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– Izumi Nakamitsu
UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs
June 2, 2022
Michael Klare

Conference Makes No Progress on Robotic Weapons

January/February 2022
By Michael T. Klare

A UN meeting has failed to adopt binding controls on lethal autonomous weapons systems despite ardent calls from many governments, arms control experts, and civil society groups for restrictions on these so-called killer robots.

An Uragan 9 multiple launch rocket system on display at an exhibition of Russian robotic weapons in 2017. (Photo by Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images)Although negotiators have been discussing limits on these weapons, which are computer controlled, for eight years, the sixth review conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) ended in Geneva on Dec. 17 without a conclusive agreement.

“The outcome of the Review Conference falls drastically short, and does not reflect the will of the vast majority of states, civil society, or international public opinion,” Isabelle Jones of The Stop Killer Robots advocacy group said in a statement.

Many of the 125 states-parties to the convention, such as Austria and New Zealand, have called for a total ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems. But others, such as Russia and the United States, which are developing autonomous weapons systems, have rejected a binding agreement and instead advocated for a less restrictive “code of conduct.”

Advocates of a protocol banning autonomous combat systems argue that such weapons, including ships, planes, tanks, and other weapons governed by artificial intelligence rather than direct human oversight, violate international humanitarian law by making it difficult to protect civilians trapped in combat zones. They question the ability of weapons that operate without human control to distinguish between armed combatants and unarmed civilians in such situations.

Prior to the review conference, a group of governmental experts met several times in 2021 to consider the rationale for and content of a legal ban on autonomous combat systems. If adopted, such a ban would be formulated as an additional protocol to the CCW, akin to the existing protocols on incendiary weapons and blinding laser weapons. The experts group reportedly made significant progress toward delineating such a measure, but was blocked from submitting a report on its proceedings by Russia and other opponents.

Because the experts group and CCW deliberations operate by consensus, a handful of states, notably Russia and the United States, have been able to impede progress toward any binding restrictions on autonomous weapons systems. Both countries have ambitious goals for integrating lethal autonomous weapons systems into their combat arsenals and are reluctant to accept meaningful curbs on their use. (See ACT, March 2019.) As a result, the review conference could agree only to continue deliberations by the experts group on such limitations for just 10 days during 2022.

As stated in the final conference report, “[T]he group is to consider proposals and elaborate, by consensus, possible measures, including taking into account the example of existing protocols within the convention, and other options related to the normative and operational framework on emerging technologies in the area of lethal autonomous weapon systems.” Experts say that is no mandate for substantive work on a binding legal measure.

Many of those who attended the review conference or observed its proceedings expressed deep disappointment with this outcome. “It’s clear that a minority of states including the U.S. and Russia, already investing heavily in the development of autonomous weapons, are committed to using the consensus rule in the CCW to hold the majority of states hostage and block progress towards the international legal response that is urgently needed,” Jones said.

Although most states at the conference said they would participate in the 2022 experts group sessions in the hope of making further progress, some have indicated a willingness to consider an alternative path toward a binding instrument on lethal autonomous weapons systems outside the CCW framework.

Brazil, Chile, and Mexico made this explicit in a joint statement at the meeting’s conclusion, and several other states are also said to favor such an approach. This could involve efforts to secure a binding international treaty under the auspices of the UN General Assembly, where majority rule, not consensus, would prevail. That was the path adopted by opponents of nuclear weapons in securing passage of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

A UN meeting failed to adopt binding controls on lethal autonomous weapons.

Pentagon Awards Anti-Hypersonic Missile Contracts

January/February 2022
By Michael T. Klare

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has awarded contracts of approximately $20 million each to Raytheon Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., and Northrop Grumman Corp. to develop prototypes of a hypersonic missile intended to intercept and destroy an adversary’s hypersonic projectile in the unpowered glide phase of its trajectory.

A flight test of the Russian Avangard hypersonic missile in 2018. The United States is pursuing anti-hypersonic systems that could intercept and destroy such projectiles. (Photo by Russia MoD)By awarding contracts to the three companies simultaneously, the Pentagon hopes to hasten development of the weapons and ensure early deployment. “Multiple awards allow us to execute a risk reduction phase to explore industry concepts and maximize the benefits of a competitive environment to demonstrate the most effective and reliable Glide Phase Interceptor (GPI) for regional hypersonic defense, as soon as possible,” explained Rear Adm. Tom Druggan, program executive for sea-based weapons systems at the MDA. The award was announced on Nov. 19.

Such a weapon is needed, advocates claim, because existing missile defense systems, which are intended to intercept ballistic missiles in outer space, are ineffective against hypersonic glide vehicles, which skim atop the Earth’s outer atmosphere and maneuver in flight. The GPI missile “will be the first-ever interceptor with the speed, ability to withstand heat, and maneuverability required to intercept hypersonic threats in this environment,” said Tay Fitzgerald, vice president of strategic missile defense at Raytheon Missiles and Defense.

