Nuclear Upgrades At Russian Bomber Base And Storage Site

The Russian military has started upgrading nuclear weapons bunkers at Engels Air Base and the Saratov-63 central nuclear weapons storage facility in Saratov province.

At Engels Air Base, satellite images show one of two bunkers in the weapons storage area has been exposed as part of apparent maintenance of the base’s nuclear weapons mission.

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The bunker is one of two earth-covered concrete bunkers at the base, which is home to Russian Tu-160 (Blackjack) and Tu-95 (Bear) long-range bombers. Engels Air Base made international headlines recently when two Tu-160s were deployed from the base to Venezuela in December, as part of the intensifying standoff between the Trump and Maduro governments. Although the bombers themselves are nuclear-capable and are collocated with nuclear weapons bunkers in Russia, it’s a certainty that the two planes deployed to Venezuela carried no such weapons.

The bunker is located about seven kilometers (4.3 miles) south of the runway. The bombers, which are accountable under the New START treaty, can carry nuclear AS-15 (Kh-55) long-range cruise missiles and are being upgraded to carry the new nuclear AS-23B (Kh-102) long-range cruise missile. Each cruise missile is thought to carry a 200-kiloton nuclear warhead. The bombers are also equipped to carry conventional Kh-555 and Kh-101 cruise missiles.

Initial work on the bunker appears to have started in 2011 with addition of a tall structure at the eastern entrance. But the work apparently stalled – potentially because of lack of funds – until late-May 2018 when excavation of the bunker itself began. Between 2011 and 2018, the bunker seemed dormant. The second bunker, however, is intact and appears to have been active during this time.

The size of the exposed bunker is approximately 1,800 square meters (19,800 square feet). It consists of two entrances, a main hall for loading, a climate control facility, and what are probably two warhead storage bays. Each bay is about 20×20 meters (60×60 feet), or 400 square meters (1,200 square feet). It is unknown if warheads are stored in shipping containers or mated with the missiles. If mated with missiles, each bay could potentially store 40 missiles for a total capacity of 80 missiles per bunker, or 160 missiles combined in the two bunkers. If warheads are stored in containers, the capacity would be significantly greater.

Bunker Upgrade at Saratov-63

Like the United States, Russia is thought to store only some of its bomber weapons at the bomber bases while most are kept in central storage facilities. Russia has about a dozen central storage facilities, which are managed by the 12th Main Directorate (GUMO) of the Ministry of Defence. One of them is Saratov-63, located near Berezovka—only 36 kilometers (22 miles) south of Engels. One of the five large underground bunkers at this facility is also being upgraded.

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The bunker at Saratov-63 is much larger than the one at Engels and covers an area of roughly 5,300 square meters (57,600 square feet). A lot of that consists of access tunnels and technical areas while the core structure covers approximately 3,500 square meters (38,500 square feet). The bunker can probably hold several hundred nuclear weapons.

Saratov-63 has a special history. In June 1998, former US STRATCOM commander General Gene Habiger visited the facility and was given access to one of the bunkers. He later described the interior:

“We went to Saratov, a national nuclear weapons storage site, where I saw not only strategic weapons, but tactical weapons…And they took me into the side of a mountain, a hill, where we went behind two doors that were each several thousands of tons in weight. And you had to open up one door at a time, these sliding, massive doors, in order to get into the inner sanctum. In the inner sanctum, there were five nuclear weapon storage bays. They took me into one of those bays, and we had an interesting discussion.”

The upgrade of nuclear storage bunkers at Engels and Saratov-63 follow upgrades to nuclear bunkers we have described at Kulikovo in the Kaliningrad province and at Vilyuchinsk on the Kamchatka peninsula.

These infrastructure upgrades are part of Russia’s overall nuclear modernization efforts. Both facilities serve central roles in Russia’s nuclear posture, so it’s no surprise that they are being upgraded. Engels Air Base also recently completed major upgrades of runway and tarmac and remains the only Russian air base serving the Air Force’s fleet of Tu-160 strategic bombers (at least 10 are scheduled to complete modernization by the end of 2019).

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the New Land Foundation, the Ploughshares Fund, and the Prospect Hill Foundation. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.

