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.

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

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 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.

The new power of the Australian nuclear horn: Daniel 7

uncaptioned

Australia’s Huge New Weapons Buy Will Give It Long-Range Strike Ability For First Time Since F-111 Bombers

08:00am EDTAerospace & Defense

I write about ships, planes, tanks, drones, missiles and satellites.

Australia’s abrupt decision to cancel a $66 billion deal with France to acquire a dozen new conventional submarines—and swap in eight British or American nuclear subs, instead—has sparked a minor diplomatic crisis.

The French government predictably is upset at losing the revenue and influence the sub deal represented. The Chinese government meanwhile objects to Australia acquiring a powerful new undersea capability that could pose a serious threat to the Chinese fleet.

But the sub swap is the just the most public aspect of a wide-ranging, multibillion-dollar initiative that, over the span of a decade or more, could transform Australia’s military. 

Where before Australian forces suffered serious constraints owing to their limited range and the huge distances between Australia and its likeliest foe, in coming years the Australians might deploy long-range missiles that can hold at risk enemy forces many thousands of miles away.

“These capabilities … will enhance Australia’s ability to deter and respond to potential security challenges,” the government stated.

It’s a big deal. But as portentous as the political and industrial moves are for Australia, its allies and its rivals, arguably all the new policies achieve is to reset Australian strike capabilities to where they were around 2010, right before the Royal Australian Air Force retired its F-111 bombers.

Today the Australian military’s long-range striking power resides mostly with the RAAF. The air force’s 93 F/A-18 fighters are compatible with Joint Air-to-Surface Strike Munitions that Canberra acquired from the United States starting in 2014.

An F-18 can range around 450 miles with weapons and without aerial refueling. A JASSM travels as far as 230 miles. Unrefueled, an RAAF F-18 can strike a target no farther away than 680 miles. 

That’s a problem. Australia is really, really far from its biggest potential enemy, China. A Royal Australian Navy submarine sailing from the RAN’s sub base on the country’s west coast would have to travel 3,500 milesto reach the South China Sea, where a clash between China and its rivals is likeliest to occur.

An RAAF plane flying from the air force’s base in Darwin, on the north coast, has a somewhat shorter journey. The South China Sea is just 2,500 miles away. That’s still much farther than an RAAF F-18 or one of the air force’s three-dozen F-35s can fly without aerial refueling. 

Yes, the air force possesses seven highly capable KC-30 tankers, but all seven tankers working together could project just a handful of fighters over long range. One 2019 analysis concluded that the RAAF’s entire refueling fleet is adequate to keep just a pair of fighters over the maritime choke-points around Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore. Still many hundreds of miles from the China seas.

A host of new weapons buys the Australian government announced last week could extend the military’s striking range—by a lot.

In addition to a new flotilla of up to eight nuclear-powered submarines, Canberra announced it would buy, for its warplanes, the extended-range variant of the JASSM plus a new JASSM-based anti-ship missile and any new hypersonic strike missile that Australian and U.S. industry manage to co-develop. 

The RAN’s three Hobart-class destroyers would get Tomahawk cruise missiles. The Tomahawk can hit land targets at a distance of around a thousand miles, potentially allowing the destroyers to strike Chinese forces from positions outside the China seas.

The new aerial munitions afford Canberra the most flexibility. The JASSM-Extended Range has a 560-mile range. An F-18 with JASSM-ERs and without mid-air refueling could hit a target a thousand miles from its base. 

That’s an improvement over the current, 680-mile limit to unrefueled RAAF strike ops. But it’s still at least a hundred miles short of the range of the air force’s long-retired F-111Cs. 

Sensitive to the tyranny of distance that defines Australian war strategy, the RAAF in the 1960s initiated a controversial program to acquire a custom version of the U.S. Air Force’s supersonic, swing-wing F-111 bomber. 

The RAAF ultimately operated 28 F-111Cs as well as 15 ex-USAF F-111Gs, mostly armed with bombs—although they also could carry Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The last of the aging bombers left service in 2010 after 42 years of service.

In giving up the F-111, the government knew it was also giving up its long-range firepower. “The F-111 is a unique asset in the region,” said Dennis Jensen, a member of parliament at the time. “With the loss of this capability, our competitive edge will be lost.”

