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"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
September 2022
Edition Date: 
Thursday, September 1, 2022
Cover Image: 

Russia Further Pauses New START Inspections


September 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Russia informed the United States in August of its decision to prohibit on-site inspections of its nuclear weapons-related facilities subject to the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), even as the leaders of both countries, at a major international meeting at the United Nations, emphasized the importance of avoiding nuclear war.

Intercontinental ballistic missiles such as this Russian Topol system, shown outside Moscow in 2008, will be off-limits to U.S. inspectors if Russia follows through on its threat to prohibit on-site inspections of nuclear-related weapons facilities that are now required under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. (Photo by Dima Korotayev/AFP via Getty Images)The Russian Foreign Ministry claimed in an Aug. 8 statement that Moscow resorted to this move in response to Washington’s attempt to hold inspections “on conditions that do not take into account existing realities and are creating unilateral advantages for the United States.” The ministry said that the United States attempted to conduct an inspection without prior notice and with ongoing unresolved issues.

The U.S. State Department commented on Russia’s decision by saying that “we keep discussion between the parties concerning treaty implementation confidential.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council commented that “[r]esuming mutually beneficial inspections under New START is a key part of our cooperation that must continue, even where geopolitical tensions are high.”

The on-site inspections allowed under New START’s verification regime have been paused since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the two countries have been in talks for about a year on how to safely resume treaty activities. Russia’s official withdrawal of its facilities subject to the treaty mandates will further delay a potential resumption of inspections.

Russia has protested that its flight crew and inspectors have faced difficulties in receiving visas and obtaining permission to enter airspace from the United States and its allies in order to travel and conduct inspections.

Just days prior to Russia’s announcement, the U.S. and Russian presidents issued remarks in support of reducing the risk of nuclear war at the start of the month-long review conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at the UN.

“We believe that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, and we stand for equal and indivisible security for all members of the world community,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Aug. 1.

That same day, U.S. President Joe Biden emphasized that Washington is “ready to expeditiously negotiate a new arms control framework to replace New START when it expires in 2026.”

“But negotiation requires a willing partner operating in good faith,” he added, noting that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made this challenging.

The United States and Russia last met for a round of their bilateral strategic stability dialogue, which includes discussions on arms control, in January. (See ACT, March 2022.) Whether they will resume arms control talks in that format or in more formal negotiations remains to be seen.

The two countries have continued to trade data on their respective nuclear forces as required by New START, with the last exchange in March and the next scheduled for September. (See ACT, May 2022.)

They also have continued to exchange various notifications on the status and basing or facility assignment of their respective strategic forces, for a total of 24,296 notifications as of Aug. 18. The notification system recently was seen in action in April, when Russia alerted the United States prior to a test of its new nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile called the Sarmat.

The Russian move could unravel the last remaining treaty restraining Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear arsenals.

China Showcases Hypersonic Weapon Near Taiwan, U.S. Tests


September 2022
By Shannon Bugos

The United States completed tests for four different hypersonic weapon prototype systems this past summer, with one failure and three successes. Securing wins in hypersonic weapons development has been a major priority for the U.S. Defense Department in its quest to catch up to China, which recently launched a hypersonic glide vehicle in an exercise near Taiwan, and Russia, which used hypersonics for the first time in warfare in Ukraine.

In late May, the Operational Fires (OpFires) program run by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) successfully executed its first flight test of a hypersonic weapon at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. (Photo courtesy of DARPA)Members of Congress have repeatedly expressed dismay with the Pentagon’s perceived lack of advancement in the development and deployment of new hypersonic weapons. Russia first deployed a hypersonic short-range ballistic missile, the Kinzhal, in 2017 and a hypersonic boost-glide vehicle, the Avangard, in 2019. China followed in 2020 by deploying the Dongfeng-17 (DF-17) system, a road-mobile hypersonic boost-glide system.

“What we are concerned about is falling behind” in the deployment of new hypersonic weapons capabilities, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) told Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall in a May hearing.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has taken issue with that narrative, explaining in April that “hypersonics is a capability, but it’s not the only capability.”

After three testing failures in 2021, the Air Force’s Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) system conducted two consecutive successful flight tests in May and July. (See ACT, June 2022.)