Initially, the proposed GPI missile will be fired from vertical launch cannisters installed on Aegis-class destroyers. If this proves successful, “we can move it to the land-based battery,” said the MDA’s Vice Adm. Jon Hill, presumably referring to the Aegis Ashore anti-missile system, such as those now installed in Romania and, beginning in 2022, in Poland.

The roughly $80 million to be spent on these preliminary efforts are only part of a much larger Pentagon hypersonic defense initiative, which was funded at a level of $310 million in the fiscal year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). That is $62 million more than the Biden administration requested and a 14 percent increase from the $273 million authorized in 2021. The 2022 NDAA also includes $3.8 billion for the development of offensive hypersonic weapons.

The Defense Department has been granted additional funding for the development of a new constellation of satellites that it says is needed to track adversaries’ hypersonic missiles in flight and guide the proposed GPI missile to its target. This satellite system, called the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor, was allocated $256 million in the 2022 NDAA, almost twice the amount approved in 2021.

In recent years, some U.S. defense officials, members of Congress, and think tank analysts have argued with growing urgency that anti-hypersonic systems are needed to defend the United States against potential adversaries who are proceeding with the development and deployment of assorted offensive hypersonic projectiles. Two examples are the Russian Avangard, now deployed on some SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the Chinese DF-ZF, mounted on the DF-17 medium-range ballistic missile.

These weapons, like the U.S. Army’s Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon and the Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike system, are called boost glide systems because they employ a booster rocket to carry the glide vehicle into space. After reaching an altitude of about 100 miles, the glide vehicle separates from the booster and, driven by accumulated velocity alone, glides along the outer atmosphere for hundreds or thousands of miles en route to its intended target.

Because of their low-Earth trajectory, hypersonic glide vehicles are more difficult to detect by tracking satellites than ballistic missiles and to intercept with existing missile defense systems. This has generated a perceived U.S. requirement for new missiles and tracking systems to detect and destroy adversary glide vehicles. The House Armed Services Committee, in its markup of the 2022 NDAA, expressed concern over “the inability of current radar systems to detect, track, engage and defeat emerging threats from hypersonic weapons.”

With the United States preparing to field its own array of offensive hypersonic missiles, one approach to this concern could be the exploration of bilateral or multilateral arms control agreements limiting the numbers and types of deployed hypersonic weapons. Instead, Washington so far has chosen to invest in the development of what are certain to be costly defensive weapons, which could prompt China and Russia to develop their own defensive systems and more capable offensive missiles.

There are signs that such an action-reaction spiral has commenced. Worried about the impending deployment of U.S. hypersonic missiles in Europe and beyond, Russia has begun to configure its S-500 missile defense system to intercept hypersonic missiles and has developed a new system, the S-550, with hypersonic defense in mind. “S-500 and S-550 systems will become a platform for the new air defense system, by protecting strategically important facilities from hypersonic targets,” an unnamed source close to the Russian Defense Ministry told the Russian news agency TASS in November.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency awarded contracts to three companies to develop hypersonic missile prototypes.

Dangerous Brinkmanship Over Taiwan

News Date: 
October 27, 2021 -04:00

Air Force Awards $2.6 Billion B-52 Engine Contract

November 2021

The U.S. Air Force has awarded Rolls-Royce of North America a $2.6 billion contract to produce 608 jet engines for the B-52 intercontinental bomber, enabling the iconic Cold War aircraft, which first flew in 1952, to remain in active service until well into the 2050s.

A US B-52 Stratofortress bomber flies over the Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, in 2016 in a show of force against North Korea. (Photo by Jung Yeon-Je/AFP via Getty Images)The existing fleet of 76 operational B-52s is powered by Pratt & Whitney’s TF33 engine, but these systems are nearing the end of their service life and must be replaced if the bomber is to continue flying beyond 2030. By replacing the TF33s—eight are mounted on each B-52—with a new, more modern engine, the Air Force plans to keep the bombers flying for another quarter century beyond that. “The B-52 is the workhorse of the nation’s bomber force, and this modification will allow the B-52 to continue its critical conventional and standoff mission into the 2050s,” said Maj. Gen. Jason Armagost, director of strategic plans, programs, and requirements at the Air Force Global Strike Command, when the award was announced Sept. 24.

When first conceived in 1946, the B-52 Stratofortress was largely intended as a long-range bomber designed to deliver nuclear weapons on enemy, presumably Soviet, territory. Although it still retains its role as a nuclear delivery system and, as such, is counted under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), it has also been used to deliver conventional bombs and missiles, most recently in Afghanistan. —MICHAEL KLARE

Air Force Awards $2.6 Billion B-52 Engine Contract


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