A decade later, Australia finally is moving to restore that edge.Follow me on Twitter. Check out my website or some of my other work here. Send me a secure tip.

I’m a journalist, author and filmmaker based in Columbia, South Carolina

Philippines supports the Australia nuclear Horn to counter China: Daniel 7

Filipino soldiers stand at attention near a Philippine flag at Thitu island in disputed South China Sea April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Philippines supports Australia nuclear sub pact to counter China

September 20, 202111:11 PM MDTLast Updated 15 hours ago

MANILA, Sept 21 (Reuters) – The Philippines is backing a new defence partnership between the United States, Britain and Australia, hoping it can maintain the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region, a view that contrasts sharply with some of its neighbours.

Known as AUKUS, the alliance will see Australia get technology to deploy nuclear-powered submarines as part of the agreement intended to respond to growing Chinese power.

“The enhancement of a near-abroad ally’s ability to project power should restore and keep the balance rather than destabilise it,” Philippines foreign minister, Teodoro Locsin, said in a statement on Tuesday.

Locsin’s remarks, dated Sept. 19, differ to the stance of Indonesia and Malaysia, which sounded the alarm about the nuclear power submarines amid a burgeoning superpower rivalry in Southeast Asia.

Locsin said that without an actual presence of nuclear weapons, the AUKUS move would not violate a 1995 treaty to keep nuclear arms out of Southeast Asia.

The South China Sea continues to be a source of tension, with the United States – a defence treaty partner of the Philippines – and Western allies regularly conducting “freedom of navigation” operations that China has reacted angrily to.

China sees those as outside interference in waters it claims as its own, in conflict with other coastal states, like the Philippines and Vietnam, which have accused China of harassing fishermen and energy activities.

A brief period of rapprochement is all but over this year, with the Philippines furious about the “threatening” presence of hundreds of Chinese “maritime militia”vessels inside its exclusive economic zone.

“Proximity breeds brevity in response time; thereby enhancing an ASEAN near friend and ally’s military capacity to respond to a threat to the region or challenge the status quo,” Locsin added, without specifying the threat.

“This requires enhancing Australia’s ability, added to that of its main military ally, to achieve that calibration.”

Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty

The Newest Weapons of the Australian Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

A US nuclear-powered submarine (representational image) | Wikimedia commons

What are nuclear-powered submarines that Australia will acquire under first AUKUS initiative

Only six countries currently operate nuclear-powered submarines — China, France, India, Russia, the UK and the US.

19 September, 2021 8:00 am IST

A US nuclear-powered submarine (representational image) | Wikimedia commons

New Delhi: The US and UK are set to provide Australia with the technology to deploy nuclear-powered submarines, as part of the first initiative under the new trilateral security partnership AUKUS.

“Under AUKUS, the three nations will focus immediately on identifying the optimal pathway to deliver at least eight nuclear-powered submarines for Australia,” read a statement by the Australian government Thursday.

“Over the next 18 months, Australia, the UK and US will intensely examine the full suite of requirements that underpin nuclear stewardship and demonstrate a clear pathway to becoming a responsible and reliable steward of this sensitive technology,” the statement added.

However, this move has drawn criticism from both China and France. According to China, the agreement could damage regional peace and stability while France accusedthe US of “stabbing it in the back” since the AUKUS partnership led to the scrapping of a historic $66 billion deal between France and Australia to build 12 Barracuda submarines, which was signed in June 2016.

The AUKUS agreement led to the scrappingof a historic $90 billion deal between France and Australia for nuclear-powered submarines.

ThePrint explains what nuclear-powered submarines are and the advantages of these submarines in a country’s fleet.

A nuclear-powered submarine, as the name suggests, is powered by a nuclear reactor but it is not a nuclear weapon.

Every nuclear-powered submarine draws from its own miniature nuclear reactor onboard, which is typically fuelled with uranium, according to a report in The Conversation. For such a reactor to work, uranium has to be ‘enriched’ to contain 50 per cent of a key isotope, uranium-235.

Natural uranium consists of approximately 99.3 per cent of the isotope uranium-238 and only 0.7 per cent of uranium-235. The process of enrichment can be carried outthrough gaseous diffusion, gas centrifuges or laser isotope separation.

According to the Australian government statement, “Nuclear-powered submarines do not have the same limitations that face conventional submarines on weapons storage, speed and endurance.”