The ARRW system, slated to be the first deployed U.S. hypersonic weapon, completed its primary and secondary objectives during the most recent test, according to an Air Force statement.

“We have now completed our booster test series and are ready to move forward to all-up-round testing later this year,” said Maj. Gen. Heath Collins, the program executive officer for weapons in the Air Force.

Nevertheless, the service is still determining what mix of capabilities it requires to counter U.S. adversaries and how hypersonic weapons, such as the ARRW system, fit into that equation.

“Obviously, you wouldn’t buy something that doesn’t work,” said Andrew Hunter, the top Air Force acquisition official, on July 16. “But even if it does work, it’s got to be the right contribution to the overall weapons mix and the highest priority targets.”

Adding to the list of wins for the Pentagon, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) conducted two successful tests of hypersonic weapons systems: Operational Fires (OpFires) and the Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC).

OpFires, a hypersonic boost-glide weapons system, fulfilled all of the test objectives during its first flight test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in late May, according to a July 13 DARPA statement. The test marked the first use of a Marine Corps logistics truck as a medium-range missile launcher, the agency noted. The capability is scheduled to have additional flight tests and finish up a critical design review this year.

The May test was a “promising step” toward developing an “on-demand capability for accurately firing medium-range missiles from highly agile, readily available logistics trucks that are already in both the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps inventory,” remarked Lt. Col. Joshua Stults, the DARPA program manager for the OpFires system.

DARPA then successfully tested the HAWC system, an air-launched hypersonic cruise missile, in early July. The test featured the Raytheon Technologies version of the vehicle, which was last tested in September 2021. Lockheed Martin tested its version of the HAWC system in March. (See ACT, May 2022; November 2021.)

After release from an aircraft, the HAWC vehicle was boosted to the correct point, at which the scramjet engine fired up and propelled the vehicle at an unspecified hypersonic speed for more than 345 miles.

But not all U.S. hypersonic weapons tests achieved the desired results. The collaboration between the Army and the Navy on the common hypersonic glide body was met with failure in the system’s first all-up-round test on June 29 due to the occurrence of an “anomaly” after ignition.

“While the [Defense] Department was unable to collect data on the entirety of the planned flight profile, the information gathered from this event will provide vital insights,” said Pentagon spokesperson Lt. Cdr. Tim Gorman.

The Navy leads the design of the common hypersonic glide body, developing a new booster for a glide vehicle adapted from an Army prototype system. Each service will tailor its own launchers for the new vehicle, with the Army’s Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon system launching from trucks and the Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike system launching from a submarine or destroyer.

The Army and Navy successfully tested the common hypersonic glide body in March 2020 and held four more tests, three successful and one unsuccessful, in October 2021 to inform the development of various components of the system. (See ACT, November 2021; April 2020.)

This surge of activity in development of U.S. offensive hypersonic weapons over the past few years was sparked by the deployment of such capabilities by China and Russia. The recent U.S. tests occurred as Beijing and Moscow continue to quickly advance their respective hypersonic programs.

According to state-owned media sources, China launched DF-17 missiles from a ground-based platform during live-fire exercises near Pingtan Island in the Taiwan Strait in early August. A few days before those exercises, Beijing demonstrated the hypersonic weapon system, which was last seen in a 2019 military parade, in a video celebrating the 95th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army.

Russia has two deployed hypersonic systems, the Avangard and the Kinzhal, the latter of which was used to strike targets in Ukraine in March and possibly in May. (See ACT, April and June 2022.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin also announced on July 31 that the Zircon, a sea-launched hypersonic cruise missile he described as having “no obstacles,” will be deployed in August.

“The area in which the ship equipped with Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles will carry out its duty will be selected based on Russia’s security interests,” Putin said. Zircon was last tested in May. (See ACT, July/August 2022.)

The development and deployment of hypersonic weapon capabilities by China and Russia has propelled the United States to quickly build its own such weapons and to establish defenses against Chinese and Russian hypersonics.

The Pentagon has begun investing substantial funds in the creation of a counterhypersonic weapons ensemble, consisting of a constellation of low-orbit surveillance satellites and a regional hypersonic interceptor, called the Glide Phase Interceptor (GPI), designed to strike enemy boost-glide missiles while in the final stage of their flight.

