The Growing Russian Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

MIT Corp.The MIT Corporation is the manufacturer of the Aerostat missile. Composite image showing MIT’s headquarters in Moscow and one of its road-mobile ICBMs. (Source)

Aerostat: a Russian long-range anti-ballistic missile system with possible counterspace capabilities

by Bart Hendrickx
Monday, October 11, 2021

Russia has been working for several years on a long-range anti-ballistic missile system named Aerostat. The fact that it is being developed by the country’s sole manufacturer of solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles suggests that it may very well have a range allowing it to double as a counterspace system. The oddly named ABM system (“aerostat” is a general term for unpowered balloons and airships) has never been mentioned in the Russian press or openly discussed by Russian military analysts, but its existence and basic design features can be determined through open-source intelligence.

There has been much debate over whether Nudol is primarily an anti-missile system with a complementary counterspace role or vice versa.

Aerostat has shown up in a number of openly accessible official documents, the first being the 2013 annual report of the Almaz-Antey Air and Space Defense Corporation, established in 2002 to unify dozens of companies producing missiles, anti-aircraft systems, radars, naval artillery, and other systems.[1] As can be learned from other publicly available documents, Almaz-Antey was assigned prime contractor for the project by the Ministry of Defense on July 12, 2013. A court document published last July literally describes the purpose of the July 2013 contract as “the development of a long-range intercept complex for the anti-missile defense of the Russian Federation in the period 2013-2018” and identifies the missile as 106T6.[2] Aerostat is not the first such long-range ABM system developed under the supervision of Almaz-Antey. Another one, named Nudol, has been undergoing test flights for several years and is likely seen primarily as a direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon.

Nudol

Nudol (also known as 14Ts033) is named after a small place some 100 kilometers northwest of Moscow that was one of the deployment sites for the long-range missiles of Moscow’s former A-35M missile defense system. Its main element is a road-mobile solid-fuel rocket called 14A042, developed by OKB Novator in Yekaterinburg. This company belongs to Almaz-Antey and has produced a wide range of surface-to-air and cruise missiles. US intelligence data indicate that the 14A042 missile has flown at least ten test flights from the Plesetsk launch site in northwestern Russia since 2014, but no targets seem to have been involved in any of those.

There has been much debate over whether Nudol is primarily an anti-missile system with a complementary counterspace role or vice versa. US intelligence considers it a direct-ascent anti-satellite system, as is clear from statements placed on the website of US Space Command following the latest two Nudol tests in April and December 2020.[3] It has also been characterized as an anti-satellite system by at least two Russian officials, namely the deputy head of a Ministry of Defense research institute and Russia’s deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov.[4] Another factor pointing in the direction of an ASAT role for the 14A042 missile is that the 14A designators are typically used for space launch vehicles (for instance, 14A14 is the Soyuz-2 rocket.) 14A042 is indeed termed a “rocket for space-related purposes” in two official documents that outline safety precautions that need to be taken when the rockets fly over the Nenets Autonomous District east of Plesetsk.[5] Moreover, one court document mentions communications systems needed to connect Nudol with the headquarters of Russia’s space surveillance network in Noginsk-9 (code-named 3006M.)[6]

An analysis of online procurement documents shows that Almaz-Antey was named prime contractor for the project by the Ministry of Defense on August 10, 2009, and awarded a contract to OKB Novator for the development of the 14A042 rocket on the same day. For some reason, Almaz-Antey received a new contract for the project on April 10, 2015.[7]

While OKB Novator is responsible for integrating the rocket, the individual stages are manufactured by NPO Iskra in Perm. The designators 14D807 and 14D809 seen in some documents are likely the ones used for the first and second stage.[8] Nudol appears to have a kinetic kill vehicle that contains a “multispectral electro-optical homing head” (MOEGSN or 14Sh129) developed by KB Tochmash.[9] The State Institute of Applied Optics (GIPO) supplies what is called a “combined frameless television/infrared channel” for 14Sh129.[10] This part of the payload, apparently named TTPS, is presumably described in several technical articles published by GIPO, where the spectral ranges are given as 0.4–0.7 microns (visible) and 3.0–5.0 microns (mid-infrared.)[11] Both KB Tochmash and GIPO also have a role in the air-launched Burevestnik ASAT system.

Aerostat’s organizational background

Almaz-Antey’s main subcontractor for Aerostat is the MIT Corporation (MIT standing for “Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology”), which specializes in solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missiles. Unlike OKB Novator, it is part of the Roscosmos State Corporation and is a newcomer to the field of anti-ballistic missile defense.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union, the MIT Corporation fielded the Topol-M, YARS, and Bulava ICBMs (the latter a submarine-launched missile.) In the 1990s, it also converted Soviet-era Topol ICBMs into space launch vehicles called Start and Start-1, which were used to launch a number of small satellites into low Earth orbit between 1993 and 2006. The company is also working on the solid-fuel emergency escape system for Russia’s new piloted spacecraft Oryol.

Other subcontractors that can be identified from online sources are:

– KB Tochmash and GIPO: the two companies play the same role as in Nudol, providing the electro-optical system of the missile’s homing head. Actually, some procurement documents indicate that the system is identical or at least very similar to the MOEGSN/14Sh129 system carried by Nudol’s 14A042 rocket.[12] It also includes a diode-pumped laser rangefinder.[13] KB Tochmash has also built laser rangefinders for some of its surface-to-air missiles and several years ago was planning to deliver a laser rangefinder “for spacecraft dockings” to an unidentified foreign partner, most likely China.[14]

– NPTsAP imeni N.A. Pilyugina (further referred to here as the Pilyugin Center): this company produces guidance and control systems for launch vehicles and most likely performs the same task for Aerostat. It has built a test stand called Aerostat that is almost certainly intended for the project.[15]

– GOKB Prozhektor: a company belonging to the MIT Corporation that builds autonomous power supply systems for the corporation’s ICBMs. Aerostat is listed among other MIT Corporation missiles in two of the company’s annual reports.[16]

– PAO Radiofizika: a company under Almaz-Antey, involved among other things in building ground-based radar systems that provide targeting data for anti-missile systems. Aerostat is mentioned in PAO Radiofizika’s annual reports for 2018 and 2019 and in a book dedicated to the company’s 55th anniversary. The 2020 annual report mentions work related to “Product 103T6”, an index similar to 106T6. It is not clear if this is yet another missile or whether there is a typo in one of the two indexes.[17]

– GosNIIAS (State Research Institute of Aviation Systems): this appears to build one or more test stands for Aerostat, including one used to simulate the infrared background against which the missile’s homing head will have to track its targets.[18]

– АО VIKor: a company that provides technical support and consulting for various military projects. Its website mentions work done in 2019 on research projects called Aerostat-Ts-MIT and Aerostat-S-MIT-Nadyozhnost (the latter word meaning “reliability”).[19]

Technical features

Aerostat may have been discussed in an article written by Almaz-Antey’s deputy general director Pavel Sozinov in a 2017 issue of the corporation’s quarterly journal.[20] It deals with mathematical modeling techniques to simulate the performance of various “air and space defense systems.” One of those is literally called “an advanced long-range intercept complex,” with Sozinov hinting that it has a range considerably exceeding that of existing systems. The simulations were needed to “justify technical decisions made to develop the system” and “determine its combat efficiency.” It can be learned from the article that its targets will be both “complex ballistic targets” (a term usually used for multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles) and satellites (included in the models were “calculations of satellite orbits” as well as data provided by the ground-based space surveillance network.) It cannot be ruled out that Sozinov was writing about Nudol, but he portrayed the research as being linked to a future system, whereas Nudol was already making test flights at the time of writing.

