Login/Logout

*
*  

Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
Shannon Bugos

After Exercise, Russia Downplays Nuclear Threat


June 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Russia simulated launches of nuclear weapons during military exercises in the Kaliningrad enclave in May, according to its defense ministry, even as Russian diplomats attempted to downplay the likelihood of Russia employing nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Russia has used the Iskander-M missile, shown parading through Red Square, to pummel Ukraine and conducted simulated launches of nuclear weapons with the missile during military exercises in the Kaliningrad enclave in May.  (Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)The Russian exercise included “electronic launches” of dual-capable, road-mobile Iskander-M ballistic missiles against targets such as airfields, equipment depots, and military command posts. The Russian Defense Ministry said that more than 100 troops participated in the simulation launched from Kaliningrad, which is located between the NATO countries of Lithuania and Poland along the Baltic coast. Russia has used conventional Iskander-M missiles extensively in Ukraine.

Despite the nuclear simulation and continued threatening rhetoric from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Ministry officials have dismissed the prospect of Russia employing nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine.

When questioned about the possibility of nuclear war, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov asserted on May 1 that “Russia has never ceased its efforts to reach agreements that would guarantee the prevention of a nuclear war.” He emphasized that Moscow has agreed twice in the past year to reaffirm the 1986 Reagan-Gorbachev principle that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.

Konstantin Gavrilov, head of Russia’s delegation on arms control in Vienna, said more directly on May 4 that “we by no means pursue any nuclear war-related aims on the territory of Ukraine.” Alexey Zaitsev, Russian Foreign Ministry deputy spokesperson, echoed this on May 6, saying that nuclear weapons “are not applicable to the implementation of the tasks set in the course of the special military operation in Ukraine.”

Zaitsev pointed to four scenarios in which Moscow might use nuclear weapons, including when the state’s existence is perceived to be in jeopardy. The scenarios are outlined in the Russian nuclear deterrence policy released in June 2020. (See ACT, July/August 2020.)

The remarks by the Foreign Ministry officials differ from Putin’s statements since the start of the war in Ukraine, in which he has threatened to use nuclear weapons if any country attempts to intercede on Ukraine’s behalf. (See ACT, March 2022.)

“If anyone intends to intervene from the outside and create a strategic threat to Russia that is unacceptable to us, they should know that our retaliatory strikes will be lightning fast,” Putin reiterated on April 27. “We have the tools we need for this…[and] we will use them if necessary.”

U.S. President Joe Biden has described such rhetoric as irresponsible and dangerous. “No one should be making idle comments about the use of nuclear weapons or the possibility that they’d use that,” he said on April 28.

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby commented on the Russian war game and threats of nuclear use, dismissing the prospect of a U.S. or NATO reaction. “Has that exercise or has this rhetoric resulted in us changing the footprint on NATO’s eastern flank? No,” he told reporters on May 5.

Nevertheless, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines assured Congress on May 12 that the United States “will remain vigilant in monitoring every aspect of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces.”

Thus far, neither the United States nor NATO has mirrored Putin’s decision in February to raise the alert level of Russian nuclear forces. Adm. Charles Richard, head of U.S. Strategic Command, testified in March that he sees no need to change U.S. nuclear force posture. Kirby said on May 5 that the United States is “comfortable and confident that our strategic deterrent posture is well placed and robust enough to defend the homeland, as well as our allies and partners.” (See ACT, April 2022.)

Haines said that “there is not a sort of an imminent potential for Putin to use nuclear weapons.” But she added that he may engage in some further signaling of Russian disapproval of U.S. support for Ukraine “by authorizing another large nuclear exercise involving a major dispersal of mobile intercontinental missiles, heavy bombers, [and] strategic submarines.”

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin resumed communication with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Shoigu, with an hour-long phone call on May 13, the first since the invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24.