Chinese DF-26 Missile Launchers Deploy To New Missile Training Area

By Hans M. Kristensen

[Updated Jan 31, 2019] Earlier this month, the Chinese government outlet Global Times published a report that a People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) unit with the new DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile had carried out an exercise in the “Northwest China’s plateau and desert areas.” The article made vague references to a program previously aired on China’s CCTV-7 that showed a column of DF-26 launchers and support vehicles driving on highways, desert roads, and through mountain streams.

As it turns out, the exercise may have been west of Beijing, but the actual location is in upper Central China. Several researchers (for example Sean O’Connor) have been attempting to learn more about the unit. By combining scenes from the CCTV-7 program with various satellite imagery sources, I was able to geolocate the DF-26s to the S218 highway (39.702137º, 105.731469º) outside the city of Jilantai (Jilantaizhen) roughly 100 km north of Alxa in the Inner Mogolia province in the northern part of central China (see image below).

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The DF-26s appear to have been visiting a new missile training area established by PLARF since 2015. By combining use of Google Earth, Planet, and Terra Server, each of which has unique capabilities needed to scan vast areas and identifying individual facilities, as well as analyzing images purchased from Digital Globe, I have so far been able to identify more than 100 launch pads used by launchers and support vehicles during exercises, a support base, a landing strip, and at least eight launch unit camp sites covering an area of more than 1,000 square kilometers (400 square miles) along a 90-kilometer (55-mile) corridor (see image below). A Google Earth placemark file (kml) with all these locations is available for download here.

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The Chinese military has for decades been operating a vast missile training area further west in the Qinghai province, which I profiled in an article a decade ago. They also appear to operate a training area further west near Korla (Beyingol). The best unclassified guide for following Chinese missile units is, of course, the indispensable PLA Rocket Force Leadership and Unit Reference produced by Mark Stokes at the Project 2049 Institute.

It is not clear if the DF-26 unit that exercised in the Jilantai training area is or will be permanently based in the region. It is normal for Chinese missile units to deploy long distances from their home base for training. The first brigade (666 Brigade) is thought to be based some 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) to the southeast near Xinyang in southern Henan province. This was not the first training deployment of the brigade. The NASIC reported in 2017 that China had 16+ DF-26 launchers and it is building more. The CCTV-7 video shows an aerial view of a launch unit camp with TEL tents, support vehicles, and personnel tents. A DF-26 is shown pulling out from under a camouflage tent and setting up on a T-shaped concrete launch pad (see image below). More than 100 of those pads have been identified in the area.

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The support base at the training area does not have the outline of a permanent missile brigade base. But several satellite images appear to show the presence of DF-16, DF-21, and DF-26 launchers at this facility. One image purchased from Digital Globe and taken by one of their satellites on October 24, 2018, shows the base under construction with what appears to be two DF-16 launchers (h/t @reutersanders) parked between two garages. Another photo taken on August 16, 2017, shows what appears to be 22 DF-21C launchers with a couple of possible DF-26 launchers as well (see below).

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The DF-26, which was first officially displayed in 2015, fielded in 2016, and declared in service by April 2018, is an intermediate-range ballistic missile launched from a six-axle road-mobile launchers that can deliver either a conventional or nuclear warhead to a maximum distance of 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles). From the 666 Brigade area near Xinyang, a DF-26 IRBM could reach Guam and New Delhi (see map below). China has had the capability to strike Guam with the nuclear DF-4 ICBM since 1980, but the DF-4 is a moveable, liquid-fuel missiles that takes a long time to set up, while the DF-26 is a road-mobile, solid-fuel, dual-capable missile that can launch quicker and with greater accuracy. Moreover, DF-26 adds conventional strike to the IRBM range for the first time.

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The 666 Brigade is in range of U.S. sea- and air-launched cruise missiles as well as ballistic missiles. But the DF-26 is part of China’s growing inventory of INF-range missiles (most of which, by far, are non-nuclear), a development that is causing some in the U.S. defense community to recommend the United States should withdraw from the INF treaty and deploy quick-launch intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the Western Pacific. Others (including this author) disagree, saying current and planned U.S. capabilities are sufficient to meet national security objectives and that engaging China in an INF-race would make things worse.

See also: FAS Nuclear Notebook on Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2018

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the New Land Foundation, and the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Mixed Messages On Trump’s Missile Defense Review

By Matt Korda and Hans M. Kristensen

President Trump personally released the long-overdue Missile Defense Review (MDR) today, and despite the document’s assertion that “Missile Defenses are Stabilizing,” the MDR promotes a posture that is anything but.

