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"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
The United States and the Americas

U.S., Marshall Islands Grapple With Nuclear Legacy


November 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball and Chris Rostampour

Negotiators from the Marshall Islands are insisting that the United States address long-standing health and environmental problems created by U.S. nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific Island chain in their discussions on an agreement governing their relationship.

Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands was the site of 23 nuclear tests conducted by the United States from 1946 until 1958 that did untold damage to the coral reef and its inhabitants, who were forcibly relocated. (Library of Congress)The agreement, known as the Compact of Free Association, defines the terms of U.S. economic assistance, allows Marshallese to live and work in the United States, and grants the United States the right to operate military facilities in the region, including Kwajalein Missile Range. It also excludes activities by the militaries of other countries without U.S. permission.

U.S. and Marshallese representatives began negotiations earlier this year on renewing the 20-year-old compact, which expires in October 2023. In March, U.S. President Joe Biden appointed Joseph Yun as a special presidential envoy for the negotiations.

In September, the Marshallese delegation declared a pause in the negotiations until Washington shows greater willingness to address ongoing health, environmental, and economic issues resulting from Cold War-era testing in their homeland.

The 67 U.S. atmospheric nuclear weapons tests between 1946 and 1958—23 at Bikini Atoll and 44 at Enewetak Atoll—spewed radiation over the Marshall Islands and produced a total explosive power of 108.5 megatons (TNT equivalent). That was about 100 times the total yield of all atmospheric tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site in the United States.

As a result, islanders still suffer such health and environmental effects as elevated cancer rates and enduring displacement from contaminated areas. But to this day, the only individuals considered by the United States as exposed to radiation effects were those physically present at Rogelap, Ailinginae, or Utrok atolls at the time of the “Bravo” nuclear test on March 1, 1954.

The chair of the Marshall Island’s National Nuclear Commission, Alson Kelen, told Agence France-Presse, “We know the big picture: bombs tested, people relocated from their islands, people exposed to nuclear fallout. We can’t change that. What we can do now is work on the details for the funding needed to mitigate the problems from the nuclear legacy.”

The U.S. State Department released a statement on Sept. 23 saying that Yun is prepared “to continue to advance the discussions” with the government of the Marshall Islands.

At a two-day summit in Washington that ended Sept. 29 between the United States and representatives from 14 Pacific Island states, including the Marshall Islands, participants agreed to strengthen their partnership. Although the United States had reportedly objected to such language in the run-up to the meeting, the joint summit statement acknowledged “the nuclear legacy of the Cold War” and stated that “the United States remains committed to addressing the Republic of the Marshall Islands’ ongoing environmental, public health…, and other welfare concerns.”

Under the existing agreement, the United States is responsible for providing radiation-related health care services and continued monitoring and environmental assessments on the affected atolls. One area of particular concern is Enewetak, where less than 1 percent of the plutonium and associated transuranic radionuclides from testing activities at the atoll are contained in the Runit Dome structure, meaning that the rest of the radioactive contamination remains in the Enewetak lagoon.

In a speech at the United Nations on Sept. 21, Marshall Islands President David Kabua said his nation has a “strong partnership” with the United States but “it is vital that the legacy and contemporary challenges of nuclear testing be better addressed.” Underscoring the importance of the issue for Pacific islanders, the Marshall Islands, with the backing of Fiji, Nauru, Samoa, Vanuatu, and Australia, advanced a formal resolution at the UN Human Rights Council on Oct. 6 requesting assistance “in the field of human rights and to provide humanitarian assistance and capacity building” to the Marshall Islands’ National Nuclear Commission in advancing its national strategy for nuclear justice.

India, the United Kingdom, and the United States countered by saying the rights council was not the appropriate forum to discuss the issue. The U.S. delegate asserted that “the United States has accepted and acted on its responsibility to the people of the Republic of the Marshall Islands concerning nuclear testing” through the compact. Nevertheless, the resolution was adopted without a vote.

The Marshallese are pushing back against the U.S. failure to address problems resulting from U.S. nuclear tests.

