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Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
April 2020

Arms Control Today April 2020

Edition Date: 
Wednesday, April 1, 2020
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Pentagon Tests Hypersonic Glide Body

April 2020
By Kingston Reif and Shannon Bugos

The United States successfully tested a common hypersonic glide body (C-HGB) in a flight experiment on March 19 in Hawaii, demonstrating the Trump administration’s intention to match Chinese and Russian weapons advancement. The data collected from the experiment will support the development of several new hypersonic weapons systems, according to the Defense Department.

The Army and Navy jointly conducted the test from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.

A missile carrying a common hypersonic glide body launches from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii on March 19. (Photo: Oscar Sosa/U.S.Navy)“This event is a major milestone towards the department’s goal of fielding hypersonic warfighting capabilities in the early to mid-2020s,” said the Pentagon on March 20.

Hypersonic weapons travel at least five times the speed of sound. Hypersonic glide vehicles are distinguished from traditional ballistic missiles by their ability to maneuver and operate at lower altitudes.

The Pentagon, with the support of Congress, is proposing to accelerate the development of conventionally armed hypersonic glide vehicles and cruise missiles to keep pace with Russia and China as they develop such weapons and to augment U.S. conventional war-fighting capabilities. Some experts, however, have questioned the military rationale for the weapons and warned that they could increase the risk of rapid escalation in a conflict or crisis. (See ACT, January/February 2018.)

The Trump administration is requesting $3.2 billion for fiscal year 2021 to accelerate the development of hypersonic weapons, an increase of $600 million above the previous fiscal year.

The United States has hypersonic weapons programs underway for all of the armed services. The Army is requesting $801 million for the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon system and aims to begin fielding it in fiscal year 2023. The Navy is requesting $1 billion for the Conventional Prompt Strike program and has set a target deployment date of fiscal year 2028.

“The Navy and Army are working closely with industry to develop the C-HGB with Navy as the lead designer, and Army as the lead for production,” said the Pentagon after the flight experiment. “Each service will use the C-HGB, while developing individual weapon systems and launchers tailored for launch from sea or land.”

In addition to the Army and Navy programs, the Air Force is pursuing the Advanced Rapid Response Weapon system, for which it requested $382 million in fiscal year 2021.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) monitored the March 19 test in order to “inform its ongoing development of systems designed to defend against adversary hypersonic weapons.” The MDA asked for $207 million for fiscal year 2021 for developing hypersonic defense technology. (See ACT, March 2020.)

The Defense Department has expressed varying rationales for the development of hypersonic weapons.

Michael Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, told the House Armed Services Committee on March 11 that the United States needs to develop hypersonic weapons “to allow us to match what our adversaries are doing.”

Last October, China included the Dongfeng-17, a medium-range ballistic missile armed with a hypersonic glide vehicle, in a military parade. Last December, Russia announced that it had begun deploying the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle on an existing long-range ballistic missile. (See ACT, January/February 2020.)

The Defense Department has also emphasized a specific military need for hypersonic weapons.

The department said on March 20 that the weapons would provide “the warfighter with an ability to strike targets hundreds and even thousands of miles away, in a matter of minutes, to defeat a wide range of high-value targets.”

“These capabilities,” said Michael White, assistant director for hypersonic weapons in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, “help ensure that our warfighters will maintain the battlefield dominance necessary to deter, and if necessary, defeat any future adversary.”

A March 19 test shows the U.S. aim to keep up or surpass Chinese and Russian technology developments.

U.S. Fuels Growing Arms Market

April 2020
By Jeff Abramson

Although the pace of increase has slowed, the global trend for major conventional weapons trade remains upward, according to a March study released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). In that trade, the United States continues to account for the largest and growing share, with more than half of its weapons delivered to the conflict-torn Middle East.

The SIPRI report, released March 9, measures the volume of trade with a trend indicator value, a metric based on actual deliveries of military equipment rather than just financial value, and compares five-year periods as a way to measure change. It found that the volume of international trade had increased 5.5 percent during 2015–2019 compared to five years earlier, and 20 percent compared to 2005–2009.

The United States accounted for 36 percent of exports, up from 31 percent during 2010–2014, with identified exports of major arms to 96 states.