Despite a finding by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that these systems are being advanced without a thorough assessment of the technical risks involved, the Defense Department is rushing ahead with plans for their development and deployment.

In late June, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency awarded Raytheon and Northrop Grumman contracts of approximately $61 million each to develop prototype GPI missiles. After rigorous testing of both prototypes, one will be chosen for full-scale production and be deployed within the Aegis ballistic missile defense system.

A few weeks later, the U.S. Space Development Agency awarded $700 million to L3Harris and $617 million to Northrop Grumman to build 14 satellites each for the so-called tranche-1 tracking layer of a missile warning and tracking system in low-earth orbit.

The rapid development of the satellites, slated to begin launching in 2025, was made possible due to the decision by Congress to appropriate $550 million for the effort in fiscal year 2022. Ultimately, as many as 200 satellites could be deployed as part of this system.

China Showcases Hypersonic Weapon Near Taiwan, U.S. Tests

Japan Ships Out Highly Enriched Uranium


September 2022
By Kelsey Davenport

The U.S. Department of Energy announced in August the completion of a multiyear project to transfer 45 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from Japan to the United States.

The HEU came from the Kyoto University Critical Assembly and fulfilled a commitment that Tokyo made at the 2016 nuclear security summit to remove all HEU from that reactor. Minimizing and disposing of HEU was a key goal of the nuclear security summit process, a six-year multilateral effort from 2010 to 2016 to prevent nuclear terrorism.

The HEU will be down-blended at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina to lower enrichment levels that pose less of a security risk.

In an Aug. 9 press release, Jill Hruby, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), said that the campaign to remove the HEU was a “monumental effort.” As a result, the Kyoto University Critical Assembly can continue its work “without risk that the fuel could be used to produce an improvised nuclear device,” she said.

The NNSA worked with the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to complete the disposition. The governmental agencies aim to complete conversion of the reactor to run on low-enriched uranium fuel by the end of 2023.

Minimizing HEU was a key goal of a multilateral effort to prevent nuclear terrorism.

Congress Notifications Reinstated on Some Gun Exports


September 2022
By Jeff Abramson

The Commerce Department has decided to begin notifying Congress about some applications for semiautomatic gun export licenses, updating a controversial Trump-era regulation that removed the weapons from such congressional review. (See ACT, March 2020.)

Congress seems to be regaining some of the oversight over the export of semi-automatic guns that was taken away by the Trump administration. (Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)The move, which took effect in mid-July, falls short of a promise made by then-former Vice President Joe Biden during his presidential campaign to return oversight for such exports to the State Department, which administers the U.S. Munitions List (USML) and the provisions under the Arms Export Control Act that provide mechanisms for Congress to block arms sales. Instead, the weapons that fall under the revised rule will remain on the Commerce Control List, which is overseen by the Commerce Department and is undergirded by a different law that does not provide for the same congressional disapproval procedures.

The rules apply to licenses for semiautomatic weapons exports amounting to $4 million or more, averaging $1 million per year on typical four-year licenses, the same dollar threshold that was used for notifications when the weapons were on the USML. The new rules generally will not apply to NATO countries and many other U.S. allies, but will apply to Mexico, South Africa, and Turkey.

A lack of transparency makes it difficult to determine the total value of licenses that will be impacted. According to the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security, after the Trump-era change from March 2020 to the end of June 2021, nearly $16 billion of license applications were approved, and nearly $1 billion in shipments occurred. Not all of those licenses and shipments were necessarily for the category of semiautomatic weapons that will now be subject to congressional notification.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a long-time critic of the Trump change, issued a statement May 31, saying, “This new rule is a start, but not the goal. I will continue to push the Biden administration to restore the export control of lethal arms like assault rifles and sniper rifles back to the State Department, and in so doing, also restore Congress’ right of review and disapproval under the Arms Export Control Act.”

