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"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
June 2022

Arms Control Today June 2022

Edition Date: 
Wednesday, June 1, 2022
Cover Image: 

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.

Emphasis Intensifies on Unmanned Systems


June 2022
By Michael Klare

Running throughout the Defense Department budget request for fiscal year 2023 is the widespread expectation that unmanned weapons systems, such as drone ships, planes, and ground vehicles, will play an increasing role in future U.S. military planning. There is no single heading for such systems in the overall budget, but each military service incorporates unmanned weapons systems of one sort or another in its individual request.

An MQ-25 Stingray drone, which is to be deployed on carriers and perform refueling and surveillance functions, was tested in December 2021 while underway aboard USS George H.W. Bush. (Boeing Photo/ Tim Reinhart)The proposed budget, released April 15, also includes substantial funding for research on artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, automated command and control, and other technologies related to the development of unmanned systems.

Unmanned weapons, the budget documents indicate, will replace or supplement manned systems in a growing array of combat tasks. The Air Force, for example, speaks of its Next Generation Air Dominance program, which is to incorporate advanced drone aircraft serving alongside next-generation fighter planes. This program, it says, will provide “survivable, persistent, and lethal options through a mix of manned, unmanned, and optionally-manned aircraft.”

The Pentagon’s request for research, development, testing, and evaluation includes $1.7 billion for this program, but how that money will be spent is not explained. The Air Force request also includes $187 million for enhancements to the MQ-9 Reaper combat drone and $111 million for work on the MQ-4C Triton high-altitude surveillance drone.

As with the Air Force, the Navy projects a widening role for unmanned systems in its future combat formations. “Unmanned platforms play a vital role in our future fleet,” it affirmed in the defense budget overview. “Successfully integrating unmanned platforms—under, on, and above the sea—gives our commanders better options to fight and win in contested spaces.”

To supplement conventional, human-crewed warships in future naval contests, the Navy is developing prototypes for a medium and a large unmanned surface vessel. Each is to serve as a model for a “reconfigurable, multi-mission vessel designed…for unmanned missions [to] augment the Navy’s manned surface force,” the Pentagon’s request states. The Navy is seeking $339 million for continued development of these vessels in 2023, with an additional $61 million for unmanned undersea vessels.

In addition, the Navy requested $1.2 billion for the MQ-25 Stingray drone, which is to be deployed on carriers and perform aerial refueling and surveillance functions. The request also incorporates $748 million to procure an initial batch of four MQ-25s, $758 million for three MQ-4Cs, and $190 million for five MQ-9s.

Like its sister services, the Army emphasized the integration of unmanned systems into its future combat formations, requesting $116 million for a tactical unmanned ground vehicle and millions more for research on related technologies.

The Pentagon request also seeks increased investment in advanced computing and information technologies, particularly those, such as AI, that can be incorporated into automated command-and-control systems. To support research on the underlying technologies, the request includes $1.1 billion for “core AI.” It also provides substantial funds for automated command-and-control systems that will incorporate these technologies, including the Air Force’s advanced battlefield management system, which is budgeted at $231 million in 2023.

 

The Pentagon expects that unmanned drones, ships, planes, and ground vehicles will play an increasing role in U.S. military planning.

New South Korean President Faces Old Challenge


June 2022
By Kelsey Davenport

The new South Korean president has pledged to help strengthen the North Korean economy if Pyongyang denuclearizes, but a recent spate of missile tests suggests that North Korean leaders will continue advancing the country’s nuclear weapons program.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (R) and U.S. President Joe Biden hold a press conference in Seoul in May after meetings that focused on North Korea's accelerating nuclear weapons program among other issues. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)In his May 10 inaugural address, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said that he is prepared to “present an audacious plan that will vastly strengthen North Korea’s economy and improve the quality of life for its people” if the North “genuinely embarks on a process to complete denuclearization.”

The “door to dialogue will remain open so that we can peacefully resolve” the threat that North Korean nuclear weapons pose to South Korea and the region, Yoon said.

But he did not call specifically for a resumption of negotiations with the North, a move that his liberal predecessor, Moon Jae-in, encouraged in his farewell speech. Moon said on May 8 that he hoped “efforts to resume dialogue between South and North Korea and establish denuclearization and peace would continue” under Yoon.

Moon’s meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018 helped lay the groundwork for the historic summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in June 2018. (See ACT, July/August 2018.) Although bilateral dialogue between Moon and Kim yielded important advances, including military confidence-building measures along the Demilitarized Zone, Moon’s progress was hampered by U.S. and UN sanctions that prevented him from pursuing certain inter-Korean projects.

