Saudi horn continues to Nuke Up: Daniel 7

‘Our uranium is key to achieving energy transformation’: Saudi minister

‘Our uranium is key to achieving energy transformation’: Saudi minister

Arab News 

January 12, 202212:13

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia will not sacrifice energy security for the sake of energy transformation, a leading minister has warned as he talked up the importance of uranium to the Kingdom’s power plans.

Energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman made the comments at the Future Minerals Forum in Riyadh as he discussed how developing the Kingdom’s mining sector could help with economic and environmental transitions.

Prince Abdulaziz was bullish when it came to the use of nuclear power in the energy mix, telling delegates at the conference: “We have a huge amount of uranium resource, which we would like to exploit and put in the most transparent way. 

“We will bring partners and we will be exporting and manufacturing and developing it and we will be commercially monetizing that resource.”

Referring to the drive to move the Kingdom away from its reliance on oil, he said: “We should not forfeit energy security for the sake of a publicity stunts — that transition needs to be well thought.

“Let’s not forfeit energy security for moving away from the classical concern of over-reliance in the Middle East when it comes to oil to different types of energy security challenges which has to do with availability of these minerals and the concentration of the ownerships of those minerals.”

The Future Minerals Forum is a special event bringing together ministers, organisations and mining leaders from more than 30 countries.

Hosted by the Saudi Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources, is aimed at highlighting the role of mining in Saudi Vision 2030, after the government identified it as the third pillar of the Kingdom’s economy.

Save the oil and the wine unless you are Iran: Revelation 6

Liquefied natural gas cargo ship, from Qatar’s Nakilat on July 2, 2020.(Nakilat Qatar/Screenshot via The BL/YouTube).

Illegal Iranian oil sales to China soared in 2021, defying US ban

Jose Hermosa | TheBL 01/08/22, 08:55 97 views

Iran’s authoritarian regime continues to openly defy sanctions imposed by the U.S.–led international community by increasing oil sales to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) by 40% during 2021.

According to a report by the watchdog group tracking illegal Iranian oil tankers, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), not only were the restrictions not enforced, but oil exports increased by 123 million barrels, noted The Washington Free Beacon Jan. 7. 

The CCP was the largest consumer of the illegally sold oil, purchasing 310 of the nearly 418 million barrels shipped abroad by the Iranian regime. 

The other 108 million barrels were negotiated with the United Arab Emirates, Syrian, Venezuelan, and Russian regimes.

The Iranian regime uses a fleet of foreign-flagged oil tankers, which illegally turn off their onboard tracking devices, thus disappearing from radar to deliver hundreds of millions of barrels of oil.

According to analysts, the millions of dollars obtained strengthen the Iranian regime, which is accused of financing regional terrorism and militias of violent groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

In this situation, criticism turns against the apparent weakness and inaction of the Biden administration, which is not applying the rigor necessary to force Iran to comply with the sanctions.

“The 40% increase in Iran’s oil exports is a result of the Biden administration’s refusal to enforce sanctions,” Claire Jungman, UANI chief of staff, told the Washington Free Beacon. 

She added, “This lack of enforcement is a form of sanctions relief and has led to an improvement in Iran’s economic situation and diminished the leverage and credibility of the U.S. during negotiations.”

He also proposed a control alternative: “To start it should sanction the individual vessels carrying Iranian oil.”

On the other hand, for a senior diplomat, Iran’s strategy is to buy time, “Iran is certainly playing for time and will in the meantime continue to enhance its nuclear program to gain political leverage,” he told Politico on condition of anonymity.

The diplomat also warned that Iran could venture to make more ambitious demands of the United States.

“Iran most probably will only come back to the table in Vienna if the west makes a gesture of goodwill or provides certain concessions to Iran,” the diplomat said.

These massive breaches occur in a context in which the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) commission negotiations resumed two months ago in Vienna attended by representatives of Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

The JCPOA negotiated the international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, established in Vienna in 2015 between Iran, the countries above, and the European Union. 

On the other hand, Iran also continues to violate the prohibition of enriching uranium, thereby expanding and developing its nuclear capabilities, reaching 60% uranium enrichment, thus approaching the purity level required to produce nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia is Nuking Up with China’s help: Daniel 7

A picture taken on September 22, 2020 shows a Saudi national flag in the capital Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia appears to be building its own ballistic missiles with China’s help

Saudi Arabia is building its own ballistic missiles with the help of China, according to United States intelligence assessments and satellite images.

The assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies is that the kingdom, which is long thought to have acquired missiles from Beijing, is now manufacturing its own, according to a source familiar with the matter and a U.S. official.

Satellite images obtained by NBC News also suggest that Saudi Arabia is producing ballistic missiles at a site west of the capital, Riyadh, according to researchers at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, in California. 

“The key piece of evidence is that the facility is operating a ‘burn pit’ to dispose of solid-propellant leftover from the production of ballistic missiles,” wrote Jeffrey Lewis and David Schmerler of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute. 

They added that the site “appears to have been constructed with Chinese assistance.”

The news was first reported by CNN on Thursday.  The images were provided by commercial imaging company Planet Labs PBC.

The development could shift security calculations in the Middle East and further complicate the Biden administration’s efforts to coax Iran back into its nuclear deal with world powers. It could also add another layer of complexity to Washington’s relations with Beijing.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are regional foes and there will be concern that Riyadh’s manufacturing of ballistic missiles could alter Tehran’s calculations on its possible agreements in talks aimed at reviving the 2015 accord. The new development comes days before the talks, which have struggled to make any headway, are expected to resume in Vienna, and may make Iran even more unlikely to give up its own ballistic missiles.

“If Iran were to enter into negotiations over its missile programme, it would be unlikely to accept limits that did not also apply to other countries,” wrote Mark Fitzpatrick, an associate fellow at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, in an article about Saudi Arabia’s ballistic missile program published by the institute in August. 

Fitzpatrick, a former State Department official, said at the time that other than a general desire to keep pace with Iran, Riyadh’s motivations for acquiring ballistic missiles were not entirely clear. Unlike Tehran, however, Saudi Arabia is not known to have initiated any work to develop a nuclear warhead for its missiles, he added. 

Ballistic missiles are rocket-propelled weapons that can carry conventional explosives as well as nuclear warheads. 

Nevertheless, the fact that Saudi Arabia is now known to be manufacturing its own ballistic missiles will spark concerns of a ramped-up arms race in a highly tense region that is already riven with conflict. 

The Saudi Ministry of Media did not respond to requests for comment. 

Britain on Friday condemned a launch of ballistic missiles by Iran in war games conducted this week.

“These actions are a threat to regional and international security and we call on Iran to immediately cease its activities,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.

In 2018, former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear accord and re-imposed crippling sanctions on Iran. Tehran has since reduced its compliance with the deal, announcing that it would enrich uranium to up to 60 percent purity — significantly closer to the amount needed to make an atomic bomb. 

In the past, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been clear that if Tehran develops a nuclear bomb, Riyadh will also do so. 

“Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” he told CBS in 2018. 

The crown prince is attempting to transform Saudi Arabia from an oil-dependent nation into an economic powerhouse that is more accepted in the West.

The Saudis have long been U.S. allies and enjoyed a close relationship with the Trump administration, but those efforts to overhaul the country’s image were tainted by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. 

Meanwhile, the continued close military relationship between Saudi Arabia and China will also probably be of concern to the Biden administration as it tries to manage a complex and fraught relationship with Beijing, criticizing its human rights record while also cooperating with Chinese leaders on major global threats like climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.

Asked to respond to these fresh indications it was aiding Saudi Arabia’s push to produce ballistic missiles, China said it has always opposed the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, and implements strict export controls on missiles and related technologies, according to a statement from its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

“China and Saudi Arabia are comprehensive strategic partners,” the ministry said. “Such cooperation does not violate any international law and does not involve the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” 

It added that Beijing has always opposed unilateral sanctions and “will continue to take necessary measures to resolutely safeguard its own rights and interests.”

Saudi Arabia has been known to have purchased missiles from China in the past but has never built its own, the source familiar with the matter and the U.S. official confirmed.

Saudi Arabia is Nuking Up: Daniel 7

Satellite images from commercial imaging company Planet show the test site in Saudi Arabia on Nov. 2, 2021.

Saudi Arabia appears to be building its own ballistic missiles with China’s help

The development could shift security calculations in the Middle East and further complicate the Biden administration’s efforts to coax Iran back into its nuclear deal with world powers.

Satellite images from commercial imaging company Planet show the test site in Saudi Arabia on Nov. 2, 2021. Planet Labs PBCDec. 24, 2021, 12:36 PM MSTBy Courtney Kube and Saphora Smith

Saudi Arabia is building its own ballistic missiles with the help of China, according to United States intelligence assessments and satellite images.

The assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies is that the kingdom, which is long thought to have acquired missiles from Beijing, is now manufacturing its own, according to a source familiar with the matter and a U.S. official.

