Category Archives: Russia

Can GMD Stop Russian Missiles?

That was our “topic of discussion”: the other day. And the answer, according to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, is “nope.”

I don’t mean the argument about whether European-based interceptors could fly out in time to engage Russian ICBMs. I’m talking about countermeasures.

CDI has what I was looking for earlier — the “Missile Defense Agency FY 2009 Budget Estimates”: Here’s what it says about enemies:

bq. Our program is focused on the threat from North Korea and Iran but remains flexible to address emerging threats given the wide and dangerous proliferation of ballistic missile technologies.

The key excerpt explains how the development and fielding of capabilities are planned in a “block structure,” including a block (already largely complete) with North Korea’s name on it, and a couple of blocks with Iran’s name on them:

bq.. * Blocks will be based on fielded BMDS capabilities—not, as before, on biennial time periods—that address particular threats. Each block will represent a discrete program of work.
* When MDA believes a firm commitment can be made to the Congress, the Agency will establish schedule, budget, and performance baselines for a block. Schedule delays, budget increases, and performance shortfalls will be explained as variances.
* Once baselines are defined, work cannot be moved from one block to another.

Based on the above tenets, MDA has currently defined five blocks.
* Block 1.0: Defend the United States from Limited North Korean Long-Range Threats
* Block 2.0: Defend Allies and Deployed Forces from Short- to Medium-Range Threats in One Region/Theater
* Block 3.0: Expand Defense of the United States to Include Limited Iranian Long-Range Threats
* Block 4.0: Defend Allies and Deployed Forces in Europe from Limited Iranian Long-Range Threats and Expand Protection of U.S. Homeland
* Block 5.0: Expand Defense of Allies and Deployed Forces from Short- to Intermediate-Range Threats in Two Regions/Theaters

Future blocks (Block 6.0, etc.) will be added when significant new capabilities are expected to be fielded based on a consideration of technological maturity, affordability, and need. For example, a new Block 6.0 might include enhanced defense of the United States against complex countermeasures, drawing on multiple kill capabilities from the multiple kill vehicle (MKV) program and discrimination and system tracking capabilities through upgraded hardware and software on weapon systems, sensors, and C2BMC.

p. So, back in 2008, when this document was prepared, MDA’s plans for the foreseeable future included only fielding 1) theater defenses and 2) “long-range” systems oriented specifically to North Korea and Iran. The MKV program and other future initiatives would have to bear fruit before “complex countermeasures” could be tackled.

This could mean that 1) the North Koreans and Iranians would be expected to upgrade their countermeasures with time, or it could mean that 2) MDA had its sights set on still tougher challenges in the future, like Russia or China. Or, if you are skeptical, the MKV program could have simply been 3) a backhanded concession that current technologies were already inadequate. And it could have been a bit of all three.

Regardless, the point is, until progress could be made on these new technologies, more capable defenses weren’t even scheduled.

Back in April, Secretary of Defense Gates hinted broadly that the correct answer was #2, telling Congress:

bq. * We will restructure the program to focus on the rogue state and theater missile threat.

That, of course, is also when he moved to “axe the MKV program”:

bq. * We will terminate the Multiple Kill Vehicle (MKV) program because of its significant technical challenges and the need to take a fresh look at the requirement.

One possible interpretation of the above is, We don’t think it is feasible to tackle bigger fish than Iran and North Korea, and actually are not interested in trying anyhow.

The “FY 2010 Budget Estimates”: document is available on the MDA site. It no longer features the block structure, but the section on threats names two countries: Iran and North Korea. It echoes Gates’s earlier comments about MKV, while indicating intent to pursue some new “ascent phase” defense technology — apparently something that could shoot down a missile after boosting but before deployment of countermeasures. But that’s a topic for another day.

Joint Statement on Missile Defense Issues

Since “Jeff”: and “Pavel”: already have done such a nice job explicating the “Joint Understanding for the START Follow-On Treaty,” I’d thought I’d chime in with a couple of thoughts about its poor cousin, the “Joint Statement by Dmitry A. Medvedev, President of the Russian Federation, and Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, on Missile Defense Issues.”

