Posts Tagged ‘ICBM’

Deep in the Desert, Iran Quietly Advances Missile Technology Toward an ICBM

May 24, 2018

Shortly before his death, the scientist, Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, oversaw the development of a secret, second facility in the remote Iranian desert. Today, Iran tests its future ballistic missiles at this site…

When an explosion nearly razed Iran’s long-range missile research facility in 2011 — and killed the military scientist who ran it — many Western intelligence analysts viewed it as devastating to Tehran’s technological ambitions.

Since then, there has been little indication of Iranian work on a missile that could reach significantly beyond the Middle East, and Iranian leaders have said they do not intend to build one.

So, this spring, when a team of California-based weapons researchers reviewed new Iranian state TV programs glorifying the military scientist, they expected a history lesson with, at most, new details on a long-dormant program.

Instead, they stumbled on a series of clues that led them to a startling conclusion: Shortly before his death, the scientist, Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, oversaw the development of a secret, second facility in the remote Iranian desert that, they say, is operating to this day.

Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam

For weeks, the researchers picked through satellite photos of the facility. They found, they say, that work on the site now appears to focus on advanced rocket engines and rocket fuel, and is often conducted under cover of night.

It is possible that the facility is developing only medium-range missiles, which Iran already possesses, or perhaps an unusually sophisticated space program.

An Iranian facility 25 miles from Shahrud, Iran, where missiles testing is believed to be taking place.CreditDavid Schmerler/Center for Nonproliferation Studies; Imagery via Planet Labs Inc.

But an analysis of structures and ground markings at the facility strongly suggests, though does not prove, that it is developing the technology for long-range missiles, the researchers say.

Such a program would not violate the international deal intended to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, or any other formal agreement. Still, if completed, it could threaten Europe and potentially the United States. And if Iran is found to be conducting long-range missile work, that would increase tensions between Tehran and the United States.

Five outside experts who independently reviewed the findings agreed that there was compelling evidence that Iran is developing long-range missile technology.

“The investigation highlights some potentially disturbing developments,” said Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies who reviewed the material. The evidence was circumstantial, he said, but it could show preliminary steps “for developing an ICBM five to 10 years down the road, should Tehran wish to do so.”

Asked about the conclusions drawn by the weapons researchers, Alireza Miryousefi, the press officer at Iran’s United Nations mission, said in emailed statement that “we do not comment on military matters.”

An undated photo, published on an Iranian web forum in late 2017, shows Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, right, the lead scientist on Iran’s long-range missile program, who died in 2011. At the rear is a box marked “Shahrud.”CreditIranian Young Journalists Club

The Shahrud Facility

The researchers, based at the nonpartisan Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, Calif., came across the Iranian facility shortly after a young research fellow, Fabian Hinz, proposed studying a flurry of recent Iranian state media material on General Moghaddam. He wanted to see if it contained clues as to how far Iran’s missile program had progressed before the general’s death.

But offhand comments from General Moghaddam’s colleagues and family members in the Iranian media seemed to imply that his work had quietly continued, the researchers say.

Mr. Hinz also found a big hint as to where the work was taking place. In a 2017 post by an Iranian journalists association, he saw an undated photo of General Moghaddam alongside a top lieutenant and a box marked “Shahrud.”

That name caught Mr. Hinz’s attention.

Shahrud, named for a town 40 kilometers away, was the site of a single missile test-launch in 2013. It had been considered dormant ever since and, when viewed by satellite, appeared disused.

Was there more than met the eye?

Poring over years of satellite imagery, the researchers noticed something: The number of buildings, they say, had slowly increased over time.

They also spotted a detail that would stand out only to an obsessive follower of General Moghaddam’s career: The buildings were painted a striking aquamarine.

General Moghaddam, known as eccentric and strong willed, had ordered his first facility, the one that was destroyed, painted that color. Now the same color appeared 300 miles away on a cluster of nondescript buildings in the desert.

On its own, this proved little, but it led the researchers to look more closely. Once they did, they saw more than just suspicious paint.


Researchers say they have found ground markings apparently left by rocket-engine tests at a crater near the Iranian facility.CreditDavid Schmerler/Center for Nonproliferation Studies; Imagery, via Planet Labs Inc.

Ground Scars

Many military technologies can be developed, at least in early stages, indoors. Ballistics labs, wind tunnels and enrichment facilities can be hidden in buildings or underground.

Missiles are an exception. Their engines must be fitted into stands and test-fired — hazardous work that is typically done outdoors. And engine tests, when conducted in desert landscapes like those around Shahrud, can burn ground scars, shaped like candle flames, into the terrain.

The researchers, piecing through satellite photos of the area around Shahrud, found, in a crater a few kilometers away, what they say were two telltale ground scars. They were larger than those at General Moghaddam’s publicly known facility.

The scars were recent. One appeared in 2016, the other in June 2017.

The researchers scrutinized the test stands. Such structures typically weigh between four and six times the thrust of the engine being tested. And they are concrete, allowing their weight to be inferred from their dimensions.

The researchers say Shahrud’s 2017 test used a stand estimated to be 370 tons, suggesting the engine powered between 62 and 93 tons of thrust — enough for an intercontinental ballistic missile. Two as-yet-unused test stands are even larger.

Hidden Activity

There were other hints. Shahrud appears to house three pits of the sort used for casting or curing rocket components, the researchers say. One pit, at 5.5 meters in diameter, is far larger than those used for Iran’s medium-range missiles.