Russia, the only other country accounting for more than 10 percent of global exports, had 47 client states and provided 21 percent of global arms, down from 27 percent in the previous period. China, at fifth largest, was responsible for 5.5 percent of exports in each period, with Pakistan accounting for more than a third of the volume of its exports among 51 clients in the past five years.

Saudi Arabia and the Middle East

In justifying arms and other trade with Saudi Arabia, U.S. President Donald Trump pointed to Russia and China as countries likely to replace the United States should it discontinue trade with the Middle Eastern kingdom. More broadly, his administration has elevated economic considerations and argued for greater governmental involvement and faster approval of arms sales as critical to U.S. competition in the arms trade. The SIPRI findings suggest that rather than the United States losing its place, it is expanding its share of global arms trade.

The arms trade, especially to the Middle East, continues to be controversial domestically and internationally. Countries in that region imported 61 percent more arms during 2015–2019 compared to five years earlier, with Saudi Arabia now both the region’s and the world’s top arms importer.

Washington supplied nearly three-quarters of weapons exports to Riyadh in that period, including combat aircraft and large numbers of missiles and guided bombs. It is unclear how much of the nearly $8 billion in arms for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been delivered since Trump used emergency provisions in the Arms Export Control Act to waive congressional notification requirements last May, then used vetoes to override three congressional resolutions of disapproval in July. (See ACT, September 2019.) His administration has yet to notify Congress of any new sales via the foreign military sales program to either country since then.

A number of European countries have stopped arms deals with Saudi Arabia out of concern over the nation’s use of weapons in Yemen, where five years of war have exacerbated a humanitarian crisis. In March, Belgium took new steps to suspend export licenses, and Germany renewed preexisting holds.

In the United Kingdom, an appeals court ruled in May that the country had not properly accounted for possible harm in making arms trade decisions. In December, a group of civil society organizations presented a dossier to the International Criminal Court in an effort to convince that body to investigate European arms suppliers.

India Arms Trade Changes

Cross-border attacks in early 2019 involving India and Pakistan using weapons provided by an array of countries, including the United States, drew international attention to the arms trade involving the long-time rivals. Generally, however, trade with India has not raised the same concerns as that with Middle Eastern states.

India, which until two years ago had been listed as the world’s largest arms importer, now is second largest, accounting for 9.2 percent of global arms imports, according to SIPRI. Russia remains the country’s top supplier, providing 56 percent of arms deliveries, down from 72 percent during the earlier five-year period. The United States, which was India's second-largest arms supplier in 2010–2014, delivered half as many weapons to New Delhi in 2015–2019 as Israel and France provided the second- and third-most weapons to the country, with a combined 26 percent.

That position may change. On Feb. 25 during a visit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, Trump announced $3 billion in arms agreements, saying they “will enhance our joint defense capabilities as our militaries continue to train and operate side by side.” In total during 2019-2020, the Trump administration has notified Congress of more than $6.3 billion in potential foreign military sales to New Delhi.

Some members of Congress have raised alarm about India’s actions in Kashmir and its treatment of Muslims, drawing the defense trade into the debate. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted on March 2, “President Trump is engaging in arms deals with Modi while his administration is ethnically cleansing the country’s religious minorities. We must not enable this rise in sectarian violence.”

Global arms transfers continue to grow, with Washington providing more than one-third of them.

North Korea Tests First Missiles of 2020

April 2020
By Julia Masterson

North Korea launched a series of short-range missiles in March, marking its first missile tests in 2020 and signaling Pyongyang’s intent to follow through with leader Kim Jong Un’s promise to possess a “new strategic weapon” in the near future. Kim announced North Korea would continue to develop “necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons” throughout the year in his speech at a plenary meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Worker's Party of Korea, held Dec. 28–31.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observes missile tests on March 21. (Photo: KCNA)Images released by Pyongyang’s Korea Central TV confirm that the two short-range ballistic missiles launched on March 21 had similar features to the KN-24 missile last tested in August 2019. Kim oversaw the recent test, according to a March 22 statement in the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The statement said that the tested missile will “be delivered to [Korean Peoples’ Army] units,” which analysts have speculated may indicate the missile could soon be operational. In a statement a day earlier, KCNA reported the launches were part of an “artillery fire competition between large combined units of the Korean People’s Army.”