Firstly, during his presentation, Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan falsely asserted that the MDR is consistent with the priorities of the 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS). The NSS’ missile defense section notes that “Enhanced missile defense is not intended to undermine strategic stability or disrupt longstanding strategic relationships with Russia or China.” (p.8) During Shanahan’s and President Trump’s speeches, however, they made it clear that the United States will seek to detect and destroy “any type of target,” “anywhere, anytime, anyplace,” either “before or after launch.” Coupled with numerous references to Russia’s and China’s evolving missile arsenals and advancements in hypersonic technology, this kind of rhetoric is wholly inconsistent with the MDR’s description of missile defense being directed solely against “rogue states.” It is also inconsistent with the more measured language of the National Security Strategy.

Secondly, the MDR clearly states that the United States “will not accept any limitation or constraint on the development or deployment of missile defense capabilities needed to protect the homeland against rogue missile threats.” This is precisely what concerns Russia and China, who fear a future in which unconstrained and technologically advanced US missile defenses will eventually be capable of disrupting their strategic retaliatory capability and could be used to support an offensive war-fighting posture.

Thirdly, in a move that will only exacerbate these fears, the MDR commits the Missile Defense Agency to test the SM-3 Block IIA against an ICBM-class target in 2020. The 2018 NDAA had previously mandated that such a test only take place “if technologically feasible;” it now seems that there is sufficient confidence for the test to take place. However, it is notable that the decision to conduct such a test seems to hinge upon technological capacity and not the changes to the security environment, despite the constraints that Iran (which the SM-3 is supposedly designed to counter) has accepted upon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Fourthly, the MDR indicates that the United States will look into developing and fielding a variety of new capabilities for detecting and intercepting missiles either immediately before or after launch, including:

  • Developing a defensive layer of space-based sensors (and potentially interceptors) to assist with launch detection and boost-phase intercept.
  • Developing a new or modified interceptor for the F-35 that is capable of shooting down missiles in their boost-phase.
  • Mounting a laser on a drone in order to destroy missiles in their boost-phase. DoD has apparently already begun developing a “Low-Power Laser Demonstrator” to assist with this mission.

There exists much hype around the concept of boost-phase intercept—shooting down an adversary missile immediately after launch—because of the missile’s relatively slower velocity and lack of deployable countermeasures at that early stage of the flight. However, an attempt at boost-phase intercept would essentially require advance notice of a missile launch in order to position US interceptors within striking distance. The layer of space-based sensors is presumably intended to alleviate this concern; however, as Laura Grego notes, these sensors would be “easily overwhelmed, easily attacked, and enormously expensive.”

Additionally, boost-phase intercept would require US interceptors to be placed in very close proximity to the target––almost certainly revealing itself to an adversary’s radar network. The interceptor itself would also have to be fast enough to chase down an accelerating missile, which is technologically improbable, even years down the line. A 2012 National Academy of Sciences report puts it very plainly: “Boost-phase missile defense—whether kinetic or directed energy, and whether based on land, sea, air, or in space—is not practical or feasible.” 

Overall, the Trump Administration’s Missile Defense Review offers up a gamut of expensive, ineffective, and destabilizing solutions to problems that missile defense simply cannot solve. The scope of US missile defense should be limited to dealing with errant threats—such as an accidental or limited missile launch—and should not be intended to support a broader war-fighting posture. To that end, the MDR’s argument that “the United States will not accept any limitation or constraint” on its missile defense capabilities will only serve to raise tensions, further stimulate adversarial efforts to outmaneuver or outpace missile defenses, and undermine strategic stability.

During the upcoming spring hearings, Congress will have an important role to play in determining which capabilities are actually necessary in order to enforce a limited missile defense posture, and which ones are superfluous. And for those superfluous capabilities, there should be very strong pushback.

Israel’s Official Map Replaces Military Bases with Fake Farms and Deserts

Somewhat unexpectedly, a blog post that I wrote last week caught fire internationally. On Monday, I reported that Yandex Maps—Russia’s equivalent to Google Maps—had inadvertently revealed over 300 military and political facilities in Turkey and Israel by attempting to blur them out.

In a strange turn of events, the fallout from that story has actually produced a whole new one. 