The first thing to notice about the “Joint Statement”: is that it’s not part of the Joint Understanding. In fact, it doesn’t represent any kind of real understanding, in the sense of an arrangement, agreement, pact, or even a common perspective. As President Obama explained in an “interview with Novaya Gazeta”:, defenses aren’t part of the workplan:

bq. In our meeting in London on April 1st, President Medvedev and I issued a joint statement on instructions for our negotiators for this new treaty. These instructions very explicitly did not mention missile defense as a topic of discussion for these negotiations.

p. Indeed, the “April 1 text”: says that the “subject of the new agreement will be the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms.” There’s no mention of defenses. President Medvedev seems to have preferred otherwise, but had to settle, both in April and now again in July. As Pavel has “pointed out”:, there’s no good reason to let disputes over the “third site” undermine the renewal of START.

The second thing to notice about the Joint Statement is that it doesn’t deal with missile defense issues. After the title, it doesn’t mention them at all. Here’s how the substantive paragraph starts:

bq. We have instructed our experts to work together to analyze the ballistic missile challenges of the 21st century and to prepare appropriate recommendations, giving priority to the use of political and diplomatic methods.

p. In the “press conference Q&A”:, Obama referred to this as “a joint threat assessment of the ballistic missile challenges of the 21st century, including those posed by Iran and North Korea.” When that assessment comes due — assuming there’s a public version — it will be interesting to compare it with the “EWI Iran missile threat report”:

Then there’s this:

bq. At the same time they plan to conduct a joint review of the entire spectrum of means at our disposal that allow us to cooperate on monitoring the development of missile programs around the world. Our experts are intensifying dialogue on establishing the Joint Data Exchange Center, which is to become the basis for a multilateral missile-launch notification regime.

p. Some of you may recall JDEC, an undertaking of the Clinton-Yeltsin era that never quite materialized. (“Fact sheet”:–joint-warning-center.html and “Memorandum”:–joint-warning-center.html.) Intended to “strengthen strategic stability by further reducing the danger that ballistic missiles might be launched on the basis of false warning of attack,” it has languished. Reviving JDEC is a welcome development, and the multilateralization idea is interesting, but neither has much to do with missile defense. [Correction: Indirectly but significantly, “JDEC does relate to missile defense”:]

The Joint Statement is not the end of the story. Obama also mentioned to “Novaya Gazeta”: that the U.S. side will be conducting a review of its missile defense programs, and would like Russia to participate in whatever defenses are built in Europe. While this idea originated with Russian President Vladimir Putin, it remains to be seen whether it will satisfy the Russian side. The details will count.

“X-posted to ACW”: See the “comments at ACW”:

Here We Go Again?

-It’s too early to say. But at first glance,- it’s already starting to look like Russia vs. the rest on the yield of “North Korea’s second nuclear test”:

Kim Sung-han, a security expert at Korea University in Seoul, estimated the test had a power of one kiloton of explosives, slightly more than the 0.8 kiloton detonation reported in 2006. If correct, that would be a fraction of the size of the blasts from American bombs that destroyed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945 — themselves considered small by current standards.

But Alexander Drobyshevsky, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, told RIA-Novosti news agency offered a different estimate, saying that the force of the blast was 10 to 20 kilotons.

We’ve “been here before”: Why?

Update: “Martin Kalinowski”: of Universität Hamburg has a higher estimate than does Kim Sung-han, but he’s still well south of the numbers given by the Russian Ministry of Defense:

bq. Several seismic observatories all over the world recorded an event that took place in the North East of the country. The U.S. Geological Survey determined the event time as 00:54:43 UTC. The location is close to the first nuclear test. The seismic body wave magnitude of 4.7 is larger as compared to the value of 4.1±0.1 in 2006. According to the assessment of Martin Kalinowski, this corresponds to an explosive yield of about 3 to 8 kilotons TNT equivalent with a most likely yield of 4 kt TNT. In 2006 the yield was unexpectedly low with an estimate of 0.5 to 0.8 kt TNT.

I’ll add more as it pops up, time permitting.

Later update: As usual, all the action is at ACW. Jeff has located “three estimates”: via the “International Seismological Centre’s Online Bulletin”: They cluster around 2 to 6 kt. Notably, the result from the Geophysical Survey of the Russian Academy of Sciences is basically in line with the others, and *not* with the announcement of the Ministry of Defense, which appears to float free of all observed data.

For whatever it’s worth, Kim Sung-han’s estimate — as reported in the NY Times and cited above — is also an outlier, but in the other direction.

Geoff has some thoughts about the “potential implications”: of a ~4kt test for weaponization.

Andreas says it took place at a “second test site”:, not far from the first.

Continuing Resolution, Ctd.