The launch came after weeks of successive short-range ballistic missile tests by North Korea following a Feb. 29 KCNA announcement that Kim had overseen a military drill intended to “judge the mobility and the fire power strike ability” of North Korea’s Korean People’s Army’s defense units.

All the March tests appear to have been of short-range ballistic missiles, meaning they can fly less than 500 kilometers. Two missiles launched on March 2 bore some similarity to previous flight tests of North Korea’s KN-25 short-range ballistic missile, according to Michael Elleman, a missile expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). A statement released on March 2 by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) via the Yonhap News Agency further identified “similarities in features between what it fired [March 2] and those launched last year.”

North Korea also tested three projectiles on March 9, all of which were KN-25 missiles, according to recently released IISS assessments.

“North Korea is believed to be continuing its joint strike drill,” said a senior South Korean JCS officer. Kim oversaw the March 9 launches and expressed “great satisfaction” and “highly appreciated the perfect combat readiness of the long-range artillery sub-units,” the KCNA reported the following day.

Those tests came one day after the North Korean Foreign Ministry responded through the KCNA to a joint statement released by five UN Security Council members condemning the March 2 launches. “The reckless behavior of these countries instigated by the U.S. will become the fuse that will trigger yet another momentous reaction,” the Foreign Ministry said.

After a March 5 meeting of the Security Council, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom urged North Korea to “engage in good faith in meaningful negotiations with the United States aimed at denuclearization” and to abandon “all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner.”

South Korea’s presidential office said on March 9 that “North Korea continuing to stage joint massive artillery drills following those on Feb. 28 and March 2 does not help efforts to bring peace to the Korean peninsula.”

Despite allies’ mention of meaningful negotiations between the United States and North Korea, discussions on denuclearization and peacebuilding appear to remain stalled. (See ACT, March 2020).


Pyongyang tests short-range missiles in military exercises.

Budget Would Slash Nunn-Lugar Program

April 2020
By Kingston Reif

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget request proposes to slash funding for the Defense Department’s flagship program to counter weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and related threats, including dangerous pathogens such as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Vayl Oxford, director of the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, told U.S. lawmakers in February that CTR assistance helped Thailand identify its first case of novel coronavirus exposure in January. (Photo: Defense Department)The submission has prompted alarm from members of Congress, former government officials, and nuclear security experts who argue that the program remains a key lynchpin of the U.S. effort to work with allies and partners to combat chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear dangers.

The Pentagon is asking for $239 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, commonly known by the names of the authors of the 1991 legislation that established the effort, Sens. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). This amount would be a decrease of $135 million, or 36 percent, below the fiscal year 2020 appropriation and $95.5 million, or 29 percent, below what the Pentagon planned to request for the program as of last year.

The request would cut the program’s efforts to reduce the proliferation of biological weapons and facilitate detection and reporting of diseases caused by especially dangerous pathogens by $76 million, or 37 percent, below last year’s enacted level.

Critics argue that cutting the budget for a global program to secure dangerous pathogens would be foolish, especially during a global pandemic such as the one that has ensued after the appearance of the novel coronavirus in late 2019.

“In a time when the United States is struggling to respond to the spread of COVID-19, a highly infectious new virus, we are alarmed by the [Defense] Department’s significant reduction in the budget request for a mission of detecting and confronting biological threats to the United States,” House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told Arms Control Today.

Laura Holgate, vice president for material risk management at the Nuclear Threat Initiative and a former White House National Security Council official, echoed similar concerns.

The CTR budget request “is at odds with…the current biological crisis at home and around the world,” she said in an interview.

Congress last year increased the budget for the CTR program by $35 million, or 10 percent, above the administration’s request.

Since its inception, the program has assisted in the deactivation of thousands of former Soviet nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles, the securing of countless biological pathogens, and the destruction of thousands of tons of chemical weapons agents.

The program’s initial focus of eliminating nuclear weapons in former Soviet states expanded over time to address securing nuclear, chemical, and biological materials around the world.

Vayl Oxford, the director of the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, told lawmakers on Feb. 11 that the surveillance and detection assistance provided by the CTR program helped Thailand identify “the first case of a novel coronavirus on Jan. 13, 2020, only days after its initial discovery in Wuhan, China.”