After the story blew up, Yandex pointed out that its efforts to obscure these sites are consistent with its requirement to comply with local regulations. Yandex’s statement also notes that “our mapping product in Israel conforms to the national public map published by the government of Israel as it pertains to the blurring of military assets and locations.”

The “national public map” to which Yandex refers is the official online map of Israel which is maintained by the Israeli Mapping Centre (מרכז למיפוי ישראל) within the Israeli government. Since Yandex claims to take its cue from this map, I wondered whether that meant that the Israeli government was also selectively obscuring sites on its national map.

I wasn’t wrong. In fact, the Israeli government goes well beyond just blurring things out. They’re actually deleting entire facilities from the map—and quite messily, at that. Usually, these sites are replaced with patches of fake farmland or desert, but sometimes they’re simply painted over with white or black splotches.

Some of the more obvious examples of Israeli censorship include nuclear facilities:

  • Tel-Nof Air Base is just down the road from a suspected missile storage site, both of which have been painted over with identical patches of farmland.

 

 

  • Palmachim Air Base doubles as a test launch site for Jericho missiles and is collocated with the Soreq Nuclear Research Center, which is rumoured to be responsible for nuclear weapons research and design. The entire area has been replaced with a fake desert.

 

 

  • The Haifa Naval Base includes pens for submarines that are rumoured to be nuclear-capable, and is entirely blacked out on the official map.

 

 

  • The Negev Nuclear Research Center at Dimona is responsible for plutonium and tritium production for Israel’s nuclear weapons program, and has been entirely whited out on the official map.

 

 

  • Hatzerim Air Base has no known connection to Israel’s nuclear weapons program; however, the sloppy method that was used to mask its existence (by basically just copy-pasting a highly-distinctive and differently-coloured patch of desert to an area only five kilometres away) was too good to leave out.

 

 

Given that all of these locations are easily visible through Google Earth and other mapping platforms, Israel’s official map is a prime example of needless censorship. But Israel isn’t the only one guilty of silly secrecy: South Korea’s Naver Maps regularly paints over sensitive sites with fake mountains or digital trees, and in a particularly egregious case, the Belgian Ministry of Defense is actually suing Google for not complying with its requests to blur out its military facilities.

 

 

Before the proliferation of high-resolution satellite imagery, obscuring aerial photos of military facilities was certainly an effective method for states to safeguard their sensitive data. However, now that anyone with an internet connection can freely access these images, it simply makes no sense to persist with these unnecessary censorship practices–especially since these methods can often backfire and draw attention to the exact sites that they’re supposed to be hiding.

Case studies like Yandex and Strava—in which the locations of secret military facilities were revealed through the publication of fitness heat-maps—should prompt governments to recognize that their data is becoming increasingly accessible through open-source methods. Correspondingly, they should take the relevant steps to secure information that is absolutely critical to national security, and be much more publicly transparent with information that is not—hopefully doing away with needless censorship in the process.

An X reveals a Diamond: locating Israeli Patriot batteries using radar interference

Amid a busy few weeks of nuclear-related news, an Israeli researcher made a very surprising OSINT discovery that flew somewhat under the radar. As explained in a Medium article, Israeli GIS analyst Harel Dan noticed that when he accidentally adjusted the noise levels of the imagery produced from the SENTINEL-1 satellite constellation, a bunch of colored Xs suddenly appeared all over the globe.

SENTINEL-1’s C-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) operates at a centre frequency of 5.405 GHz, which conveniently sits within the range of the military frequency used for land, airborne, and naval radar systems (5.250-5.850 GHz)—including the AN/MPQ-53/65 phased array radars that form the backbone of a Patriot battery’s command and control system. Therefore, Harel correctly hypothesized that some of the Xs that appeared in the SENTINEL-1 images could be triggered by interference from Patriot radar systems.

Using this logic, he was able to use the Xs to pinpoint the locations of Patriot batteries in several Middle Eastern countries, including Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

 

 

Harel’s blog post also noted that several Xs appeared within Israeli territory; however, the corresponding image was redacted (I’ll leave you to guess why), leaving a gap in his survey of Patriot batteries stationed in the Middle East.

This blog post partially fills that gap, while acknowledging that there are some known Patriot sites—both in Israel and elsewhere around the globe—that interestingly don’t produce an X via the SAR imagery.