During the call, Austin “urged an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine and emphasized the importance of maintaining lines of communication,” according to the Pentagon readout. A senior defense official added that the department had “been consistently asking for this conversation,” but it was not until that week when Shoigu finally agreed.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley then spoke with his Russian counterpart, Chief of Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov, on May 19, also for the first time since the war started.

Moscow and Washington created a Russian-U.S. deconfliction line at the operational level between the Russian Defense Ministry and U.S. European Command in March, but there has been no communication at the most senior level until now.

China has called for restraint. “No one wants to see the outbreak of a third world war,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters on May 23.

The military exercises simulated launches of nuclear weapons.

U.S. Defense Officials Balk at Biden’s Nuclear Budget


June 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Top U.S. defense officials disagreed publicly with some Biden administration decisions to strip funding for nuclear capabilities from its $813 billion fiscal year 2023 request for national defense, while Republicans in Congress attacked the budget proposal as dangerously insufficient to keep pace with China, Russia, and inflation.

General Mark Milley (L), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, shown testifying to Congress with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (C) in May, has told lawmakers he disagrees with a Biden administration decision to cut funding for the new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile from the fiscal year 2023 budget. Austin supported the decision.  (Defense Department photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Wheeler)“This budget funds modernization of all three legs of the nuclear triad to ensure that we continue to maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said following the release of the detailed budget documents on March 28. Of the topline amount proposed for national defense, $773 billion is earmarked for the Pentagon.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) criticized the request for making “cuts to key capabilities” in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, meaning that “we will lose ground against China’s and Russia’s rapidly expanding arsenals.” He wrote a letter signed by 40 Republicans on March 23 demanding that the Biden administration focus investment on nuclear modernization and boost the budget by 5 percent over inflation.

The White House eliminated funding in 2023 for the new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM), which the Trump administration proposed in its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). According to news reports, the Biden administration’s version of the NPR reflects this decision. (See ACT, April 2022.) The White House sent a classified version of its NPR to Congress on the same day as it released its budget, but an unclassified version has not been made public.

“The marginal capability that [the nuclear SLCM] provides is far outweighed by the cost,” Austin told Congress on April 4. Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro agreed with the administration’s decision. “I believe that we should zero out the SLCM line,” he said on May 12, adding that “the president has all the tools in his tool kit necessary to deter and deal with the threat.”

But three other leading U.S. defense officials—Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command Adm. Charles Richard, and Commander of U.S. European Command Gen. Tod Wolters—testified to Congress that the Pentagon should continue developing the weapon.

“My position on [the nuclear SLCM] has not changed,” Milley told the House Armed Services Committee on April 5. “My general view is that this president or any president deserves to have multiple options to deal with national security situations.”

Richard, who wrote a letter to lawmakers on April 4 supporting the nuclear SLCM, said in an April 4 hearing that, “[w]ithout this capability, adversaries may perceive an advantage at lower levels of conflict that may encourage limited nuclear use.” Wolters concurred with Richard’s assessment.

In fiscal year 2022, Congress approved $15.2 million for the Navy’s new cruise missile and its associated nuclear warhead. (See ACT, January/February 2022.)

Another nuclear capability likely on the chopping block is the megaton-class B83-1 gravity bomb. According to press reports, the Biden NPR is expected to make the case for cancelling plans to extend the life of the bomb, which was initially slated to be retired around 2025 before the Trump administration moved to keep it in the arsenal.

Budget documents for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) do not clarify funding for the gravity bomb. Experts believe that although there appears to be some sustainment funding for the B83-1 to ensure its safety and reliability over the next year, there are no funds for a full life extension program. In fiscal year 2022, Congress appropriated $98.5 million for the bomb’s sustainment and alteration.

Overall, the Biden administration proposed to spend $50.9 billion on nuclear weapons in 2023, with $34.4 billion for the Pentagon, which leads in building nuclear delivery systems, and $16.5 billion for the NNSA, a semiautonomous agency within the Energy Department, that builds and maintains nuclear warheads. These accounts consume 6.5 percent of the total national defense budget and reflect an 18 percent increase from the previous fiscal year’s spending.