SozinovPavel Sozinov. (Source)

The computer models simulated the operation of a “central radar complex” to acquire and track the targets and benefited from experience gathered with a mobile radar system named Demonstrator. This was a truck-mounted phased array radar first demonstrated at various air shows in 2013–2014 and described at the time by PAO Radiofizika’s general director Boris Levitan as a prototype of bigger radar stations needed for space surveillance (although it could also be used for detecting airborne targets.)[21]

What can be concluded from the available information is that Aerostat’s 106T6 rocket is probably a multistage solid-fuel launch vehicle that inherits elements from one or more of the MIT Corporation’s ICBMs.

The “central radar complex” could be the Don-2 battle management radar currently used by Moscow’s A-135 anti-ballistic missile system or another one known as 14Ts031 or Object 0746-M that is situated near Chekhov, some 60 kilometers southwest of Moscow. This is a modified version of the Dunai-3U radar complex originally built for the earlier A-35M missile defense system and consists of a transmitting and a receiving antenna separated by about three kilometers. In documentation it is called “a specialized space surveillance radar for the detection and monitoring of small-size space objects”. PAO Radiofizika has been closely involved in modernizing the radar complex since early last decade under a project called Razvyazka. Although the radar system has usually been linked to Nudol, it could obviously support Aerostat as well. According to a brochure distributed by PAO Radiofizika at the recent MAKS-2021 aerospace show near Moscow, the modernization of the radar complex has been completed and the main purpose of the P-band phased array radar is to catalog space objects and detect satellites in high orbits.[22]

radar complexThe receiving antenna of the 14Ts031 radar complex is seen on the right side of this image taken from orbit in June 2020. Source: Google Earth.
radarGrainy ground-based picture of the receiving antenna. (Source)

In the same article, Sozinov also discussed techniques to simulate the flight of a multistage solid-fuel rocket carrying a “multispectral electro-optical homing head” (possibly the MOEGSN/14Sh129 system jointly developed by KB Tochmash and GIPO.) He didn’t specifically link the rocket to the “long-range intercept complex,” but the computer models took into account Earth limb background effects, suggesting the rocket is designed to operate outside the Earth’s atmosphere. It has a third stage whose flight path can be corrected using tracking information on the target and its homing head is described as a “two-dimensional tracking system with independent control for each channel” needed to determine the angular velocity of the line of sight. Sozinov’s description of this system is virtually copied and pasted in a paper presented in 2018 by a researcher of the Pilyugin Center (a subcontractor for Aerostat) who has also co-authored several articles as well as a patent on a method to control the thrust of a solid-fuel upper stage.[23] Presumably, targeting data obtained by the sensors will be used by the rocket’s guidance and control system to regulate the upper stage’s thrust.

The link with Aerostat is further supported by the fact that the specific Russian term used for “upper stage” in one of these Pilyugin Center articles (dovodochnaya stupen’, sounding somewhat similar to “kick stage” in English) is seen virtually only in publications of the MIT Corporation. Also, one of the co-researchers, Gennadiy Rumyantsev, is a veteran of the Pilyugin Center who was involved in developing the guidance and control system for the MIT Corporation’s Start launch vehicles back in the 1990s.[24]

These rockets, derived from the Topol ICBM and launched from transporter erector launchers, came in four-stage and five-stage configurations (called Start-1 and Start respectively), with both carrying an additional low-thrust kick stage to deliver the payloads to their final orbits (so strictly speaking they were five-stage and six-stage rockets.) The kick stage had а thrust control system as well as a gas reaction control system to ensure accurate orbital injection of the satellites. In earlier publications, Rumyantsev has pointed out that such kick stages can be used either as an ICBM post-boost stage to deploy nuclear warheads or as the upper stage of a space launch vehicle.[25] Most likely, exactly the same type of stage could be modified to guide an exoatmospheric kill vehicle to its target.

radarSchematic representation of the Start launch vehicle’s “kick stage”. A similar stage may serve as the basis for Aerostat’s kinetic kill vehicle. (Source)

The MIT Corporation has recently proposed to revive the Start project using decommissioned Topol ICBMs, at least several dozens of which are left.[26] The renewed interest in Start is also reflected by a handful of patents of the MIT Corporation that have appeared online in recent years.[27] MIT has also studied modified versions of solid-fuel upper stages [28]. Although impossible to prove, it is tempting to believe that these proposals at least partly draw on work done as part of Aerostat since 2013.

Start-1The Start-1 rocket. Source: MIT Corporation.

Aside from Sozinov’s 2017 article, Almaz-Antey has published two other articles that may be related to Aerostat. One discusses computer simulations of the launch of a “multistage rocket” which “exits the Earth’s atmosphere” and uses both on-board sensors and ground-based radar systems to detect and track its targets. One of its authors has also written an article on modeling the Earth limb’s infrared background radiation as seen by “space-based electro-optical systems.”[29] Considering Almaz-Antey’s background, the research hardly had anything to do with a civilian space project.

There can be little doubt that Russia considers counterspace weapons an integral part of this system, which is often depicted as being targeted against “air-based and space-based attack systems”. From the Russian perspective, one such potential space-based attack system is the US Air Force’s X-37B spaceplane.

What can be concluded from the available information is that Aerostat’s 106T6 rocket is probably a multistage solid-fuel launch vehicle that inherits elements from one or more of the MIT Corporation’s ICBMs (Topol-M, YARS, Bulava, or possibly a lightweight version of YARS known as Rubezh.) Judging by Sozinov’s article, it may use the first two stages of an existing ICBM topped by an exoatmospheric kill vehicle consisting of a solid-fuel “kick stage” (the “third stage” mentioned by Sozinov) and a homing system that relies on data fed by ground-based radars and an on-board visible/infrared sensor.

Situating Aerostat in the Russian ABM program

So where does Aerostat fit in Russia’s anti-ballistic missile program? In May 2016, MIT Corporation general director Yuri Solomonov acknowledged his company’s leading role in a missile defense project, but did not provide additional details other than calling it analogous to the American Aegis system.[30] Aegis is the Navy component of the US missile defense system and is geared toward defending against short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles during their midcourse phase. It also has a limited counterspace capability, which was demonstrated in 2008 when an Aegis Standard Missile-3 was used to destroy a derelict US reconnaissance satellite to prevent it from re-entering the atmosphere in one piece and possibly causing harm to people on the ground (or that, at least, was the official explanation.) While Aegis is primarily a sea-based system, it also has a land-based component (Aegis Ashore) which began deployment in Eastern Europe in 2016. This has drawn strong criticism from Russia, which considers it a breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, arguing Aegis Ashore can also be used to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles against targets on Russian territory.

Тhe evidence presented above is not consistent with Aerostat being a theater missile defense system like Aegis. Presumably, Solomonov was referring to Aegis as a well-known example of a US missile defense system rather than meaning to say MIT’s missile defense system is in the same category.

SolomonovMIT Corporation general director Yuri Solomonov. (Source)

Protection against theater missiles is currently provided by the S-300 and S-400 air defense systems. The only ABM system capable of intercepting ICBMs is A-135, deployed around Moscow to intercept incoming warheads targeting the city and its surrounding areas. This was declared operational in 1995 and is the successor to the original A-35 system deployed in the 1970s in compliance with the 1972 ABM Treaty (which limited both the US and the Soviet Union to having only one ABM site, but was abandoned by the US in 2002.) Currently, A-135’s main elements are the Don-2N battle management phased array radar and several dozen short-range 53T6 (NATO reporting name “Gazelle”) endoatmospheric nuclear-tipped missiles developed by OKB Novator. Also part of A-135 was 51T6 (NATO reporting name “Gorgon”), a long-range nuclear-tipped exoatmospheric missile, which has now been retired.