All of these sites were already known to Israel-watchers and many have appeared in news articles, making Harel’s redaction somewhat unnecessary—especially since the images reveal nothing about operational status or system capabilities.

 

 

Looking at the map of Israel through the SENTINEL-1 SAR images, four Xs are clearly visible: one in the Upper Galilee, one in Haifa, one near Tel Aviv, and one in the Negev. All of these Xs correspond to likely Patriot battery sites, which are known in Israel as “Yahalom” (יהלום, meaning “Diamond”) batteries. Let’s go from north to south.

The northernmost site is home to the 138th Battalion’s Yahalom battery at Birya, which made news in July 2018 for successfully intercepting a Syrian Su-24 jet which had reportedly infiltrated two kilometers into Israeli airspace before being shot down. Earlier that month, the Birya battery also successfully intercepted a Syrian UAV which had flown 10 kilometers into Israeli airspace.

 

 

The Yahalom battery in the northwest is based on one of the ridges of Mount Carmel, near Haifa’s Stella Maris Monastery. It is located only 50 meters from a residential neighborhood, which has understandably triggered some resentment from nearby residents who have complained that too much ammunition is stored there and that the air sirens are too loud.

 

 

The X in the west indicates the location of a Yahalom site at Palmachim air base, south of Tel Aviv, where Israel conducts its missile and satellite launches. In March 2016, the Israeli Air Force launched interceptors as part of a pre-planned missile defense drill, and while the government refused to divulge the location of the battery, an Israeli TV channel reported that the drill was conducted using Patriot missiles fired from Palmachim air base.

 

 

Finally, the X in the southeast sits right on top of the Negev Nuclear Research Centre, more commonly known as Dimona. This is the primary facility relating to Israel’s nuclear weapons program and is responsible for plutonium and tritium production. The site is known to be heavily fortified; during the Six Day War, an Israeli fighter jet that had accidentally flown into Dimona’s airspace was shot down by Israeli air defenses and the pilot was killed.

 

 

The proximity of the Negev air defense battery to an Israeli nuclear facility is not unique. In fact, the 2002 SIPRI Yearbook suggests that several of the Yahalom batteries identified through SENTINEL-1 SAR imagery are either co-located with or located close to facilities related to Israel’s nuclear weapons program. The Palmachim site is near the Soreq Centre, which is responsible for nuclear weapons research and design, and the Mount Carmel site is near the Yodefat Rafael facility in Haifa—which is associated with the production of Jericho missiles and the assembly of nuclear weapons—and near the base for Israel’s Dolphin-class submarines, which are rumored to be nuclear-capable.

Google Earth’s images of Israel have been intentionally blurred since 1997, due to a US law known as the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment which prohibits US satellite imagery companies from selling pictures that are “no more detailed or precise than satellite imagery of Israel that is available from commercial sources.” As a result, it is not easy to locate the exact position of the Yahalom batteries; for example, given the number of facilities and the quality of the imagery, the site at Palmachim is particularly challenging to spot.

However, this law is actually being revisited this year and could soon be overturned, which would be a massive boon for Israel-watchers. Until that happens though, Israel will remain blurry and difficult to analyze, making creative OSINT techniques like Harel’s all the more useful.

—–

Sentinel-1 data from 2014 onwards is free to access via Google Earth Engine here, and Harel’s dataset is available here.

NNSA Plan Shows Nuclear Warhead Cost Increases and Expanded Production

By Hans M. Kristensen

NNSA has published the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan for Fiscal Year 2019, which updates the agency’s work on producing and maintaining the U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads.

The latest plan follows the broad outlines of last year’s plan but contains important changes.

The new plan shows significant cost increases and warhead production plans that appear to collide with the fiscal realities facing the Nation in the years ahead.

Significant Cost Increases

The FY2019 SSMP shows significant increases in out-year cost estimates. The “bow wave” of increased costs in the early-2020s that triggered concerns about affordability appears to have become “a flooding” and continue in subsequent years. The cost-drop the previous SSMP projected for the mid-2020s appears not to be happening. Over the next 25 years, NNSA’s spending on nuclear weapons activities is projected to double (see figure below).

Moreover, the addition of a new SLCM not included in the current plan will further increase costs over the next decade-plus.