The Pentagon described its request as necessary to implement the 2022 National Defense Strategy, which, according to the unclassified factsheet released on March 28, identifies China as the department’s “pacing challenge” and Russia as an “acute” threat. The factsheet outlines the Pentagon’s aim to implement integrated deterrence, which officials describe as being supported by the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

“Nuclear weapons continue to provide foundational strategic deterrent effects that no other element of U.S. military power can replace,” Vice Adm. Ron Boxall, director for force structure, resources, and assessment on the Joint Staff, told Congress in March. “A safe, secure, effective, and credible nuclear deterrent is the ultimate backstop to protect the American homeland and our allies.”

Richard also said that “the absolute minimum that we need to do is to recapitalize the triad, the nuclear command and control, and the nuclear weapons complex” to counter China and Russia. “What we have today is the absolute minimum, and we are going to have to ask ourselves what additional capability, capacity, and posture do we need…based on where the threat is going,” he said.

The National Defense Strategy encompasses the NPR and the Missile Defense Review, which are all Defense Department documents. The White House is in charge of producing the National Security Strategy, which guides the Pentagon documents. It has not been released.

In general, the Biden administration’s budget proposal continues plans started during the Obama administration to replace components of all three legs of the nuclear triad, while halting a few programs added by the Trump administration.

The Navy requested $6.2 billion for construction and continued research and development on a fleet of 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, a $1.1 billion increase from the 2022 appropriation. This amount “will provide the third and final year of incremental full funding” for the first submarine, to be delivered in 2028, and enable advanced procurement of future submarines of this class, according to the budget documents.

Meanwhile, the Air Force proposed $5 billion for the B-21 Raider strategic bomber, up $2 billion from the previous appropriation. The service announced in September that five out of an estimated 100 planned bombers were in production and expected to achieve operational status in the mid-2020s.

The Air Force requested $981 million for the long-range standoff weapon system to replace the existing air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), a 64 percent increase over the 2022 appropriation of $599 million. The total includes the first request for procurement funding at $31 million.

Another Air Force program, the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, renamed the Sentinel in April, was budgeted at $3.6 billion, a $1 billion increase from the last appropriation.

The service plans to buy more than 650 new Sentinel missiles to begin replacing the fleet of 400 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in fiscal year 2029, with testing starting in 2024. The Pentagon solicited a study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on potential alternatives for the land-based leg of the nuclear triad. The study was to be completed by the end of January 2022, but has not been made public.

Although the Army does not have nuclear weapons in its arsenal, after the 2019 U.S. withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the service announced its pursuit of a conventional, ground-launched, midrange missile capability that would have likely been prohibited under the accord. The budget documents renamed this capability the Strategic Mid-Range Fires program, for which the Army requested $404 million, $118 million more than the 2022 appropriation. The weapon will be based off the Navy’s Standard Missile-6 and Tomahawk cruise missile.

The NNSA budget request includes $241 million for another controversial program proposed by the Trump administration and continued by the Biden administration: the new high-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead (W93). The request is a giant increase from the $72 million appropriation in 2022. The Pentagon is also seeking $97.1 million for the warhead’s associated aeroshell, up from $62 million the previous year.

In addition, the administration asked for continued funding for the B61-12 gravity bomb, the W87-1 ICBM warhead, and the W80-4 ALCM warhead upgrade at $672 million, $680 million, and $1.1 billion, respectively. The budget documents revealed planning for a future strategic warhead, with proposed spending starting in fiscal year 2027 at $70 million.

The NNSA budget includes $2.3 billion for plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and Savannah River Site. The Trump NPR in 2018 and Congress in 2019 called for the NNSA to produce at least 80 pits a year by 2030, even though experts questioned the feasibility of this goal due to cost and past performance.

For the first time, the NNSA has acknowledged that this goal cannot be met. “No additional amount of money will get 80 pits per year in 2030,” NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby told Congress on May 4, adding that the agency will nevertheless still work to make more pits and reach this goal “post-2030.”