Last week, during a well-attended discussion of US-Russian nuclear arms reduction talks, Rose Gottemoeller “offered this thought”: on the Dec. 5 expiration date of the START treaty:

bq. You know, if things aren’t going well, you can’t rush to the finish just to get something done. And I want to make it clear that from the perspective of the United States, we will do what we have to do to get this negotiation done, but as Secretary Clinton said when she went before the Congress for her own hearing, she said, if necessary, we will look for ways to find more time for the negotiators. So just bear that in mind as well.

“Makes sense to me”:

Russia’s EW Is Worse Than You Thought

Last week’s obsessive recapping of the Unha-2 launch provided an occasion to “ask why Russian officials have such odd perceptions”: of North Korean missile and nuclear activity, and what that would imply for the actual use of GMD by the United States. Hint: not so good.

Just a few days later, the situation looks, if anything, even worse than at first glance. While there’s every reason to believe that the Russians can see missiles inbound from the United States, there’s not much indication that they can see missiles launched from North Korea.

That means that a multiple GMD launch in the direction of Russia is likely to be the first thing that the Strategic Rocket Forces commander learns about, not the North Korean launch(es) that would have prompted it.

Because I’d like to come to the point while I still have your attention, I’m putting the source material in the comments. Go look there, if you’re not too squeamish.


To:     Combatant commanders, present and future
From: Posterity

One doesn’t want to judge hastily. So: _if_ these accounts are basically accurate — I stress _if_ — and until such a time as this mess can be cleared up, the actual use of GMD against a North Korean missile launch in the direction of North America would appear to be an act of madness.

Cross-posted to “ACW”: See the “comments at ACW”:

Obama on Russia, Iran

President Obama’s Prague speech ran the gamut from CTBT to FMCT to NPT to TD-2. But let’s just examine a handful of things to consider how they inter-relate.

Excerpts from the “full text”:,0,3505727,full.story via AP:


bq. To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia this year. President Medvedev and I began this process in London, and will seek a new agreement by the end of this year that is legally binding, and sufficiently bold. This will set the stage for further cuts, and we will seek to include all nuclear weapons states in this endeavor.

On a multinational fuel bank (“Angarsk”:, “presumably”:

bq. And we should build a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, including an international fuel bank, so that countries can access peaceful power without increasing the risks of proliferation. That must be the right of every nation that renounces nuclear weapons, especially developing countries embarking on peaceful programs. No approach will succeed if it is based on the denial of rights to nations that play by the rules. We must harness the power of nuclear energy on behalf of our efforts to combat climate change, and to advance opportunity for all people.

On Iran:

bq. Iran has yet to build a nuclear weapon. And my administration will seek engagement with Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect, and we will present a clear choice. We want Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations, politically and economically. We will support Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections. That is a path that the Islamic Republic can take. Or the government can choose increased isolation, international pressure, and a potential nuclear arms race in the region that will increase insecurity for all.

On Euro-GMD:

bq. Let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles. As long as the threat from Iran persists, we intend to go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe at this time will be removed.

Here, perhaps, we get the flavor of the disputed Obama-Medvedev letter. But maybe with more of an edge. I didn’t expect something that sounded so much like an endorsement of Euro-GMD, however conditional (“As long as,” “intend,” “if.”).

This could be read in more than one way. But it sounds “less and less”: like Obama expects to get anywhere with the Russians on pressuring Iran. Perhaps the correct understanding of this speech is that he’s decided to let Moscow play good cop, since he can’t get a united front of bad cops.

How Euro-GMD will influence the atmosphere at the START talks is another matter.

Yeah, yeah, “light blogging”: Over and out.

Russia Eyes North Korea

Few things are more curious than how senior Russian officials have described the more spectacular North Korean missile and nuclear developments of recent years. Compared to Japan, South Korea, and the U.S., the Russians are outliers.

First, recall the multiple missile launches of July 5, 2006. The “synoptic view”: is that North Korea launched seven missiles, including a TD-2, which failed seconds into flight. The rest were SRBMs and MRBMs.

And here is the “Russian view”:

05/07/2006 14:12 MOSCOW, July 5 (RIA Novosti) – Russia most senior army officer said Wednesday that North Korea may have fired 10 missiles – four more than first thought – in tests late Tuesday night.

“According to some information, North Korea launched 10 missiles of different classes,” Chief of the General Staff Yury Balyuevsky, adding that they could have been intercontinental ballistic missiles.

It seems, moreover, that Russian early warning radars “could not see”: the missile launches. It’s not at all clear why General Baluyevsky concluded what he did.

Then there was the “nuclear test”: of Oct. 9, 2006:

bq. Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said the North Korean nuclear device was the equivalent of 5 to 15 kilotons of TNT. Calculations based on the US Geological Survey and South Korean results suggest an explosion between 550 tons to 1 kiloton of TNT.