At a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on July 14, Menendez pressed Alan Estevez, undersecretary for industry and security at the Commerce Department, on this issue. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) asserted that the Commerce Department “is helping put more assault weapons in more hands, and this needs to stop.” On July 19, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) and Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) raised similar concerns during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

At the hearings, Estevez defended the administration, saying that an interagency process continues to be followed for licenses and that the Commerce Department brings enforcement capabilities that the State Department lacks. He also mentioned Ukraine as a place where it was justified for such weapons transfers to proceed.

On July 14, the House approved its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2023 fiscal year that included an amendment offered by Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.). The amendment would establish similar notification requirements and disapproval procedures for firearms that had been in the first category of the USML prior to the transfer of oversight from the State Department to the Commerce Department. It is unclear whether the final defense act will include this provision. Last year, the act did not retain the Torres provision, even though it had been included in the House version by a 215–213 vote.

The Commerce Department modifies but does not reverse a Trump-era rule that limited congressional oversight.

Rocket for New U.S. ICBM Explodes


September 2022
By Shannon Bugos

The rocket boosting a new reentry vehicle for the future U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system exploded 11 seconds after launch in its first test, setting the $100 billion nuclear modernization program off to a rocky start.

A version of the Minotaur rocket that exploded in its first test on July 6, in a setback for the U.S. nuclear modernization program. (Photo by U.S. Air Force)The test involved a Minotaur II+ rocket carrying a prototype Mark 21A reentry vehicle built by Lockheed Martin. The vehicle will house a W87-1 nuclear warhead, which is in the midst of a modification program administered by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). A nuclear warhead was not used during the July 6 test at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.

“The test launch will demonstrate preliminary design concepts and relevant payload technologies in [an] operationally realistic environment,” said the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center in a press release prior to the test. Following the failed test, the center commented only that “an investigative review board has been established to determine the cause of the explosion.”

The blast sparked a fire on the base, prompting the dispatch of local firefighters.

The rocket and reentry vehicle will be placed on the U.S. Air Force’s new LGM-35A Sentinel ICBMs. The Sentinel system was initially known as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent before its renaming in the spring. (See ACT, June 2022.)

The Air Force plans to purchase more than 650 Sentinel ICBMs to replace the existing fleet of 400 Minuteman III missiles, plus spares and test missiles, starting in fiscal year 2029. Testing of the Sentinel missiles, under development by Northrop Grumman, is slated to begin in 2024.

The Pentagon had scheduled a long-planned test of a Minuteman III ICBM for early August. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin elected to delay the test by about two weeks due to heightened tensions with China over Taiwan, John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, announced on Aug. 4. The department had cancelled another ICBM test in March. (See ACT, April 2022.)

“As China engages in destabilizing military exercises around Taiwan, the United States is demonstrating instead the behavior of a responsible nuclear power by reducing the risks of miscalculation and misperception,” said Kirby.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, denounced Austin’s decision.

“These weak-kneed pearl-clutching attempts at appeasement hurt our readiness and will only invite further aggression by our adversaries,” Rogers said.

The rescheduled test took place on Aug. 16 at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. “The ICBM’s reentry vehicle traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands,” the Air Force said in a statement.

ICBMs constitute the land-based leg of the U.S. nuclear triad and are dispersed across three Air Force bases in five states: Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming.

The service released on July 1 a draft report examining the environmental impact from the construction of the Sentinel system to include the missiles themselves, as well as their vast supporting infrastructure, and the decommissioning and disposal of the Minuteman III missile system. The Air Force began work on the statement in the fall of 2020.

The report found that the plan for replacing all Minuteman III missiles with Sentinel missiles will “have potentially significant adverse effects on cultural resources, public health and safety, socioeconomics, and utilities and infrastructure” in the short term and, in some cases, the long term.

As part of the report, the Air Force also had to evaluate possible alternative plans to the Sentinel system for the future of the ICBM force.

The report describes four possible alternatives to the current plan, including rebuilding the Minuteman III missile fleet to existing specifications, constructing and deploying a smaller ICBM, constructing and deploying commercial launch vehicles containing nuclear-capable reentry vehicles, or converting existing Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles for deployment in land-based silos.

The Air Force eliminated these alternatives due to the perception that they did not meet all of the system requirements in areas such as sustainability, integration, performance, survivability, safety, and risk.