In another first, the Pentagon did not seek funds for a layered homeland missile defense system, after two consecutive years of requesting funding that Congress judged was not needed. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) had plans to adapt the Aegis missile defense and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems, both designed to defeat short- and intermediate-range missiles, to intercept limited ICBM threats, which is the aim of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system based in Alaska and California.

The budget documents noted the elimination of the layered homeland defense program from the MDA request and, in the case of Aegis, specified that there are no plans to request funding in the coming years.

Reporters asked MDA Director Adm. Jon Hill about the future of layered homeland defense during a March 28 briefing, but he skirted the question, suggesting the answer will be featured in the Missile Defense Review, which has yet to be released in an unclassified format.

The MDA requested continued R&D, procurement, and maintenance for current missile defense systems separate from the layered homeland defense effort. This includes $1.6 billion for the Aegis system and the procurement of 47 Aegis Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IB missiles and 10 SM-3 Block IIA missiles.

The overall proposal for the GMD system came in at $2.8 billion. This includes $68.9 million to improve the reliability and performance of the existing Ground Based Interceptors (GBIs) and $1.8 billion for the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI). The MDA plans to begin supplementing the existing 44 GBI missiles with 20 NGI missiles no later than 2028 to bring the fleet total to 64. The NGI request is a 107 percent higher than the 2022 appropriation of $884 million.

The MDA requested $422 million for the THAAD system, including $260 million for R&D and $75 million for three interceptors.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon also budgeted $342 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which is aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges, including the spread of dangerous pathogens such as the coronavirus. This is a slight decrease from the previous year’s appropriation, but in the last two fiscal years, Congress significantly boosted the program above the requested amount, leaving open the possibility lawmakers may do so again.

Some top U.S. defense officials oppose cutting funds for the new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile.

U.S. Rushes Hypersonic Development


June 2022
By Shannon Bugos

The Pentagon plans to continue marching ahead with the rapid development and deployment of hypersonic weapons capabilities across its services, despite some setbacks in testing and questions about how effective they may be in warfare, according to the Biden administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2023.

Russia became the first nation to use new hypersonic weapons in warfare with strikes featuring Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missiles against two locations in Ukraine in March. (Photo credit: www.kremlin.ru)“The future security environment requires us to innovate across all domains and drives us to optimize our investments” in areas including hypersonic weapons, Adm. Chris Grady, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress on March 28. Michael McCord, the Pentagon comptroller, also testified that, in particular, “hypersonics are central to Pacific strategy.”

Russia became the first nation to use new hypersonic weapons in warfare with strikes featuring Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missiles against two locations in Ukraine in March. (See ACT, April 2022.) A Ukrainian military official said that Russian bombers also struck a “tourist infrastructure target” in Odesa in southwestern Ukraine with three Kinzhal missiles on May 9, but the Pentagon has not confirmed this account.

Overall, a senior U.S. defense official said on May 10, “We would assess at this time…76 days in or whatever it is, probably between 10 and 12” Russian hypersonic weapons have been used against Ukrainian targets.

Russia fielded the Kinzhal system in 2018, according to expert assessments, and the Avangard hypersonic boost-glide vehicle in 2019. The United States has at least five hypersonic weapons programs in the works across the Air Force, Army, and Navy, plus four programs underway at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Although the United States is pursuing a conventional-only capability, China, which may have deployed its first hypersonic weapon in 2020, and Russia appear to be seeking nuclear or dual-capable hypersonic capabilities.

Given this, members of Congress and defense officials have claimed that Washington has fallen behind Moscow and Beijing and therefore endorsed efforts to accelerate U.S. hypersonic weapons development so as to deploy this capability as soon as possible and catch up with and eventually surpass China and Russia.

“We’re behind our adversaries” in hypersonics, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said on April 5.

But after Russia used hypersonic weapons in Ukraine, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, downplayed the initial influence of this capability on the battlefield.

