Posts Tagged ‘Intercontinental Ballistic Missile’

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.



U.S. reportedly demanded North Korea ship nuclear warheads and an ICBM abroad within six months

May 17, 2018

Related image

The United Stated has demanded North Korea ship some nuclear warheads, an intercontinental ballistic missile and other nuclear material overseas within six months, the Asahi newspaper said on Thursday, citing several sources familiar with North Korean issues.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also appeared to have told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un when they met this month that Washington might remove Pyongyang from a list of state sponsors of terrorism if the North ships out those nuclear items.

If Pyongyang agrees to complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization at a planned summit with the United States on June 12, Washington is considering giving guarantees for Kim’s regime and including that stance in a joint statement by the two leaders, the newspaper report said.

North Korea has thrown into question next month’s unprecedented summit between Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, denouncing on Wednesday U.S.-South Korean military exercises as a provocation and calling off high-level talks with Seoul.

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Putin Launches Hybrid War of ‘Pure Evil” on the West

March 5, 2018
Reuters via Haaretz

Vladimir Putin’s Russia did not, it must be said, invent hybrid warfare as Israel, Iran and the Gulf states have long employed common hybrid tactics

This video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian television via AP television on Thursday, March 1, 2018, a computer simulation shows Russia's new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile flying over the globe
This video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian television via AP television on Thursday, March 1, 2018, a computer simulation shows Russia’s new intercontinental ballistic missile flying over the globeRU-RTR Russian Television via AP

This month marks the fourth anniversary of Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea, an event that shocked the world and shook European faith in the post-Cold War security order. In retrospect, it has become clear that, for Putin, annexing the peninsula was not so much an end goal as a declaration of future intent, an early escalation in a broader and more ambitious effort that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko recently termed, with little obvious exaggeration, Russia’s “World Hybrid War” on Western democracy itself.

In an unusually bellicose speech on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin put Moscow’s remilitarization and its confrontation with the West at the heart of his pitch for re-election. His approach to this confrontation, which many now term “hybrid warfare,” mixes nuclear posturing and cutting-edge technology with covert action, and was deliberately designed so as to make it very difficult for the West to respond.

President Vladimir Putin’s Russia did not, it must be said, invent hybrid warfare. Combatants have always looked for innovative ways around the rules and conventions of conflict, and Israel, Iran and the Gulf states have employed common hybrid tactics – including cyber attacks, and the use of armed proxy groups – for years. China’s leaders, too, have found increasingly unorthodox ways to push back against the United States and its allies in their immediate neighborhood; it recently emerged that, while Western nations were distracted by North Korea’s nuclear program, China artificially expanded islands in the South China Sea in support of its territorial ambitions.

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What Moscow has successfully done, however, is to refine a variety of old and new techniques to a higher level, and to employ them in a wider range of ways. As with China and Iran, Russia’s aim in developing and perfecting its hybrid warfare capabilities is to weaken and undermine the United States and its allies without sparking all-out war.

Target in Putin’s nuke video looks like FloridaCNN

It’s a dynamic that brings with it some very real dangers, not least of accidental conflict. The American air strikes that killed dozens, if not hundreds, of Russian mercenaries in Syria last month marked the bloodiest confrontation between the two nations in decades. U.S. prosecutor Robert Mueller’s decision to charge 13 Russians and several Russian companies with interfering in the 2016 election also amounts to a significant escalation.

Exactly what prompted Russia’s interest in reheating Cold War-era animosities remains a subject of much debate among Western security analysts. Many, however, see its roots in the anti-government protests that rocked Russia in 2011 and 2012, the most serious such unrest since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Putin was widely believed to be furious that American diplomats had wooed pro-democracy and anticorruption activists, and to have concluded that Washington hoped to subvert his power.

When Russia invaded Crimea early in 2014, and when a wider conflict erupted in Russian-speaking Ukrainian regions later that year, it acted with ruthless efficiency. By using troops wearing uniforms without insignia or identification – who became known universally as “little green men” – Russia achieved surprise and dominance on the ground before authorities in Kiev, let alone Washington, really knew what was happening.