Satellite images obtained by NBC News also suggest that Saudi Arabia is producing ballistic missiles at a site west of the capital, Riyadh, according to researchers at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, in California. 

“The key piece of evidence is that the facility is operating a ‘burn pit’ to dispose of solid-propellant leftover from the production of ballistic missiles,” wrote Jeffrey Lewis and David Schmerler of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute. 

They added that the site “appears to have been constructed with Chinese assistance.”

The news was first reported by CNN on Thursday.  The images were provided by commercial imaging company Planet Labs PBC.

Planet Labs PBC

The development could shift security calculations in the Middle East and further complicate the Biden administration’s efforts to coax Iran back into its nuclear deal with world powers. It could also add another layer of complexity to Washington’s relations with Beijing.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are regional foes and there will be concern that Riyadh’s manufacturing of ballistic missiles could alter Tehran’s calculations on its possible agreements in talks aimed at reviving the 2015 accord. The new development comes days before the talks, which have struggled to make any headway, are expected to resume in Vienna, and may make Iran even more unlikely to give up its own ballistic missiles.

“If Iran were to enter into negotiations over its missile programme, it would be unlikely to accept limits that did not also apply to other countries,” wrote Mark Fitzpatrick, an associate fellow at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, in an article about Saudi Arabia’s ballistic missile program published by the institute in August. 

Fitzpatrick, a former State Department official, said at the time that other than a general desire to keep pace with Iran, Riyadh’s motivations for acquiring ballistic missiles were not entirely clear. Unlike Tehran, however, Saudi Arabia is not known to have initiated any work to develop a nuclear warhead for its missiles, he added. 

Ballistic missiles are rocket-propelled weapons that can carry conventional explosives as well as nuclear warheads. 

Nevertheless, the fact that Saudi Arabia is now known to be manufacturing its own ballistic missiles will spark concerns of a ramped-up arms race in a highly tense region that is already riven with conflict. 

The Saudi Ministry of Media did not respond to requests for comment. 

Britain on Friday condemned a launch of ballistic missiles by Iran in war games conducted this week.

“These actions are a threat to regional and international security and we call on Iran to immediately cease its activities,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.

In 2018, former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear accord and re-imposed crippling sanctions on Iran. Tehran has since reduced its compliance with the deal, announcing that it would enrich uranium to up to 60 percent purity — significantly closer to the amount needed to make an atomic bomb. 

In the past, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been clear that if Tehran develops a nuclear bomb, Riyadh will also do so. 

“Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” he told CBS in 2018. 

The crown prince is attempting to transform Saudi Arabia from an oil-dependent nation into an economic powerhouse that is more accepted in the West.

The Saudis have long been U.S. allies and enjoyed a close relationship with the Trump administration, but those efforts to overhaul the country’s image were tainted by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. 

Meanwhile, the continued close military relationship between Saudi Arabia and China will also probably be of concern to the Biden administration as it tries to manage a complex and fraught relationship with Beijing, criticizing its human rights record while also cooperating with Chinese leaders on major global threats like climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The White House did not immediately return a request for comment.

Asked to respond to these fresh indications it was aiding Saudi Arabia’s push to produce ballistic missiles, China said it has always opposed the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery, and implements strict export controls on missiles and related technologies, according to a statement from its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

“China and Saudi Arabia are comprehensive strategic partners,” the ministry said. “Such cooperation does not violate any international law and does not involve the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” 

It added that Beijing has always opposed unilateral sanctions and “will continue to take necessary measures to resolutely safeguard its own rights and interests.”

Saudi Arabia has been known to have purchased missiles from China in the past but has never built its own, the source familiar with the matter and the U.S. official confirmed.

The Sins of the Saudi Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting in Tehran on Sunday. Photo: EPA

Iran says Arab nations ‘sinned’ by normalising ties with Israel

The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco all agreed to normalise ties with Israel last year at Washington’s requestIran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei said on Sunday these governments had ‘made big errors’ and acted ‘against Islamic unity’

Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting in Tehran on Sunday. Photo: EPA

Arab nations that normalised ties with Israel last year have “sinned” and should reverse such moves, Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei said on Sunday.

The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco all agreed to normalise ties with Israel in 2020, as Washington under the administration of then-US president Donald Trump made Arab-Israeli rapprochement a foreign policy priority.

“Some governments have unfortunately made errors – have made big errors and have sinned in normalising [their relations] with the usurping and oppressive Zionist regime,” Khamenei said, referring to Israel.

