of International Studies, now the Korbel School) for acting on Khamenei’s behalf. The U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier strike group and Air Force bombers to the Middle East.

In response, Iran has been enriching uranium beyond the level authorized under the JCPOA and the International Atomic Energy Agency has now reported that Iran is no longer in compliance with its commitments under the agreement. And that is not all: Iran has conducted a new ballistic missile test and targeted tankers in the very busy Strait of Hormuz, through which about 20 percent of the world’s oil passes. It has also installed a new missile defense system.

Last month, a large-scale attack severely damaged Saudi energy infrastructure, for which the rebel Houthis in Yemen claimed responsibility, but U.S. officials have questioned the Houthi origin of the attack, suspecting Iran to be the real culprit. This strike signals Iran’s capability to threaten U.S. interests, as well as U.S. allies.

Earlier, in June, Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. drone, claiming it had entered Iranian air space. President Trump ordered a strike on three Iranian sites, which he later called off.

Important measures to prevent a major U.S.-Iran conflict include:

  • European initiatives to facilitate legitimate trade deals with Iran which are aimed at preserving the JCPOA;
  • Financial relief to Iran by the U.S. re-establishing some waivers on Iranian oil exports and Europeans opening credit lines to assist Iran’s economy; and
  • Continued international and regional mediation efforts. A meeting between Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and President Trump, which Rouhani says will occur only after sanctions are lifted, will not suffice to reach a long-term solution.

Sanctions and negotiations are not mutually exclusive.

Ved Nanda is a distinguished university professor and director of the Ved Nanda Center for International Law at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. His column appears once a month and he welcomes comments at vnanda@law.du.edu.

Preparing for the Bowls of Wrath (Revelation 16)

U.S., RUSSIA AND EUROPE HOLD BACK-TO-BACK NUCLEAR WAR GAMES ACROSS THE GLOBE

By Tom O’Connor On 10/18/19 at 5:36 PM EDT

WORLD INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS RUSSIA EUROPE

United States, Russia and Europe have all planned near-concurrent nuclear war games across the globe, testing their strategic capabilities in the event of a conflict

U.S. Strategic Command commenced on Friday its “annual command and control exercises” “Global Thunder” and “Vigilant Shield 20” alongside the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command. The drills were designed to “assess all USSTRATCOM mission areas and joint and field training operational readiness, with a specific focus on nuclear readiness.”

“This exercise employs global operations in coordination with other combatant commands, services, appropriate U.S. government agencies, and allies to deter, detect and, if necessary, defeat strategic attacks against the United States and its allies,” U.S. Strategic Command said in a statement.Meanwhile, in Russia, President Vladimir Putin just wrapped up his own “Thunder 2019” exercise, involving some 12,000 troops, five nuclear submarines, 105 aircraft and 213 missile launchers. The three-day, cross-continental display that concluded Thursday included the firing of nuclear-capable ballistic and cruise missiles at Russia’s Komi Republic, Arkhangelsk province and the far-eastern Kamchatka Peninsula.

Russia tests an RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Mirny, Arkhangelsk province, October 17, as part of the Thunder 2019 Strategic Missile Forces drills. Russia and the U.S. have by most of the world’s nuclear weapons and both have nuclear triads capable of delivering them from land, sea and air.

RUSSIAN MINISTRY OF DEFENSE

The Russian military tested a variety of weapons including the RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missile, the Sineva ballistic missile, and the Iskander-K short-range mobile cruise missile system—all capable of being equipped with nuclear weapons. The advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile system was also tested.

I terrain, various road surfaces, and other obstacles.”

Elsewhere in Europe, however, much more secretive nuclear-related maneuvers were taking place, and the U.S. was again involved. The NATO Western military alliance conducted the “Steadfast Noon” exercise involving German Tornado warplanes transporting U.S. B-61 nuclear bombs, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported Friday.

Aircraft from Italy and other NATO nations were involved in the drills that included aircraft taking off from Germany’s Büchel Air Base and the Netherlands’ Volkel Air Base. Hans Kristensen, director of the Federation of American Scientists’ Nuclear Information Program, noted to the outlet that U.S. B-52 bombers had just arrived in Europe shortly before the exercise.

NATO has released no official information about this exercise, and has never even confirmed whether or not there were U.S. nuclear weapons at Büchel Air Base. The site, however, was among those included in an accidentally-released NATO report published in July by Belgian newspaper De Morgen.

Another was Incirlik Base in Turkey, something that has grown controversial due to the recently-strained relations between Washington and Ankara, especially over the latter’s purchase of Russia’s S-400 and its invasion of northern Syria. Asked about the security of up to 50 B-61 bombs there, President Donald Trump said Wednesday that “we’re confident, and we have a great air base there, a very powerful air base.”