It would be hard to overstate how much this took U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration by surprise. The Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review, published only days before the Crimea annexation, barely mentioned Russia and prioritized the risk of war with China as well as ongoing action against Islamist militant groups in the Middle East and beyond.

Russia’s seizure of the strategically important Crimean peninsula, and its apparent role in shooting down a Malaysian Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, forced the United States and its European allies to urgently reconsider their beliefs about Russia’s intentions. Since then, NATO has deployed battle groups to Eastern Europe and the Baltic States (in case Moscow is tempted to try out the techniques it used in Ukraine against NATO members).

In some ways, this resembles the Cold War, but it is in many respects a much more dynamic confrontation. Russia is now far more closely intertwined with the West, through investments and business deals, and this gives it new vulnerabilities – to sanctions, for example.

Mueller’s prosecution of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort – who has a long history of business interests to the former Soviet Union – has drawn attention to just how convoluted some of these dealings have become. Russian money has been essential to the success of many Western businesses, possibly including those of President Donald Trump. But many powerful Russians are similarly beholden to the West – which is one reason so many of them have been frantically lobbying Congress to ensure their names aren’t included on upcoming sanctions lists.

NATO members concerned about Russian political interference have recruited armies of bloggers and social media activists to push back against Russian messaging, and established new monitoring bodies to track Russian disinformation efforts. But, in hindsight, they may have interpreted that threat too narrowly. Rather than simply concentrate its efforts on spreading subversion on Europe’s vulnerable periphery, Moscow appears to have concentrated on destabilizing the West’s most powerful countries. The most recent Mueller indictments allege that, by mid-2014, Russia’s preparations for its interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections were well underway, and that it had already made significant progress with plans to boost its political influence in Europe. (These plans, the indictment suggests, included paying off the so-called “Hapsburg group” of well-connected former European politicians.)

Meanwhile, the ongoing fighting in Ukraine – as well as Russia’s post-2015 military intervention in Syria – has prompted a major Western reappraisal of Russia’s military capabilities. In addition to its newer hybrid warfare tactics, Russia has proved increasingly adept at combining the use of drones, electronic warfare and more conventional heavy artillery to lethal effect against Ukrainian forces using more traditional Western equipment and tactics.

The seizure of Crimea prompted NATO to deploy a significant, and permanent, ground force to the Baltic countries and Poland. New fronts continue to erupt, and Western analysts increasingly worry over Russian activity in the Western Balkans. Putin’s explicit nuclear threats this week will likely cause the United States and its European allies to reconsider their own nuclear postures. It seems far from impossible that the United States would decide to increase its nuclear footprint in Eastern Europe.

Just over a century ago, a similar welter of international anxiety and confusion formed the base of dry tinder that World War One would set alight. Russia and its rivals must take great care not to allow history to repeat itself.

Peter Apps is Reuters global affairs columnist. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Putin boasts of new Russian nuclear weapons — Maybe Russia has mastered magic

March 1, 2018


Above, Russian President Vladimir Putin gives his annual state of the nation address in Moscow on Thursday, March 1. Putin said that the nuclear-powered cruise missile tested last fall has an unlimited range and high speed and is capable of penetrating any missile defense. (AP)
MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin says Russia has tested new nuclear weapons, including a nuclear-powered cruise missile and a nuclear-powered underwater drone, that would be immune to enemy intercept.
Speaking in a state-of-the-nation speech Thursday, Putin said that the nuclear-powered cruise missile tested last fall has an unlimited range and high speed and is capable of penetrating any missile defense.
He said the high-speed underwater drone capable of carrying a nuclear warhead could target both aircraft carriers and coastal facilities.
Putin said that Russia also tested a new heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, called Sarmat, with a range and number of warheads exceeding its predecessor.
Putin boasts Russia has developed an intercontinental nuclear missile that can’t be stopped or shot down by any country’s defence system

VLADIMIR Putin says Russia is developing an “unstoppable” nuclear cruise missile which cannot be intercepted by any anti-missile system on earth.

The newly developed intercontinental ballistic rocket with “unlimited range” was one of several unveiled by the Russian leader in his state of the nation address in Moscow.

 Footage showed during Putin's speech appeared to show one of the new missiles heading towards the US

Footage showed during Putin’s speech appeared to show one of the new missiles heading towards the US

They include a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a nuclear-powered underwater drone and new hypersonic missile which apparently have no equivalent.