The researchers confirmed that the facility remains active by using a new type of satellite imagery known as synthetic-aperture radar. By firing radio waves and measuring their echo, the satellite reveals greater detail than a photograph. Because of how it stores data, it can track minute changes between two sets of images, such as dirt kicked up by someone walking between buildings.

“We can see human traffic, human activity that isn’t visible on your traditional satellite,” said David Schmerler, one of the California-based researchers. “They’ve been driving all over the crater where the engine tests are done.”

And there appeared to be heavy vehicle traffic in and out of a tunnel leading underground, suggesting that Shahrud sits atop a large subterranean structure, the researchers say, though they could not say what it is for.

The researchers were especially struck by the fuel — or, more precisely, they say, the fact that there was none to be seen. No storage tanks, fuel trucks or fueling stations. This underscored suspicions that Shahrud is building engines that burn solid fuel, they say.

Solid fuel is far more difficult and dangerous to develop than the liquid kind. While it is also used in civilian programs like spaceflight, its military applications are considerable.

Liquid-fueled missiles must be fueled right before launch, which requires time and access to special fueling facilities, making them easier for enemy forces to find and destroy. But solid-fueled missiles can be hidden in remote locations and fired at a moment’s notice.

A photograph from the Fars news agency in Iran of a missile said to have been fired in March 2016.CreditOmid Vahabzadeh/Fars News Agency, via Associated Press

Unanswered Questions

“We’ve stumbled onto this program that was much closer to being done than we’d realized,” said Jeffrey Lewis, who leads the California-based team that uncovered the facility.

But closer to completing what, precisely?

Perhaps only a more advanced version of Iran’s existing medium-range missiles. Still, this would not explain why the structures appear sized for larger missiles or why the work is conducted in such secrecy.

Another explanation could be rockets designed to fire into space — though this is not necessarily benign. Countries will often develop space-launch rockets as a kind of test model for intercontinental ballistic missiles. North Korea and India both started their ICBM programs this way.

Mr. Lewis estimated that Shahrud’s casting or curing pits could produce three rockets per year — not enough for an arsenal, but the right amount for a space-launch program. This could develop the technical know-how for an ICBM without one actually being built.

A Revolutionary Guards officer named Majid Musavi, who is thought to be Mr. Moghaddam’s successor, seemed to suggest as much in his only known interview. A space program, Mr. Musavi said in 2014, allowed the scientists to continue their work while complying with orders from Iranian leaders not to produce missiles over 2,000 kilometers in range.

Still, Shahrud’s focus on solid-fuel engines suggests that any space program there is intended for missile technology, said David Wright, a missile expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“If the goal is to launch satellites, it makes more sense to use liquid-fuel rockets,” he said. Solid fuel brings few upsides for civilian use, he said, but is “a convenient way to also develop the technology for a solid ICBM.”

It is difficult to assess whether Iran would develop this technology as a precaution in case tensions spike with the United States, as leverage for future negotiations or as experimental testing for missiles that are still years away.

Hedging Bets

Work at the facility is most likely intended as “a hedge” should the nuclear agreement collapse, said Dina Esfandiary, an Iran expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The country does not appear to be sprinting toward a long-range missile, but preparing the ground in case Iranian leaders should one day deem that necessary.

“It keeps the option open,” Ms. Esfandiary said.

Mr. Lewis concluded that the program is holding deliberately short of a functional long-range missile. But if President Trump succeeds in tearing up the agreement, or if Tehran feels threatened, Mr. Lewis warned, Shahrud suggests that Iran could acquire a long-range missile more quickly than has been previously known.

“Like we did with North Korea, we are underestimating how capable they are,” he said, referring to North Korea’s surprisingly rapid development of an ICBM.

“The Iranians are choosing to restrain themselves for political reasons,” Mr. Lewis said, “and if we tell them to go to hell, we’re not going to like what they do.”

A missile displayed in April during a National Army Day parade outside Tehran.CreditEbrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

‘For How Long’?

In July 2017, a Revolutionary Guards officer named Amir Ali Hajizadeh, in comments to military families, complained that “certain gentlemen” in the government were holding back work on a space-launch rocket that, though “ready for launch,” was being “put into storage because of fear of America.”

“This is unacceptable for us,” Mr. Hajizadeh said. “For how long do we have to humiliate ourselves?”

With Mr. Trump’s exit from the nuclear agreement, hard-liners like Mr. Hajizadeh may be better positioned to push for resuming this work, Ms. Esfandiary said. “The situation has changed, because there’s no cap on their missile work and they have proof that the West doesn’t uphold its commitments,” she said.

The Interpreter is a column by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub exploring the ideas and context behind major world events. Follow them on Twitter @Max_Fisher and @amandataub.

Analysis by Fabian Hinz, Jeffrey Lewis and David Schmerler of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. The analysis was reviewed by James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Michael Elleman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Dina Esfandiary of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Steve Fetter of the University of Maryland and David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists.



North Korea: Why Kim Jong Un came in from the cold with his trip to Beijing

March 30, 2018

Financial Times (FT)

By Bryan Harris in Seoul

March 30, 2018


With his trip to Beijing, Pyongyang’s leader has moved beyond survivor mode and shown that he has tightened his hold on power

He controls a million-strong army and runs a nuclear weapons programme but for years Kim Jong Un has ruled with a nagging sense of fear.

Kim Jong Un, center, and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, center right, are greeted by Chinese officials in Beijing.