“The Russians have used several hypersonic missiles,” Milley told Congress on May 11. “Other than the speed of the weapon, in terms of its effect on a given target, we are not seeing really significant or game-changing effects to date with the delivery of the small number of hypersonics that the Russians have used.”

Hypersonic weapons are defined as traveling at speeds at least five times the speed of sound with greater maneuverability over unique altitudes.

The Air Force has requested $162 million for the research and development of the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) system, one of the first U.S. hypersonic weapons scheduled to enter the field, in fiscal year 2023, which is a $157 million decrease from the 2022 appropriation. In the original budget documents, $47 million of the total ARRW system request was slated for procuring one ARRW system, but the service later decided against any procurement funding due to three test failures in 2021.

“As much as we are encouraged to have failures, we have to have success before we can move forward to production,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 3.

The ARRW system completed its first successful booster flight test on May 14, during which the booster “ignited and burned for expected duration” after separating from a B-52H bomber off the coast of California, according to an Air Force statement. The Air Force will conduct additional booster flight tests of the system in fiscal year 2022 and four all-up-round tests in fiscal year 2023, before transitioning to an early operational capability also in 2023. “Initial fielding and operational use…will be on the B-52 aircraft and have a 15-year shelf life,” the Air Force said.

The service also requested a second year of funding for a hypersonic weapons program called the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile of $317 million, a 67 percent increase from the 2022 appropriation. Vice Adm. Ron Boxall, director for force structure, resources, and assessment on the Joint Staff, told Congress on March 28 that the missile is slated to be fielded on F-15 fighter jets in 2027.

The Navy has two hypersonic weapons programs underway. The service requested $1.2 billion for the Conventional Prompt Strike system, a 9 percent decrease from the 2022 appropriation. This system features the common hypersonic glide body that is shared with the Army’s program and will be added to Zumwalt-class destroyers starting in 2025 and to Virginia-class submarines in 2028. The Navy also asked for $92 million for the Hypersonic Air-Launched Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare system and plans to field it in 2028.

Meanwhile, the Army is working on the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon program, for which it requested $1.1 billion, including $807 million in research and engineering and $250 million for procurement. The system is slated to enter the field in fiscal year 2023.

DARPA is seeking $253 million for its multiple hypersonic weapons R&D programs, a $59 million increase from the 2022 appropriation. These programs include Glide Breaker, Tactical Boost Glide, and MoHAWC, for which it requested $18 million, $30 million, and $60 million, respectively.

The Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) system, a hypersonic air-launched cruise missile, has been completed after flight tests in 2021. MoHAWC is the successor program, with Raytheon and Lockheed Martin as the prime contractors. Each company recently successfully tested its respective version of the HAWC system. (See ACT, May 2022.) Lessons learned from developing the earlier weapon will be incorporated into the MoHAWC cruiser design, according to the budget documents.

The tactical boost glide program will aim to conduct its third flight test in the upcoming fiscal year.

Glide Breaker, a design for a hypersonic defense interceptor, is budgeted for a 161 percent increase over its previous appropriation as the program enters a new phase that includes wind tunnel and flight testing.

Meanwhile, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) requested $226 million for hypersonic missile defense activities, a 22 percent decrease from the previous year. This effort includes $149 million for a system to defeat a hypersonic missile in its glide phase, which involves the development of an interceptor and updates to the Aegis system to incorporate it. The MDA awarded contracts to three companies in 2021 to develop an interceptor prototype. (See ACT, January/February 2022.)

The agency requested $89 million for the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) program, which is intended to be a new constellation of satellites for tracking hypersonic missiles in flight and guiding the proposed interceptor to its target. The request is down 67 percent from the 2022 appropriation because the satellite development is complete.

In 2023, “[w]e will launch two prototype hypersonic and ballistic tracking space sensors for on-orbit experimentations in conjunction with the U.S. Space Force and the Space Development Agency (SDA),” Dee Dee Martinez, MDA comptroller, said on March 28.