Biden Urged to Halt Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia


November 2022
By Jeff Abramson

Following a decision by Saudi Arabia to reduce oil production, Democratic members of the U.S. Congress are pressuring President Joe Biden to halt or alter arms transfers and other military support to the kingdom, arguing that its policies now align with Russia.

Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia broke with expectations that it would increase oil production, triggering a push by Democrats in the U.S. Congress to halt or modify arms sales to the kingdom. (Photo by Royal Court of Saudi Arabia / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)Although the Biden administration has indicated it is reviewing the Saudi-U.S. relationship, it had not detailed any specific changes related to weapons by late October.

Growing tensions between Washington and Riyadh reached what could be an inflection point when the “OPEC+” group of major oil-producing countries announced on Oct. 5 that a daily oil production decrease of 2 million barrels would begin in November, with Saudi Arabia and Russia accounting for more than half that reduction.

Democratic Reps. Tom Malinowski (N.J.), Sean Casten (Ill.), and Susan Wild (Pa.) responded that day by announcing plans to introduce a bill mandating the removal of U.S. troops and missile defense systems from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Four days later, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) ​said in an opinion essay in Politico that they would introduce legislation “that will immediately halt all U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia.” The proposal was later clarified to be a one-year halt. Meanwhile, on Oct. 10, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said the “United States must immediately freeze all aspects of our cooperation with Saudi Arabia, including any arms sales and security cooperation beyond what is absolutely necessary to defend U.S. personnel and interests.”

With Congress out of session, no votes were taken on that or other related legislation, such as a Yemen war powers resolution that has more than 115 co-sponsors in the House.

On Oct. 16, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in an interview on CNN that Biden wanted to work with Congress on revising the Saudi-U.S. relationship when it was back in session after the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

After Biden visited Saudi Arabia in July and was photographed fist-bumping Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, it was widely expected that the kingdom would take steps to reduce oil prices and ease economic pressure on countries supporting Ukraine in its war against Russia. Saudi Arabia defended its October decision to cut oil production, saying it was taken solely for economic reasons and that it was agreed by a group. On Oct. 15, the crown prince spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and announced $400 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the country.

Those arguments and actions have not silenced U.S. critics. In blasting the oil production cuts, Menendez said that
“[t]here simply is no room to play both sides of this conflict. Either you support the rest of the free world in trying to stop a war criminal from violently wiping…an entire country off the map, or you support him.”

At the start of his presidency, Biden said that the United States would no longer support Saudi “offensive” operations in Yemen and halted precision-guided munitions sales that had been notified during the final months of the Trump administration. Since then, his administration has informed Congress of more than $4 billion in weapons sales and services via the government-to-government Foreign Military Sales program, often arguing that they were “defensive” systems.

Congressional criticism of Biden’s new arms sales to Saudi Arabia appeared to be waning until the recent oil decision. Last December, a majority of Democrats voted in support of a resolution to disapprove of a $650 million sale of Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) and associated launchers, but the effort ultimately failed on a 30–67 vote. (See ACT, January/February 2022.) In August, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced a resolution of disapproval against a $3 billion sale of Patriot missiles, but no senators co-sponsored the measure, and no votes were taken on it.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), frequently a leader on arms sales restraint toward Saudi Arabia, backed the administration in December on the AMRAAM weapons system sale. In a tweet thread Oct. 13, he said he now supported halting arms sales. He added that the Patriot systems should be removed and that “the Ukrainians are using (and need more) air-to-air AMRAAM missiles. These missiles are needed to defend against Russia’s criminal bombardment of civilians. The U.S. is scheduled to send 280 AMRAAMs to Saudi Arabia. These should be redirected to Ukraine.”

Some Democrats in Congress say Saudi Arabia is untrustworthy and should not be permitted to buy U.S. weapons.

U.S. Joins Call for Limits on Lethal Autonomous Weapons


November 2022
By Daryl G. Kimball

In a joint statement on Oct. 22, a diverse, cross-regional group of UN member states led by Austria and including the United States expressed concern about “new technological applications, such as those related to autonomy in weapons systems.”

