Despite frequent complains about lack of transparency in Chinese military planning, a new report from the Office of Naval Intelligence – recently described in the Washington Times and subsequently released to the Federation of American Scientists in response to a Freedom of Information Act request – boasts a high degree of knowledge about meticulous details of the Chinese navy’s operations, training, personnel and regulations.
The details in the report China’s Navy 2007 are many but unfortunately largely superfluous to the main answers many want to hear from the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) and other intelligence agencies: How are Chinese naval forces and operations evolving, and what do the changes mean?
“It is not true,” British Defence Secretary Des Browne insisted during an interview with BBC radio, that a new fuze planned for British nuclear warheads and reported by the Guardian will increase their military capability. The plan to replace the fuze “was reported to the [Parliament’s] Select Committee in 2005 and is not an upgrading of the system; it is merely making sure that the system works to its maximum efficiency,” Mr. Browne says.
The minister is either being ignorant or economical with the truth. According to numerous statements made by US officials over the past decade, the very purpose of replacing the fuze is – in stark contrast to Mr. Browne’s assurance – to give the weapon improved military capabilities it did not have before.
The matter, which is controversial now because Britain is debating whether to build a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines, concerns the Mk4 reentry vehicle on Trident D5 missiles deployed on British (and US) ballistic missile submarines. The cone-shaped Mk4 contains the nuclear explosive package itself and is designed to protect it from the fierce heat created during reentry of the Earth’s atmosphere toward the target. A small fuze at the tip of the Mk4 measures the altitude and detonates the explosive package at the right “height of burst” to create the maximum pressure to ensure destruction of the target. The new fuze will increase the “maximum efficiency” significantly and give the British Trident submarines hard target kill capability for the first time.
(Updated January 26, 2007)
British Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines have at least 15 years more service life in them, and the U.K. government does not have to make a decision now on whether to replace them with a new class of submarines, Richard Garwin told BBC radio Tuesday.
Garwin, who is a member of the Federation of American Scientists Board of Directors and a long-term adviser to the U.S. government on defense matters, is in Britain to testify before the House of Commons Defence Select Committee on the future of Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
The U.K. government announced on December 4, 2006, that it had decided to replace its current Vanguard-class sea-launched ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) with a new class to enter operation in 2024. If approved by the parliament, the plan would extend Britain’s nuclear era into the 2050s.
According to the U.K. government, a decision to build a new new class must be made now because the Vanguard-class SSBNs only have a have a design life of 25 years. But Garwin says that the submarines have a minimum design life of 25 years, which can be extended by at least another 15 years. A decision made now is premature and unwise, Garwin told BBC, because the large Trident missiles may not be necessary 15 years from now.
New additions: Garwin testimony / House of Lords debate
Background: BBC Today | Garwin Archive at FAS | Britain’s Next Nuclear Era
(Updated January 3, 2007)
North Korea may have gotten all the attention, but all the nuclear weapon states were busy flight-testing ballistic missiles for their nuclear weapons during 2006. According to a preliminary count, eight countries launched more than 28 ballistic missiles of 23 types in 26 different events.
Unlike the failed North Korean Taepo Dong 2 launch, most other ballistic missile tests were successful. Russia and India also experienced missile failures, but the United States demonstrated a very reliable capability including the 117th consecutive successful launch of the Trident II D5 sea-launched ballistic missile.
The busy ballistic missile flight testing represents yet another double standard in international security, and suggests that initiatives are needed to limit not only proliferating countries from developing ballistic missiles but also find ways to curtail the programs of the existing nuclear powers.
The Defense Science Board concludes in a new report that the United States has lost its “national consensus” on what the nation’s nuclear deterrent should look like and the role it should serve. The consensus has been replaced by an “entrenchment” of “sharp differences” of opinion. Therefore, urgent action is needed by the White House and senior leaders to “engage more directly to articulate the persuasive case” for how modern nuclear weapons serve U.S. national security policy.