In 2014, Almaz-Antey’s Pavel Sozinov said that Russia’s missile defense system was being considerably upgraded and would comprise equivalents of America’s THAAD and GMD systems. THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) is intended to intercept short- and medium-range missiles at the end of the midcourse stage and in the terminal stage of flight. GMD (Ground-Based Midcourse Defense) is designed to counter ICBMs in the midcourse stage. According to Sozinov, the THAAD-type system would target medium-range ballistic missiles and have a limited capability against ICBMs as well. The other system would be “somewhat similar to GMD”, but would be mobile and have a “higher intercept efficiency.” [31] In 2017, the chief designer of Russia’s missile early warning system, Sergey Boyev, declared that a “multi-layered national missile defense system” would be deployed by 2025, calling it a response to the “direct threat” posed by the US Aegis Ashore missiles deployed in Eastern Europe.[32]

There can be little doubt that Russia considers counterspace weapons an integral part of this system, which is often depicted as being targeted against “air-based and space-based attack systems”. From the Russian perspective, one such potential space-based attack system is the US Air Force’s X-37B spaceplane, which, according to Sozinov, could carry up to three warheads into space and then deliver them to their targets after evading early warning systems.[33] Even President Vladimir Putin himself has alluded to the offensive potential of the X-37B, saying that “re-usable shuttle type spacecraft” can give the US an edge in the militarization of space and that the deployment of what he called “combat complexes” in orbit poses a greater threat to world security than that of medium-range missiles in Europe[34]. In 2017, Sozinov acknowledged Almaz-Antey’s involvement in the development of counterspace weapons, more particularly electronic warfare systems to be used against radar reconnaissance, optical reconnaissance, and communications satellites, as well as systems for “the direct functional destruction of elements deployed in orbit,” an apparent reference to kinetic ASAT weapons.[35]

X-37BThe US Air Force X-37B is seen by Russia as a potential “space-based attack system”. Source: USAF.

What Sozinov called “the Russian THAAD” appears to be the S-500 system (also known as Prometey and Triumfator-M). As explained by Sergey Surovikin, the commander of the Russian Aerospace Forces, the S-500 system is aimed against both “aerodynamic targets” (including drones and hypersonic vehicles) and “ballistic targets.” Its main goal, he said, is to destroy medium-range ballistic missiles, but if needed it can also intercept ICBM-launched warheads in the terminal stage. He added that, in the future, it will also be able to destroy low orbiting satellites and “space-based attack systems.”[36] Little has been revealed about S-500, but available information suggests that it includes the 40N6M missile (with a reported range of 400 kilometers) for use against aircraft and cruise missiles and the more powerful 77N6-N and 77N6-N1 (with an estimated range of 500–600 kilometers) to counter ballistic missiles and satellites. All these missiles are products of MKB Fakel.

If used in an ASAT capacity, Aerostat should have a range considerably higher than that of Nudol and, hence, be capable of taking out satellites in higher orbits.

The “Russian GMD” is most likely the upgraded Moscow ABM system known as A-235. Work on this began back in 1991 under the strange code-name “Samolyot-M” (“samolyot” means “aircraft”), but progress has been very slow. The short-range component of A-235 appears to be an improved variant of OKB Novator’s 53T6 missile called 53T6M, which has been making test flights from the Sary-Shagan test range in Kazakhstan since early last decade. The long-range component, the replacement for the decommissioned 51T6, has long been rumored to be Nudol, with numerous sources (including Wikipedia) going as far as claiming that Nudol actually is another name for the entire A-235 system (which is clearly not the case.) In reality, there is no convincing documentary evidence that Nudol will become part of A-235.

The index used for Aerostat’s missile (106T6 or possibly 103T6, the same nomenclature as 53T6 and 51T6) does point to it being a future element of A-235. It would have several advantages over 51T6. Likely having a longer range, it would be able to intercept ICBMs earlier in the midcourse phase than has been possible so far. Rather than being installed in silos, it should be mobile (the MIT Corporation’s ICBMs can be launched from transporter erector launchers) and its advanced homing system should allow it to kinetically destroy its targets instead of disabling them by detonating a nuclear warhead in their vicinity.

Nudol’s place in all this remains uncertain (its exact range is unknown). Possibly, A-235 will be a three-tier system with short-range missiles (53T6M), medium-range missiles (Nudol/14A042) and long-range missiles (Aerostat/106T6). Original plans formulated for A-235 in the 1990s did in fact call for such a three-tier system. It is also possible that Nudol is a specialized ASAT system with no anti-missile role at all (the 14A042 index of the Nudol missile is not indicative of it being part of A-235).

Possible counterspace role

So is Aerostat designed to attack satellites as well? If Sozinov was writing about Aerostat in his 2017 article, then it would appear it is. The fact that Aerostat and Nudol seem to share the same tracking sensors may also point in that direction. If used in an ASAT capacity, Aerostat should have a range considerably higher than that of Nudol and, hence, be capable of taking out satellites in higher orbits. In the absence of more specific information on the design, it is difficult to estimate exactly how much higher.

As a rule of thumb, the apogee that a ballistic missile can reach when launched vertically is approximately one half of its maximum horizontal range.[37] Therefore, a missile like Topol, which has a horizontal range of around 11,000 kilometers, would be able to reach a maximum altitude of roughly 5,500 kilometers. By replacing the nuclear warheads with a much lighter kinetic kill vehicle and adding one or more stages (as done on the Start rockets), that ceiling can be significantly increased. Recall that China conducted a high-altitude missile test in May 2013 that was officially billed as a scientific sounding rocket mission, but was later assessed by the Pentagon to have been a possible “test of technologies with a counterpace mission in geosynchronous orbit.”

However, it is highly questionable that Aerostat would be able to reach such altitudes or even those used by America’s GPS/Navstar navigation satellites (around 20,000 kilometers.) Moreover, it would take hours for a direct-ascent ASAT weapon to reach such targets, giving them ample time to perform evasive maneuvers. A more efficient way of disabling satellites in such orbits is by using electronic warfare systems, several of which are known to have been deployed by Russia. Any other US military satellites that could be worthwhile targets for anti-satellite systems orbit the Earth no higher than about 1,000 kilometers, more specifically the KH-11 optical reconnaissance satellites, the X-37B spaceplanes, the Onyx (Lacrosse) and Topaz radar reconnaissance satellites, and the NOSS-3/Intruder ocean reconnaissance satellites. Also added to the list could be a series of European military observation satellites. All of these would likely fall within the range of Aerostat.

Future tests of Aerostat may be complicated by the fact that Russia’s main test range for anti-missile systems (Sary-Shagan) is located in neighboring Kazakhstan.

In short, within several years Russia may possess as many as three anti-missile systems that could double as direct-ascent anti-satellite weapons (S-500, Nudol and Aerostat), whatever the rationale behind that may be. That goal has, in fact, been officially acknowledged for S-500 and Nudol, with the latter possibly even being a dedicated ASAT system. In addition to those, Russia probably already has operational ground-based electronic warfare and laser systems for counterspace purposes and is also working on co-orbital ASAT systems, which already seem to have made test flights under the Burevestnik and Nivelir projects.[38]

Project status

Some insight into the original test schedule for Aerostat is provided by the earlier mentioned court document published this July. The July 2013 contract between the Ministry of Defense and Almaz-Antey and later supplements to the contract called for finishing the preliminary design by November 2014 and conducting a “live experiment” in October 2017. So-called “preliminary tests” were to be completed by November 2020 and followed by “state tests,” after which the system was to be declared ready for serial production in November 2021.

“Preliminary tests” and “state tests” are terms inherited from the Soviet days denoting the test phases that a military product has to go through before it is declared operational. “Preliminary tests” are defined as tests needed to determine if experimental versions of a military product meet technical specifications. “State tests” are needed to establish whether the product meets technical requirements “in conditions as close as possible to those experienced in the field” and to decide whether it can be approved for operational use and serial production.