The young North Korean dictator, some argue, was afraid to leave his isolated, impoverished nation in case his generals launched a coup or foreign forces used the opportunity to bring his brutal reign to an abrupt end. Such notions were shattered this week as a private armoured train trundled 20 hours from Pyongyang to Beijing for Mr Kim’s first trip abroad as paramount leader of North Korea. The visit, initially shrouded in secrecy with the Chinese capital on lockdown, was seen by experts as an attempt to mend Pyongyang’s frayed ties with Beijing — its principal backer — ahead of a possible summit between Mr Kim and US president Donald Trump in May.

But to others it signalled something more: the dictator’s growing confidence in his hold on power — a position that he has for years meticulously strengthened through a series of political, economic and military policies that are becoming synonymous with his reign. “The trip to China marks a major change in his operating mode and it signals that he does feel that his control . . . is secure enough for him to be away from his headquarters for a few days,” says Hank Morris, an adviser at Erudite Risk in Seoul.

Members of the Korean People's Army (KPA) attend a ceremony at Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on Monday to mark Day of the Sun.

“That in itself is meaningful.” Kim Jong Un is greeted by Chinese Communist party officials as he steps off a train in Beijing on March 26 © AP For close watchers of the nation of 25m, Mr Kim has followed a three-pronged strategy to cement his grip on power: high-level political repression, grassroots economic liberalisation and the unwavering development of his nation’s nuclear programme. Surveys of defectors appear to show that his policies are having an impact.

They indicate that Mr Kim enjoys broad support among ordinary North Koreans, while analysts now believe he has the nation’s military on a tight leash. “This is the dictator model to the extreme,” says Andrei Lankov, a noted North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul.

Children with fans entertain foreign journalists.

“Kim wants to keep people’s stomachs full of food but their hearts full of fear.” The developments are crucial to diplomacy in the region. A newly emboldened Mr Kim now feels ready to pursue ambitious foreign policies, such as the summit with Mr Trump and a meeting with Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, on April 27. For many observers, the North Korean regime is motivated by just one thing: survival. Mr Kim, 34, wants “to die a natural death at an advanced old age,” says Prof Lankov.

As such, its policymaking, from building nuclear weapons to developing the economy, is overwhelmingly weighted in support of this goal. Mr Kim’s first obstacle when he took power after the death of his father in 2011 was opposition from the country’s elite and military, who viewed him as an unknown quantity. This scepticism triggered a bloody years-long purge that has claimed some of the nation’s biggest scalps, including Kim Jong Nam, Mr Kim’s own half-brother who was murdered in Malaysia last year. Waiting for a bus in Pyongyang © AFP It also ensnared Jang Song Thaek, Mr Kim’s uncle, who was tried for treason and executed by firing squad in 2013.

“The crackdown on the elites was a move to consolidate power by removing his father’s people and putting his own in place,” says Ahn Chan Il, president of the World Institute for North Korean Studies and a prominent defector. Unlike Kim Jong Il — his father whose reign became associated with a famine that killed hundreds of thousands in the 1990s — Mr Kim has focused his ire mainly on the North Korean elite and military, leaving his image among the wider populace relatively unscathed. “From the people’s perspective, the purging of elites is seen as the right thing to do due to their alleged wrongdoings,” says Kim Young-soo, a professor at Sogang University in Seoul. Prof Lankov echoes the sentiment, saying Mr Kim was “only killing people [holding] guns”.

“He has not touched a single economy manager. If you are a bank manager, you are safe. In six years, he has had seven ministers of defence, which is as many as his father and grandfather [Kim Il Sung] had combined in 60 years. He is playing it safe [with his own security],” he says. Mr Kim further weakened the power of the military hierarchy by transferring rights to operate foreign currency-earning businesses away from certain generals back to the ruling Workers’ party, according to Mr Ahn, who formerly served in the North Korean army.

Alongside purges of the elite, Mr Kim has also taken steps, via a rebooted propaganda operation, to bolster his image among ordinary North Koreans. US president Donald Trump is set to meet Kim Jong Un in May © AP Human rights violations still plague the nation, with arrests, forced labour and executions endemic.

But like Maoist China, Mr Kim has honed his cult of personality, which appears to keep him above the fray. He is regularly portrayed in state media with a broad grin or engaged in frivolous activities with civilians or soldiers. Most importantly for his reputation, however, Mr Kim has overseen a period of quiet but effective and gradual economic reform by allowing the spread of markets and de facto private enterprises, which have led to a clear uptick in wage levels and the standard of living.

“Ironically, as UN sanctions have tightened in recent years, the economy has become more decentralised and productive, as weakening state controls have allowed the spread of market activities, providing incentives for individuals and families to work in their own self-interest,” says William Brown, a professor in Asian economies at Georgetown University and a former US intelligence officer. Recommended Philip Stephens Philip Stephens: Trump, Xi and playing poker with Pyongyang In the eyes of the public these changes are intimately associated with the supreme leader.

They form a crucial element of his byeongjin ideology. Translated as simultaneous advancement, byeongjin is a survivalist dogma that promotes the dual development of the economy and nuclear weapons. “This is his signature policy. His identity is based on this,” says Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea expert at Troy University’s international relations faculty in Seoul.

The reforms have triggered an uptick in growth — the Bank of Korea measured a 4 per cent rise in gross domestic product in 2016, which Mr Kim believes can — at least in the short-run — act as a damper on popular dissent. “This is his survival code. For Kim, the economic reforms are crucial to keeping power,” says Kim Byung-yeon, a professor at Seoul National University and author of a book on the North Korean economy.