“It is an act against Islamic unity, they must return from this path and make up for this big mistake,” Khamenei added, in a speech marking a public holiday honouring the birth of the Prophet Mohammed.

Iran has in the four decades since the 1979 Islamic revolution positioned itself as a strong defender of the Palestinian cause.

Egypt and Jordan were until last year the only two Arab countries to normalise relations with Israel.

“If the unity of Muslims is achieved, the Palestinian question would definitely be resolved in the best fashion,” Khamenei said.EVERY SATURDAYSCMP Global Impact NewsletterBy submitting, you consent to receiving marketing emails from SCMP. If you don’t want these, tick hereBy registering, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy

In May, Khamenei characterised Israel as a “terrorist base” and “not a country”.

Soon after Khamenei’s speech, Iran’s top security official, Ali Shamkhani, vowed to inflict many “billions of dollars” worth of damage in a “shocking response” if Israel strikes Tehran’s nuclear programme.

The tweet by the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council came in response to Israeli media reports that 5 billion shekels (US$1.5 billion) had been approved to prepare the military for a potential strike on Iran’s nuclear programme.

Iran has repeatedly accused Israel of being behind acts of sabotage targeting its nuclear facilities.

The two countries have exchanged sharp rhetoric recently, against the backdrop of efforts to renew talks to revive a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Babylon the Great fails in the latest nuclear race

Latest US military hypersonic test fails

October 21, 2021

By Oren Liebermann, CNN

The US suffered a setback in the race with China and Russia to develop hypersonic weapons when its latest test failed, the Pentagon said in a statement Thursday.

A booster stack, which is the rocket used to accelerate the projectile to hypersonic speeds, failed and the test of the projectile, the hypersonic glide body, could not proceed, the statement said.

Because the rocket failed the Pentagon was not able to test the hypersonic glide body, which is the key component needed to develop a hypersonic weapon.

Officials have started a review of the test, which took place Thursday at the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, Alaska, to understand the cause of the booster failure.

“Experiments and tests — both successful and unsuccessful — are the backbone of developing highly complex, critical technologies at tremendous speed, as the department is doing with hypersonic technologies,” said Lt. Cdr. Tim Gorman, a Pentagon spokesman, in a statement.

The Pentagon has made developing hypersonic weapons one of its top priorities, particularly as China and Russia are working to develop their own versions. The failure is another blow to the US effort following a failed test in April and comes days after it was reported that China had successfully tested a hypersonic glide vehicle.

Traveling at Mach 5 or faster, hypersonic weapons are difficult to detect, posing a challenge to missile defense systems. Hypersonic missiles can travel at a far lower trajectory than high-arcing ballistic missiles, which can be easily detectable. Hypersonics can also maneuver and evade missile defense systems.

Reports of successful Chinese and Russian test

Over the weekend, the Financial Times reported that China had successfully tested a hypersonic glide vehicle capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. They reported the glide vehicle was launched from an orbital bombardment system. Though China denied the report, saying on Monday that the test was instead a “routine spacecraft experiment.

Defense officials say they are particulary concerned about China developing hypersonic capabilities because they could enable Beijing to launch an attack over the South Pole, evading US missile defenses, which are generally geared toward missiles coming over the North Pole.

Two weeks ago, Russia claimed to have successfully tested a submarine-launched hypersonic missile for the first time, dubbed the Tsirkon. Earlier this summer, Russia said it had fired the same missile from a warship.

Nevertheless, the Pentagon insists it remains on track to deliver offensive hypersonic weapons in the early 2020s, a timeline that seems more urgent with the advances in hypersonic technology shown off by the Russians and Chinese.

“This flight test is part of an ongoing series of flight tests as we continue to develop this technology,” Gorman said.

The failed test of a hypersonic glide body occurred after the Navy and Army earlier this week conducted a series of successful hypersonic measurement tests highlighting the Pentagon’s priority of rapidly researching and testing the weapon system. The three joint sounding tests were designed to collect data and carry out hypersonic experiments from DoD partners involved in developing the advanced weapons.

“These launches allow for frequent and regular flight testing opportunities to support rapid maturation of offensive and defensive hypersonic technologies,” the Navy said in a statement about the trials.

Those tests, carried out at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, provide data for the development of the services’ hypersonic weapons, including the Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike and the Army’s Long Range Hypersonic Weapon.

The US is focusing on conventional hypersonic weapons that are based on ships, land and air platforms.