The series of tests came as decades-long deals ensuring the non-proliferation of such nuclear weapons collapsed. In August, the U.S. left the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, a deal struck with the Soviet Union in 1987 to ban the deployment of land-launched missiles ranging from 310 to 3,420 miles, after claiming Moscow’s Novator 9M729, an Iskander-compatible weapon, violated the deal.

Russia denied this and counterclaimed that the Mark-41 Vertical Launch Systems used in Romanian and Polish sites of the Pentagon’s Aegis Ashore missile defense system could be used offensively as well. Just after leaving the agreement, the U.S. tested a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile that flew over 310 miles.

Both Russia and China charged the Trump administration with attempting to instigate an “arms race.”

With Washington and Moscow worlds apart in their attempts to reconcile their many, overlapping policy disputes, the deadline was gradually approaching for another major arms control pact—the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The deal, which expires in 2021, limits the number of nuclear warheads and launchers maintained by the U.S. and Russia. Putin recently said he was still attempting to negotiate the agreement with “no answer so far” from Trump.

Can the U.S. protect its nuclear weapons in Turkey?

Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrive for a news conference after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Ankara, Turkey, on Thursday. (Str/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrive for a news conference after meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Ankara, Turkey, on Thursday. (Str/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

U.S. forces reportedly came under artillery fire from Turkish troops heading into northern Syria last week — another sign of the sudden plunge in U.S. relations with Turkey.

On Monday, President Trump imposed economic sanctions against Turkey and threatened to “swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy.” Vice President Pence announced a cease-fire agreement with Turkey on Thursday, but this does not appear to fully address the underlying problems in the bilateral relationship. Over the summer, the Pentagon kicked Turkey out of the F-35 joint strike fighter program, marking U.S. displeasure that Turkey was buying advanced Russian military technology.

Here’s the backstory — and the downside of removing this nuclear cache.

This deteriorating relationship is troubling because Turkey is a long-standing NATO ally. But even more worrisome are the nuclear weapons — about 50 B61 gravity bombs — that the United States stores at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, less than 100 miles from the Syrian border. On Wednesday, Trump appeared to confirm the existence of these weapons in a startling break with past practice, but over the weekend, U.S. officials reportedly were considering plans to withdraw them.

Why does the U.S. have nuclear weapons in Turkey, and what would be the risks of withdrawing them? Here’s what you need to know:

1. These weapons are relics of the Cold War.

The United States first deployed nuclear weapons on Turkish soil in 1959. President John F. Kennedy used them as bargaining chips to end the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, agreeing to withdraw nuclear-armed Jupiter missiles from Turkey in exchange for the removal of Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba. But Washington has continued to deploy shorter-range tactical nuclear forces since then.

Why does the United States keep nuclear weapons on foreign soil, and how does this strategy advance American interests? Our research reveals that three main strategic drivers behind these deployments.

First, these deployments were once a way of coping with technological limitations. In the early days of the Cold War, before intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and nuclear-armed submarines became the backbone of the U.S. arsenal, putting nuclear weapons in Europe expanded the U.S. ability to respond quickly to an enemy attack. Today, of course, most of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is carried by ballistic missiles — rather than long-range bombers — so most of the world is within range.

Second, nuclear deployments serve as a warning to potential attackers. U.S. leaders during the Cold War believed that putting nuclear weapons in Europe would discourage a Soviet invasion, because Soviet leaders would be worried that a limited conflict would quickly turn nuclear. Even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Turkish military commanders argued that U.S. nuclear deployments served as a deterrent to aggression by regional rivals such as Iran.

Third, nuclear deployments are also intended to reassure allies — including Turkey. Reassurance is not only about managing intra-alliance relations, however — it can also be an important nonproliferation tool. By mitigating the security concerns of allies, U.S. nuclear deployments could prevent them from launching their own nuclear programs.

2. Nuclear deployments in Turkey bring the United States few benefits.

U.S. nuclear forces in Europe may have served a function during the Cold War, but they are increasingly obsolete.

A recent study we conducted shows that the critical factor for preventing aggression against U.S. allies is a formal alliance relationship with the United States — not the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons. Indeed, our research found that global deployments of nuclear weapons made very little difference for deterrence even during the Cold War.

This makes sense, because the United States doesn’t need to forward-deploy its forces to place allies under its nuclear umbrella. American missiles and submarines give it the capability to hit any target in the world. What matters is the United States’ commitment to defend its partners with nuclear weapons if necessary — not where these nuclear forces are physically located.