And now, the Unha-2. “U.S. Northern Command”: said it went “splash”:

Stage one of the missile fell into the Sea of Japan/East Sea. The remaining stages along with the payload itself landed in the Pacific Ocean.

No object entered orbit and no debris fell on Japan.

But the Russian “Foreign Ministry”: said it went “zoom”:

bq. Утром 5 апреля КНДР осуществила запуск на околоземную орбиту искусственного спутника Земли. По данным российских средств контроля воздушного и космического пространства траектория запуска не проходила над территорией Российской Федерации. В настоящее время уточняются параметры орбиты спутника. “renders the above”: as:

bq. “North Korea sent an artificial satellite into an Earth orbit on the morning of April 5. The parameters of the satellite’s orbit are being specified now,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said in a statement on the ministry’s Web site.

(Credit is due to a “sharp-eyed commenter”: at ACW.)

Update: Here’s the “official translation”:

What’s behind these differences in perception? I only wish I knew. It’s certainly unnerving that senior officials in Moscow seem to have such… _unique_ understandings of nuclear and missile events on the Russian territorial periphery.

Be Perturbed. Be Very Perturbed.

While it’s a positive scandal that RAMOS and JDEC have fallen by the wayside, the problem seems like much more than a matter of a lack of common sensors, information, or operating picture. The RF-US disputes over Euro-GMD and the Iranian missile threat also come to mind.

But the North Korea perception gap is especially troubling for a reason that’s received little attention in national security debates. If North Korea were to launch an ICBM towards the western half of North America, and the U.S. were to launch GMD interceptors from its Alaskan base, the intercept attempts would occur over Russian soil.

Here’s a handy depiction of the scenario, courtesy of Ted Postol. Red tracks are NK ICBMs, blue tracks are GMD interceptors, black fans are EW radars:

p{float: right; margin-left:0px;}. !/images/77.jpg!

For an NK ICBM aimed at _any_ point in North America, the interceptors would fly out in the direction of Russia. And interceptors that didn’t intercept would continue towards, well, a lot of potential places in Russia and beyond:

p{float: right; margin-left:0px;}. !/images/76.jpg!

For comparison, the report of the NAS panel on Conventional Prompt Global Strike endorsed the “Conventional Trident Modification”: in large part because conventional ICBMs would have to overfly Russia to get anywhere useful, a proposition the panel deemed unacceptable.

With GMD, unfortunately, the U.S. doesn’t get the choice of when and where to fire, only _whether_ to fire. This delicate and under-appreciated consideration would make the actual use of GMD the world’s biggest game of Russian Roulette.

_Due credit: Elaine Bunn at NDU discussed this problem in her “analysis”: of missile-defense deployment._

Update: The link to the Bunn article seems to be (temporarily?) broken. Here’s a “local copy”:

Update: Cross-posted to “”: See the “comments at ACW”:

_Update: “Can Russia detect North Korean missile launches?”: It doesn’t look like it._


Maybe the first step in Russian-American nuclear talks should be a “Continuing Resolution,” i.e., a simple renewal of START verification measures.

Pavel Podvig quite credibly “suggests”: that more ambitious undertakings will be tough to achieve by December, when START expires. Perhaps it’s better to take the time to get it right.

Meanwhile, nobody needs a gap in the existing verification regime.

Dept. of Media Criticism

You all know that my “heart bleeds for daily newspapers”:, right? It actually, figuratively does. I just phoned 9-1-1 for that heart-always-bleeding thing. Again. Figuratively. So this is tough love, right here.

April 1 editions of the _Washington Post_ indicated that “the Russians are unmoved”: by American concerns about Iran:

bq. The Russians have reached an understanding with Iran over the sale of surface-to-air missiles but said they have yet to deliver on shipments. Though the United States has pressed Russia to exert more pressure on Iran to abandon nuclear-weapons research, Moscow insists there is little more it can do, saying its nuclear dialogue with Tehran is based solely on energy production.

That would be in line with President Medvedev’s op-ed in the same paper, just “the day before”:

So, something must have changed since March 18, when the same paper was telling it the other way around:

bq. As President Obama seeks to recast relations with Russia and persuade it to help contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he must win over leaders who are deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions and who have long been reluctant to damage what they consider a strategic partnership with Iran. But the Kremlin has indicated it is willing to explore a deal with Washington, and analysts say it may be more open to new sanctions against Iran than expected.