The program “has been one of the Pentagon’s best, most cost-effective investments,” Jay Branegan, a senior fellow at The Lugar Center, said in a March 20 interview. The center is a nonpartisan think tank founded by Lugar.

The proposed budget cut for the program was the result of an internal review led by Defense Secretary Mark Esper to identify savings that could be spent on higher-priority nuclear and conventional weapons systems modernization efforts.

In a January 2020 report to Congress, Esper said that the cut reduces “the Cooperative Threat Reduction program by eliminating efforts for low-to-near zero probability threats.”

A Pentagon official told Defense News in February that the program had “turned into partnership building, capacity building far beyond the program’s original mission.”

“So then we had to ask the question in those areas, is that more impotent than hypersonics?” the official said, referring to the Pentagon’s effort to accelerate the development of new hypersonic missiles. “In a lot of those cases we said no, hypersonics is more important than that.”

Other governmental programs to secure WMD materials would fare better under the budget proposal.

The Trump administration is asking for $1.5 billion for core nuclear security and nonproliferation programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) for fiscal year 2021, an increase of about $30 million above the fiscal year 2020 appropriation and $80 million above what the agency planned to request as of last year.

The largest proposed increase is for the Material Management and Minimization program, which supports the removal of civilian highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium around the world and converts HEU-fueled research reactors and medical isotope production facilities to the use of low-enriched uranium. The program would get $401 million, a $37 million increase from the fiscal year 2020 appropriation.

The Global Material Security program, which has the task of improving the security of nuclear materials around the world, securing orphaned or disused radiological sources, and strengthening nuclear smuggling detection and deterrence, would receive $400 million, a decrease of $42 million from the fiscal year 2020 appropriation.

“In an extremely difficult budget environment, the Trump administration deserves praise for protecting much of the funding for [NNSA] nuclear security programs in this year’s budget request,” said Nickolas Roth, nuclear security program director at the Stimson Center.

Roth noted, however, that the proposed budget is still less than what was projected to be spent on these programs before the Trump administration took office.

Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee that oversees the NNSA’s nuclear weapons and nonproliferation work, expressed concern about the cut to the Global Material Security program at a March 4 hearing on the agency’s budget request.

“In addition to rectifying this, I also believe we need to take a fresh look at emerging threats as nuclear technologies evolve and as nations try to acquire them,” she said.

During the first three years of the Trump administration, Congress provided almost $470 million more than what the administration requested for core NNSA nuclear security and nonproliferation programs.

The administration is requesting $149 million for fiscal year 2021 to continue to pursue the “dilute and dispose” strategy to dispose of 34 metric tons of surplus plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons program. The strategy is a less expensive alternative to the now-terminated mixed-oxide fuel facility.

The Trump administration is seeking to cut funds to cooperative threat reduction activities by 36 percent.

India Intercepts Suspected Missile Gear

April 2020
By Kelsey Davenport

India seized Chinese-manufactured equipment bound for Pakistan in February that officials claimed could be used for Islamabad’s ballistic missile program.

A solid-fuel Shaheen 2 missile is displayed in a Pakistani military parade in March 2018. On Feb. 3, Indian authorities confiscated equipment they said was bound for Pakistan's missile program (Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP/Getty Images)India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) said that an industrial autoclave was found on a ship that left Jiangyin Port, China and was headed to Karachi, Pakistan. The ship was detained in India’s Kandla Port on Feb. 3 when the autoclave was confiscated on the basis of an intelligence tip-off, according to Indian officials quoted in the press. The ship was then allowed to continue to Pakistan.

The DRDO said the autoclave seized from the ship was listed as an industrial dryer. Autoclaves are a dual-use technology that can be used in the production of rocket motors for ballistic missiles. India passed a law in 2005 that prohibits the trans-shipment of materials and technologies relevant to developing weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian disputed the Indian description of the seized machine and said on March 5 that it was a heat-treating furnace, not an autoclave. Zhao said that the furnace “is by no means a piece of military equipment or a dual-use item,” and therefore not subject to nonproliferation export controls.

He said that the machine was produced by a private company in China and was declared correctly.

“As a responsible major country, China has been strictly fulfilling the international nonproliferation obligations and international commitments,” he said.

The U.S. intelligence community has documented Chinese support for Pakistan’s ballistic missile program in the past. China has also provided essential technology to Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.