The SDA is similarly developing satellites for tracking hypersonic missiles as part of its “tracking layer” effort, for which the agency requested $500 million for fiscal year 2023 after Congress appropriated $550 million the previous year, despite no such ask from the agency. (See ACT, April 2022.)

The goal eventually is to integrate HBTSS and SDA satellites and place them within the Space Force’s overarching missile tracking architecture, MDA Director Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill explained in March, and the information gleaned during the upcoming fiscal year will help to determine the fate of the HBTSS program.

“We should have data coming down in the summer ’23 or so, and we’ll be able to help the Space Force make decisions,” Hill said.

The Space Force also requested $400 million to begin a “new resilient” missile warning and tracking system that will help “address emerging challenges such as hypersonic missiles and anti-satellite weapons.”

The Pentagon is hastening the pace of development despite some questions about warfighting effectiveness.

IAEA Undertakes Safeguards Missions in Ukraine


May 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Following visits by its director-general to Ukrainian nuclear power plants in April and March, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is coordinating assistance packages and a series of technical missions on nuclear safety, security, and safeguards issues for the war-torn country.

The South Ukraine nuclear power plant where Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Agency visited on March 30. (Photo by Anatolli Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)“It is vital to be on the ground in order to provide effective support to Ukraine in these extremely difficult times,” IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said during his March 30 trip to the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant. “The IAEA’s on-site presence, where needed, will help prevent the danger of a nuclear accident that could have severe public health and environmental consequences in Ukraine and beyond.”

Grossi in March traveled to Ukraine and Kaliningrad for separate talks with Ukrainian and Russian officials on the IAEA plan to deliver urgent technical assistance to four operational Ukrainian nuclear power plants, plus the inactive Chernobyl nuclear site. This support “will include sending IAEA experts to prioritized facilities and the shipment of vital safety and security supplies including monitoring and emergency equipment,” according to a March 29 IAEA statement.

In April, Grossi visited Chernobyl, where the IAEA and Ukraine agreed to set up a working group to “coordinate IAEA assistance and support to staff who are working hard to keep Ukraine’s nuclear sites safe and secure,” the director-general said. Ukraine on April 23 gave the IAEA a list of equipment needed by different nuclear facilities, including radiation measuring devices, protective material, computer-related assistance, power supply systems and diesel generators.

Grossi also met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and pledged that, “The IAEA will continue to support Ukraine.”

On March 31, Ukraine confirmed that the Russian forces that took control of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant after the invasion on Feb. 24 had officially transferred control of the site back to Ukrainian personnel.

Energoatom, Ukraine’s state nuclear company, alleged that the Russian withdrawal from Chernobyl stemmed from numerous Russian soldiers receiving “significant doses” of radiation from digging trenches in the forested exclusion zone encompassing the nuclear site. The IAEA is investigating the claim. Grossi said in April that the Russian takeover of Chernobyl was “very, very dangerous” and that any spikes in the radiation level have now returned to normal.

The process of resuming normal regulatory control at Chernobyl had begun by April 5, and staff rotations are now occurring regularly. After 25 days of nonstop work, more than 200 staff members at the nuclear site were first allowed by Russian forces to change shifts on March 20. (See ACT, April 2022.)

In the second rotation on April 10, staff who live in the nearby city of Slavutych could only reach the Chernobyl nuclear power plant via boats on the Pripyat River.

“While it is very positive that Ukrainian authorities are gradually restoring regulatory control of the Chernobyl site, it is clear that a lot of work remains to return the site to normality,” commented Grossi.

Ukraine warned the IAEA on April 9 that the operation of radiation and other sensors have yet to be restored due to the absence of required maintenance and other specialized staff, which may “lead to the failure of other systems and components important to safety.”