The Sea Hunter, an autonomous unmanned surface ship launched in 2016. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency)The statement also emphasized “the necessity for human beings to exert appropriate control, judgment, and involvement...to ensure any use of force is in compliance with international law, particularly international humanitarian law, and that humans remain accountable for decisions on the use of force.” It was delivered by Alexander Kmentt, the Austrian director for disarmament, arms control, and nonproliferation, on behalf of 70 UN delegations.

Several major powers are developing and, in some cases, fielding various types of autonomous combat systems, including unmanned aerial vehicles, ground vehicles, surface vessels, and undersea vessels. Many of these weapons utilize artificial intelligence to improve capabilities to identify, track, and attack enemy targets.

The joint statement follows more than eight years of inconclusive discussions among the 125 states-parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) on the subject of lethal autonomous weapons systems.

In CCW discussions, held in Geneva, many have called for binding agreements to limit or ban these weapons systems, while the states that are building autonomy into certain weapons systems, including Russia and the United States, have resisted calls for a binding agreement and instead advocated for a less restrictive “code of conduct.” The CCW operates by consensus.

In their national statements delivered in October at the UN General Assembly First Committee, many of the signatories of the statement, including France, the United

Kingdom, and the United States, expressed support for the ongoing work of the CCW group of governmental experts on lethal autonomous weapons issues, which is chaired by Brazil. The Netherlands expressed the need for the experts group to produce “concrete results.”

The Oct. 21 joint statement indicates there is a growing concern among key states about the adverse impacts of lethal autonomous weapons systems and, as the statement suggests, growing support for action leading to the adoption of “appropriate rules and measures, such as principles, good practices, limitations and constraints,” including “through internationally agreed rules and limits.”

 

In a statement, UN member states stress that humans must remain accountable for decisions on using force.

 

New U.S. Security Strategy Prioritizes China, Russia


November 2022
By Shannon Bugos

Facing growing Chinese and Russian nuclear arsenals, the United States for the first time will need to deter two major nuclear powers simultaneously, thus requiring the modernization of its own nuclear triad and infrastructure, according to the Biden administration’s National Security Strategy released in October.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping confer during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand in September. The Biden administration national security strategy says the United States must modernize its nuclear triad to deter the nuclear rivals that these leaders represent.  (Photo by Sergei Bobylyov/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)“By the 2030s, the United States for the first time will need to deter two major nuclear powers, each of whom will field modern and diverse global and regional nuclear forces,” the long-awaited, congressionally mandated document stated. “To ensure our nuclear deterrent remains responsive to the threats we face, we are modernizing the nuclear triad, nuclear command, control, and communications, and our nuclear weapons infrastructure, as well as strengthening our extended deterrence commitments to our Allies.”

The Biden administration officially released the strategy on Oct. 12, nearly two years into its term and after, according to media reports, a rewrite of at least portions of it due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. The Pentagon released several related security documents—the National Defense Strategy, Nuclear Posture Review and Missile Defense Review—on Oct. 27, after delivering classified versions to Congress in March. (See ACT, April 2022.)

Alongside the nuclear modernization effort, the strategy emphasizes that the United States remains “equally committed to reducing the risks of nuclear war…[including by] taking further steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our strategy and pursuing realistic goals for mutual, verifiable arms control.” The U.S. nuclear modernization effort will cost $634 billion over the next 10 years, according to a May 2021 projection by the Congressional Budget Office. (See ACT, June 2021.)

The Biden administration “retains an interest” in developing a new U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control framework to replace the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in 2026, the document says.

Overall, the strategy prioritizes maintaining a competitive edge over China, but underscores the need to constrain Russia at the same time.

China has been rapidly expanding and diversifying its nuclear forces. U.S. researchers using satellite imagery last year discovered at least 250 new long-range missile silos on Chinese territory, and the Pentagon estimates Beijing aims to amass 1,000 strategic nuclear warheads by 2030. (See ACT, September and December 2021.)

“China is developing nuclear capabilities at a moderate and appropriate level,” Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe said in June. “That means being able to protect our nation’s security so that we can avoid the catastrophe of a war, especially the catastrophe of a nuclear war.”

As for Russia, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Oct. 12 that Moscow’s threats to use nuclear weapons over the course of the war in Ukraine have reminded the administration “what a significant and seriously dangerous adversary Russia is, not just to the United States but to a world that is seeking peace and stability.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats as “reckless and irresponsible” when commenting on the strategy’s release.