Indian authorities confiscated equipment they said was intended for Pakistan’s missile program.

Firearms Export Changes Partially Blocked

April 2020

Despite opposition from some members of Congress and a wide range of civil society groups, Trump administration changes to its oversight of certain firearms exports took effect in March. A federal district judge, however, issued a temporary injunction on portions of the rules that deal with 3D gun-printing plans.

The rules came into effect on Mar. 9, despite congressional efforts such as those of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who had twice sought holds on the new rules in 2019. The new system transfers overall authority for the export of certain types of semiautomatic and other firearms and their ammunition to the Commerce Department from the State Department. (See ACT, March 2020.) Renewing a letter delivered in May 2019 from more than 100 civil society organizations, 23 groups sent a message to Congress on March 4 encouraging them to stop or reverse the changes, arguing that the new rules “will thwart congressional oversight and exacerbate gun violence, human rights abuses, and armed conflict around the world.”

On March 6, Judge Richard Jones in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ordered a preliminary injunction in a case filed by more than 20 state attorneys general that sought to block all the changes. Jones limited the injunction to prohibit changes to how online 3D printing plans for firearms, sometimes called “ghost guns,” are regulated.

Some of the attorneys general criticized the president’s efforts. “If the Trump administration has its way, these ghost guns will be available to anyone regardless of age, mental health or criminal history…. We will keep fighting back against this unlawful, dangerous policy,” said Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson on March 9.—JEFF ABRAMSON

Firearms Export Changes Partially Blocked

Court Ends Final Bid to Save MOX Program

April 2020

A U.S. federal court dealt the final blow Feb. 20 to a troubled project at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina that would have converted surplus plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons program into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for nuclear power plants.

The H Canyon at the Savannah River Site had been intended to participate in the process to produce mixed-oxide fuel from surplus U.S. plutonium. (Photo: Energy Department)Judge J. Michelle Childs of the U.S. District Court in South Carolina formally terminated a lawsuit brought by the state in 2018 after the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced it would end construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Plant at the site.

Construction on the plant began in 2007 to implement a U.S.-Russian agreement for each nation to dispose of 34 metric tons of plutonium deemed unneeded by their nuclear weapons programs. Following years of cost overruns and scheduling delays, the Obama administration decided to end the project’s funding in 2016, sparking a backlash from lawmakers in South Carolina. Russia withdrew from the agreement later that year, citing U.S. noncompliance.

After U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry signaled in May 2018 that the department would scrap the project in favor of a less expensive alternative, South Carolina sued to prevent the site’s shutdown, winning a brief injunction. (See ACT, June 2018.) A federal appeals court later ruled in the department’s favor, and the Supreme Court declined to hear South Carolina’s appeal of that decision, leading Childs to put a end to the suit.

The Energy Department is now planning to adapt the MOX fuel facility to join Los Alamos National Laboratory in the annual production of at least 80 plutonium pits, the cores of nuclear weapons, by 2030. The department aims for the planned Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility to produce at least 50 plutonium cores per year by 2030.—PERI MEYERS

Court Ends Final Bid to Save MOX Program

Wassenaar Nations Set New Export Controls

April 2020

Transfers of military-grade software and chip manufacturing technology will face increased scrutiny following an amendment to the Wassenaar Arrangement, an international export control regime.

Established in 1996 and now numbering 42 nations that apply the voluntary trade restrictions, the Wassenaar Arrangement restricts the export of certain conventional weapons, dual-use goods and other technology. Its members include France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. Notable nations not participating include China, Iran, Israel, and North Korea.

At their 25th annual plenary meeting in December in Vienna, members agreed unanimously to adopt new export controls in such areas as cyberwarfare software, communications monitoring, digital investigative tools and forensic systems, suborbital aerospace vehicles, technology for the production of substrates for high-end integrated circuits, hybrid machine tools, and lithography equipment and technology.

In addition, the nations clarified existing export control measures regarding ballistic protection, optical sensors, ball bearings, and inorganic fibrous and filamentary materials. They also relaxed some controls, including those with respect to certain laminates and commercial components with embedded cryptography.

The enhanced export restrictions might affect sales by forensic cybersecurity and chip manufacturing companies, according to articles from Kyodo News and Haaretz.—PERI MEYERS

Wassenaar Nations Set New Export Controls


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