According to the document, the “live experiment” was eventually carried out on December 26, 2017. No further details are given, but on that day Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces launched a Soviet-era Topol ICBM on a test flight from the Kapustin Yar test range near Volgograd (most likely toward the Sary-Shagan range in Kazakhstan.) In a statement released the same day, the Ministry of Defense announced the flight was designed to test new ballistic missile defense countermeasures.[39] The same goal has also been reported for other Topol test flights from Kapustin Yar and was not unique to this mission. In this particular case, the test may have been aimed at testing ways of evading countermeasures taken by the enemy to prevent its missiles from being intercepted by ABM missiles. The fact that the Aerostat-related test was carried out with a Topol missile does not at all imply that Aerostat itself will also be based on Topol. The aging Topol missiles are used to demonstrate technology for newer ICBMs.

TopolLaunch of a Topol missile. (Source)

The court document does not shed any light on further technical progress made in the Aerostat project after the December 2017 test. The subject of the court case was a lawsuit filed by the Ministry of Defense against Almaz-Antey for delays in the “live experiment” and the delivery of design documentation and software for the project (with the MIT Corporation mentioned only as a third party.) The court also granted a request from the Ministry of Defense to terminate the July 2013 contract, but that does not necessarily mean that the project has been canceled. The contract covered work on Aerostat in the 2013–2018 period and its official termination may have been no more than a bureaucratic move. In fact, procurement documents show that the Ministry of Defense signed a new contract with Almaz-Antey for Aerostat on April 26, 2018 and further work seems to have taken place only under that contract. A similar pattern was seen in the Nudol project, where the government contract with Almaz-Antey was renewed after six years.

The work known to have been performed under the new contract does carry the label “NIR”, which is Russian short for the research phase of a project that precedes actual systems development (referred to as “OKR”.) This may indicate that at least some systems have encountered technical problems that have forced designers back to the drawing boards.

Future tests of Aerostat may be complicated by the fact that Russia’s main test range for anti-missile systems (Sary-Shagan) is located in neighboring Kazakhstan. One anonymous “highly-placed source” in the Russian defense industry told a Russian news outlet in June last year that this is causing problems for tests of long-range air and missile defense systems, particularly S-500. To some extent, the source said, this also applied to Nudol, although the main stumbling block for Nudol were “some unresolved technical issues” that were expected to keep it from entering combat duty until 2021 “at the earliest.”[40] Still, if Nudol and Aerostat have a hit-to-kill capability, that likely would have to be demonstrated before they are declared operational. Russia may prefer to do that using ballistic targets rather than orbiting satellites, considering the vast amounts of space debris that would be generated by such tests. Since it uses the same type of tracking sensors, Nudol could also serve as a pathfinder for Aerostat.

What seems to be a new test range for anti-missile systems (Object 2142) is being constructed near the town of Severo-Yeniseiskiy in the Krasnoyarsk region in Siberia. It is part of a project called Ukazchik-KV, which in one document was associated with “a test range and internal flight path for tests of anti-missile systems and anti-missile countermeasures” (“internal flight path” probably meaning a flight path that doesn’t cross Russia’s borders.)[41] Planned for installation at the new test range are radars and optical tracking systems similar to those used at Sary-Shagan. One map of the test range shows (simulated) warheads coming in from the northwest, indicating the new “internal flight path” will be from Plesetsk to Severo-Yeniseiskiy and complement or replace the currently used flight path from Kapustin Yar to Sary-Shagan.[42] Late last year, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said the site near Severo-Yeniseiskiy was needed for tests of the new Sarmat liquid-fuel ICBM, but it clearly will be used for other purposes as well.[43]

mapMap of the “Object 2142” test range, scattered over a large area near Severo-Yeniseiskiy. The arrow in the upper left corner indicates the direction of travel of incoming warheads. (Source)

Ukazchik-KV was assigned to Almaz-Antey on the very same day as Aerostat (July 12, 2013), as was yet another missile defense project called Selektsiya, which seems to be aimed at creating an integrated command structure for Russia’s air and missile defense systems. It is not entirely clear though if there is any connection between these three projects, which were initiated under three different government contracts. But even if Aerostat does not need the new test range, it seems to have fallen far behind the schedule originally set out for it and may still be a long way from reaching operational status.

The Russian horns new nuclear toys Daniel 7

Russian developing 4,000mph hypersonic nuke missile for stealth fighter jets that can hit ANYWHERE on Earth in minutes

14:50 ET,

VLADIMIR Putin’s top weapons designers are developing a 4,000mph hypersonic nuclear missile that is capable of reducing a city anywhere on Earth to ashes within minutes.

The nukes will be fired from fifth-generation fighter Su-57 and travel five times faster than sound — making it almost impossible to shoot down. 

The hypersonic missile will be carried by the new Su-57 stealth fighters
The hypersonic missile will be carried by the new Su-57 stealth fightersCredit: Getty

Russian news agency Interfax reports the missile will be used against sea targets and ports and undergo tests by the end of this year.  

Citing sources in the Russian Defence Ministry, Izvestia newspaper reports the hypersonic weapon is being designed for the Su-57 stealth fighter by the Tactical Missile Corporation under a codename “Larchinka-MD”.

It writes: “It will fly at speeds five or more times faster than sound and will become virtually invulnerable to modern air and missile defence systems.”

Earlier this it emerged that Russia said today it has successfully test-fired its new lethal Zircon hypersonic missile from a submarine for the first time.

Video footage shows the 6,670mph rocket being fired from the nuclear-powered sub-Severodvinsk before streaking into the night sky.

The weapon was launched from the surface in the White Sea and successfully hit a target in the Barents Sea, said the defence ministry in Moscow.

Russia claims the “unstoppable” Mach 9 missile is able to evade all Western defences.

“The Russian navy carried out the first tests of the Zircon hypersonic missile from the Severodvinsk nuclear submarine,” an official statement read.

“The missile was test-fired at a conditional sea target in the Barents Sea.

“The test-firing of the Zircon missile from the nuclear submarine was recognised as successful.”

Russia said last week said it had completed flight tests of the new-age missile from a frigate, the Admiral Gorshkov, and a coastal mount.

Babylon the Great extends her nuclear horn Daniel 7

WARHEAD_NAVY_W76_

Newly Declassified Data Shows Unexplained Increase In U.S. Nuclear Warhead Stockpile

There had been no increases in the stockpile for over 25 years before this data point was released.

October 7, 2021By

At the latest official public count, the U.S. military possesses a stockpile of 3,750 nuclear warheads, with approximately 2,000 more that have been retired and are awaiting disposal. Under the Trump administration, however, a small but unusual bump in stockpile size occurred between 2018 and 2019, according to these same figures. The unexplained increase in the total number of warheads in inventory is apparently only the second reported instance of its kind since the end of the Cold War.

The revelations are among newly declassified details of nuclear weapons numbers in a recently published fact sheetfrom the U.S. Department of State with the title Transparency in the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile. This is the first time such data has been released since September 2017, after which the Trump administration took the decision to classify the information.

As the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) observed in their blog on the topic, the stockpile increased by 20 warheads between September 2018 and September 2019, when Trump was in office.

While there is no information immediately available to explain that 20-warhead increase, FAS suggests that one possibility is the production of the controversial low-yield W76-2 nuclear warheads for the U.S. Navy’s Trident D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

The-then presidential candidate Joe Biden warned before taking office that fielding the W76-2 was a “bad idea” and that the warhead’s existence makes the U.S. government “more inclined to use them” than in the past.