Adding that the decision of the North Korean leader to meet Mr Trump is a strategic ploy to get sanctions relief. Kim

An image from the North Korean state news agency purporting to show Kim Jong-un and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, to his right, at a performance to celebrate North Korea’s nuclear test. CreditKCNA, via Agence France-Presse

Polling of public opinion is impossible in North Korea. However, academics in South Korea have charted how an admittedly limited number of North Koreans perceive the regime.

Almost 65 per cent of a group of 650 defectors who lived under Kim Jong Un’s regime at some stage say the overall perception towards him domestically is positive, according to a survey by Seoul National University. “Kim Jong Un’s reputation is relatively good compared with his father,” says Kang Myung Do, a high-ranking defector and son-in-law of former North Korean premier Kang Sung San.

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 North Korean leader Kim Jong-un celebrates the country’s latest nuclear test with scientists and party officials. Photograph: STR/AFP/Getty Images

“Ordinary people don’t care about him that much. They are OK with him so long as he doesn’t interrupt their market activities and livelihood,” says Prof Kang, who teaches at Kyonggi University in Suwon. Prof Kim puts it even more bluntly: “People appear to be now saying as long as you don’t touch my money, you can rule the country.” In November, the Korean peninsula appeared on the verge of conflict as Mr Kim launched his third intercontinental ballistic test missile of the year, triggering global condemnation that was especially sharp from the Trump White House.

Amid the furore, many observers overlooked comments from the leader that North Korea had completed its “state nuclear force”.

Pyongyang conducts its third intercontinental ballistic missile test of the year and declares completion of its “state nuclear force”. JAN 2018 Kim extends an olive branch to Seoul in his new year’s message, triggering a flurry of diplomacy and an inter-Korean summit slated for April 27.

For Mr Kim, this announcement represented the pinnacle of success: he had achieved the goals of his father and grandfather and upheld his byeongjin line. It was a boon for his leadership in a nation that is indoctrinated to cherish state might and nuclear weapons. But Mr Kim received more than just domestic dividends. The north’s development of nuclear weapons afford him leverage when approaching meetings with the US, South Korea and even China.

It is highly unlikely Mr Kim will abandon the regime’s nuclear weapons programme despite repeated claims that he is willing to denuclearise. At the summit with Mr Trump, he may potentially offer a freeze in weapons testing in exchange for the easing of sanctions.

Yet Mr Kim now believes he has enough of a deterrent to prevent a US attack and thus ensure his own survival.

A senior US administration official told the FT that following the Beijing meeting, Washington was determined to keep the pressure on North Korea and ensuring that China maintains its commitment to uphold sanctions and isolate the regime. Jean Lee, a fellow at the Wilson Center, says Mr Kim’s strengthened position has tremendous implications for how he will engage not only with Mr Trump but also China’s President Xi Jinping.

Kim Jong Un confirms talks with US and S Korea “Now that he’s happy with his nuclear programme, and the relative position of strength it puts him in at home and abroad, Kim Jong Un is turning his attention to inter-Korea and foreign affairs,” she says. “It has been clear he has wanted to settle the question whether he is qualified to be a military leader for many years. He used the White House’s rhetoric to justify the nuclear programme, and has now settled that question. He feels confident.”

Additional reporting by Kang Buseong in Seoul, Charles Clover in Beijing and Katrina Manson in Washington

Peace and Freedom Note: China also wants to defend its ally in Iran while also positioning itself to best Donald Trump in his tariffs and trade war talk….

Donald Trump says Russia helping North Korea skirt sanctions; Pyongyang close to long-range missile

January 18, 2018

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday (Jan 17) that Russia is helping North Korea get supplies in violation of international sanctions and that Pyongyang is getting “closer every day” to being able to deliver a long-range missile to the United States.

“Russia is not helping us at all with North Korea,” Trump said during an Oval Office interview with Reuters.

“What China is helping us with, Russia is denting. In other words, Russia is making up for some of what China is doing.”

China and Russia both signed onto the latest rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions against North Korea imposed last year. There was no immediate comment from the Russian embassy in Washington on Trump’s remarks.

With North Korea persisting as the major global challenge facing Trump this year, the president cast doubt during the 53-minute interview on whether talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would be useful. In the past he has not ruled out direct talks with Kim.

“I’d sit down, but I’m not sure that sitting down will solve the problem,” he said, noting that past negotiations with the North Koreans by his predecessors had failed to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.

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“They’ve talked for 25 years and they’ve taken advantage of our presidents, of our previous presidents,” he said.

He declined to comment when asked whether he had engaged in any communications at all with Kim, with whom he has exchanged public insults and threats, heightening tensions in the region.

Trump said he hoped the standoff with Pyongyang could be resolved “in a peaceful way, but it’s very possible that it can’t”.

Trump praised China for its efforts to restrict oil and coal supplies to North Korea but said Beijing could do much more to help constrain Pyongyang.

The White House last week welcomed news that imports to China from North Korea, which counts on Beijing as its main economic partner, plunged in December to their lowest in dollar terms since at least the start of 2014.


But Trump said Russia appears to be filling in the gaps left by the Chinese.

Western European security sources told Reuters in late December that Russian tankers had supplied fuel to North Korea on at least three occasions in recent months by transferring cargoes at sea in violation of international sanctions. Russia has denied breaching North Korea sanctions.

North Korea relies on imported fuel to keep its struggling economy functioning. It also requires oil for its intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear programme.

Trump has repeatedly blamed a US investigation into whether Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election for hindering an improvement in US-Russian relations.

“He can do a lot,” Trump said of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “But unfortunately we don’t have much of a relationship with Russia, and in some cases it’s probable that what China takes back, Russia gives. So the net result is not as good as it could be.”