Footage shown during his speech apparently showed the new “unstoppable” missile heading toward the United States as he promises to “neutralise” America’s missile defence.

“Russia remained a nuclear power but no one wanted to listen to us,” Putin, 65, told lawmakers. “Listen to us now.”

He said the hypersonic intercontinental rocket, known as the Avangard, is capable of travelling 20 times the speed of sound and strike “like a meteorite, like a fireball”.

Here are Putin’s most explosive claims from today’s speech

  • Vladimir Putin has raised fears of a nuclear arms race in the 21st century
  • He unveiled new, hypersonic nuclear weapons which have no equal
  • The most frightening weapon he alluded to was a nuclear-powered cruise missile
  • Putin said it can travel 20 times the speed of sound and strike “like a meteorite”
  • He said the Avangard also has “unlimited range” and “cannot be intercepted”
  • Putin also announced a nuclear-powered underwater drone and cruise missile
  • The Russian leader emphasised the weapons have no equivalent in the West
  • Putin vowed to wage nuclear war on the United States if Trump attacked first
  • “We aren’t threatening anyone… we aren’t going to take anything from anyone,” he said

 The new missiles have an 'unlimited range', Putin said in his state of the nation address in Moscow

The new missiles have an ‘unlimited range’, Putin said in his state of the nation address in Moscow

“It’s like a fireball guided to its target,” said Putin, who also announced Russia was working on laser weapons systems.

The Russian leader, who has been in power since May 2012, said the missile’s appearance is being kept under wraps.

Putin also announced a web contest to name a new, high-speed underwater dronewhich carries nuclear warheads and can destroy aircraft carriers and coastal facilities.

The Russian military has dubbed the shadowy vessels autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), allegedly capable of deploying missiles with a power of 100-megatons.

These are the best countries on Earth to live in if you want to survive World War Three

 Putin claimed the rocket was capable of neutralising American missile defence. This is the computer generated image shown at his speech

Putin claimed the rocket was capable of neutralising American missile defence. This is the computer generated image shown at his speech

Putin said the new weapons make NATO’s US-led missile defence “useless”, effectively ending Western efforts to “contain” Russia.

He said: “I want to tell all those who have fuelled the arms race over the last 15 years, sought to win unilateral advantages over Russia, introduced unlawful sanctions.

“All you wanted to impede with your policies have already happened… You have failed to contain Russia.”

Putin sensationally vowed to wage nuclear war on the United States if they attacked Russia, branding Donald Trump’s new nuclear doctrine “worrying”.

 Putin said the rocket was capable of travelling 20 times the speed of sound

Putin said the rocket was capable of travelling 20 times the speed of sound

 A video played at the state of the nation address appeared to show it heading towards the US

A video played at the state of the nation address appeared to show it heading towards the US

The Kremlin strongman said that if Russia was attacked with nukes then he would not hesitate to launch his nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, RT reported.

The country successfully launched its massive Satan Two nuclear missile, a 100-tonne rocket capable of wiping out the UK, in October.

The colossal weapon which can carry 12 warheads at once travelled 3,600 miles towards a ballistic missile test landing site in far-east Russia.

The missile, also known as RS-28 Sarmat, has a range of 6,000 miles and was fired on Thursday night from Plestek Cosmodrome in Oblast, 880km north of Moscow.

 He said Russia also tested a new heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, called Sarmat

He said Russia also tested a new heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, called Sarmat

 Putin also announced a web contest to name a new underwater drone which can destroy aircraft carriers

Putin also announced a web contest to name a new underwater drone which can destroy aircraft carriers

Russias RS-28 Sarmat ICBM Satan 2 missile could wipe out Texas or France’

 The Satan 2, pictured, could wipe out an area the size of France or Texas, according to Russian news agency Sputnik

The Satan 2, pictured, could wipe out an area the size of France or Texas, according to Russian news agency Sputnik

The Russian news outlet Sputnik reported in May that an RS-28 rocket is “capable of wiping out parts of the Earth the size of France or Texas”.

On that basis it has been reported that the weapon could “wipe out an area the size of England and Wales twice over”.