Regardless, the Trump administration pushed forward with the production of the W76-2, pointing to Russian plans for the first use of tactical nuclear weapons as justification.

According to FAS, the first W76-2 was produced in February 2019 and the final example was completed in June 2020. While that might explain some of the background to the spike, it’s not conclusive, especially since the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has gone on the record to say that some W76-1s were converted into W76-2s, which wouldn’t result in any change in the total number of warheads in the stockpile.

Another possibility relates the spike to the Nuclear Posture Review under the Trump administration, which was released in 2018. This reversed the existing plan to completely remove the B83-1 gravity bomb from service. It could be that the bump reflects a change in retirement schedules there somehow, although the timeline doesn’t seem to match up.

Whatever the reason for the spike, the appearance of the newly declassified data is interesting in itself. The State Department fact sheet notes that “Increasing the transparency of states’ nuclear stockpiles is important to nonproliferation and disarmament efforts, including commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and efforts to address all types of nuclear weapons, including deployed and non-deployed, and strategic and non-strategic.”

The latest figures are correct as of September last year, revealing that the U.S. has dismantled 711 nuclear warheads since September 30, 2017, when the figures were last made public. Prior to then, the United States had 4,717 nuclear warheads in its stockpile as of September 2014, and 5,113 warheads in September 2009.

It’s also worth noting the classification for warheads in the stockpile, and those that have been retired. The nuclear stockpile includes both operational “ready-for-use” warheads as well as non-operational ones, kept in a depot, which would require longer to make ready. Meanwhile, retired warheads are removed from their delivery platform and are no longer functional, essentially waiting to be dismantled.

The fact sheet also compares the latest total to the peak of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile — 31,255 warheads in Fiscal Year 1967 — and the total at the end of the Cold War — 22,217 in late 1989.

The figures do not provide subtotals of strategic and tactical weapons, although the fact sheet does confirm that numbers of U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons have declined by more than 90 percent since September 1991. In the past, this category included weapons such as nuclear mines, artillery, tactical ballistic missiles, tactical cruise missiles, tactical gravity bombs, and anti-submarine weapons. Today, this class of weapon has been reduced to gravity bombs, although modernization of these weapons continues.

The timing of the latest nuclear warheads fact sheet coincides with a review of nuclear weapons policy and capabilities by the Biden administration. Declassifying the nuclear stockpile information is also likely geared toward next January’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference, in which nuclear powers who have signed the treaty — among the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China — will address the issue of disarmament commitments.

The State Department’s move could therefore be intended to apply pressure on Russia and China in particular, to release more details about their prospective nuclear stockpiles. Both of those countries are in the process of introducing new and diversestrategic weapons capabilities, while China is thought to have embarked on a considerable expansion of its nuclear delivery systems.

In the case of Russia, the Biden administration may hope that the newly released details encourage Moscow to be more transparent about its own nuclear stockpile within the framework of further extending, or replacing the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START. China, for its part, is not a signatory of New START and while the Biden administration is expected to make a push to include Beijing as well, officials there have been lukewarm in the past about becoming involved in such treaties.

As The War Zone has examined in the past, New START places hard limits on the total number of strategic nuclear weapon delivery systems, as well as the warheads that they carry, that each country can possess. The arrangement is seen as being key to preventing a new nuclear arms race between the two powers and the Biden administration is apparently keen to negotiate new arms control deals with Russia, especially given the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, in 2019.

In terms of nuclear policy, the Biden administration, for its part, seems set on continuing much of the strategic weapons modernization that was already underway during the Trump administration, despite the president-elect making calls for reducing spending on nuclear weapons, even stating that “the United States does not need new nuclear weapons.”

Current modernization plans now include replacing LGM-30G Minuteman IIIintercontinental ballistic missiles with the future Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD, at a total cost of around $264 billion. For the Navy, as well as the aforementioned W76-2 warhead, there are also longer-term plans for new ballistic missile submarines as well as upgrades for the Trident SLBMs to keep them viable until the 2040s.

The Air Force, meanwhile, expects to receive around 1,000 examples of the stealthy Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) cruise missile to replace the existing Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM), to be armed with refurbished W80-4 warheads. This is in addition to its revitalized inventory of tactical nuclear weapons, based around the B61-12gravity bomb. While the LRSO program has a projected cost of $16.2 billion, the B61-12 is notoriously worth more than twice its weight in gold, as The War Zone has examined in the past

That suggests that despite pre-election rhetoric about pursuing a “sustainable nuclear budget,” the nuclear weapons plans of the current administration are more or less business as usual. The hopes of some analysts that the United States might even do away with the ICBM leg of its nuclear triad were swiftly dashed, the Biden administration quickly committing itself to the primacy of the nuclear triad itself — ICBMs, nuclear-capable Air Force bombers, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. All of those areas are undergoing a process of modernization.

On the other hand, the latest nuclear weapons fact sheet does seem to signal a clear move toward increasing transparency in terms of nuclear stockpiles. While this would seem calculated as a way of exerting pressure on Russia and China to increase their own levels of transparency in this regard, it remains to be seen how effective that policy might be.

The Saudi Nuclear Horn Should Face Full UN Inspection: Revelation 7

Saudis Nuclear Program Should Face Full UN Inspection: Iran Official

As top US officials variously meet leading Saudis, Iran’s deputy foreign minister calls for Riyadh to open its atomic sites to full inspection and for Israel to sign NPT.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Reza Najafi Tuesday urged Saudi Arabia to be transparent over its nuclear activities and open up the access of the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Najafi rejected remarks by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan earlier Tuesday to the UN General Assembly criticising “Iran’s continued breaches and violations of international agreements and treaties related to the nuclear agreement, and its escalation of its nuclear activities in addition to research and development activities.”

Addressing the UN General Assembly’s high-level meeting held to commemorate and promote International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons (September 26), Najafi said Iran rejected the retention, stockpiling, development, use, and proliferation of nuclear arms.

Iran is in a dispute with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over traces of previously undeclared radioactive material that it has failed to fully explain and over monitoring access to the UN nuclear watchdog.

Reza Najafi, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister for legal affairs. FILE PHOTO

Reza Najafi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for legal affairs. FILE PHOTO

It has also been enriching uranium to 60 percent and stockpiling it in violation of the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers.

Najafi condemned the modernization and strengthening of nuclear arsenals by the United States and other nuclear-weapon states in violation of their arms-reduction commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Najafi said Israel continued to “threaten peace and security in the Middle East and beyond through its clandestine nuclear program,” and urged the world to invite Israel to join the NPT and place its nuclear facilities under IAEA monitoring.

Unlike Israel, which is believed to hold around 180 nuclear bombs, both Iran and Saudi Arabia are NPT signatories. Saudi Arabia – which has no nuclear reactor but reportedly past nuclear links with both Iraq and Pakistani scientist AQ Khan – has limited the Safeguards access of the IAEA under a ‘small quantities protocol.’

Referring to a 2018 interview with the US CBC’s 60 Minutes program in which Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman suggested Riyadh might adopt nuclear weapons if Iran developed one, Iran’s state-run English channel Press TVand Tasnim news agency both claimed Wednesday that there is “international concern” over Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions.

Saudi Arabia backed former United States president Donald Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from Iran’s 2015 deal with world powers limiting its nuclear program – the JCPOA, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The new administration of President Joe Biden has continued Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions as Iran has continued to expand its atomic program with steps that began in 2019.

Prince Faisal this week met with US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to discuss recent developments in Iran’s nuclear case. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia Tuesday to discuss Yemen and Iran – the White House kept Sullivan’s visit low-profile and no photos were issued.