In his farewell address, Moon alluded to external factors as the reason why the inter-Korean process failed to achieve more, saying that there was a “barrier that we can’t overcome with only our determination.”

Even if Yoon were to make a more direct offer to resume talks with North Korea, it might not get anywhere. Kim ordered an aggressive lockdown in response to the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak in May. North Korea has conducted a total of 20 ballistic missile tests this year, including on May 24. That was right after U.S. President Joe Biden met Yoon in Seoul and displayed a somewhat tougher line toward North Korea. Together, these factors suggest that North Korea will continue to focus inward and ignore U.S. and South Korean overtures for negotiations.

South Korea’s recent military advances are likely a partial cause of North Korea’s recent missile activity.

While the Moon administration pursued diplomacy with North Korea, it extended the range of South Korean ballistic missile systems and began investing in other defensive systems, such as more advanced radar to detect incoming missile attacks.

The South Korean Agency for Defense Development announced on May 11 that Seoul completed the development of an advanced radar that can detect and track multiple incoming warheads and differentiate between warheads and other missile debris. The press statement said the system is necessary for “independent, domestic air defense operations” designed to counter the “increasing threat of ballistic missiles.”

South Korean missile developments are just part of a regional arms race that has accelerated over the past several years.

North Korea’s recent missile tests, the majority of which involved short- and medium-range systems, suggest that Pyongyang is responding to a changing regional security environment and to South Korean investment in missile defenses.

The South Korean military confirmed that North Korea tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on May 7 near the Sinpo submarine base. The missile flew 370 miles. The SLBM appears to be a model that North Korea tested in October, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry. North Korea also launched a missile from near Pyongyang on May 4 that flew nearly 300 miles.

The new South Korean defense minister, Lee Jong-sup, said the security situation on the Korean peninsula is “extremely grave due to North Korea’s advancing missile threats and the possibility of a nuclear test.” He said South Korea’s military would respond “sternly and immediately” to any direct North Korean provocations.

Although North Korean ballistic missile tests violate UN Security Council resolutions, tensions among members of that body prevented any response to the recent tests.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said it was time for the international community to “stop providing tacit permission and start taking action.”

The council “has stayed silent” because two members argued that restraint will encourage North Korea to “stop escalating and instead come to the negotiating table,” but the opposite has happened, she said during a May 11 council meeting.

Thomas-Greenfield was likely referring to Russia and China, which have opposed new sanctions targeting North Korea, despite its persistent violations of Security Council resolutions.

She called for strengthening sanctions on North Korea, saying the body needs to “speak up now” and not wait for further illegal action by North Korea.

Zhang Jun, China’s UN ambassador, said that “talking is better than coercive measures” and that tightening sanctions now could further escalate tensions.

Yoon Suk Yeol pledged to help strengthen the North Korean economy if Pyongyang denuclearizes.

Space Security Working Group Meets


June 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

The first meeting of the working group on reducing space threats was held May 9–13 in Geneva. The forum was mandated by a UN General Assembly resolution approved in December to promote “norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviors” in space. (See ACT, December 2021.) Earlier this year, Russia raised procedural objections that delayed the scheduling of the meeting, but Russia participated in this session.

Members of the space security working group launched their first meeting in May at UN headquarters in Geneva.  (Photo courtesy of the UN)The 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits the placement of nuclear weapons in space, but there are no restrictions on other types of weapons in that domain. Efforts to launch talks that might produce new understandings on maintaining the peaceful use of space have been stymied for years. The working group discussions reflected ongoing differences in emphasis and approaches to the issue, but also showed there is growing pressure for tangible results.

“We are trying to have a positive momentum in this process…because it is in everybody’s interest, and so far, we have achieved that. We see that there is big engagement and interest in moving things forward,” Hellmut Lagos of Chile, chair of the Open-Ended Working Group on Reducing Space Threats, said on May 13.

In April, the United States announced it would “not…conduct destructive, direct-ascent [anti-satellite (ASAT)] missile testing, and that [it] seeks to establish this as a new international norm for responsible behavior in space.” The initiative has received support from other states.

On May 9, the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations in Geneva issued a statement pledging that Canada would join the ASAT ban. “For 40 years [Canada] has advocated for a halt to [ASAT] tests. Today we joined the U.S. pledge not to conduct destructive ASAT missile testing. We encourage all states to join so that together we can make this a global norm,” the Canadian statement said.