You could probably “guess”: how that went over in these parts.

So how did the _Post_’s reporters unearth such a startling insight? This one expert guy in Washington told them.

In a meeting last week with a bipartisan commission studying U.S. policy toward Russia, President Dmitry Medvedev expressed alarm in “very graphic language” over Iran’s successful test launch of a satellite last month, linking it to Tehran’s nuclear program, said Dmitri Simes, director of the commission.

“Medvedev said it demonstrated how far-reaching Iran’s nuclear ambitions are, and that he was very concerned,” said Simes, who is also president of the Nixon Center in Washington. “He felt it was a clear challenge to both Russian and American interests and said he would like both countries to work on this challenge together.”

Nothing more heard from President Medvedev in this vein since then. Or before then.

So what do you say? Can we call this a lesson learned?

For The Record

Here’s what the “Obama-Medvedev statement”: says about Iran:

bq. While we recognize that under the NPT Iran has the right to a civilian nuclear program, Iran needs to restore confidence in its exclusively peaceful nature. We underline that Iran, as any other Non-Nuclear Weapons State-Party to the NPT, has assumed the obligation under Article II of that Treaty in relation to its non-nuclear weapon status. We call on Iran to fully implement the relevant U.N. Security Council and the IAEA Board of Governors resolutions, including provision of required cooperation with the IAEA. We reiterated their commitment to pursue a comprehensive diplomatic solution, including direct diplomacy and through P5+1 negotiations, and urged Iran to seize this opportunity to address the international communitys concerns.

There’s nothing like a “nothingburger”:

“Musical bonus”: Musical, literally.

Mother of All Tail Risks

Tail risk, according to “Investopedia”:, is

bq. A form of portfolio risk that arises when the possibility that an investment will move more than three standard deviations from the mean is greater than what is shown by a normal distribution.

Got that?

There’s another, more colloquial meaning to “tail risk,” which is simply the possibility of having a freakishly bad day. There’s a “book about this”:

Lately, we’ve been reminded that bad events deemed vanishingly unlikely actually might not be. So unlikely, that is. The nation’s supposedly uncorrelated residential real estate markets “all started plunging at once”:,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,0,1,1,0,0,0,0,0.html. All those “credit default swaps”: suddenly came into play at the same time. Two satellites collided. Two SSBNs collided.

A continually iterated potential hazard with potentially unknown correlated features is, over time, less improbable than it might seem. “Stuff happens”:

Now, per the happenstances mentioned above, you might imagine that the “financial crisis/recession/clusterf#@k to the poor house”: is the biggest deal on the Obama administration’s plate, the issue whose management will be most consequential, for good or ill. And in the short-to-medium term, that’s awfully hard to dispute.

But In The Long Term?

Look, I know some people are into comet strikes, and the climate situation looks worrisome. But where I come from, the Mother of All Tail Risks is nuclear war.

My nightmare can beat up your nightmare, see?

From the “stuff happens” perspective, the long-term issue of greatest consequence is taking U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons off alert and keeping them that way.

Yeah, I know, STRATCOM is very clear that U.S. nuclear weapons are not on “hair-trigger alert”: This seems to mean that U.S. weapons would not be launched unless A) the President ordered it or B) _[correction] someone acting in his stead ordered it after_ nuclear weapons had already detonated on U.S. soil.

I have just five or six small concerns about this. Little things.

A) How sure can we be that the President of these United States will be of “sound judgment”: when the time comes? “Really?”: “You’re sure?”: “Really, really sure?”:

B) After a single weapon goes off that incinerates our national leadership — origin unknown — what happens, exactly?

C) Is the Russian arsenal on higher alert than the U.S. arsenal?

D) Is the Russian early-warning system adequate?

E) Assuming the Russian arsenal is at the same “day-to-day” alert as the U.S. arsenal, and its early-warning system is adequate, how sure can we be that the “President”:, Prime Minister, and other key officials of the Russian Federation will be of sound judgment when the time comes?

F) After a single weapon goes off that incinerates the Kremlin — origin unknown — what happens, exactly?

Global financial crisis, global schminancial crisis.

Seriously, if you think none of the things hinted at above could happen — because it hasn’t happened yet, right? — try talking to someone in the financial sector.

If You Only Read One Part, Try This Right Here

Now that U.S.-RF nuclear force reduction talks are “getting underway”:, I’m as pleased as anyone to see the numbers coming down, but I would vote with both hands and both feet to make the numbers _go up_ if that’s what it took to get the G-d-damned things off alert once and for all.