In his speech to the annual UN General Assembly last week, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz expressed hope that continuing talks with Iran, brokered by Baghdad, to restore relations would build confidence. The kingdom cut diplomatic ties in 2016 when protestors attacked its Tehran embassy after Riyadh executed 47 dissidents including leading Shi’ite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr

How the Nuclear Horns are Nuking Up

‘Fast Reactors’ Also Present a Fast Path to Nuclear Weapons

The Energy Department’s choice for the leading reactor design for reviving nuclear power construction in the United States is so at odds with U.S. nonproliferation policy that it opens America to charges of rank hypocrisy. The Biden administration is proposing to use nuclear fuels that we are telling others—most immediately Iran—not to produce. It will make it difficult to gain the restraints the United States seeks to limit nations’ access to bomb-grade uranium and plutonium.

We are talking here about the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) enthusiastic support ofTerraPower’s proposed Natrium “fast reactor” demonstration plant and similar fast reactor projects, which DOE has showered with grants and supports with department-funded enrichment, test reactor, and spent nuclear fuel recycling programs. TerraPower and DOE expect to build hundreds of fast reactors for domestic use and export.  

Unlike conventional nuclear plants that exploit fission reactions triggered by slow neutrons, fast reactors maintain nuclear chain reactions with much more energetic fast neutrons. These reactors are billed as advanced technology, but they are an old idea. The first fast reactor designs date back to post-World War II.

Fast reactors’ main advantage is that they can make lots of plutonium, which can be extracted and used as reactor fuel instead of mining and using more uranium. This sounded good, so good to the Nixon administration that it set a goal to shift electric generation to plutonium-fueled fast reactors by the turn of the century. But the project came a cropper when it ran into safety hurdles that escalated costs. And then the increased awareness of the dangers of putting plutonium—one of the two key nuclear explosives—into the world’s commercial channels finally caused President Gerald Ford to announce the United States would not rely on plutonium fuel until the world could cope with it.    

TerraPower is obviously aware of this history and the public relations landmine it creates for its demonstration project. It insists its Natrium reactor will not use plutonium as fuel or require reprocessing to extract it. The company’s website says, “Both the demonstration plant and the first set of commercial plants will run on high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU).” HALEU is uranium enriched to just under the official definition of highly enriched uranium, but well above the level of the uranium fuel used in currently operating nuclear power plants.

In enrichment terms, it is within easy arm’s reach of bomb-grade uranium. It is exactly the stuff we demand that Iran not produce, arguing that they don’t need it for power reactor fuel. It’s also what we’ve been discouraging South Korea from getting into (Seoul says it wants to enrich uranium to boost reactor exports and to power a fleet of nuclear submarines).

Note TerraPower only commits to using HALEU for its first, and likely subsidized, commercial plants. Whether using HALEU is the cheapest way of running Natrium is unclear. Foreign customers—if it ever comes to that—will surely want the “benefits” of the plant’s plutonium production and subsequent operation on plutonium fuel extracted by reprocessing. The Energy Department is already hedging its bets on this option by backing research into “new’ reprocessing technologies at its national laboratories.  

All this will be hard to explain to, say, South Korea, which the State Department is trying to keep from launching into reprocessing to prepare for plutonium-fueled fast reactors, which South Korean nuclear enthusiasts are eager to develop. It also will make it difficult to complain about China’s crash fast reactorand reprocessing programs, which our military fears may be used to fuel China’s growing nuclear weapons effort.

Fast reactor boosters are aware of these points and know that they must at least appear to take account of them. An example is Senator Chris Van Hollen’s (D-MD)amendment to the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act of 2020, which purportedly protects the nuclear explosives (plutonium and uranium 233) these reactors use as fuel or produce, and the reprocessing technologies that extract them. While his amendment may sound tough, it offers little more protection than what is already required by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and that protection can be waived if the NRC finds the export is not “inimical” to US interests. The practical effect of the amendment would not be greater protection, but a smoothing of the licensing path for dangerous nuclear exports. 

This is worse than hypocrisy. Once nations have easy access to nuclear explosive material, no inspections can prevent them from making bombs. Congress needs to look behind the Energy Department’s beguiling “advanced reactor” label. When it does, it must line out projects that could turn nuclear explosives into a common article of commerce worldwide. The place to start is with “advanced” fast reactors.

Victor Gilinsky serves as program advisor to The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, is a physicist, and was a commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission during the Ford, Carter, and Reagan administrations.

Henry Sokolski is the executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Arlington, Virginia, and author of Underestimated: Our Not So Peaceful Nuclear Future. He served as deputy for nonproliferation policy in the office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense during the George H.W. Bush administration.

PImage: Reuters.

Humanity is close to nuclear annihilation: Revelation 16

‘Humanity remains unacceptably close to nuclear annihilation, says UN chief on International Day

Addressing the threat of nuclear weapons, said Mr, Guterres, has been central to the work of the United Nations since its inception; the first General Assembly resolution in 1946 sought “the elimination from national armaments of atomic weapons and of all other major weapons adaptable to mass destruction.” 

The UN chief pointed out that, although the total number of nuclear weapons has been decreasing for decades, some 14,000 are stockpiled around the world, which is facing the highest level of nuclear risk in almost four decades: “States are qualitatively improving their arsenals, and we are seeing worrying signs of a new arms race.” Humanity, continued the UN chief, remains unacceptably close to nuclear annihilation.

Comprehensive ban in ‘state of limbo’

On Thursday, the UN chief called for all countries holding nuclear technology to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which was adopted in 1996, and has been signed by 185 countries.

However, for the CTBT to enter into force, it must be signed and ratified by 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries, eight of which have yet to ratify the Treaty: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Pakistan and the United States.

“We have remained in this state of limbo for too long,” he said.  

Signs of hope

However, Mr. Guterres said that he sees the decision by Russia and the United States to extend the New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) and engage in dialogue, as a sign of hope. He added that the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force in January, also constitutes a welcome step.

The responsibility to build on these developments, said the Secretary-General, falls on Member States. He described the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, scheduled to take place in January 2022, as a window of opportunity for all countries to take practical steps to comprehensiely prevent the use of, and eliminate, nuclear weapons. 

“Now is the time to lift this cloud for good, eliminate nuclear weapons from our world”, exhorted Mr. Guterres, “and usher in a new era of dialogue, trust and peace for all people”.

The AUKUS treaty is a repeat of the 20th century Arms Race: Daniel

Op-Ed: Is the AUKUS treaty a repeat of the 20th century Arms Race?

Op-Ed: Is the AUKUS treaty a repeat of the 20th century Arms Race?

September 22, 2021

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US President Joe Biden, and more attend the G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall on June 12, 2021. 

When I was a young child, our next-door neighbor built a fallout shelter the size of a small garage in the confines of his backyard. He did this at the height of the Cold War and one year after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

My parents thought he was nuts, and at first, I didn’t know what to think about it. But I was told by his son—one of my childhood friends—that when the bombs fell, his family would be safe and mine would perish in flames and radiation.

At school, we went through “duck and cover drills” or “disaster drills” where, when a loud horn blasted through our elementary school, we would walk into the hall, line up single-file against a wall, sit, cross our legs, put our heads down between our knees (presumably to kiss our backsides goodbye) and wait for an “all clear” to signal, which meant we could then get up and return to class.

We were told this would protect us in case of a nuclear bomb, so I was highly suspicious of the “fallout shelter” our neighbor built. If sitting quietly in the hall next to a wall would protect me, I suspected the “fallout shelter” served another purpose. After awhile, I concluded it was just where my friend’s dad hid his liquor from his Baptist wife who preached against the stuff.

Those were crazy times marked by the Vietnam War, the space race, racial unrest, a GOP hellbent on destroying the Constitution, war mongers, peaceniks, hippies, yippies, protests, and some great rock n’ roll.