U.S. nuclear forces in Turkey might, however, contribute to reassurance and nonproliferation. Political scientist Dan Reiter, for instance, has shown how countries with foreign nuclear weapons on their soil are less likely to explore their own nuclear options. Still, most U.S. allies — including Japan and South Korea after the early 1990s — have remained nonnuclear even without U.S. nuclear forces in place.

3. There are potential dangers to keeping nuclear weapons in Turkey. 

While the benefits of these deployments are modest, the risks are significant. Nuclear weapons on foreign soil could be vulnerable to theft or sabotage. When Greece and Turkey, two NATO allies, were on the brink of war in 1974 the United States had nuclear forces stationed in both countries. Worried about the safety and security of these weapons, Washington secretly removed its nuclear forces from Greece and disabled all of the weapons in Turkey.

The 2016 coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reignited concerns about U.S. nuclear weapons at Incirlik. As tensions escalate today, some analysts and U.S. officials continue to worryabout the safety and security of the B61s in Turkey.

4. Is there a downside to withdrawing the weapons?

Would pulling out the nuclear weapons now mean the end of the U.S.-Turkish alliance? This concern is legitimate, but recent research suggests that it is overstated. The United States has withdrawn nuclear forces from many allied countries: Britain, South Korea and others. In none of these cases did the withdrawals damage the overall alliance relationship, nor embolden adversaries.

There is also a security challenge with withdrawing the weapons in the short term. Removing them from their storage vaults during a period of intense hostility could invite an act of sabotage.

In the long term, the larger risk is that removing the weapons will prompt Turkey to try to acquire its own nuclear weapons. After all, Erdogan reportedly is exploring this option. But as relations with Turkey deteriorate, it is by no means certain that the presence of a few U.S. weapons will prevent this outcome. And there are other political and diplomatic tools for dissuading Turkey from venturing down the nuclear path if the United States pulls out its nuclear forces.

Matthew Fuhrmann (@mcfuhrmann) is professor of political science at Texas A&M University. 

Todd S. Sechser is the Pamela Feinour Edmonds and Franklin S. Edmonds Jr. Discovery Professor of Politics and Public Policy at the University of Virginia and Senior Fellow at the Miller Center of Public Affairs. 

Sechser and Fuhrmann are co-authors of Nuclear Weapons and Coercive Diplomacy(Cambridge University Press, 2017).

Putin Prepares for Nuclear War (Revelation 16)

Putin directs exercise of Russian nuclear forces

October 17, 2019, 4:30 PM UTC

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting at the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, left, and The Head the Russian General Staff’s Main Operational Department Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi attend a meeting in the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday oversaw sweeping war games intended to test the readiness of the nation’s strategic forces for a nuclear conflict.

The drills featured practice launches of several intercontinental ballistic missiles as well as warships and strategic bombers firing cruise missiles at test targets — a massive check-up of the land, sea and air components of the nation’s nuclear triad.

The Defense Ministry said the Grom (Thunder) -2019 exercise involved 12,000 troops, 213 missile launchers, 105 aircraft, 15 surface warships and five submarines. Putin directed the maneuvers from the Defense Ministry’s headquarters.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the exercise was intended to check “the military’s capability to fulfill tasks in an armed conflict and a nuclear war.”

Russia has expanded the scope of its military drills in recent years amid rising tensions with the West. Relations plummeted to post-Cold War lows after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, and the Kremlin described NATO’s drills near Russian borders as a demonstration of the alliance’s hostile intentions.

Briefing foreign military attaches about the drills earlier this week, Maj. Gen. Yevgeny Ilyin, the head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s international cooperation department, said they weren’t directed against any specific country, but noted that the maneuvers simulated a response to a build-up of tensions near the Russian frontiers.

“The maneuvers’ scenario envisages an escalation of the situation in conditions of a remaining potential for conflict alongside Russia’s borders that poses a threat to sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state,” Ilyin said.

The statement echoed the Russian military doctrine, which states that nuclear weapons could be used in response to a nuclear attack or an aggression involving conventional weapons that “threatens the very existence of the state.”

Earlier this year, the United States withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, citing Russian violations, a claim denied by Moscow.

Putin criticized the U.S. move, saying it undermined strategic stability. He pledged that Russia wouldn’t deploy missiles previously banned by the INF Treaty to any area before the U.S. does that first.

During Thursday’s drills, Russia’s nuclear submarines launched intercontinental ballistic missiles from the Barents Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk and a land-based Yars ICBM was launched from the military’s launch facility in Plesetsk, in northwestern Russia.

Kalibr cruise missiles were fired by warships in the Black and Caspian Seas, while land-based Iskander cruise missiles were launched from the military’s firing ranges of the military’s Southern and Eastern Military Districts.