“They can stay completely submerged for many months, limiting the opportunities for detection by adversaries.”

Only six nations own and operate these submarines currently: China, France, India, Russia, the UK and the US.

Types of nuclear-powered submarine ships

Nuclear-powered submarines can be divided into three broad categories — the nuclear-powered fast-attack submarines or SSNs, the nuclear-powered ballistic submarines or SSBNs and the nuclear-powered cruise missile submarines or SSGNs.

SSNs are the oldest type of nuclear-powered submarines and the first of these, the American-made Nautilus, was deployedin 1954 by the US. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, launched SSGNs in the late 1960s.

Unlike the standard SSN nuclear submarines, SSBNs and SSGNs are capable of firing ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, respectively.

The US currently operates three classes of SSNs — the Los Angeles, the Seawolf and the Virginia. The currently operational US SSBNs fall under the Ohio class, some of which were converted into SSGNs.

While the Los Angeles class was first built in 1982 and equipped with a vertical launch missile system with twelve launch tubes, the Seawolf class was commissioned in 1997 and represented greater maneuverability than the Los Angeles class, among other advancements.

The Virginia class is the newest American-made SSN and is a smaller attack submarine than the Seawolf class and was first commissioned in 2004. The Ohio class, meanwhile, was first built in 1981 and its fleet was restricted to a total of 14 by 2002.

The UK operates two classes of SSNs — Trafalgar ( with five 533 mm torpedo tubes) and Astute (with six torpedo tubes) —and a single class of SSBNs, the Vanguard, which contains four torpedo tubes.

Australia will be acquiring the technology for and building eight SSNs, according to a report from the International Institute of Strategic Studies.

India and the nuclear submarine industry

India entered the nuclear-powered submarine fray in the late 1980s with the Chakra, an SSN on lease from the Soviet Union.

The original INS Chakra initially came to India on a three-year lease that began in 1988. Chakra II was inducted in 2012 and returned to Russia in June this year after its lease expired

Currently, India has a single Akula-class SSN in service, which was leased from Russia in 2011, and two Arihant-class SSBNs, the first of which was cleared for operations in 2016.

But more are on the way, with another Russian Akula-class SSN due for arrival in 2025, six submarines to be built as part of Project 75 and a new S5-class of SSBNs.


Activating the Australian nuclear horn: Daniel 7

The new Australia, UK, and US nuclear submarine announcement: a terrible decision for the nonproliferation regime

By Sébastien Philippe | September 17, 2021

On September 15, US President Joe Biden, United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison launched a new major strategic partnership to meet the “imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term.” Named AUKUS, the partnership was announced together with a bombshell decision: The United States and UK will transfer naval nuclear-propulsion technology to Australia. Such a decision is a fundamental policy reversal for the United States, which has in the past spared no effort to thwart the transfer of naval reactor technology by other countries, except for its World War II partner, the United Kingdom. Even France—whose “contract of the century” to sell 12 conventional submarines to Australia was shot down by PM Morrison during the AUKUS announcement—had been repeatedly refused US naval reactor technology during the Cold War. If not reversed one way or another, the AUKUS decision could have major implications for the nonproliferation regime.

In the 1980s, the United States prevented France and the UK from selling nuclear attack submarines to Canada. The main argument centered on the danger of nuclear proliferation associated with the naval nuclear fuel cycle. Indeed, the nonproliferation treaty has a well-known loophole: non-nuclear weapon states can remove fissile materials from international control for use in non-weapon military applications, specifically to fuel nuclear submarine reactors. These reactors require a significant amount of uranium to operate. Moreover, to make them as compact as possible, most countries operate their naval reactors with nuclear-weapon-usable highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel.

With tons of weapons-grade uranium out of international safeguards, what could go wrong?

The United States, UK, and Australia are giving themselves 18 months to hammer out the details of the arrangement. This will include figuring out what type of submarine, reactors, and uranium fuel will be required. Similarly, questions about where to base the submarines, what new infrastructure will be needed, how maintenance will be conducted, how nuclear fuel will be handled, and how crews will be trained—among many others—will need to be answered.