Today, the music isn’t as good, and we’ve traded the Soviet Union—according to some—for China, but some say President Joe Biden is sparking another arms race like that of the 60s. His newly announced defense pact with Britain and Australia will allow the Australians to build nuclear-powered submarines for the first time.

The “AUKUS” treaty was announced Sept. 15 by Biden, along with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“But let me be clear: Australia is not seeking to acquire nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability,” said Morrison. “And we will continue to meet all our nuclear non-proliferation obligations.”

The BBC reported it this way: “The AUKUS pact, which will also cover AI and other technologies, is one of the countries’ biggest defense partnerships in decades, analysts say. China has condemned the agreement as ‘extremely irresponsible.’”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said it “seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race,” while China’s embassy in Washington accused the three countries of a “Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice.”

Speaking to the BBC, UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said China was embarking on one of the biggest military expenditures in history.

“It is growing its navy [and] air force at a huge rate. Obviously it is engaged in some disputed areas,” he said. “Our partners in those regions want to be able to stand their own ground.”

David Ignatius, writing in a Washington Postopinion piece, said: “French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian denounced the AUKUS plan as a bilateral, brutal, unpredictable decision,” and he accused Australia of a ‘knife in the back’ in canceling the $66 billion contract. Behind this indignation were some deeper themes: France’s historic rivalry with the ‘Anglo-Saxons,’ a desire for greater weight as a global power, post-Brexit antipathy toward Johnson, and chagrin over losing a lucrative commercial deal.”

Facing pandemics, climate change, economic disaster and the rise of fascism, what’s left of the civilized world fears we now are plunging headlong into what amounts to global suicide.

Biden is a man of his word, and anyone who doubted this simply didn’t listen to his inaugural address or the first speech he made Feb. 4 at the State Department:

“American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China,” Biden said.

True, the indication was we had to stand up to the economic problems posed by Chinese aggression, and many analysts say that military might is being replaced by economic prowess, and that China’s main threat is its large workforce which is capable of economic hegemony. According to some, the best way to combat China is to attack their many attempts to undermine capitalism with renewed economic sanctions.

But in recent years, Beijing has also been accused of raising tensions in disputed territories like the South China Sea, and Biden has no problem flexing the US military muscle when needed. He told us as he pulled us out of Afghanistan that there were other, more acute, military problems around the world. He just identified one and moved on it.

“We’ll confront China’s economic abuses,” Biden told us in February. “But we are ready to work with Beijing when it’s in America’s interest to do so. We will compete from a position of strength by building back better at home, working with our allies and partners, renewing our role in international institutions, and reclaiming our credibility and moral authority, much of which has been lost.”

There has been little fanfare and not much clarity from the Biden administration about other actions taken against China, at least nothing as dramatic as the new, strange-sounding alliance announced earlier this week that angered our allies and our enemies.

But give Biden time.

Not for one second do I believe he is plunging us into a new arms race. I do not foresee a sudden rise in the building of fallout shelters or “duck and cover” drills. Biden is merely reacting to events put into motion by China.

In a schoolyard brawl, it is often the reaction to the initial blow that is noticed and commented on the same in global politics as well.

In withdrawing from Afghanistan, Biden is merely the one to deal decisively with a problem that began several administrations ago. But building nuclear submarines isn’t going to fix the Chinese problem. It will, however, help a lot of military contractors—perhaps the same contractors who lost money when we left Afghanistan. But the bigger problem remains: How do you deal with the Chinese economic juggernaut?

“Building back better” is Biden’s theme, but the strategy to get there is far more difficult with the pandemic raging. And making our economy more competitive can’t include selling fallout shelters.

Where is the innovation to compete with authoritarianism? That’s the ultimate question when it comes to China.

The Russian Nuclear Horn Follows Biden and Nukes Up: Daniel 7

Alexei Druzhinin/AP

After AUKUS, Russia sees a potential threat — and an opportunity to market its own submarines

September 22, 2021 10.38pm EDT

The global opinions on the new AUKUS security pact between Australia, the US and the UK have been decidedly mixed. China and France immediately blasted the deal, while others, such as Japan and the Philippines, were more welcoming.

Russia, one of the other few nations armed with nuclear-powered submarines, was more low-key and cautious in its initial reaction.

The Kremlin limited its official commentaryto a carefully crafted statement that said,

Before forming a position, we must understand the goals, objectives, means. These questions need to be answered first. There is little information so far.

Some Russian diplomatic officials joined their Chinese counterparts in expressing their concerns that Australia’s development of nuclear-powered submarines (with American and British help) would undermine the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and “speed up an arms race” in the region. 

They suggested the construction of the nuclear submarine fleet would need to be overseen by the International Atomic Energy Agency — a proposition unlikely to be acceptable to Canberra. 


Read more: Why nuclear submarines are a smart military move for Australia — and could deter China further

As more became known about the new security pact, the rhetoric of Kremlin officials began to shift. 

For instance, former Australian ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey, boldly declaredAUKUS was intended to counter not only China’s power in the Indo-Pacific region, but Russia’s, too.

Soon after, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, was calling the pact a “prototype of an Asian NATO”. He added, 

Washington will try to involve other countries in this organisation, chiefly in order to pursue anti-China and anti-Russia policies

This change of rhetoric should not come as a surprise to Canberra. Russia has long considered any change to regional security — the creation of new alliances, for instance, or the deployment of new weapons systems — a military risk that would require a response. 

So, what possible options could Russia entertain as part of its response?

Since Moscow’s view of AUKUS is more of a political and military risk, but not yet a threat, its immediate responses are likely to be limited to political manoeuvring and opportunity grabbing. 

Perhaps most notably, Russia may see the AUKUS submarine deal as setting a precedent, allowing it to promote its own nuclear-submarine technology to interested parties in the region. This is not merely hypothetical — it has been suggested by defence experts with close links to Russia’s Ministry of Defence. 

Historically, Russia has held back from sharing its nuclear submarine technology, which is considered among the best in the world, certainly superior to China’s nascent capabilities.

Thus far, Moscow has only entered into leasing arrangements with India, allowing its navy to operate Soviet- and Russian-made nuclear-powered attack submarines since 1987. But this has not entailed the transfer of technology to India.

Should Russia decide to market its nuclear-powered submarines to other nations, it would have no shortage of interested buyers. As one military expert suggested, Vietnam or Algeria are potential markets — but there could be others. As he put it,

Literally before our eyes, a new market for nuclear powered submarines is being created. […] Now we can safely offer a number of our strategic partners. 

In the longer run, Russia will also not disregard the obvious: the new pact unites two nuclear-armed nations (the US and UK) and a soon-to-be-nuclear-capable Australia. 

The expanded endurance and range of Australia’s future submarines could see them operating in the western and northwestern Pacific, areas of regular activity for Russia’s naval force. 

A Russian Navy destroyer visiting the Philippines.
A Russian Navy destroyer visiting the Philippines in 2019. Bullit Marquez/AP

Should the strike systems on board these submarines have the Russian far east or parts of Siberia within their range, it would be a game-changer for Moscow.

As a nuclear superpower, Russia will need to factor this into its strategic planning. And this means Australia must keep a close watch on Russia’s military activities in the Pacific in the coming years.

Over the next 12 months, for instance, the Russian Pacific Fleet is expected to receive at least three nuclear-powered submarines. 

Two of these fourth-generation submarines (the Yasen-M class) are technologically superior to similar vessels currently being built by the Chinese and are believed to be almost comparable to the American nuclear submarines being considered an option for Australia. 

The third is a 30,000-tonne, modified Oscar II class Belgorod submarine converted to carry several nuclear super-torpedos capable of destroying major naval bases. 