It is unconfirmed where exactly the Satan 2s will be kept but they could easily reach the UK if fired from the east coast of Russia.

The Russian ministry said they had “carried out an exercise to manage its strategic nuclear forces.”

 A single Satan 2 missile, pictured, could allegedly decimate most of New York state in the US

A single Satan 2 missile, pictured, could allegedly decimate most of New York state in the US

Putin today claimed Moscow’s operation in Syria showed Russia’s increased capabilities in the defence sector.

Putin told lawmakers the nation had restored its domestic air defence systems.

The strongman also vowed to cut the “unacceptable” poverty rate in half over the next six years, in a state of the nation address on Thursday.

“[We should] at least halve the poverty rate in the next six years,” Putin said, adding that 20 million Russians currently live below the poverty line compared to 42 million in 2000.

The Russian leader used the address to outline policy for a widely anticipated new six-year term in the Kremlin following March 18 presidential elections.

Putin, who has led the country for the last 18 years, focused on domestic issues in the speech, saying that the coming years will be “decisive” for Russia.

Should Beijing be worried about India’s latest missile launch?

January 19, 2018

New Delhi is making giant strides in its nuclear weapons development, but observers say there are many reasons for it showing off its growing military might

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 January, 2018, 7:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 January, 2018, 9:15pm
South China Morning Post

With the latest successful test-firing of a long-range nuclear-capable missile – with the scope to land a warhead on almost any part of the Chinese mainland – India moved another step closer to establishing an effective deterrent against Beijing’s rising military might, observers said.

The Agni-V intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was launched on Thursday from Abdul Kalam Island in the Bay of Bengal, according to a statement released by India’s defence ministry.

With a range of up to 5,000km (3,106 miles), it has the capability to carry a nuclear warhead to almost anywhere in Asia, or even parts of Europe and Africa, The Times of India reported.

Rajeev Ranjan Chaturvedy, a research associate at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, said the successful launch marked another milestone for New Delhi in the development of an effective nuclear deterrent.

“China is a potential threat in the long term, and India, like many other countries, is strengthening its defence capabilities,” he said.

But New Delhi was not only concerned with what Beijing was doing, Chaturvedy said. It also had its own agenda.

“India’s defence programme is very systematic. China’s aggressive behaviour may be an important factor, but it’s not the only factor. India is a rising power and needs a strong defence force.”

Song Zhongping, a former instructor with the Second Artillery Corps of the People’s Liberation Army – China’s military – said that the timing of India’s missile launch reflected the rising tensions around the world, not least with regards to the situation in North Korea.

The Times of India said the successful launch of the Agni-V missile would also add weight to New Delhi’s case for becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Its five incumbents – China, the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia and France – are all nuclear powers.

Beyond the world situation, Song, who is now a military commentator with Phoenix Television in Hong Kong, said that Beijing should not underestimate India’s growing nuclear capabilities.

“Agni-V is not only a strategic weapon, but also a real battle weapon with high mobility and stealth capabilities,” he said. “If it goes into mass production it would pose a great challenge to China.”

Thursday’s test flight was the missile’s fifth, and its success suggested that it would soon be put into service, he said.

The Agni-V, which is capable of carrying a single nuclear warhead, was also a stepping stone to the Agni-VI, which would have the capacity to carry multiple devices, Song said.

“It’s likely that the new generation of ICBMs, the Agni-VI, will be equipped with multiple, independently targetable re-entry warheads,” he said. “Once New Delhi has that capability, it will be a great threat to Beijing.”

Despite any implied hostility, Swaran Singh, a professor in the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, said that India’s possession of a greater nuclear capability might actually be a fillip for closer Sino-Indian relations.

“Until the Agni-V is fully operational … India remains vulnerable as it would not be able to reach key targets across China,” he said.

“But its deployment may encourage China to initiate nuclear risk reduction and security- and confidence-building measures with India, which in turn could be seen as China’s endorsement of India’s status as a nuclear power.”

Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong said India developed the Agni family of missiles in the 1980s to give it a military advantage over China.

“That’s why Beijing developed its anti-missile system,” he said.

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.

North Korea preparing to launch satellite

December 26, 2017


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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.