As part of the maneuvers, Tu-95 strategic bombers also conducted practice launches of cruise missiles at firing ranges in the Arctic and on the far-eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, the Defense Ministry said.

Babylon the Great’s Doomsday Nuke

Meet the Ohio-Class: America’s Nuclear Doomsday Submarines

Key point: America’s missile submarines are an important leg of the nuclear triad.

Nine years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Ishirō Honda’s Godzilla depicted a monster awakened from the depths of the ocean to wreak havoc on Japanese cities. A giant fire-breathing reptile, however, was less horrifying than what was to come. In less than a decade’s time, there would be dozens of real undersea beasts capable of destroying multiple cities at a time. I’m referring, of course, to ballistic-missile submarines, or “boomers” in U.S. Navy parlance.

The most deadly of the real-life kaiju prowling the oceans today are the fourteen Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines, which carry upwards of half of the United States’ nuclear arsenal onboard.

If you do the math, the Ohio-class boats may be the most destructive weapon system created by humankind. Each of the 170-meter-long vessels can carry twenty-four Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) which can be fired from underwater to strike at targets more than seven thousand miles away depending on the load.

As a Trident II reenters the atmosphere at speeds of up to Mach 24, it splits into up to eight independent reentry vehicles, each with a 100- or 475-kiloton nuclear warhead. In short, a full salvo from an Ohio-class submarine—which can be launched in less than one minute—could unleash up to 192 nuclear warheads to wipe twenty-four cities off the map. This is a nightmarish weapon of the apocalypse.

The closest competitor to the Ohio-class submarine is the Russia’s sole remaining Typhoon-class submarine, a larger vessel with twenty ballistic-missile launch tubes. However, China, Russia, India, England and France all operate multiple ballistic-missile submarines with varying missile armaments—and even a few such submarines would suffice to annihilate the major cities in a developed nation.

What possible excuse is there for such monstrous, nation-destroying weaponry?

The logic of nuclear deterrence: while a first strike might wipe out a country’s land-based missiles and nuclear bombers, it’s very difficult to track a ballistic-missile submarine patrolling quietly in the depths of the ocean—and there’s little hope of taking them all out in a first strike. Thus, ballistic-missile submarines promise the unstoppable hand of nuclear retribution—and should deter any sane adversary from attempting a first strike or resorting to nuclear weapons at all. At least that’s the hope.

As such, the Trident-armed Ohio-class submarines will have succeeded in their mission if they never fire their weapons in anger.

The Ohio-class boats entered service in the 1980s as a replacement for five different classes of fleet ballistic-missile submarines, collectively known as the “41 for Freedom.” Displacing more than eighteen thousand tons submerged, the new boomers remain the largest submarines to serve in the U.S. Navy—and the third largest ever built. With the exception of the Henry M. Jackson, each is named after a U.S. state, an honor previously reserved for large surface warships.

In the event of a nuclear exchange, a boomer would likely receive its firing orders via Very Low Frequency radio transmission. While a submarine’s missiles are not pretargeted, like those in in fixed silos, they can be assigned coordinates quite rapidly. The first eight Ohio-class boats were originally built to launch the Trident I C4 ballistic missile—an advanced version of the earlier Poseidon SLBM. However, by now all of the boomers are armed with the superior Trident II D5 ballistic missile, which has 50 percent greater range and is capable of very accurate strikes, which could enable them to precisely target military installations as a first-strike weapon.

Ohio-class submarines also come armed with four twenty-one-inch tubes that can launch Mark 48 torpedoes. However, these are intended primarily for self-defense—a ballistic missile submarine’s job isn’t to hunt enemy ships and submarines, but to lie as low and quiet as possible to deny adversaries any means of tracking their movements. The submarine’s nuclear reactor gives it virtually unlimited underwater endurance and the ability to maintain cruising speeds of twenty knots (twenty-three miles per hour) while producing very little noise.

While other branches of the military may be deployed in reaction to the crisis of the day, the nuclear submarines maintain a steady routine of patrols, and communicate infrequently so as to remain as stealthy as possible. Each Ohio-class submarine has two crews of 154 officers and enlisted personnel, designated Gold and Blue, who take turns departing on patrols that last an average of seventy to ninety days underwater—with the longest on record being 140 days by the USS Pennsylvania. An average of a month is spent between patrols, with resupply facilitated by three large-diameter supply hatches.

Currently, nine boomers are based in Bangor, Washington to patrol the Pacific Ocean, while five are stationed in Kings Bay, Georgia for operations in the Atlantic. The end of the Cold War, and especially the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, resulted in the downsizing of U.S. nuclear forces. However, rather than retiring some of the oldest boats as originally planned, the Navy decided to refit four of the eighteen Ohio-class subs to serve as cruise missile carriers to launch conventional attacks against ground and sea targets—starting with the USS Ohio.