In April, the Air Force’s hypersonic missile program suffered a setback when it failed to launch from a B-52. Instead, the AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) remained on the aircraft.

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Save the oil and the wine: Revelation 6

Let's plug the sanctions gaps that enable Iran to sell oil to China and Venezuela

Let’s plug the sanctions gaps that enable Iran to sell oil to China and Venezuela

By Daniel Roth and Claire Jungman, opinion contributorsOctober 19, 2021 – 07:00 AM EDT

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

For all the sanctions on Iran, Tehran has secured willing customers for its crucial oil and gas exports in the world’s leading authoritarian and communist regimes: Venezuela and China. Caracas has taken a creative route, first paying gold for oil and then bartering its own heavy crude for Iranian gas condensates. Beijing, by contrast, pays cash straight up — $280 billion in 2019, followed by a deal worth $400 billion this year. Naturally, this illicit trade weakens efforts to compel Iran to moderate its destructive behavior and end its pursuit of nuclear weapons, potentially harming U.S. interests and national security.

Yet Iran’s success in courting Venezuela and China does not mean that U.S. sanctions have failed. Sanctions have forced the regime to trade with a few like-minded authoritarian regimes. And crucially, sanctions have forced Iran to go to extraordinary lengths to conceal its illicit shipping commerce: satellite tracking deceptions, doctoring of records, flag- and name-switching, physical camouflage, and a host of other maritime violations.

With a better understanding of the shipping subterfuge, the U.S. and its allies can make the whole rogue enterprise prohibitively costly for all parties, plugging enforcement gaps and truly squeezing Tehran. 

For instance, FELICITY was the first Iranian-flagged vessel to load Venezuelan crude, according to TankerTrackers.com. It reportedly journeyed to Venezuela’s Jose Anchorage using subversive and illegal techniques, including a shutdown of its tracking beacon. Before arriving in Venezuela, FELICITY was last seen via its satellite transponder 13 months prior in Taizhou Anchorage in China, according to Marine Traffic — meaning that the vessel sailed all the way to Venezuela with its transponder off. Disabling the transponder is a favored tactic to obscure the movement of goods, but it’s also a dangerous violation of International Maritime Organization safety rules. FELICITY even turned to more rudimentary methods to hide its activities — undergoing a fresh paint job in Venezuela.

Vessels moving Iranian oil carry falsified records that attest to their cargo originating in countries such as Oman, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iraq and Malaysia. By engaging in ship-to-ship (STS) transfers of oil from Iranian-flagged vessels to tankers owned by non-Iranian firms, Iran can obscure the origin of the oil and gas, as well as the trade itself for its customers. STS transfers are often preceded by vessels “spoofing” their location to fake their position, sometimes by thousands of nautical miles, creating yet another dangerous situation.

Smaller and under-resourced nations are routinely duped into the illicit trade by foreign-flagged rogue vessels, such as those included in Iran’s “Ghost Armada,” our organization, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), has found. These national flagging authorities are often unable to adequately patrol the activities of their flag-bearers, and so are targeted in order to fulfill ship registration requirements. Ships that are part of the Ghost Armada repeatedly switch flags, change names and alter their physical markings. 

When advocacy groups such as ours notify maritime authorities of illicit activities of registered vessels, we find that most are eager to comply with U.S. sanctions. Some even have come to rely uponnongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to serve as their eyes and ears. Through our work, dozens of vessels have been stripped of their flags, making it more difficult to continue their subterfuge.

The whole gamut of shipping deceptions perpetrated by commercial facilitators and their enablers must be made far more costly — prohibitively so. As a first step, we recommend the Treasury Department broaden the scope of sanctions-triggering activities that constitute “significant support” to Iran’s shipping sector. The U.S. should punish bunkering specialists, port authorities, importing agents, management firms, charterers, operators, marine insurers, classification societies and all other “maritime services providers” involved with Iran. The Treasury also should expand and delineate the range of sanctionable maritime services and work to identify and target any Venezuelan or Chinese firms complicit in smuggling. 

Sanctions have slowed the flow of foreign capital and reduced Iran’s trading partners to the worst-of-the-worst. But U.S. sanctions are only as robust as the enforcement mechanisms that come with them. Iran and its dubious allies are perpetuating a vicious cycle that undermines global compliance and further allows the Iranian regime to continue its destructive and malign behavior. A sharper focus on the specific methods and their perpetrators is needed to cut off Iran’s oil spigot.

Daniel Roth is the research director and Claire Jungman is the chief of staff of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy organization based in New York that was formed in 2008 to combat the threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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.