The goal is to deter Russia and China simultaneously.

First U.S. Hypersonic Deployment on Track for 2023


November 2022
By Shannon Bugos

After a recent flurry of prototype testing, the U.S. Defense Department is on schedule with plans to deploy its first new hypersonic weapon by the summer of 2023 and to develop other offensive hypersonic and anti-hypersonic weapons defense capabilities.

This artist's graphic from Lockheed Martin shows a launch of the U.S. OpFires hypersonic missile from a 10×10 wheeled truck.  (Graphic by Lockheed Martin)Lt. Gen. Robert Rasch, the Army’s director of hypersonic weapons systems acquisition, said in an early October interview with Defense News that the service will proceed with its schedule to field the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), a ground-launched, boost-glide missile system, by the end of fiscal year 2023. The Army completed delivery of LRHW ground equipment, including the battery operations center, transporter erector launchers, and trucks and trailers, to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state in September 2021. (See ACT, November 2021.)

Rasch noted that the Pentagon will test the LRHW missile twice more before initial deployment, with the first of those tests meant to launch the fully assembled missile from its ground-support equipment. The most recent test of the system’s glide body, which is shared with the Navy’s hypersonic weapons system program, ended in failure in June, although Rasch claimed that the booster stack performed successfully. (See ACT, September 2022.)

The LRHW weapons system is one of 24 systems that the Army plans to deploy in fiscal year 2023 and one of 35 systems that the service aims to deploy by 2030 in order to become what it considers a fully modernized force.

Meanwhile, the Air Force awarded a $985 million contract to Raytheon Technologies, including its program partner Northrop Grumman, on Sept. 22 to kick-start the development of the Hypersonic Attack Cruise Missile as an operational, rather than prototype, capability. Raytheon will deliver two of the missile batteries and prepare the missiles for their planned deployment on F-15 fighter jets in fiscal year 2027. (See ACT, June 2022.) The Pentagon began the program in fiscal year 2022. (See ACT, July/August 2021.)

The system “will provide our commanders with tactical flexibility to employ fighters to hold high-value, time-sensitive targets at risk, while maintaining bombers for other strategic targets,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown said in the award announcement.

The Air Force also noted that the United States will continue its collaboration with Australia on the system’s design and development under a joint project arrangement. This will include the use of Australia’s test infrastructure for the system’s first all-up-round flight tests.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada struck an agreement in September for the two countries to continue cooperation on anti-hypersonic weapons defense systems. The officials “agreed to continue joint analysis on counter-hypersonic technology and, based on its progress, to begin consideration of joint research on technologies and components,” according to a Japanese Defense Ministry readout of the meeting.

The allied collaboration on new hypersonic technology comes as a response to advances by China and Russia on hypersonic weapons, as well as to tensions with China about Taiwan. Moscow thus far has deployed two hypersonic weapons capabilities, the Kinzhal short-range ballistic missile and the Avangard intercontinental boost-glide vehicle, in 2017 and 2019, respectively, while Beijing deployed the Dongfeng-17 road-mobile, boost-glide system in 2020.

Russian MiG-31 supersonic interceptor aircraft in flight carrying the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal ballistic missile in 2018.  (Photo by Yuri Kadobnov/AFP via Getty Images)Russia used Kinzhal hypersonic weapons against Ukraine in the spring, marking the first use of new hypersonic weapons in warfare. (See ACT, April 2022.) But U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said on Sept. 15 that the Kinzhal missiles have been used “almost to no effect.”

Relatedly, The Washington Post reported on Oct. 17 that hypersonic missile technology, including computer-aided engineering software and pieces of hardware such as interferometers, developed by U.S. defense companies have been sold through intermediary firms to Chinese military research groups working on hypersonic capabilities, such as the Chinese Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics.

“In this case, the American technology is superior,” an anonymous Chinese scientist working on hypersonic technology told the newspaper. “We can’t do certain things without foreign technology.”

The United States has prioritized the establishment of a defense architecture to combat incoming hypersonic weapons from adversaries. This defense system plans to feature anti-hypersonic missiles, known as the Glide Phase Interceptor for which Raytheon and Northrop are creating a prototype, as well as satellites for a missile warning and tracking system.