Meanwhile, the New START treaty which came into effect in 2011 imposes additional limits on the number of deployed nuclear weapons. The current plan is to keep twelve Ohio-class subs active at time with twenty Trident IIs each, while two more boomers remain in overhaul, keeping a total of 240 missiles active at a time with 1,090 warheads between them. Don’t worry, restless hawks: that’s still enough to destroy the world several times over!

The Ohio class will serve on until the end of the 2020s, and may even receive some additional acoustic stealth upgrades until they are replaced by a successor, tentatively dubbed the Columbia class. With estimated costs of $4–6 billion each to manufacture, the next-generation boomers may be fewer in number and will use new reactors that do not require expensive overhauls and refueling, allowing them to serve on until 2085.

Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring. This first appeared in April 2017.

Image: Reuters

A Nuclear Dilemma in Turkey

The US military stores nuclear bombs at Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base, which raises grave security concerns. Image: Flickr Commons

Turkey could seize US nukes stored at air base

Ankara doesn’t have access codes for devices, but they could be cracked over time and the fissile material could be used to make homemade weapons

By STEPHEN BRYEN

The United States has nuclear bombs stored in Turkey at Incirlik Air Base. Will Turkey try to grab them? How will the drama play out?

The US has a large arsenal of nuclear gravity bombs – relatively small 700-pound nuclear weapons with fearsome power. There are different types but the most important are its B-61 series bombs. There are 540 B-61 bombs in service today, with another 415 on inactive status that can be upgraded if needed.  These are known as “dial-a-blast” bombs, since the users can set the size of the nuclear blast needed for a mission – anywhere from 0.3 to 340 kilotons. (The Hiroshima atomic bomb was about 15 kilotons.)  The latest MOD bomb is capable of a fixed blast of 50 kilotons.

The latest operational version is the B-61 MOD 11, which has been developed into a bunker-busting nuclear gravity bomb that can be dropped by a nuclear bomber like the B-1 or B-2, or from a combat fighter aircraft such as the F-15E or the F-16. It isn’t completely clear what model of B-61 nukes are in Turkey, nor is the number certain, but the generally accepted count of B-61 bombs stored at Incirlik Airbase is 50. Another 40 B-61s were supposed to be committed to the Turkish air force, but according to reports since the 1990s, the Turks stopped training pilots for a nuclear mission and the 40 Turkey-designated bombs were withdrawn.

The F-15s and F-16s that could deliver the bombs are special-version aircraft and not standard flightline models. They are not stationed on Turkish territory.

The B-61s at Incirlik are kept at heavily guarded storage sites. They cannot be used by any US aircraft stationed at Incirlik, and they would either need Turkish government approval to be used or they would need to be moved elsewhere, also requiring Ankara’s approval. In short, the nuclear weapons at Incirlik are frozen in place unless an agreement is reached to remove them.

The B-61 is generally considered a tactical nuclear weapon, although the different variants suggest different missions, some of them strategic. For example, the B-61 MOD 11 bunker-buster was designed to attack Russia’s deep underground “continuity of government” complex at Kosvinsky Kamen or Kosvinsky Rock, Russia’s analog of America’s Cheyenne Mountain where NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and other facilities are located. Kosvinsky Kamen, in the Ural mountains, was supposed to be able to resist a direct nuclear attack, like Cheyenne Mountain. The MOD 11 bomb was designed to be able to destroy the complex.

Today, penetrating a sophisticated enemy’s airspace with piloted aircraft against high-value targets appears challenging, if not impossible. Russia, the main concern of NATO (and thus for the B-61 nuclear gravity bombs) today has sophisticated layered air defenses including the S-400, and Russia is well along on an even more sophisticated evolution of the S-400 to the S-500 Prometey (Prometheus).  The most important feature of Russia’s S-400 and S-500 systems is long-range interceptor defense missiles that can hit a target 482 km away. Penetration into Russia against targets such as Kosvinsky Kamen or Russian ICBM sites with conventional aircraft lacking very long standoff capability seems unlikely.

That explains one of the reasons why the US is building a B-61 variant called the MOD 12, which is designed to fit into the F-22 or F-35 stealth fighter bombers. Theoretically, these aircraft might be able to evade Russian air defenses, although that may be a declining value since the Russians and Chinese are working hard on anti-stealth radars and VHF detection systems that along with greatly improved electro-optic sensors, could soon identify and target stealth aircraft.  In any case, there are no MOD 12 variants yet in service, and the program is encountering serious delays.