Trump, who has grappled with nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches by North Korea since he took office a year ago, said Pyongyang is steadily advancing in its ability to deliver a missile to the United States.

“They’re not there yet, but they’re close. And they get closer every day,” said Trump.

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North Korea said after its last intercontinental ballistic missile launch in November that the test had put the US mainland within range. Some experts agreed that based on the missile’s trajectory and distance it had the capability to fly as far as Washington, DC.

They said, however, that North Korea had not yet offered any proof that it had mastered all technical hurdles, including development of a re-entry vehicle needed to deliver a heavy nuclear warhead reliably atop an ICBM, but it was likely that it soon would. Pyongyang could reach that milestone by the end of the year, some intelligence officials said.

Trump said he welcomed talks between North and South Korea over the Winter Olympics to be held in the South next month and said this could be an initial phase in helping defuse the crisis.

He would not say whether the US has been considering a limited, pre-emptive attack to show the North that the United States means business.

“We’re playing a very, very hard game of poker and you don’t want to reveal your hand,” he said.

US officials had spoken of Trump’s willingness to weigh a pre-emptive strike despite the risk of touching off a war. But in recent days Trump has appeared to signal more of an openness toward diplomacy.

India tests-fires Agni-V, a nuclear-capable ICBM

January 18, 2018

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New Delhi (CNN) — India has successfully test-fired its Agni-V long-range intercontinental ballistic missile, the Indian Defense Ministry said in a tweet Thursday.

The nuclear-capable Agni-V is believed to be India’s most advanced ICBM missile. It was fired Thursday morning India time on Abdul Kalam island off the coast of the eastern state of Odisha.
The ministry called the test a “major boost” to the country’s defense capabilities.
India is believed to have about 120 to 130 nuclear warheads in its arsenal, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
“This is not a new capability, so this was simply a developmental test before India inducts it into operational range,” Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT who studies nuclear proliferation, told CNN.
Narang said it’s possible India’s armed forces were testing the canister from which the missile is fired from as well as its ejection, flight performance and accuracy — a “regular technical test in that regard.”
“They’ve been gradually stepping up the complexity of the testing process,” said Ajai Shukla, a prominent New Delhi-based defense analyst and former Indian army colonel.
The missile has been tested five times since 2012, with the most recent test prior to Thursday coming in December 2016. That launch drew the ire of India’s two most important geostrategic adversaries: Pakistan and China.
The Agni-V’s range distance means all of China is now in striking distance, according to Shukla.
“It’s range has been long known, and India needs it to be able to retaliate against China’s eastern seaboard’s high value targets,” Narang said.
While Thursday’s test may have been incremental from a technological perspective, it could have serious geopolitical ramifications. Relations between Beijing and New Delhi deteriorated significantly in 2017 following a protracted border dispute in the Himalayan region of Doklam.
Narang called the timing of the launch very interesting, though he told CNN it’s possible the launch was scheduled far in advance of Thursday’s test date.
Referring to Doklam, Narang said it was “hard to not wonder whether this test and its timing were meant as a signal to China on that end.”
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The launch, which comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting the subcontinent, also coincided with one of India’s flagship geopolitical conferences, the Raisina Dialogue 2018, with confirmation of the test occurring during a panel titled: “Nuclear Unpredictability: Managing the Global Nuclear Framework.”
India, along with Pakistan and North Korea, are among the 13 countries that have not signed the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. The United States, Russia, China and North Korea all reportedly test-fired ballistic missiles in 2017. Pyongyang is barred from doing so under UN sanctions.

After Trump Hammers China for Oil Sales To North Korea — China Denies any Illicit Oil Products Selling — “Don’t believe those U.S. pictures…”

December 29, 2017


BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China on Friday denied reports it has been illicitly selling oil products to North Korea, after U.S. President Donald Trump said he was not happy that China had allowed oil to reach the isolated nation.

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Trump said on Twitter the previous day that China had been “caught” allowing oil into North Korea and that would prevent “a friendly solution” to the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear program.

“I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war,” Trump said in a separate interview with The New York Times.

South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper this week quoted South Korean government sources as saying that U.S. spy satellites had detected Chinese ships transferring oil to North Korean vessels about 30 times since October.

U.S. officials have not confirmed details of this report.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters she had noted recent media reports including suggestions a Chinese vessel was suspected of transporting oil to a North Korean vessel on Oct. 19.

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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying

“The Chinese side has conducted immediate investigation. In reality, the ship in question has, since August, not docked at a Chinese port and there is no record of it entering or leaving a Chinese port,” Hua said.

She said she was not aware if the vessel had docked at the port in other countries but the relevant media reports “did not accord with facts”.

“China has always implemented U.N. Security Council resolutions pertaining to North Korea in their entirety and fulfils its international obligations. We never allow Chinese companies and citizens to violate the resolutions,” Hua said.

“If, through investigation, it’s confirmed there are violations of the U.N. Security Council resolutions, China will deal with them seriously in accordance with laws and regulations.”

In the New York Times interview, Trump explicitly tied his administration’s trade policy with China to its perceived cooperation in resolving the North Korea nuclear crisis.

“When I campaigned, I was very tough on China in terms of trade. They made — last year, we had a trade deficit with China of $350 billion, minimum. That doesn’t include the theft of intellectual property, O.K., which is another $300 billion,” Trump said, according to a transcript of the interview.

“If they’re helping me with North Korea, I can look at trade a little bit differently, at least for a period of time. And that’s what I’ve been doing. But when oil is going in, I‘m not happy about that.”