FY2019 SSMP shows significant cost increases compared with the FY2018 plan. Click on image to view full size

Part of the greater cost comes from increases in the cost estimates for the individual warhead live-extension programs (LEPs). The W78 LEP, one of the two warheads on the Minuteman III ICBM, is now projected to cost $15.4 billion, up 3.3% from $14.9 billion in the previous plan. The high estimate has even greater increase: up from $18.6 billion to $19.5 billion. Moreover, this cost estimate does not include the incremental cost to get to a 30-pit-per-year plutonium capability by FY 2026 to support this LEP. All of the other warhead programs also have cost increases.

In the near-term, these developments result in immediate cost increases and exacerbate the cost “bow wave” in the first half of the 2020s, which shows an increase of several hundred million dollars each year. Total annual LEP costs are lower in the following decade but that reduction would likely be more than erased by expected cost increases and a decision to move forward with development and production of a SLCM as recommended by the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (see figure below).

Cost growth increases fiscal “bow wave” and new weapons would erase future cost reductions. Click on image to view full size

Extensive Warhead Work Planned

The FY2019 SSMP includes several graphs that expand transparency of the nuclear warhead work now and for the next several decades. Most significantly, the SSMP expands information about sustainment work on legacy warheads (those warheads that are already in the stockpile) by breaking it down by work on limited life components (LLCs) such as neutron generators and gas transfer systems, alterations, surety upgrades, and joint test assemblies (JCSs) used for text flights. Overall, this transparency improves overview of the total workload facing the nuclear enterprise.

Interestingly, the so-called “3+2 warhead strategy” that was highlighted in the previous SSMP and congressional hearings as the only way forward is not mentioned in the new plan at all. The intension was to build three interoperable warheads (IWs) for ICBMs and SLBMs and two warheads for aircraft. IW1, which was previously described as a combination of W78 and W88-1, is now simply referred to as the W78 Replacement Program. The two other IWs – the IW2 combining W87 and W88, and the IW3 involving the W76-1 – are now listed with new names: BM-Y and BM-Z.

The SSMP also shows that six warheads will get a new ISA (Integrated Surety Architecture). This involves “improving DOE/NNSA transportation surety by integrating nuclear weapon shipping configurations with physical security elements.” A “matured integrated surety architecture capability to stockpile systems” matured in FY2018 “for further development and integration activities.”

In the graph below, I have combined the SSMP graphs of warhead LEPs and legacy warhead work into one graph and marked changes and omissions compared with the previous SSMP. The new plan includes two new warheads: the low-yield W76-2 and the SLCM.

FY2019 SSMP warhead work sheets show expanded warhead work but do not include several weapons. Click on image to view full size

The LEP section shows W76-2 work stretching out five years from mid-FY2019 (after completion of the current W76-1 LEP) through much of FY2024 (although work might actually be happening one year earlier). The W76-2 is intended to be deployed on SSBNs along with higher-yield W76-1 and W88 warheads. The W76-2 is intended for use in limited “tactical” scenarios in response to for example Russian use of tactical nuclear weapons. It might also serve a role in the expanded nuclear first-use options against “non-nuclear strategic attack” described in the NPR.

The SLCM is mentioned in the SSMP but with no details about the development and production timeline. NNSA says the SLCM “will be a major new addition in the next decade.” In the combined graph I have included a notional SLCM development and production line for illustrative purposes based on the LRSO timeline. It assumes initial startup in FY2020 after completion of an Analysis of Alternatives (AoA).

The SSMP LEP graph does not include the next B61 life extension program (previously called B61-13 in FY2016 SSMP version), which is scheduled to start in 2038. To correct that oversight, I have included it in the graph. This is a major warhead upgrade with cost estimates in the early-2040s ($1.4 billion in 2043) that go beyond that of any other existing or projected LEP program. And based on the cost graph, annual costs estimates would be even greater after 2043. It is yet unclear why the next B61 LEP will be so expensive.

Altogether, the warhead LEP and legacy graphs show a very ambitious workload for the nuclear weapons complex. At some point in the early-2020s, as many as six different warheads LEPs would be in development or production at the same time, in addition to sustainment of legacy warheads in the stockpile.

