Pentagon Portrays Nuclear Modernization As Response to Russia

By Hans M. Kristensen

The final defense budget of the Obama administration effectively crowns this administration as the nuclear modernization leader of post-Cold War U.S. presidencies.

While official statements so far have mainly justified the massive nuclear modernization as simply extending the service-life of existing capabilities, the Pentagon now explicitly paints the nuclear modernization as a direct response to Russia:

PB 2017 Adjusts to Strategic Change. Today’s security environment is dramatically different from the one the department has been engaged with for the last 25 years, and it requires new ways of thinking and new ways of acting. This security environment is driving the focus of the Defense Department’s planning and budgeting.

[…]

Russia. The budget enables the department to take a strong, balanced approach to respond to Russia’s aggression in Eastern Europe.

  • We are countering Russia’s aggressive policies through investments in a broad range of capabilities. The FY 2017 budget request will allow us to modify and expand air defense systems, develop new unmanned systems, design a new long-range bomber and a new long-range stand-off cruise missile, and modernize our nuclear arsenal.
[…]

The cost for the new long-range bomber (LRS-B) is still secret but will likely total over 100 billion. But the new budget contains out-year numbers for the new cruise missile (LRSO) that show a significant increase in funding in 2018 and 2019. More than $4.6 billion is projected through 2021:

LRSO2015-2021

The total life-cycle cost of the new cruise missile may be as high as $30 billion. Excessive and expensive nuclear modernization programs in the budget threaten funding of more important non-nuclear defense programs.

The Pentagon and defense contractors say the LRSO is needed to replace the existing aging air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) to shoot holes in enemy air defenses, fight limited nuclear wars, and because Russia has nuclear cruise missiles. The claims recycle Cold War justifications and ignore the effectiveness of other military forces in deterring and defeating potential adversaries.

Last year Defense Secretary Carter promised NATO’s response to Russia would not use the “Cold War playbook” of large American forces stationed in Europe.

But other pages in the Cold War playbook – including those relating to nuclear forces – appear to have been studied well with growing nuclear bomber integration in Europe, revival of escalation scenarios and contingency planning, development of a new bomber and a cruise missiles, and deployment of guided nuclear bombs on stealth fighters in Europe within the next decade.

Russia – after having triggered a revival of NATO with its invasion of Ukraine, large-scale exercises, and overt nuclear threats – is likely to respond to NATO’s military posturing by beefing up its own operations. Russian officials quickly reacted to NATO’s latest announcement to boost military forces in Eastern Europe by pledging to improve its conventional and nuclear forces further.

It is obvious what’s happening here. The issue is not who’s to blame or who started it. The challenge is how to prevent that the actions each side take in what they consider justified responses to the other side’s aggression do not escalate further into a new round of Cold War.

The explicit inclusion of nuclear forces in the tit-for-tat posturing is another worrisome sign that the escalation has already started.

RAND Report Questions Nuclear Role In Defending Baltic States

rand2016
Click to access RAND report.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The RAND Corporation has published an interesting new report on how NATO would defend the Baltic States against a Russian attack.

Without spending much time explaining why Russia would launch a military attack against the Baltic States in the first place – the report simply declares “the next [after Ukraine] most likely targets for an attempted Russian coercion are the Baltic Republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania” – the report contains some surprising (to some) observations about the limitations of nuclear weapons in the real world (by that I mean not in the heads of strategists and theorists).

The central nuclear observation of the report is that NATO nuclear forces do not have much credibility in protecting the Baltic States against a Russian attack.

That conclusion is, to say the least, interesting given the extent to which some analysts and former/current officials have been arguing that NATO/US need to have more/better limited regional nuclear options to counter Russia in Europe.