The Space Development Agency (SDA) aimed to conduct the first launch of around six to eight Tranche-0 missile tracking and transport satellites in low earth orbit in September, but supply chain delays and protests over the contracts caused a delay until at least mid-December.

The 28 satellites of Tranche-0 will include 20 communications satellites from Lockheed Martin and York Space and eight missile-tracking infrared sensor satellites from SpaceX and L3Harris. The second launch of satellites for this tranche is scheduled for March.

The 28 Tranche-1 infrared-sensing satellites, under development by L3Harris and Northrop, will begin launching in groups of seven starting in April 2025.

The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) is simultaneously developing the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor, which will be comprised of satellites in low earth orbit with medium field-of-view sensors to track missiles and produce data necessary for targeting. All of the satellites in development under the auspices of the SDA and MDA will together form an overarching, persistent overhead satellite system for early warning and tracking of missiles, including hypersonic weapons.

The Biden administration continued its predecessor’s approach to accelerate the development and deployment of new hypersonic weapons capabilities by ensuring funds for the programs at the Defense Department in fiscal years 2022 and 2023. The president has yet to sign the final national defense authorization and appropriations bills for fiscal year 2023, because not all relevant pieces have made their way through Congress. The current continuing resolution that is funding government operations expires on Dec. 16, and Congress seems likely to take up the defense spending legislation starting in mid-November.

 

The Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon will be fielded by the end of the fiscal year, a top U.S. Army commander has said.

U.S. Conditions Talks on New START Inspections


October 2022
By Shannon Bugos

The United States declared in September that any negotiation of a new nuclear arms control arrangement to follow on from the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) depends on the resumption of the treaty’s on-site inspections of nuclear-related facilities, which Russia has impeded.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Wesley Baptiste (L) and Airman Daniel Peryer perform a “simulated missile reduction” in accordance with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota, in 2011. Such inspections, and the treaty itself, are now at risk because of Russia's failure to resume the inspections amid its war on Ukraine.  (Photo credit: U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Desiree Esposito)The two countries agreed to suspend inspections in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although talks had been ongoing since last year to resume these inspections, Russia undermined such efforts and further extended the pause with its decision in August to prohibit inspections of its relevant facilities subject to New START. (See ACT, September 2022.)

“The first step is to resume inspections” under New START, “and we have been trying to work with the Russians toward that end,” a U.S. National Security Council spokesperson said on Sept. 1. New START is the last remaining U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control agreement and will expire in February 2026. Washington paused arms control talks with Moscow following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. (See ACT, March 2022.)

Russia claimed that its flight crew and inspectors have faced difficulties in obtaining the necessary documents, such as visas, to carry out inspections in the United States, which has imposed, alongside U.S. allies, sanctions and restrictions on Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine.

But U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Aug. 16 that “U.S. sanctions and restrictive measures imposed as a result of Russia’s war against Ukraine are fully compatible” with New START and “don’t prevent Russian inspectors from conducting treaty inspections in the United States.” Another State Department spokesperson later added, “The United States has and will continue to engage Russia on the resumption of inspections through diplomatic channels,” such as the Bilateral Consultative Commission established by the treaty to address implementation and verification concerns.

Although the pause of on-site inspections is concerning, U.S. officials continue to assess that Russia does not appear poised to employ nuclear weapons imminently.

Since the outset of the war, the United States has consistently monitored Russian nuclear forces for any signs of impending use, thus far seeing none.

Against this backdrop of rising tensions, the United States moved ahead with a long-planned test of an unarmed nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Minuteman III, on Sept. 7. The test ICBM carried three reentry vehicles and traveled 4,200 miles from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California to a test range at the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

In March, the Pentagon delayed and then cancelled an ICBM test so as not to exacerbate tensions amid the Russian war in Ukraine. It also delayed by two weeks an ICBM test in August due to heightened tensions with China over Taiwan. (See ACT, April and September 2022.)