Most nuclear weapons experts think that the B-61 series bombs are obsolete and all should be retired. But given the rise of other dangerous actors such as Iran, or even Pakistan, with nuclear weapons, having such an arsenal might make sense. Incirlik is well-positioned to deal with either of these threats, if and when it could be required to do so to stop an impending use of nuclear weapons by an unstable Pakistan or a rogue play by Iran. Unfortunately, Turkey is quite unlikely under any foreseeable circumstance to allow Incirlik to be used against Pakistan or Iran, much like how Turkey blocked the use of Incirlik in 2003 against Iraq.

Will Turkey try and grab the US nuclear bombs? Here are some of the possibilities:

(1) Turkey does nothing.  From Erdogan’s point of view, there may be more negatives than positives in grabbing the US nuclear bombs at Incirlik. Those 50 bombs are there as part of a NATO cooperative program, and while Turkey has walked back from that agreement to some extent, any action by Turkey taken to sequester or seize the US bombs would virtually require NATO to demand their immediate return and could result in a suspension of Turkey from NATO.

It would also raise serious concerns in the EU and would harm Turkey’s trade and access to weapons and spare parts from NATO countries. While Turkey could eventually shift to other sources (Russia, China), that transition would take years and Turkey’s military will be substantially weakened in the interim. Since the bombs are not really usable because Turkey does not have the nuclear codes to activate them, and any tampering might set off a small non-nuclear explosion destroying the bomb or bombs, the only gain for Turkey might be political. But the price would be very high and Turkey would never be trusted again. Turkey has no credible argument to make against the bombs on its territory.

(2) Turkey could order the US to remove the bombs. The US would have to accept Turkey’s request and take them out. There would not be much fallout in NATO because US nukes have already been removed from Greece and the UK, at their request. While the US-Turkey relationship is greatly stressed over the Kurdish situation and other matters (including Fethullah Gülen, who is blamed for the 2016 coup attempt and is living in the United States), the political impact on removing the bombs would be minimal.

(3) Turkish army seizes the bombs. Perhaps the greatest worry about nuclear weapons in Turkey is that the Turkish army will move in and seize them. That might also include ejecting the US air force from Incirlik Air Base. The other NATO components at the airbase might be permitted to stay, but if the US was kicked out, the others would probably leave as well.

A seizure could be promoted under a number of different banners: the weapons are not safe enough, the US might use them without Turkish permission, the weapons are a regional threat or they might be otherwise grabbed by the Kurdish PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party). An action like a seizure, if it happened, would most definitely provoke an angry US response with unpredictable future consequences. There is also a risk that fighting could break out on the base between US and Turkish troops.

Could the Turkish army use the Incirlik-based weapons? Unless the Turkish army had the computer codes for the weapons, the answer is that the weapons cannot be used. These US weapons include what are called Permissive Action Links (PAL), meaning encrypted locks that make detonating a nuclear device impossible unless the PAL system can be defeated. Over time, PAL has become increasingly sophisticated and it depends on what is built into the weapons that are in Turkey (models vary in the degree of sophistication) and on a control box set up that also is needed for unlocking the PAL blocks.  It isn’t known if the US has already removed the control boxes, but this should have been done as a security precaution. But even if the boxes are at Incirlik, they won’t function without authorization codes coming from the United States.

In the short run, the B-61s at Incirlik are not a present danger. But the bombs are a future danger, since in time the codes can be figured out or the bombs taken apart and the fissile material used to make homemade nuclear weapons.

Dr Stephen Bryen has 40 years of leadership in government and industry. He has served as a senior staff director of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as the deputy undersecretary of defense for trade security policy, as the founder and first director of the Defense Technology Security Administration, as the president of Delta Tech Inc, as the president of Finmeccanica North America, and as a commissioner of the US China Security Review Commission.

The Terror of the Iranian Nuclear Horn (Daniel 8:4)

State Department official says Iran has been transferring missiles to terrorists

Administration says transfers justify abandoning the Iran nuclear deal

The State Department on Wednesday revealed that Iran has been transferring ballistic missiles to regional partners that the United States views as terrorists.

The revelation by the special envoy for Iran policy, Brian Hook, came at the start of a contentious Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. Hook argued that evidence of Iran’s transfer of ballistic missile technology to regional extremist groups justified the Trump administration’s 2018 decision to abandon the Iran nuclear deal.

“While the United States was still in the JCPOA, Iran expanded its ballistic missile activities to partners across the region, including Hezbollah, Palestinian terrorist groups and Shia militias in Iraq,” Hook said, referring to the acronym for the multinational nuclear accord. “Beginning last year, Iran transferred whole missiles to a separate designated terrorist group in the region.”

Hook did not name the specific terrorist group that received complete ballistic missiles.