The report is very timely because the NATO Summit in Warsaw in six months will decide on additional responses to Russian aggression. Unfortunately, some of the decisions might increase the role or readiness of nuclear weapons in Europe.  Continue reading

Forget LRSO; JASSM-ER Can Do The Job

By Hans M. Kristensen

Early next year the Obama administration, with eager backing from hardliners in Congress, is expected to commit the U.S. taxpayers to a bill of $20 billion to $30 billion for a new nuclear weapon the United States doesn’t need: the Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) air-launched cruise missile.

The new nuclear cruise missile will not be able to threaten targets that cannot be threatened with other existing nuclear weapons. And the Air Force is fielding thousands of new conventional cruise missiles that provide all the standoff capability needed to keep bombers out of harms way, shoot holes in enemy air-defenses, and destroy fixed and mobile soft, medium and hard targets with high accuracy – the same missions defense officials say the LRSO is needed for.

But cool-headed thinking about defense needs and priorities has flown out the window. Instead the Obama administration appears to have been seduced (or sedated) by an army of lobbyists from the defense industry, nuclear laboratories, the Air Force, U.S. Strategic Command, defense hawks in Congressional committees, and academic Cold Warriors, who all have financial, institutional, career, or political interests in getting approval of the new nuclear cruise missile.

LRSO proponents argue for the new nuclear cruise missile as if we were back in the late-1970s when there were no long-range, highly accurate conventional cruise missiles. But that situation has changed so dramatically over the past three decades that advanced conventional weapons have now eroded the need for a nuclear cruise missile.

That reality presents President Obama with a unique opportunity: because the new nuclear cruise missile is redundant for deterrence and unnecessary for warfighting requirements, it is the first opportunity for the administration to do what the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review, 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, and 2013 Nuclear Employment Strategy all called for: use advanced conventional weapons to reduce the role of and reliance on nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy. Continue reading

Kalibr: Savior of INF Treaty?

By Hans M. Kristensen

With a series of highly advertised sea- and air-launched cruise missile attacks against targets in Syria, the Russian government has demonstrated that it doesn’t have a military need for the controversial ground-launched cruise missile that the United States has accused Russia of developing and test-launching in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.

Moreover, President Vladimir Putin has now publicly confirmed (what everyone suspected) that the sea- and air-launched cruise missiles can deliver both conventional and nuclear warheads and, therefore, can hold the same targets at risk. (Click here to download the Russian Ministry of Defense’s drawing providing the Kalibr capabilities.)

The United States has publicly accused Russia of violating the INF treaty by developing, producing, and test-launching a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) to a distance of 500 kilometers (310 miles) or more. The U.S. government has not publicly identified the missile, which has allowed the Russian government to “play dumb” and pretend it doesn’t know what the U.S. government is talking about.

The lack of specificity has also allowed widespread speculations in the news media and on private web sites (this included) about which missile is the culprit.

As a result, U.S. government officials have now started to be a little more explicit about what the Russian missile is not. Instead, it is described as a new “state-of-the-art” ground-launched cruise missile that has been developed, produced, test-launched – but not yet deployed.

Whether or not one believes the U.S. accusation or the Russian denial, the latest cruise missile attacks in Syria demonstrate that there is no military need for Russia to develop a ground-launched cruise missile. The Kalibr SLCM finally gives Russia a long-range conventional SLCM similar to the Tomahawk SLCM the U.S. navy has been deploying since the 1980s. Continue reading

US Drops Below New START Warhead Limit For The First Time

By Hans M. Kristensen

The number of U.S. strategic warheads counted as “deployed” under the New START Treaty has dropped below the treaty’s limit of 1,550 warheads for the first time since the treaty entered into force in February 2011 – a reduction of 263 warheads over four and a half years.

Russia, by contrast, has increased its deployed warheads and now has more strategic warheads counted as deployed under the treaty than in 2011 – up 111 warheads.

Similarly, while the United States has reduced its number of deployed strategic launchers (missiles and bombers) counted by the treaty by 120, Russia has increased its number of deployed launchers by five in the same period. Yet the United States still has more launchers deployed than allowed by the treaty (by 2018) while Russia has been well below the limit since before the treaty entered into force in 2011.