An official of the U.S. State Department said the U.S. government was aware of vessels engaged in such activity involving refined petroleum and coal.

“We have evidence that some of the vessels engaged in these activities are owned by companies in several countries, including China,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The United States says the full cooperation of China, North Korea’s neighbor and main trading partner, is vital to the success of efforts to rein in North Korea, while warning that all options are on the table, including military ones, in dealing with it.

China has repeatedly said it is fully enforcing all resolutions against North Korea, despite suspicion in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo that loopholes still exist.


South Korea said on Friday it had seized a Hong Kong-flagged ship suspected of transferring oil to North Korea in defiance of the sanctions.

A senior South Korean foreign ministry official said the ship, the Lighthouse Winmore, was seized when it arrived at a South Korean port in late November.

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“It’s unclear how much oil the ship had transferred to North Korea for how long and on how many occasions, but it clearly showed North Korea is engaged in evading the sanctions,” the official told Reuters.

South Korea’s customs service concluded that the Lighthouse Winmore had loaded about 14,000 tons of Japanese refined petroleum products in South Korea on Oct. 11, reportedly bound for Taiwan, the official said.

But instead, it transferred as much as 600 tons to the North Korea-flagged Sam Jong 2 on Oct. 19 in international waters between China and the Korean peninsula, on the order of its charterer, Billions Bunker Group Corp., based in Taiwan, the ministry official said.

Image result for Lighthouse Winmore, ship, photos

The United States Treasury Department said that these images show the transfer of refined petroleum between the Lighthouse Winmore and the North Korean ship Rye Song Gang 1

It was not immediately possible to find contact information for the company.

Of the 25 people aboard, 23 were of Chinese nationality and two from Myanmar, according to the customs office.

Employees at the office of Lighthouse Ship Management, the ship’s registered manager, in the Chinese port city of Guangzhou, declined to comment and said they had no knowledge of the situation.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman said she did not have any information about the matter.

Both ships were among 10 vessels that the United States had proposed that the U.N. Security Council should blacklist for transporting banned items from North Korea, documents seen by Reuters this month showed.

China and Russia subsequently asked for more time to consider the U.S. proposal.

Ship tracking data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows that the Lighthouse Winmore has mainly been doing supply runs between China and Taiwan since August.

Prior to that, it was active between India and the United Arab Emirates. In October, when it allegedly transferred petroleum products to the North Korean ship, the Lighthouse Winmore had its tracking transponder switched off.

The Trump administration has led a drive to step up global sanctions on North Korea in response to its efforts to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the United States.

The U.N. Security Council last week unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea for a recent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, seeking to further limit its access to refined petroleum products and crude oil.

The U.S.-drafted U.N. resolution seeks to ban nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum exports to North Korea by capping them at 500,000 barrels a year.

It also caps crude oil supplies to North Korea at 4 million barrels a year and commits the Security Council to further cuts if North Korea conducts another nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile test.

In September, the Security Council put a cap of 2 million barrels a year on refined petroleum products exports to North Korea.

Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith in Seoul and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel



An undated photo of the Lighthouse Winmore, a Hong Kong-flagged vessel suspected of transferring oil to North Korea in violation of United Nations sanctions. Credit Iwan Afwan/MarineTraffic

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has seized a Hong Kong-flagged oil tanker accused of transferring 600 tons of refined oil to a North Korean ship in October in violation of United Nations sanctions, South Korean officials said on Friday.

The officials revealed that they had impounded the 11,253-ton Hong Kong tanker, the Lighthouse Winmore, and questioned its crew. The revelation came a day after President Trump accused China of letting fuel oil flow into North Korea through illicit ship-to-ship transfers on international waters.

But there was no immediate evidence of Chinese involvement in the Lighthouse Winmore’s dealings with the North Koreans. The ship was being leased by the Taiwanese company Billions Bunker Group Corporation, South Korean Foreign Ministry officials told reporters on Friday.

The Lighthouse Winmore docked at the South Korean port of Yeosu on Oct. 11 to load refined petroleum from Japan, they said. Four days later, it departed Yeosu, saying it was headed for Taiwan. Instead, it transferred the refined oil to four other ships on international waters, including 600 tons transferred to a North Korean ship on Oct. 19, officials said.

That transfer between the Lighthouse Winmore and the North Korean ship Rye Song Gang 1 was captured in satellite photos released by the United States Treasury Department on Nov. 21, although the department did not release the Lighthouse Winmore’s name at the time.

The Lighthouse Wimore was seized and its crew members questioned by the South Korean authorities when it revisited Yeosu on Nov. 24. It remains in South Korean custody, officials said on Friday.

United Nations sanctions resolutions require nations to inspect and impound any vessel in their ports that was suspected of illegally transporting goods to North Korea.

Word of the seizure emerged after Mr. Trump used a tweet and an interview to accuse China of letting oil flow into North Korea in defiance of United Nations sanctions, warning that there will be no “friendly solution” until this stops.

A petrol station in Pyongyang, North Korea, in July. Washington has called on the United Nations to blacklist 10 ships for circumventing sanctions intended to limit fuel shipments to North Korea. Credit Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Trump’s accusation came amid deepening suspicions in Washington and among its allies that Chinese oil tankers were secretly transferring petroleum to North Korean ships on the high seas despite United Nations sanctions that prohibit such trade. China insists that there was no sanctions violation.

“Caught RED HANDED — very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea,” Mr. Trump wrote in a Twitter post Thursday. “There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen!”

The United Nations Security Council has ramped up its efforts to squeeze North Korea’s oil supplies after the country conducted its sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3 and followed it with the launching of an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, on Nov. 29.