To date, Russia, China, the United States, and India have demonstrated the ability to destroy satellites with ground- or air-launched missiles, which produce dangerous space debris that can threaten orbiting satellites and represent counterspace activities that threaten international stability and security. Russia and China have long advocated for a treaty to prevent an arms race in outer space, which would focus on barring weapons in space, while other states have sought approaches that prevent actions that harm objects in space from any source.

In a statement on behalf of his government, Aidan Liddle, UK ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, said on May 9 that the United Kingdom “believes that framing this problem in terms of norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviors—that is, on the actions, activities or omissions of states rather than the capabilities themselves, many of which are dual purpose or hard to effectively verify—is more likely to lead to solutions.”

Referring to Russia and China, Liddle added that “[w]e recognize that many delegations want those solutions to be enshrined in a legally binding treaty. We hope that this will be possible. History has shown that successful legal instruments are usually the result of an iterative process, such as this one. So, the responsible behaviors approach is not a prescription for moving slowly but a way to get the journey started.”

The working group will meet again in September with a focus on “current and future threats by states to space systems, and actions, activities and omissions that could be considered irresponsible.” In 2023 the working group will begin preparing its recommendations to the UN General Assembly.

The forum was mandated by the UN General Assembly to promote “responsible behaviors” in space.

U.S. Seeks to Speed Chemical Weapons Destruction


June 2022
By Leanne Quinn

The Defense Department program responsible for eliminating the last vestiges of the U.S. chemical weapons arsenal hit a milestone in April when it completed destruction of the government’s stockpile of deadly VX agent at a facility in Kentucky. The program is now seeking regulatory approval for a new plan to speed destruction activities at the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Colorado.

Operators move rockets containing VX nerve agent from a pallet to a transfer cart to begin the destruction process at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Kentucky. The rockets were among the last with VX in the U.S. stockpile to be destroyed. The U.S. Defense Department is now trying to speed up the destruction of chemical weapons at a site in Pueblo, Colorado.  (Photo courtesy of Bechtel)Under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the United States is obligated to destroy its chemical weapons by September 2023. That goal was advanced when the Defense Department’s Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program destroyed the last M55 rocket containing the nerve agent VX at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Richmond, Ky. on April 19. The program’s proposed plan to accelerate destruction operations at the Colorado facility seeks to counteract slow munitions processing rates that could make it difficult to meet the CWC deadline for destroying all U.S. chemical weapons.

Originally, more than 523 tons of mustard and nerve agent were stored in rockets and projectiles at the Blue Grass plant. The milestone in April marked the complete destruction of the U.S. VX arsenal, and the completion of four out of five destruction campaigns at the Kentucky facility. The final campaign will undertake the destruction of the remaining 277 tons of GB nerve agent in M55 rockets.

The Colorado site employs multiple technical processes to destroy the chemical munitions and agents stored at nearby Pueblo Army Depot. Since operations began in September 2016, the site has destroyed 2,255 tons of the 2,600 tons of various chemical munitions originally stored at the depot.

At an April 27 public meeting of the Colorado Chemical Demilitarization Citizens’ Advisory Commission, Walton Levi, project manager at the Pueblo site, announced the possibility of speeding up the destruction by processing some of the 4.2-inch mortar rounds in the main plant in addition to three static detonation chambers.

“We can run [4.2-inch mortar rounds] in the main plant. That gives us some greater certainty that we will meet the treaty deadline,” Levi said. But he said the plan still needs to be formally approved and permitted by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

According to the Pentagon’s program office, the Colorado stockpile initially consisted of three chemical munitions types: 155mm and 105mm projectiles and 4.2-inch mortar rounds, all containing mustard agent. The pilot plant has used neutralization followed by biotreatment to destroy the majority of its 155mm and 105mm projectiles. A limited number of problematic munitions have been destroyed in detonation chambers. The destruction of the 155mm weapons was completed in September 2020, and program officials estimate that the destruction campaign for the 105mm projectiles will finish in July.

The majority of the 4.2-inch mortar rounds originally were slated to be eliminated by three static detonation chambers, which use thermal heating to detonate or deflagrate munitions, mustard agents, and explosive components. The trial burn testing finished on May 13, and, according to John Jackson, deputy plant manager for the static destruction chambers, the site will “continue to process [4.2-inch mortar rounds] at 50 percent rates on one [static destruction chamber] unit at a time.” Nearly 2,000 mortar rounds have been destroyed, but thousands more remain.