NewSTARTSep2015

These two apparently contradictory developments do not mean that the United States is falling behind and Russia is building up. Both countries are expected to adjust their forces to comply with the treaty limits by 2018.

Rather, the differences are due to different histories and structures of the two countries’ strategic nuclear force postures as well as to fluctuations in the number of weapons that are deployed at any given time.  Continue reading

The Red Web: Russia and the Internet

The Internet in Russia is a battleground between activists who would use it as a tool of political and cultural freedom and government officials who see it as a powerful instrument of political control, write investigative journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan in their new book The Red Web. For now, the government appears to be winning the battle.

Soldatov and Borogan trace the underlying conflict back to official anxiety in the Soviet era about the hazards of freedom of information. In the 1950s, the first Soviet photocopy machine was physically destroyed at the direction of the government “because it threatened to spread information beyond the control of those who ruled.”

With the introduction of imported personal computers in the 1980s and a connection to the Internet in 1990, new possibilities for free expression and political organizing in Russia seemed to arise. But as described in The Red Web, each private initiative was met by a government response seeking to disable or limit it. Internet service providers were required to install “black boxes” (known by the acronym SORM) giving Russia’s security services access to Internet traffic. Independent websites, such as the authors’ own agentura.ru site on intelligence matters, were subject to blocking and attack. Journalists’ computers were seized.

But the struggle continued. Protesters used new social media tools to organize demonstrations. The government countered with new facial recognition technology and cell phone tracking to identify them. Large teams of “trolls” were hired to disrupt social networks. A nationwide system of online filtering and censorship was put in place by 2012, and has been refined since then.

To some extent, the government actions constituted an implied threat rather than a fully implemented one, according to Soldatov and Borogan.

“The Russian secret services have had a long tradition of using spying techniques not merely to spy on people but to intimidate them. The KGB had a method of ‘overt surveillance’ in which they followed a target without concealing themselves. It was used against dissidents.”

And in practice, much of the new surveillance infrastructure fell short of stifling independent activity, as the authors’ own work testifies.

“The Internet filtering in Russia turned out to be unsophisticated; thousands of sites were blocked by mistake, and users could easily find ways to make an end-run around it,” they write. Moreover, “very few people in Russia were actually sent to jail for posting criticism of the government online.”

Nevertheless, “Russian Internet freedom has been deeply curtailed.”

In a chapter devoted to the case of Edward Snowden, the authors express disappointment in Snowden’s unwillingness to comment on Russian surveillance or to engage with Russian journalists. “To us, the silence seemed odd and unpleasant.”

More important, they say that Snowden actually made matters in Russia worse.

“Snowden may not have known or realized it, but his disclosures emboldened those in Russia who wanted more control over the Internet,” they write.

Because the Snowden disclosures were framed not as a categorical challenge to surveillance, but exclusively as an exposure of U.S. and allied practices, they were exploited by the Russian government to legitimize its own preference for “digital sovereignty.”

Snowden provided “cover for something the Kremlin wanted all along– to force Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s services, Gmail and YouTube, to be subject to Russian legislation, which meant providing backdoor access to the Russian security services.”

“Snowden could have done good things globally, but for Russia he was a disaster,” said Stas Kozlovsky of Moscow State University, a leading Wikipedia contributor in Russia, as quoted in The Red Web.

(Recently, Snowden has spoken out more clearly against Russian surveillance practices. “I’ve been quite critical of [it] in the past and I’ll continue to be in the future, because this drive that we see in the Russian government to control more and more the internet, to control more and more what people are seeing, even parts of personal lives, deciding what is the appropriate or inappropriate way for people to express their love for one another … [is] fundamentally wrong,” he said in a recent presentation. See “Snowden criticises Russia for approach to internet and homosexuality,” The Guardian, September 5, 2015).