The United Nations sanctions resolutions call for capping annual exports of refined petroleum to North Korea at a half-million barrels, an 89 percent cut from previous annual shipments. They also call for freezing crude oil shipments at four million barrels a year, committing the Security Council to further reductions if North Korea conducts another nuclear or ICBM test.

But the impact of sanctions depends largely on how faithfully they are enforced by China, which handles 90 percent of North Korea’s external trade, including nearly all of its oil imports, analysts say. If the reports of ship-to-ship oil transfers are true, it could mean that much more oil is flowing secretly into North Korea than allowed under United Nations sanctions, with or without the Chinese authorities’ knowledge.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly urged President Xi Jinping to use China’s economic leverage to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. But analysts warn that Beijing is unlikely to push North Korea to the brink of collapse, still cherishing its neighbor as a buffer against the influence of the United States and its closest allies in the region, Japan and South Korea.

In an interview with The New York Times published Thursday night, Mr. Trump explicitly said for the first time that he has “been soft” on China on trade in the hopes that its leaders will pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. He hinted that his patience may soon end, signaling his frustration with the reported oil shipments.

“Oil is going into North Korea. That wasn’t my deal!” he exclaimed, raising the possibility of aggressive trade actions against China. “If they don’t help us with North Korea, then I do what I’ve always said I want to do.“

Despite saying that Mr. Xi “treated me better than anybody’s ever been treated in the history of China” when he visited in November, Mr. Trump said Thursday that “they have to help us much more.”

The United States Treasury Department said that these images show the transfer of refined petroleum between the Lighthouse Winmore and the North Korean ship Rye Song Gang 1 in October. Credit U.S. Department of Treasury

“We have a nuclear menace out there, which is no good for China,” he said.

When it blacklisted several Chinese trading companies and North Korean shipping companies and their vessels in November, the United States Treasury Department said that North Korea was “known to employ deceptive shipping practices, including ship-to-ship transfers,” a practice banned under a United Nations sanctions resolution adopted on Sept. 11.

Mr. Trump’s criticism of China came after the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo, quoting anonymous sources, reported that American spy satellites have spotted 30 ship-to-ship transfers of oil and other products since October in international waters between North Korea and China.

The report said the “smuggling” took place between North Korean vessels and ships believed to be from China.

In its latest sanctions, adopted on Dec. 22, the Security Council expressed concern that North Korea was “illicitly exporting coal and other prohibited items through deceptive maritime practices and obtaining petroleum illegally through ship-to-ship transfers.”

Washington has called on the Security Council to blacklist 10 ships — including the Lighthouse Winmore — for circumventing sanctions by conducting ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products to North Korean vessels or transporting North Korean coal, Reuters reported, citing United Nations documents. China and Russia subsequently asked for more time to consider the proposal, it said.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry refused to confirm the Chosun report, saying that the matter was being discussed at the Security Council’s sanctions committee.

But Chinese officials disputed the news media reports.

“I would like to know whether the relevant media could specify which ship or ships were involved in the situation?” Hua Chunying, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said on Wednesday. “What made them conclude that these ships violated the Security Council resolutions? Any solid evidence?”

Ms. Hua insisted that China has been “comprehensively, accurately, faithfully and strictly implementing” the United Nations sanctions.

Ren Guoqiang, a spokesman for the Chinese Defense Ministry, was more categorical in denial: “The situation you have mentioned absolutely does not exist,” he told reporters on Thursday.

North Korea preparing to launch satellite

December 26, 2017


Image may contain: one or more people

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile. Credit Reuters

SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea is preparing to launch a satellite, a Seoul newspaper said on Tuesday (Dec 26), as outside observers warn that the nuclear-armed regime’s space programme is a fig leaf for weapons tests.

Pyongyang is under multiple UN sanctions over its nuclear and missile tests and is prohibited from carrying out any launch using ballistic missile technology, including satellites.

“Through various channels, we’ve recently learned that the North has completed a new satellite and named it Kwangmyongsong-5”, the Joongang Ilbo daily reported, quoting a South Korean government source.

“Their plan is to put a satellite equipped with cameras and telecommunication devices into orbit,” he said.

Pyongyang launched their Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite in February 2016, which most in the international community viewed as a disguised ballistic missile test.

A spokesman for the South Korean military joint chiefs of staff said there was “nothing out of ordinary at this moment”, but added that Seoul was watching out for any provocative acts, “including the test of a long-range missile disguised as a satellite launch”.

The report came as the North’s ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun reasserted the regime’s right to launch satellites and develop its space technology.

In a commentary published on Monday and titled “peaceful space programmes are sovereign countries’ legitimate rights”, the daily said Pyongyang’s satellite launches “absolutely correspond” with international laws concerning space development.

At a UN General Assembly committee meeting in October, North Korea’s deputy UN ambassador Kim In Ryong said his country has a 2016 to 2020 plan to develop “practical satellites that can contribute to the economic development and improvement of the people’s living”.

He stressed North Korea’s right to produce and launch satellites “will not be changed just because the US denies it”.

North Korea is believed to have successfully put a satellite into orbit in December 2012 after years of failures dating back to 1998, when it launched a pilot satellite and named it Kwangmyongsong-1.

Earlier this month, the Russian newspaper Rossiyskaia Gazeta quoted a Russian military expert, Mr Vladimir Khrustalev, as saying that North Korea was expected to launch two satellites – an Earth exploration satellite and a communications satellite – in the near future.