U.S. nuclear policy has come to a crossroad because the current formula is no longer sustainable.
Perhaps not coincidently, the DSB report comes as the administration is preparing to persuade Congress to pay for a new nuclear weapons complex (Complex 2030) to resume production of nuclear weapons for the first since since the end of the Cold War. To that end, the report presents a wide range of recommendations for how to revitalize the U.S. nuclear posture.
After having spent the last several years sending diplomats to Teheran to try to persuade Iran not to develop nuclear weapons, the British government announced Monday that it plans to renew its own nuclear arsenal.
If approved by the parliament, Monday’s decision means that the United Kingdom will extend its nuclear deterrent beyond 2050, essentially doubling the timeline of its own nuclear era.
Doing so is entirely consistent with the United Kingdom’s international obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and with a policy that favors complete elimination of nuclear weapons, the government insisted in a fact sheet, because the British nuclear arsenal today is smaller than during the Cold War, and because the Treaty does not say exactly when nuclear disarmament has to be accomplished. In fact, the new plan has “the right balance,” the government claims, between working for a world free of nuclear weapons and keeping those weapons.
An incipient nuclear arms race is emerging between China and the United States, according to a new report published today by the Federation of American Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The 250-page report, Chinese Nuclear Forces and U.S. Nuclear War Planning, outlines the status and possible future development of China’s nuclear weapons, describes the history of U.S. nuclear targeting of China, and simulates nuclear strike scenarios between the two nuclear powers.
Both countries are pointing to the other as an excuse to modernize nuclear forces. In the United States the report finds that the Pentagon, the intelligence community, congressional committees, private institutes and the news media frequently overstate Chinese capabilities or present dramatic new developments out of context to underscore a threat.
China, for its part, cloaks its nuclear forces in a veil of secrecy, which creates suspicion and fear in other countries about Chinese intentions.
The report, which is based on analysis of declassified and unclassified U.S. government documents as well as commercial satellite images of Chinese installations, urges both countries to take steps to halt and reverse the tension and military build-up.
The annual report published Monday by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission is different – kind of toned-down – compared with the report published in 2005. The Commission hasn’t gone soft on China, and the report continues the strong critique of China that has characterized the Commission since it was established in 2000. But much of the stronger language from the 2005 report, and many of the more questionable claims about Chinese nuclear weapons capabilities, did not make it into the new report.
The toning-down of the report follows reports earlier this year that the Pentagon’s annual report on Chinese military capabilities was also softened before publication. A call to the US-China Commission office about why the changes were made was not answered.
Sally Lilienthal, the founder of the Ploughshares Fund, died on 24 October at age 87. All who knew her agreed that she was a force of nature. Some who have heard about the Ploughshares Fund do not realize how it actually works. It does not have an endowment. It is, itself, a fund-raising organization that passes on what it collects to individuals and groups working on issues of national security, particularly weapons of mass destruction. So Ploughshares has to go out and raise money each and every year. It is a huge task and one that depended on Ms. Lilienthal’s dedication. The Federation of American Scientists has been for years a major recipient of generous Ploughshares grants. These grants have been essential to supporting, for example, Hans Kristensen’s work on global nuclear forces and policies, my own work on the future direction of nuclear weapons, and Michael Stebbins’s work on the threat of bioweapons. There are very few foundations supporting studies and analyses in the field of peace and security and Ploughshares is the only organization that is devoted exclusively to the field. Without Ploughshares, you would hear a very different chorus of voices talking about international security. The Washington Post published an obituary.
In condemning the North Korean nuclear test and repeating its call for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, one of the Bush administration’s first acts ironically has been to reaffirm the importance of nuclear weapons in the region.
“The United States will meet the full range of our deterrent and security commitments,” President Bush told Japan and South Korea after last week’s test. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice strongly hinted that the commitments potentially include nuclear strikes against North Korea.
But is it helpful or counterproductive at this stage to threaten North Korea with nuclear weapons?