By 2028, I estimate Russia’s navy will have a force of at least 14 nuclear-powered submarines and six conventional attack submarines in the Pacific. 

Should Russia start considering AUKUS a military threat, we could expect more to arrive. Their area of operations could also be expanded to the South China Sea, and beyond. 

In the most dramatic scenario, Russia and China could form a loose maritime coalition to counter the combined military power of the AUKUS pact.

Given the deepening state of Russia-China defence relations, particularly in the naval sphere, this does not seem unrealistic.


This possible coalition is unlikely to become an actual maritime alliance, let alone the basis for larger bloc involving other countries. Still, if Russia and China were to coordinate their naval activities, that would be bad news for the AUKUS. 

Should tensions escalate, Moscow and Beijing could see Australia as the weakest link of the pact. In its typical bombastic language, China’s Global Times newspaper has already referred to Australia as a “potential target for a nuclear strike”. 

This might be a far-fetched scenario, but by entering the nuclear submarine race in the Indo-Pacific, Australia would become part of an elite club, some of whom would be adversaries. And there is the potential for this to lead to a naval Cold War of sorts in the Indo-Pacific.

Sceptics may say Moscow is likely to be all talk but no action and the risks posed by Russia to Australia are minimal. Let’s hope this is correct.

The Saudi Nuclear Horn threatens Iran: Daniel

Saudi king Tells UN Kingdom Supports Efforts To Prevent Nuclear Iran

US Says Window Open For Iran Nuclear Talks But Won’t Be Forever

Thursday, 23 Sep 2021 20:38 

WASHINGTON, Sept 23 (Reuters) – The window is still open to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal but Tehran has yet to indicate whether it is willing to resume talks in Vienna or whether it would do so on the basis of where they left off in June, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.

The official told reporters on condition of anonymity that Washington’s patience would not last forever but declined to set a deadline, saying this depended on technical progress in Iran’s nuclear program and a wider judgment by the United States and its partners on whether Iran was willing to revive the deal.

“We’re still interested. We still want to come back to the table,” the senior U.S. State Department official said in a telephone briefing. “The window of opportunity is open. It won’t be open forever if Iran takes a different course.”

Under the 2015 deal, Iran curbed its uranium enrichment program, a possible pathway to nuclear arms, in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. Former President Donald Trump quit the deal three years ago and re-imposed harsh sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors that have crippled its economy, prompting Iran to take steps to violate its nuclear limits.

The U.S. official declined to say what the United States might do if Iran refuses to return to negotiations, or if a resumption of the original deal proves impossible. Such U.S. contingency planning is often referred to as “Plan B.”

“The ‘Plan B’ that we’re concerned about is the one that Iran may be contemplating, where they want to continue to build their nuclear program and not be seriously engaged in talks to return to the JCPOA,” he said, in a reference to the deal’s formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The Australian Nuclear Horn will challenge the nonproliferation regime, and China: Daniel 7

Nuclear subs in Australia will challenge the nonproliferation regime, and China

Nuclear subs in Australia will challenge the nonproliferation regime, and China

By George M. Moore and Frank N. von Hippel, Opinion ContributorsSeptember 22, 2021 – 03:00 PM EDT

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill 

President Biden and the prime ministers of Australia and the United Kingdom announced on Sept. 15, as the first action in their new AUKUS defense agreement, the sale to Australia of nuclear submarine technology to replace an existing Australian deal with France for conventional submarines. The plan is to build the submarines in Australia with assistance, and perhaps components, from the UK and U.S.

The announcement surprised many, including the French government, whose foreign minister referred to the decision as a “stab in the back.”

The Biden administration has touted the agreement as a counter to growing Chinese naval intimidation of Australia and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region. It appears likely, however, that any beneficial impacts on China will be offset by negative impacts on the nuclear weapons nonproliferation regime. Other non-nuclear-armed states, such as South Korea and Iran, are likely to be incentivized to acquire nuclear-powered attack submarines from the U.S. and UK, or perhaps Russia or China. 

The AUKUS deal is especially problematic because U.S. and UK nuclear-powered submarines use weapon-grade highly-enriched uranium (HEU) as fuel. An obvious presumption therefore is that the Australian submarines too will be fueled with HEU drawn from the U.S. Cold War surplus. 

It is hard to understate what a departure the Australian plan is from prior U.S. policy. In the 1980s, the U.S. pressured France and the UK not to supply nuclear-powered submarines to Canada due to the perceived negative impact on the nonproliferation regime. U.S. nonproliferation policy has also had a bedrock principle of reducing the global availability and use of HEU. It would be folly for the U.S. to now export weapon-grade uranium to non-nuclear-armed states after spending more than a billion dollars since 9/11 to convert research reactors that the U.S. and the Soviet Union had exported to dozens of countries from weapon-grade to low enriched uranium fuel.

Since Australia does not have a commercial nuclear power program (it does have a research reactor) and no military support facilities for nuclear-powered vessels at this point, it will probably have to rely initially on the U.S. or UK for both personnel training and support for nuclear infrastructure development. Given the strong historic relation between the Royal Australian Navy and UK’s Royal Navy, the UK might provide initial training for submarine cadres to man the new Australian nuclear submarine force. 

The ultimate creation of a nuclear submarine force in Australia will take decades. Therefore, Australia might follow India’s model and start by renting a nuclear submarine from either the U.S. or UK. India rented two submarines: The first from the Soviet Union and then a second from Russia, before building its own nuclear submarine, whose design appears to be based to a significant degree on its second leased submarine. Acquiring a U.S. or UK submarine, possibly with a joint crew, could be a big first step forward for an Australian nuclear submarine program.

If the AUKUS plan goes forward, a significant question is whether the proliferation risks associated with HEU could be reduced by developing propulsion reactors fueled with non-weapon-usable low-enriched-uranium (LEU). France and China already use LEU to fuel their naval reactors. Russia and India use HEU fuel, although not weapon-grade.

Despite encouragement from Congress over the past 25 years, the U.S. Navy has vehemently rejected designing its future submarines to be powered by LEU. The principal argument is that the reactor core would have to be larger or would have to be refueled once or twice. The U.S. Navy’s current reactors are designed to be life-of-the-ship, which the Navy considers to be a significant cost and time savings. U.S. refueling cycles have kept U.S. submarines in shipyards for over a year to carry out refuelings, although France has developed robotic refueling arrangements through hatches that have reduced that time to a few weeks.

After the U.S. nuclear weapon stockpile peaked in 1964, the U.S. continued to produce weapon-grade uranium for naval reactor fuel until 1992. For the past two decades, U.S. and UK submarines have been fueled with HEU from more than 10,000 U.S. nuclear warheads that became excess at the end of the Cold War. This source will run out by around 2060. In order to maintain HEU fueled submarines and aircraft carriers, the U.S. will soon need to study and fund a very expensive new facility to produce HEU. Providing HEU fuel for Australia will accelerate the need for a new facility.

The Biden administration could also look at the Australian development program as an additional motivation to shift U.S. submarines and aircraft carriers to LEU fuel. That would avoid the need for the U.S. setting the dangerous example of developing a new HEU production facility after the existing supply is used up. Australia, France, the U.S. and UK could also work with the International Atomic Energy Agency to deal with the safeguard issues that arise from the military use of nuclear reactors in non-nuclear-weapon states. That too would be made much easier if the submarines were fueled with low-enriched uranium.

Should there be interest in the Biden administration to patch things up with France, it might explore bringing France back into the Australian submarine program to provide its expertise on LEU-fueled submarines. 

George M. Moore is a scientist-in-residence at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. He was previously a staff member at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and was a senior analyst at the International Atomic Energy Agency.Frank N. von Hippel, a nuclear physicist, is professor of public and international affairs emeritus in Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security.