The service ultimately determined that only in pursuing the new Sentinel system would the United States be able “to continue to offer long-term tangible evidence to both allies and potential adversaries of our nuclear weapons capabilities, thus contributing to nuclear deterrence and assurance, and providing a hedge against arms competition.”

Notably, an alternative that the Air Force chose not to examine was reducing the size of the ICBM force to below 400, as some arms control experts have suggested.

“The current force level of 400 deployed ICBMs is not––and has never been––a magic number, and it could be reduced further for a variety of reasons, including those related to security, economics, or a good faith effort to reduce deployed U.S. nuclear forces,” Matt Korda of the Federation of American Scientists wrote in a July 13 blog post.

The Defense Department had solicited a study by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on potential alternatives for the land-based leg of the nuclear triad, to possibly include the reduction of the ICBM force. The study was to be completed by the end of January 2022, but has not been made public.

On the original timeline, that study would have been finished at a time when the Biden administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) also wrapped up, leaving little room for the study to influence the U.S. nuclear force posture in a meaningful way. The public release of the NPR has been delayed in part due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, although it is unlikely that the Pentagon will deviate from pursuing the Sentinel program.

Congress supported the new ICBM program in fiscal year 2022 with $2.6 billion. (See ACT, January/February 2022.) In June, the House authorized $3.6 billion for the program in fiscal year 2023, but the defense authorization bill has yet to make its way through the Senate. The relevant pieces of appropriations legislation, which allow for actual spending, have not moved through either chamber. (See ACT, June 2022.)

Overall, the House approved a $37 billion boost to the Biden administration’s request of $813 billion for national defense for fiscal year 2023. The lawmakers rubber-stamped all nuclear modernization programs, including funding for the fleet of Columbia-class submarines, the B-21 Raider strategic bomber, and the long-range standoff weapon, an air-launched cruise missile.

The House also added $45 million for the development of a new sea-launched cruise missile and its associated nuclear warhead, which the Biden administration had not requested.

 

The test failure is a setback for the $100 billion nuclear modernization program.

Russia Calls Meeting of Biological Weapons Convention


September 2022
By Leanne Quinn

A formal consultative meeting of states-parties to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) opened in late August after Russia invoked a treaty provision designed to resolve accusations about violations.

Referring to Russia and its biological weapons charges against Ukraine and the United States, Nicolas de Rivière, the French ambassador to the United Nations, has tweeted his regret that the UN Security Council "is being used by one of its permanent members as a propaganda platform."  (Photo by EuropaNewswire/Gado/Getty Images)On June 29, Russia formally requested the meeting to discuss its allegation that the United States is funding a network of biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine. The claims, which Russia brought before the UN Security Council on March 11, March 18, and May 13, have been refuted repeatedly by Ukraine, the United Nations, and the United States.

As Russia continues to double down on the charges, multiple nations have expressed disappointment that it is choosing to use international forums to spread disinformation.

“I regret that the Security Council is being used by one of its permanent members as a propaganda platform,” Nicolas de Rivière, the French ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted on March 18.

Article V of the BWC provides that states-parties must “under[take] to consult bilaterally and multilaterally and cooperate in solving any problems which may arise in relation to the objective, or in the application” of the BWC.

After an informal meeting of states-parties on July 27, the UN announced that Russia’s requested consultative meeting will open on Aug. 26 and continue Sept. 5–7 and 9. György Molnár, Hungarian ambassador to the BWC, was named to chair the formal consultative meeting.

This provision has been invoked only once before, in 1997 when Cuba accused the United States of spraying an invasive insect, Thrips palmi, from an airplane in a biological attack on an agricultural region of Cuba. That meeting, attended by 75 states-parties and three signatories, ended inconclusively as no “direct causal link” could be established between the alleged attack and the insect infestation, according to a September 1997 article by the nongovernmental organization VERTIC.

Unlike other disarmament agreements, such as the Chemical Weapons Convention, the BWC has no implementing body to enforce the treaty’s ban on biological weapons.

But if Russia or any other state-party wishes to resolve allegations with a formal investigation, Article VI of the treaty gives member states the right to request that the Security Council investigate the alleged treaty breach.

Moscow offers no evidence for claim of violation by Ukraine and the United States.

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