The Red Web provides a salutary reminder for Western readers that the so-called U.S. “surveillance state” has hardly begun to exercise the possibilities of political control implied in that contemptuous term. For all of its massive collection of private data, the National Security Agency — unlike its Russian counterparts — has not yet interfered in domestic elections, censored private websites, disrupted public gatherings, or gained unrestricted access to domestic communications.

Soldatov and Borogan conclude on an optimistic note. After all, they write, things are even worse in China. See The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, Public Affairs, 2015.

Russian Pacific Fleet Prepares For Arrival of New Missile Submarines

By Hans M. Kristensen

Later this fall (possibly this month) the first new Borei-class (sometimes spelled Borey) nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) is scheduled to arrive at the Rybachiy submarine base near Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

[Update September 30, 2015: Captain First Rank Igor Dygalo, a spokesperson for the Russian Navy, announced that the Aleksander Nevsky (K-550) arrived at Rybachiy Submarine Base at 5 PM local time (5 AM GMT) on September 30, 2015.]

At least one more, possibly several, Borei SSBNs are expected to follow over the next few years to replace the remaining outdated Delta-III SSBNs currently operating in the Pacific.

The arrival of the Borei SSBNs marks the first significant upgrade of the Russian Pacific Fleet SSBN force in more than three decades.

In preparation for the arrival of the new submarines, satellite pictures show upgrades underway to submarine base piers, missile loading piers, and nuclear warhead storage facilities. Continue reading

New Nuclear Notebook: Russian Nuclear Forces 2015

By Hans M. Kristensen

Russian nuclear weapons have received a lot of attention lately. Russian officials casually throw around direct or thinly veiled nuclear threats (here, here and here). And U.S. defense hawks rail (here and here) about a Russian nuclear buildup.

In reality, rather than building up, Russia is building down but appears to be working to level off the force within the next decade to prevent further unilateral reduction of its strategic nuclear force in the future. For details, see the latest FAS Nuclear Notebook on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists web site.

This trend makes it more important for the United States and Russia to reach additional nuclear arms control agreements to reduce strategic nuclear forces. Hard to imagine in the current climate, but remember: even at the height of the Cold War the two sides reached important arms limitation agreements because it was seen then (as it is now) to be in their national security interest.  Continue reading

New START Treaty Count: Russia Dips Below US Again

By Hans M. Kristensen

Russian deployed strategic warheads counted by the New START Treaty once again slipped below the U.S. force level, according to the latest fact sheet released by the State Department.

The so-called aggregate numbers show that Russia as of March 1, 2015 deployed 1,582 warheads on 515 strategic launchers.

The U.S. count was 1,597 warheads on 785 launchers.

Back in September 2014, the Russian warhead count for the first time in the treaty’s history moved above the U.S. warhead count. The event caused U.S. defense hawks to say it showed Russia was increasing it nuclear arsenal and blamed the Obama administration. Russian news media gloated Russia had achieved “parity” with the United States for the first time.

Of course, none of that was true. The ups and downs in the aggregate data counts are fluctuations caused by launchers moving in an out of overhaul and new types being deployed while old types are being retired. The fact is that both Russia and the United States are slowly – very slowly – reducing their deployed forces to meet the treaty limits by February 2018.  Continue reading

The INF Crisis: Bad Press and Nuclear Saber Rattling

By Hans M. Kristensen

Russian online news paper Vzglaid is carrying a story that wrongly claims that I have said a Russian flight-test of an INF missile would not be a violation of the INF Treaty as long as the missile is not in production or put into service.

That is of course wrong. I have not made such a statement, not least because it would be wrong. On the contrary, a test-launch of an INF missile would indeed be a violation of the INF Treaty, regardless of whether the missile is in production or deployed.

Meanwhile, US defense secretary Ashton Carter appears to confirm that the ground-launched cruise missile Russia allegedly test-launched in violation of the INF Treaty is a nuclear missile and threatens further escalation if it is deployed. Continue reading