The Fate of the B83-1 Megaton Bomb

DOD and NNSA in 2013 decided to retire the B83-1 megaton bomb after the B61-12 enters the stockpile in the early 2020s (prior to this decision the B83-1 inventory had already been significantly reduced). As a result, sustainment work on the bomb was canceled. The previous SSMP included a (poor quality) graph that showed the B83-1 (and B61-11) being phased out. Some B83-1s would be retained in the stockpile “until confidence in the B61-12 stockpile is gained.” But the 2018 NPR appeared to signal a delay of that decision, although the language actually seemed very similar: retain the B83-1 “at least until there is sufficient confidence in the B61-12 gravity bomb that will be available in 2020.”

The FY2019 SSMP shows intension to keep B83-1 megaton bomb until 2028. Click on image to view full size

Yet the FY2019 SSMP shows the intension to retain B83-1 longer, at least through 2028. To do that, the plan revives various sustainment programs, including two, possibly three, warhead alterations. Work is also planned on the gas transfer system and integration of a new “integrated surety architecture.”

Although the NPR and SSMP both indicate the B61-12 is the replacement, they leave some uncertainty by talking about retaining the B83-1 “until a suitable replacement is identified.” The two weapons are used to hold at risk hard irregular and underground targets, and the B61-12 has increased accuracy and appears to have some limited earth-penetration capability. But the language used in the NPR and SSMP about the need to identify a “suitable replacement” could potentially indicate that the B61-12 may not be sufficient and that plans for a new weapon are underway.

Implications

The projected cost increases shown in NNSA’s FY2019 SSMP, and plans to add two new nuclear weapons to the arsenal, are likely to significantly strain the capacity of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. After initially proclaiming its intension to significantly increase the defense budget in the years ahead, the Trump administration instead has announced a reduction of the FY2020 defense budget.

The growing deficit and declining Federal revenues cause by the administration’s tax cuts are likely to further increase the budget pressure in the years ahead. Combined, these developments are likely to create significant risks for the U.S. nuclear weapons modernization program.

Unfortunately, the NPR glosses over and belittles the cost challenge for the nuclear modernization program. Rather than blindly pushing forward with excessively ambitious programs that would likely force emergency adjustments over the next decade in response to budget pressures, it is essential that the administration and Congress proactively modify the modernization programs now to take into account the significant fiscal risks.

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the New Land Foundation, and the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

New START Numbers Show Importance of Extending Treaty

Click on graph to view full size.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The latest New START treaty aggregate numbers published by the State Department earlier today show a slight increase in U.S. deployed strategic forces and a slight decrease in Russian deployed strategic forces over the past six months.

The data shows that the United States and Russia as of September 1, 2018 combined deployed a total of 1,176 strategic launchers with 2,818 attributed warheads. In addition, the two countries also had a total of 399 non-deployed launchers for a total of 1,576 strategic launchers.

Combined, the two countries have reduced their deployed strategic forces by 227 launchers and 519 warheads since 2011.

The warheads counted by the New START treaty are only a portion of the total warhead numbers possessed by the two countries. The Russian military stockpile includes an estimated 4,350 warheads while the United States has about 3,800.

The release of the data comes at a particular important time when the United States and Russia are considering whether to extend the New START treaty for another five years beyond 2021 when it expires. The treaty is under attack from defense hawks in Congress and the Trump administration is weighing whether to extend New START in light of Russia’s alleged violation of other agreements.

The data reaffirms that Russia, despite its modernization program, is not increasing its strategic nuclear forces but continue to limit them in compliance with the limitations of New START. In our latest Nuclear Notebook on Russia forces, we estimate that the New START limits recently caused Russia to reduce the number of warheads deployed on several of its strategic missiles.

Deployed Warheads

The data shows that the United States as of September 1 deployed 1,398 warheads on its strategic launchers. This is an increase of 48 warheads since February. Since 2011, the United States has offloaded 402 attributed warheads from its force.

The 1,398 is not the actual number of warheads deployed because bombers are artificially attributed one weapon each even though they don’t carry any weapons in peacetime. The actual number of deployed warheads is closer to 1,350.

Russia was counted with 1,420 deployed strategic warheads, a reduction of 24 warheads from February, and a total of 117 attributed warheads offloaded since 2011. Russian bombers also do not carry weapons so the Russian number is probably closer to 1,370 deployed strategic warheads.

These changes don’t reflect one country building up and the other reducing its forces, but are caused by fluctuations when launchers move in and out of maintenance or old launchers are retired or new ones added.