The agency now serves as the “single point of contact” for any international technical assistance for Ukraine and currently is in discussions with countries offering support. On April 7, the G7 Non-Proliferation Directors Group, comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, released a statement expressing “its full and continued support” for the IAEA and encouraging “all countries to support the IAEA’s assistance efforts and to make available to the IAEA necessary resources and equipment to facilitate technical support to Ukraine and to restore and to sustain safeguards.”

Meanwhile, “the morale and the emotional state” of Ukrainian staff remains “very low” at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, which has been under Russian control since early March. This complex houses six of Ukraine’s 15 reactors, which are split among four active nuclear plant sites. Together, they supply about half of the country’s electricity. Grossi told AP on April 27 that the safety at the plant is a “red light” blinking as his agency seeks access to do repairs.

The agency is preparing assistance packages and technical missions to ensure the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants.

U.S., Russia Adhering to New Start Despite War


May 2022
By Shannon Bugos

A few days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States and Russia exchanged data on their respective strategic nuclear forces as required by the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The data shared on March 1 showed that the countries remain at or below the treaty limits on deployed strategic warheads and their delivery vehicles.

“At a time when direct contacts are being curtailed, antagonism runs high, and trust [is] completely lost, it is nothing short of amazing that Russia and the United States continue to abide by the…treaty and exchange classified information as if nothing had happened,” wrote Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists in an April 6 blog post. The data exchange was made public on April 5.

The treaty limits U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces to 1,550 warheads deployed on 700 delivery vehicles, which are defined as intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers assigned to a nuclear mission.

The United States deploys 1,515 warheads on 686 delivery vehicles, and Russia deploys 1,474 warheads on 526 delivery vehicles, as of the latest data exchange.

Under New START, the two sides are allowed a certain number of on-site inspections each year, but those inspections have been paused since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even so, the two sides have continued to exchange various notifications on the status and basing or facility assignment of their respective strategic forces, for a total of 23,609 notifications as of April 7.

The treaty’s implementing body, the Bilateral Consultative Commission, ordinarily meets twice per year, but those meetings have also been paused because of the pandemic.

Alexander Darchiyev, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s North American Department, said on March 8
that “we’re preparing for the upcoming spring session of the Bilateral Consultative Commission.” Further information on when the commission may convene is unknown.

The exchange of New START data occurred after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 27 order to move his country’s nuclear forces to the heightened alert status of a “special regime of combat duty” in the early days of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (See ACT, March 2022.) Although additional such orders have not been given, Russian officials have defended Putin’s order in the ensuing weeks. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov eventually downplayed the threat of nuclear war in late March. (See ACT, April 2022.)

On April 20, Russia test-launched a new nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile called the Sarmat. Although Putin called the test a warning to those in the West who “try to threaten our country,” some U.S. experts played down the impact saying Moscow notified Washington in advance as required under New START. The experts also estimated that SARMAT was initially slated to be operationally deployed in 2021, meaning the system is now behind schedule.

Russia and the United States are fulfilling their treaty commitments despite tensions over Ukraine.

AUKUS to Collaborate on Hypersonics


May 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have agreed to collaborate on accelerating the development of advanced hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capabilities in an expansion of the initial scope of their trilateral security partnership.

An artist’s rendering of the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept system, which the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency said in mid-March had been successfully tested. (Illustration by DARPA)This partnership, known as AUKUS, “committed today to commence new trilateral cooperation on hypersonics and counter-hypersonics, and electronic warfare capabilities, as well as to expand information sharing and to deepen cooperation on defense innovation,” according to a joint statement by U.S. President Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Johnson on April 5.

AUKUS was launched in September 2021 with a pledge by Washington and London to equip Canberra with conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines. (See ACT, November and October 2021.) The three countries also agreed to work together in four areas of advanced capabilities—cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and undersea capabilities—in recognition of their “deep defense ties,” according to the joint statement first announcing the AUKUS partnership last year.

The inaugural meetings of the two trilateral joint steering groups were held in December 2021, during which the group on advanced capabilities “discussed other additional capabilities and agreed to identify potential opportunities for collaboration” in addition to the four existing areas. The April announcement marked the first disclosure of how the three countries plan to expand their partnership on new, emerging, and advanced capabilities and technologies.