At the current pace, the static detonation chambers at the Colorado plant could delay the destruction of the remaining portion of the U.S. declared chemical weapons stockpile past the September 2023 deadline. Downtime, maintenance, or a 5-day week operating schedule could extend the time needed to finish the destruction activities, but processing some munitions in the main plant could help alleviate the issue.

Levi said that the plant team is “leaning forward as a program and a project to be ready when and if that [permit] decision is made.” The team is working on a “plug-in and operate” design to process the 4.2 inch mortar rounds in the main plant so that they can hit the ground running by late summer.

 

A Pentagon program eliminated the last U.S. VX agent weapons but still must destroy others.

U.S. Cites Arms Control Compliance Concerns


June 2022
By Gabriela Rosa Hernández & Leanne Quinn

Iran, Myanmar, Russia, and Syria have failed to uphold their commitments under the treaty banning chemical weapons, the U.S. State Department said in its annual compliance report on international nonproliferation and disarmament agreements and commitments released in April.

Three entities in China, a major producer of weapons such as this DF-5B intercontinental ballistic missile, were sanctioned by the United States in 2021 for providing goods and technology to Iran, North Korea and Syria that could assist in developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, according to a U.S. State Department report. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)The report, covering activities in 2021, reaffirmed U.S. concerns about activities at nuclear test sites in China and Russia and determined that North Korea and Syria have failed to comply with their obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Although there are questions regarding transparency, the report reaffirmed that “Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities…necessary to produce a nuclear device.”

But Iran has continued to develop stocks of enriched uranium that are vital to produce sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon, as it has since after the United States withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The report also found that “Iran’s continued failure to fully cooperate with the [International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)] ongoing safeguards investigations raises concerns with regard to Iran’s compliance with its obligation to accept safeguards” under the NPT.

In a separate report monitoring international compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the State Department said that “Russia retains an undeclared chemical weapons program and has used chemical weapons twice in recent years,” referring to the assassination attempts on Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Russia and Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the United Kingdom. Sergei Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer.

The supplementary report was unable to reach a conclusion regarding whether China has fully met its obligations under the CWC due to China’s research into pharmaceutical-based agents and toxins with potential dual-use applications. The State Department also found that Russia, China, and North Korea have failed to comply with their commitments under the treaty prohibiting the use of biological weapons.

In regard to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the main report said the United States continues to adhere to a zero-yield standard. Although there were no new compliance developments involving Russia in 2021, the department repeated previous concerns that Russia “conducted supercritical nuclear weapons tests since renewing its nuclear explosive testing moratorium in 1996 and [that] concerns remain due to the uncertainty relating to activities at Novaya Zemlya,” one of two major former Soviet nuclear test sites. As for China, the reports identified no new compliance issues, but concerns remain about activities at the Lop Nur Nuclear Test Site.

Meanwhile, Syria and North Korea remain in outright violation of their NPT obligations. In Syria’s case, this includes refusing to provide any substantive information to the IAEA about the Al-Kibar reactor that was destroyed during an Israeli airstrike in 2007.

As for North Korea, the State Department said, “Irrespective of one’s interpretation of whether or not [North Korea’s] 2003 notice of withdrawal from the NPT became legally effective, [North Korea] remains subject to IAEA safeguards obligations” and has failed to comply.

China also has failed to adhere to its November 2000 commitment not to assist any country in developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. “In 2021, the United States imposed sanctions against three [Chinese] entities pursuant to the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act for transfers of proliferation-sensitive goods and technology,” the report said, without giving more details.

Russia was found in compliance with its obligations under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and with its Presidential Nuclear Initiatives obligations. (See ACT, April 2022.) The initiatives are a set of arms control agreements regarding tactical nuclear warheads.

In terms of conventional arms control agreements, the 2022 report does not include a section on the Open Skies Treaty, in contrast to its 2021 iteration, because the United States officially withdrew from the accord in November 2020. (See ACT, December 2020.)

The report accused Russia of selectively applying provisions of the Vienna Document, an agreement about confidence- and security-building measures in Europe that provides for the exchange and verification of information, and criticized Russia’s failure to respond to Ukraine’s inquiry regarding the Russian military buildup near the Ukrainian border in 2021.

“As of December 2021, Russia continued and intensified its military build-up and aggressive rhetoric towards Ukraine. While further information about Russian activities in 2022 will be covered in detail in the 2023 report, the United States now knows the build-up was a prelude to offensive action against Ukraine,” the report states.

 

 

Iran, Myanmar, Russia and Syria failed to uphold chemical weapons treaty commitments, the State Department reported.

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