Iran has been transferring missiles to terrorists, says State Department official

Hook, who recently was in the running to be President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, said Iran is developing missile technology “solely” for the purpose of exporting it to regional proxies. “This arsenal is then used to target our ally, Israel.”

But ranking member Robert Menendez, D-N.J., one of the few Senate Democrats to vote against the Iran nuclear deal when it came up for a vote in 2015, charged it is Trump who is now endangering Israel’s security with his apparently impetuous decision to withdraw U.S. special forces from northern Syria.

Menendez asked Hook if the administration has secured any agreements from the Turkish or Iraqi governments to prevent Iran from moving troops and supplies through northern Syria to the border with Israel.

Hook said multiple meetings on the subject have taken place but he did not disclose whether any agreements have been secured.

“We have the possibility of a land bridge that Iran has sought over Syria to attack our ally, the state of Israel,” Menendez said. “Iran isn’t an agent of Russia, they have their own interests. They have spent their own blood. Russia is not going to tell them ‘Okay now, thank you for your help. It’s time to get out.’”

“They’re going to have their own interests and all we have done here is perpetuate their interest and created a greater risk for our ally, the state of Israel,” Menendez said of Iran.

Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are traveling to Turkey this week to try to flesh out agreements with Ankara around the withdrawal of U.S. troops, whose presence had effectively deterred Russia and Iran from trying to push into northern Syria.

Trump announced last week he was ordering the withdrawal of hundreds of U.S. soldiers. In response, the Syrian Kurds, who had formerly been aligned with the United States, announced on Sunday they had reached a deal with Russia and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad that would allow Russian and Syrian forces into northern Syria to better defend against the Turkish incursion.

WHAT A TURKEY!

Trump appears to confirm open secret about US nuclear weapons in Turkey

Washington (CNN) — President Donald Trump appeared to confirm Wednesday that US nuclear weapons are being housed at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, making him the first US official to publicly acknowledge what has been considered an open secret for years.

Most experts believe that the US maintains 50 Cold War-era B-61 “gravity” bombs in Turkey. The weapons are part of NATO’s deterrence strategy and decisions about them have to be made by a unanimous vote of all 28 member states.

While sitting alongside the Italian President in the Oval Office, Trump was asked if he is concerned about the safety of “as many as 50 nuclear weapons at Incirlik Air Base” given the ongoing Turkish incursion into Syria — a situation that has prompted bipartisan condemnation from members of Congress and suggestions that the weapons should be moved to another location.

“We’re confident, and we have a great — a great air base there, a very powerful air base. That air base alone can take anyplace. It’s a large, powerful air base,” Trump responded, apparently acknowledging that US nuclear weapons are being stored in Turkey.

“And, you know, Turkey — just so people remember — Turkey is a NATO member. We’re supposed to get along with our NATO members, and Turkey is a NATO member. Do people want us to start shooting at a NATO member? That would be a first. And that’s all involved having to do with NATO,” he added.

Why Are U.S. Nuclear Bombs Still in Turkey?

The best time to get atomic weapons out was several years ago. The second best time is now.

Ankit PandaOctober 15, 2019

The American relationship with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey has been fraught for half a decade, but never this bad. Last week, American troops were intentionally targeted by Turkish artillery units in Northern Syria as Erdoğan’s forces advanced and President Donald Trump ordered the U.S. into a unilateral withdrawal. The Pentagon sternly warned that Turkey’s troops would face “immediate defensive action” from American forces if such an encounter were to be repeated.

This was a doubly unprecedented targeting of the United States military. As a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Turkey is a capital-A ally, treaty-bound to defend the collective security of all its 28 nation members, including the United States. Turkey is also part of a select group of five NATO members—along with Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Italy—whose territory hosts American nuclear weapons, too.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, newly established U.S. nuclear missile batteries in Turkey were briefly famous, becoming a bargaining chip in the negotiations to avoid atomic war with the Soviet Union. Those missiles were removed in 1963, but 50 B61 nuclear gravity bombs currently reside in specialized underground vaults at Incirlik Air Base in southern Turkey, some 20 miles from the Mediterranean coast. These air-dropped bombs are capable of delivering a range of nuclear yields, from 300 tons up to 170 kilotons, or roughly eleven times the yield of the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945. (For a more concrete description of these weapons’ destructive force, watch this.) Turkish F-16 fighters used to be certified to carry and deliver these weapons, but Turkey no longer has the pilots for that task; now, the weapons at Incirlik are there for rotational U.S. aircraft to drop them, if it’s ever necessary.