Australia has no civilian nuclear power infrastructure beyond a 20 megawatt-thermal research reactor and faces a rough nuclear learning curve. It will need to strengthen its nuclear safety authority so it has the capability to conduct, review, and validate safety assessments for naval reactors that are complex and difficult to commission. How long this new nuclear endeavor will take and how much it will cost are anyone’s guesses. But the cancelled $90 billion (Australian) “contract of the century” with France for conventionally powered attack submarines will most likely feel like a cheap bargain in retrospect. Beyond these technical details, the AUKUS partnership will also have to bend over backwards to fulfill prior international nonproliferation commitments and prevent the new precedent created by the Australian deal from proliferating out of control around the world.RELATED: Legal and political myths of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear WeaponsThe United States and UK operate naval reactors in their submarines that are fueled with 93.5 percent enriched uranium (civilian power plants are typically fueled with three to five percent uranium-235) in quantities sufficient to last for the lifetime of their ships (33 years for attack submarines).Having resisted domestic efforts to minimize the use of HEU and convert their naval reactorsto LEU fuel, the United States and UK have no alternative fuel to offer. France, on the other hand, now runs naval reactors fueled with LEU. The new Suffren-class submarine, from which the French conventional submarine offered to Australia was derived, even runs on fuel enriched below 6 percent.So Australia is likely to receive HEU technology, unless an LEU crash program is launched that could take more than a decade to complete or in a dramatic reversal, France is pulled back into a deal—two scenarios that remain unlikely at this point and at any rate do not solve all proliferation concerns. Assuming the high-enrichment route is followed, if Canberra wants to operate six to 12 nuclear submarines for about 30 years, it will need some three to six tons of HEU. It has none on hand and no domestic capacity to enrich uranium. So unless it kickstarts an enrichment program for military purposes, the material would need to come from the United States or the UK.One can only imagine the drops of sweat trickling down the neck of the International Atomic Energy Agency leadership in Vienna when an Australian delegation comes knocking at its door bringing the good news. The agency, which is currently battling to prevent Iran from acquiring enough fissile material to build a nuclear weapon—25 kilograms (0.025 ton) of HEU according to the internationally agreed standard—will have to figure out how to monitor and account for 100 to 200 times that amount without gaining access to secret naval reactor design information. Managing that feat while keeping its credibility intact will be difficult to pull off.RELATED: Revisiting the case for no first use of nuclear weaponsWhat could happen if AUKUS moves forward? France clearly feels “backstabbed” by its Anglo-Saxon allies and angered to the unimaginable point of cancelling a gala celebrating the 240th anniversary of the Revolutionary War Battle of the Capes during America’s war of independence. In response, the French could relax their position on not transferring naval reactor technology to Brazil as part of helping the country build its first nuclear attack submarine. South Korea just successfully launched a ballistic missile from a conventional submarine and recently floated the idea of starting a nuclear submarine program in response to growing nuclear threats from North Korea. Seoul could now ask the United States or other nations for an arrangement similar to Australia’s.Russia could begin new naval reactor cooperation with China to boost China’s submarine capabilities in response to the AUKUS announcement. India and Pakistan, which already have nuclear weapons, could benefit from international transfers as well, possibly from France and China respectively. Iran, of course, has already expressed interest in enriching uranium to HEU levels to pursue a submarine program.Until now, it was the US commitment to nonproliferation that relentlessly crushed or greatly limited these aspirations toward nuclear-powered submarine technology. With the new AUKUS decision, we can now expect the proliferation of very sensitive military nuclear technology in the coming years, with literally tons of new nuclear materials under loose or no international safeguards.Domestic political opposition to the nuclear submarine deal is already brewing in Australia. The Green Party has announced that it will fight the deal “tooth and nail.” Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Morrison is very much struggling in the polls and could lose next year’s election—before the end of the 18-month review process announced by AUKUS. The nuclear submarine project could then be buried before it takes off, saving the international community further headaches.But if Morrison gets re-elected and the program continues, it will be for the United Stated to take up its responsibilities as the guardian of the nonproliferation regime. Poor nuclear arms control and nonproliferation decisions—such as leaving the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and approving the US-Indian nuclear deal—have so far been a trademark of the US Republican Party. It is difficult to understand the internal policy process that led the Democratic Biden administration to the AUKUS submarine announcement. It seems that just like in the old Cold War, arms racing and the search for short-term strategic advantage is now bipartisan.