The partnership emerged with a stated objective to “ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” Biden said in September. Thus far, the three members have been careful in not directly attributing the new partnership to shared concerns regarding China, but the connection is widely accepted. Beijing has sharply criticized the initiative from the outset and repeated its criticisms following the April announcement.

The AUKUS partnership “not only increases nuclear proliferation risks and brings shocks to the international nonproliferation system, but also intensifies the arms race and undermines peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on April 6. “Countries in the region should be on a higher alert.”

The AUKUS pledge to collaborate on hypersonic technology came on the same day as the revelation by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of a second successful test of the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) in mid-March. The agency kept news of the test quiet for about two weeks in order to avoid escalating tensions as Biden traveled to Europe for meetings with NATO, the European Union, and the Group of Seven concerning Russia’s war in Ukraine, a U.S. defense official told CNN.

The second HAWC free flight test featured the Lockheed Martin version of the system, as opposed to the Raytheon version successfully tested in September. (See ACT, November 2021.)

During the March test, the HAWC vehicle was released from a B-52 bomber off the West Coast and was accelerated by a booster engine before the air-breathing scramjet ignited and allowed the vehicle to cruise at speeds higher than Mach 5 for an extended period of time.

This test “successfully demonstrated a second design that will allow our war-fighters to competitively select the right capabilities to dominate the battlefield,” said Andrew Knoedler, HAWC program manager for DARPA.

The forward momentum with the HAWC hypersonic program was contrasted with a major delay in the schedule for the Air Force’s Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) system, which was slated to be the first deployed U.S. hypersonic weapon, with an initial operational date of fiscal year 2022.

An Air Force statement provided to Bloomberg News on April 6 stated that the new operational date has been moved to sometime in the next fiscal year.

The ARRW system failed three flight booster tests, in April, July, and December 2021. The system must successfully complete booster and all-up-round test flights before a contract is awarded to Lockheed Martin to kick-start production.

The Air Force statement noted that, “due to recent flight test anomalies,” the first all-up-round test has been rescheduled to take place between October 1 and December 30 with additional tests later in fiscal year 2023. A January report by the Pentagon’s testing and evaluation office also found that the schedule for the ARRW system “could be delayed due to the limited number and availability of hypersonic flight corridors, target areas, and test support assets.” (See ACT, March 2022.)

The flood of news regarding the development of U.S. hypersonic weapons followed the confirmed Russian use of hypersonic weapons for the first time in combat and the resultant calls by some U.S. officials for the Pentagon to speed up its efforts.

Russia claimed in mid-March that it used Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missiles to destroy an ammunition warehouse in western Ukraine and a fuel depot in southern Ukraine. (See ACT, April 2022.) U.S. Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, head of U.S. European Command, confirmed to the Senate Armed Service Committee at a March 29 hearing that Russian forces have fired “multiple” hypersonic missiles at military targets in Ukraine.

“I think it was to demonstrate the capability and attempt to put fear in the hearts of the enemy,” said Wolters. “I don’t think they were successful.”

Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on April 5 featuring Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, asserted that the United States “is behind our adversaries” with regard to hypersonic weapons, referring to Russia and China.

But Austin cautioned that “we have to be careful” when it comes to claims that the Pentagon is falling behind in developing and deploying these capabilities. “Hypersonics is a capability, but it’s not the only capability,” he responded.

After Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) also claimed that Washington is falling behind in the hypersonic race, Austin questioned the basis for the assertion, asking, “What do you mean we are behind in hypersonics?”

The defense secretary and other Pentagon officials such as Heidi Shyu, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, have met with hypersonics industry executives at least twice this year in order to quicken the pace of hypersonic weapons systems development, which the department has prioritized as a critical technology.

Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States are expanding the focus of their partnership to the development of advanced hypersonics.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Shannon Bugos