Mr Khrustalev made the remark after returning from his week-long trip to North Korea in mid-November, when he met with representatives of the country’s National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA), the Russian daily said.

Tensions have soared as the isolated regime has staged a series of atomic and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests, most recently on Nov 29.

Japan approves introduction of Aegis Ashore missile defense system amid North Korea threat

December 21, 2017


The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday approved the installation of two land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense systems to defend against North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats, highlighted by a test of what appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile last month.

The approval will allow the Defense Ministry to buy two Aegis Ashore systems to add to Japan’s current two-step missile defense system consisting of Patriot batteries and Aegis-equipped destroyers.

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 A ballistic missile interceptor is fired from the Aegis Ashore Missile Defense Test Complex in Kauai, Hawaii, in December 2015. REUTERS

Defense Ministry officials said the government plans to deploy the systems in two places, by 2023 at the earliest, but that the locations are yet to be decided. The cost of each system could be more than ¥100 billion, they said.

Noting that North Korea’s nuclear and missile development poses a “new level of threat” to Japan’s security, the government said in a document endorsed by the Cabinet that Japan needs “to fundamentally improve our ballistic missile defense abilities to protect our country at all times and in a sustainable manner.”

Aegis Ashore, a U.S.-made land-based version of the Aegis combat system developed for warships, is a collection of radars, computers and missiles.

Acquiring Aegis Ashore would protect the entire country, from Hokkaido to Okinawa Prefecture, the government says. The government had also considered a different U.S. system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), but it would require six sites to cover the nation. Aegis Ashore is more cost effective, according to the Defense Ministry.

The new system would reduce the workload of the Self-Defense Forces in preparing for missile intercepts compared with the sea-based operations of Aegis destroyers, according to ministry officials.

To expedite the introduction of Aegis Ashore, the ministry plans to earmark ¥2.8 billion for information-gathering activities in the supplementary budget for the current fiscal year ending in March. It is also seeking ¥730 million in next year’s budget to cover design costs and research fees.

“We cannot say what the final costs will be, but we will move ahead (to introduce Aegis Ashore) on the fastest possible schedule, given public calls that the government should deal as swiftly and urgently as possible with the ballistic missile defense issue,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told a news conference on Tuesday.

In the ministry’s initial budgetary request for fiscal 2018 made in August, which came to a record-high ¥5.26 trillion, the ministry said it was seeking funds to introduce a new missile shield system, while leaving the actual sum unspecified.

Japan’s current missile shield comprises two layers. The first is Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers that can stop missiles in the outer atmosphere using the Aegis combat system and Standard Missile-3 interceptors. The second layer is the Air Self-Defense Force’s ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles, designed to counter attacks in the lower atmosphere.

Aegis Ashore, to be equipped with newly developed Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptors, will be an addition to the two layers to defend wider areas, and will be operated by the Ground Self-Defense Force.

The government plans to start selecting areas for the facilities, but the deployment could trigger concern among residents living nearby as the system’s radars emit strong radio waves.

So far, the government is considering Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures as candidate sites, sources said.

US, Japan and South Korea launch two-day ‘missile tracking’ drills

December 11, 2017

RT — Russia Today

US, Japan & S. Korea launch two-day ‘missile tracking’ drills

USS Stethem © US Navy

Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have have begun joint “missile tracking” drills, South Korea’s military said. The new round of military exercises comes just days after the US and its allies concluded the largest ever air maneuvers over the peninsula.

The exercises kicked off Monday amid speculation that North Korea may soon test launch a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), South Korea’s military announced, according to the Yonhap news agency.

Two US Aegis destroyers – USS Stethem and USS Decatur – are leading the war games along with South Korea’s Seoae Ryu Seong Ryong Aegis destroyer, and Japan’s Chokai Aegis vessel. During the exercises, the three navies aim to polish their skills at detecting and tracking potential ballistic missiles using a computer-simulated training module.

The drills which are hosted by Japan will conclude Tuesday, December 12, and are aimed at increasing the allies’ ability to respond to the North Korean threat, Japan’s Navy said in a press release.

The allied navies will be “practicing tracking an object and sharing information on it among the three countries,” a Japanese defense official told AFP, adding that the simulations “will translate into a measure against ballistic missiles.”

The S. Korean and Japanese military said the current activities are the sixth of its kind to take place in the last two years.

“(We) are keeping a close eye on North Korea’s missile facilities,” a South Korean defense official told Yonhap. “There has been no indication detected of any imminent provocation, but we are fully prepared for a response.”

The new round of military exercises near N. Korean borders began just days after the US-S.Korean Vigilant Ace drills concluded Friday. A total of 12,000 personnel and over 230 military aircraft took part in the maneuvers which also included the deployment of a B-1B bomber as well as F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters. The exercises have been slammed by Pyongyang, which said it proves that US President Donald Trump is “begging” for nuclear war.

North Korea has repeatedly criticized the joint drills between the US and South Korea. Last month, the North’s ambassador to the UN ruled out negotiations with Washington, citing America’s “hostile policy” against his country and the continuing joint activities of Washington and Seoul. Russia and China have long urged the US and North Korea to accept their proposed “double freeze” plan which would see Pyongyang suspend its nuclear and ballistic missile tests in exchange for a pause in joint US-South Korea drills. That proposal, however, has firmly been rejected by the US.

See also:

North Korean Submarine Missile Threat Prompts U.S.-Led Military Drills


A photo released by North Korea’s state news agency in April 2016 purported to show a submarine-launched ballistic missile test. Credit Korean Central News Agency, via European Pressphoto Agency