In light of Turkey’s precipitous Syrian advance, it’s fair to ask whether the U.S. should reconsider its weapons posture at Incirlik—or, as arms-control researcher Jeffrey Lewis put it last week: “Seriously, it’s time to take our fucking nuclear weapons out of Turkey.” That thought apparently also occurred to U.S. officials at the State Department and Department of Energy; sources tell The New York Times that since Erdoğan’s onslaught against the Kurds began, those officials have been “reviewing plans” to get the bombs out of Incirlik. It should have happened much sooner—say, when a coup threatened to topple Erdoğan’s government in 2016, or in the aftermath, as he drifted from the U.S.’s orbit—but removing a nuclear arsenal from Turkish soil is a necessary step in reducing a global danger. Alliances are built on closely shared interests and values, and—presidential phone calls notwithstanding—the U.S. and Turkey no longer have any.

Technically, we didn’t know that those 50 or so warheads were still at Incirlik until the Times report confirmed it this week. It’s general American policy to neither confirm nor deny the specific location of nuclear weapons on vessels and storage sites overseas. That practice was a major part of what led to the late-1980s rupture in the U.S.-New Zealand alliance: Wellington’s Labour government grew uncomfortable with the likelihood of nuclear weapons passing through New Zealand waters, and the U.S. government wouldn’t certify that its vessels were explicitly nonnuclear.

What we do know is that B61 warheads in NATO nations are held for safe storage in special electronic vaults—known as a Weapons Storage and Security System, or WS3—in the floors of hardened bunkers. Deep inside Incirlik, these vaults are some of the last checks against nuclear theft or detonation by, say, a rogue Turkish government or allied militia. Some additional safety is provided by permissive action links—essentially, access entry codes—on the bombs themselves, but these delay rather than prevent unauthorized use. Given sufficient time and access to these weapons, a sophisticated adversary with the resources of a nation-state could likely figure out a way to use them—if not as designed, then in a way that would still release disastrous and deadly radiation. The only way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to physically remove the weapons.

When it comes to occasionally pulling its nuclear weapons out of allied countries, the United States has some well-known experience: It’s removed arms from the United Kingdom, Greece, and a German base under NATO auspices, with little logistical or political difficulty. Turkey’s case appears a bit more fraught: The Times, based on an interview with one unnamed U.S. official, suggested that the American nuclear bombs “were now essentially Erdoğan’s hostages.” That’s literally untrue, since the weapons remain in U.S. Air Force custody, but the underlying idea is that “to fly them out of Incirlik would be to mark the de facto end of the Turkish-American alliance.” But that statement seems inaccurate, too: This dysfunctional alliance can’t and won’t be saved by the physical presence of American bombs on Turkish soil. The weapons are a liability and serve no valid reassurance purpose—not to Turkey specifically, or to NATO more generally. The bombs can most certainly leave, and Turkey can remain as NATO’s intolerable black sheep—its status in the alliance being a problem for another day.

Where those weapons could go after being removed from Turkey is a different thorny question. Given deep-seated European skepticism of American intentions at the moment, accepting a nuclear deployment under a Trump president would kick off a political hurricane—one that each NATO member nation is eager to avoid. But as Turkey expert Aaron Stein notes, the U.S.’s oldest NATO-deployed B61s, including those at Incirlik, were slated for upgrades and maintenance, for which the weapons would rotate out to the United States, likely the Pantex nuclear assembly plant in West Texas. (The bombs are due to receive a new “tail kit assembly” as part of planned modernization to increase their “precision.”) This upgrade has been considerably delayed, but the bombs might need to come home sooner than planned.

That’s because waiting out the current U.S.-Turkish crisis seems… imprudent. President Trump was already beleaguered by Turkey controversies before the anti-Kurdish offensive began: His first national security adviser admitted in federal court that he was a paid Turkish agent. We also learned this week that Trump pressured Rex Tillerson, his first secretary of state, to get a Turkish Erdoğan-connected gold dealer, represented by Rudy Giuliani, free of federal charges in connection with Iranian sanctions violations.

In an attempt to control the damage from the Turkish Syria offensive, Trump has now fallen back on bluster, threatening “to swiftly destroy Turkey’s economy if Turkish leaders continue down this dangerous and destructive path.” Defense Secretary Mark Esper has likewise promised that in an upcoming visit to NATO, he will demand consequences for Turkey’s bloody incursion. The U.S. is already in an untenable position, screaming threats at a putative U.S. ally for doing something that Trump assented to in the first place, against virtually all advice from U.S. officials.

At least take nuclear explosives out of the equation. There’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube—or bringing back the U.S.-allied Kurds who’ve been slaughtered as a result of Turkish cruelty and presidential nihilism—but there are lingering risks that can be managed. Removing the U.S. atomic arsenal from Turkey won’t fix the world, but it could save the world from experiencing its stupidest disaster yet.