Meanwhile, Moscow announced in mid-August the deployment of Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched ballistic missiles on Mikoyan MiG-31 fighter jets based at the Chkalovsk Air Base in the Kaliningrad enclave as part of “additional measures of strategic deterrence,” according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Although the deployed missiles are conventional, the Kinzhal is thought to be nuclear capable.

Over the course of the war, Russia has used Kinzhal missiles to strike targets in Ukraine in March and possibly in May, leading a U.S. defense official to estimate that Russian forces have employed about a dozen hypersonic missiles in total. (See ACT, April and June 2022.)

“We have deployed [the Kinzhal system] three times during the special military operation” in Ukraine, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in an Aug. 31 interview with Russian media, “and three times it showed brilliant characteristics.” U.S. defense officials, in contrast, have asserted that the Russian use of hypersonic weapons has not proved to be a game-changing decision in the war.

Russia declared that the United States would become a party to the conflict if it “cross[ed] the red line” by supplying Ukraine with longer-range missiles, such as the Army Tactical Missile System that has a range of up to 300 kilometers.

“We reserve the right to protect the Russian territory by all available means,” Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said in a Sept. 15 briefing.

Russia and the United States suspended inspections in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic; Russia has extended the pause.

U.S. Offering More Arms to Taiwan


October 2022
By Jeff Abramson

The Biden administration has notified Congress of its plan to offer more than $1 billion in weapons and military support to Taiwan as leaders in the Senate advanced legislation for even more armaments in the coming years, drawing new expressions of concern from China.

As tensions over Taiwan grew, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022, sponsored by Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ), shown in photo, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), to boost foreign military financing funds for the self-governing democracy that China claims as its own. The legislation must next be approved by the full Senate.  (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)The latest potential weapons deals, announced Sept. 2, would provide Taipei with support for its radar surveillance capabilities, as well as 60 anti-ship Harpoon missiles and 100 short-range air-to-air Sidewinder missiles. In total, the administration has proposed more than $2 billion in weapons transfers to Taiwan through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, which includes whole or parts of weapons systems or support services for tanks, combat vehicles, howitzers, ships, and Patriot air defense systems. Congress has 30 days to disapprove the latest sales before the administration can proceed, but no serious effort is being made to block them.

Thus far, the Biden administration has not proposed new sales of weapons with a higher international profile, such as F-16 fighter aircraft, or longer-range capabilities, such as the Army Tactical Missile Systems and Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response, all of which were among more than $18 billion in FMS program notifications during the Trump administration. Such weapons give Taiwan more capabilities to attack the Chinese mainland, approximately 110 miles away.

The Biden administration appears to be following what some are calling the “porcupine” strategy, whereby Taiwan is so well provisioned with weapons that any attempt by China to invade and occupy the country would prove extremely difficult and costly.

Less than two weeks after the arms sale notification, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022. A vote of the full Senate has not been scheduled.. Authored by committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the committee added an additional year and $2 billion in foreign military financing funds to the original bill, raising it to $6.5 billion through fiscal year 2027.

The legislation also directs the State and Defense departments and contractors to expedite FMS program requests from Taiwan.

Menendez welcomed the committee’s vote on Sept. 14, saying that “we are carefully and strategically lowering the existential threats facing Taiwan by raising the cost of taking the island by force so that it becomes too high a risk and unachievable.” In an op-ed in The New York Times in August, he wrote, “We saw the warning signs for Ukraine in 2014 and failed to take action that might have deterred further Russian aggression. We cannot afford to repeat that mistake with Taiwan.”

In recent months especially after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan on Aug. 2–3, security concerns around Taiwan have increased, with China and the United States conducting military exercises. China reacted negatively to the latest potential arms sales and legislation, including by sanctioning directors of U.S. weapons manufacturers Raytheon and Boeing.

China claims that Taiwan, a self-governing democracy, is part of China and has vowed to reunite it with the mainland by force if necessary. U.S. President Joe Biden recently suggested that the United States would directly intervene militarily if needed on behalf of Taiwan in the event of a conflict with China. Interpreted by some experts as a change in the long-standing U.S. “One China” policy, such comments have been walked back by U.S. officials, but still have contributed to mounting tensions.

The latest U.S. offer is valued at $1 billion, as Taiwan seeks to build its defenses amid rising tensions with China.

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

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.

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