Deployed Launchers

The data shows the United States deployed 659 strategic launchers, an increase of 7 since February, and a total reduction of 223 launchers since 2011.

Russia deployed 517 strategic launchers, 142 fewer than the United States. That is 10 launchers less than in February, and a total reduction of 4 launchers since 2011.

Non-Deployed Launchers

The data also shows how many non-deployed launchers the two countries have. These are either empty launchers that are in reserve or overhaul or have not yet been destroyed.

The United States had 141 non-deployed launchers, which included empty ICBM silos, bombers in overhaul, and empty missile tubes on SSBNs in overhaul or refit. Since 2011, the United States has destroyed 101 non-deployed launchers.

Russia was counted with 258 non-deployed launchers. This includes empty ICBM silos, empty missile tubes on SSBNs in overhaul, and bombers in overhaul. Since 2011, Russia has destroyed 86 non-deployed launchers.

Essential Verification In Troubled Times

The treaty includes an important verification system that requires the United States and Russia to exchange vast amounts of data about the numbers and operations of their strategic forces and allows them to inspect each other’s facilities.

Since the treaty entered into effect in 2011, the two countries have exchanged 16,444 notifications about launcher movements and telemetry data; 1,603 since February this year.

Data released by the State Department shows that U.S. and Russian inspectors have conducted a total of 277 on-site inspections of each other’s strategic forces and facilities since the treaty entered into force in 2011. So far this year, U.S. officials have inspected Russian facilities 13 times compared with 12 Russian inspections of U.S. facilities.

The combined effects of limiting deployed strategic forces and the verification activities requiring professional collaboration between U.S. and Russian officials, mean that the New START treaty has become a beacon of light in the otherwise troubled relations between Russia and the United States, far more so than anyone could have predicted in 2010 when the treaty was signed.

Other background information:

This publication was made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the New Land Foundation, and the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

Russian ICBM Upgrade at Kozelsk

An SS-27 Mod 2 (Rs-24, Yars) is loaded into an upgraded silo at Kozelsk. Image: Russian MOD.

By Hans M. Kristensen

New satellite photos show substantial upgrades of ICBM silos at the missile field near Kozelsk in western Russia.

The images show that progress is well underway on at least half of the silos (possibly more) of the second regiment of the 28th Guards Missile Division from the Soviet-era SS-19 ICBM to the new SS-27 Mod (RS-24, Yars). The first regiment of ten silos completed its upgrade in late-2015. Like the SS-19, the SS-27 Mod 2 carries MIRV.

In its earlier configuration of six regiments with a total of 60 silos, the Kozelsk missile field covered an area of roughly 2,300 square-kilometers (890 square-miles). With closure of three regiments, the active field has been reduced to about 400 square-miles. That includes one 10-missile regiment (74th Regiment) that has already been upgraded to SS-27 Mod 2, a second that is being upgraded (168th Regiment), and a third (219th Regiment) that might still operate SS-19s, although the status is uncertain. It is possible that Russia will upgrade a total of 30 silos at Kozelsk. The Kozelsk missile field is located about 240 kilometers (150 miles) southwest of Moscow about 180 kilometers (115 miles) from Belarus (see image below).

Click on image to view full size.

Each SS-27 Mod 2 ICBM can carry up to four MIRV warheads, each with a yield of about 500 kilotons. Each SS-19 carried up to six MIRV, each with a yield of about 400 kilotons. The New START treaty apparently has forced Russia to reduce warhead loading on some of its missiles.

The latest image from Digital Globe on Google Earth is from June 22, 2018. It shows the large launch control center covering 335,000 square-meters (3,620,000 square-feet) with reconstruction nearly completed of the inner area with silo and underground command center. The administrational and technical area has been significantly expanded. A new gun turret is under construction and multi-layered security perimeter has been nearly completed around entire area (see image below).

Click on image to view full size.

Approximately 5 kilometers (2.8 miles) southeast of the launch control center, upgrade is underway on another of the 10 silos of the regiment. Comparison with an earlier photo from 2002 clearly shows the extensive upgrade, which is expanding the overall size of the facility to 136,000 square-meters (1,500,000 square-feet). Visible work includes a nearly finished silo, a new gun turret, trenches for new cables, and a new security perimeter (see image below).

Click on image to view full size.

Approximately 7 kilometers further southeast, another silo is being upgraded. This silo covers a slightly smaller are of 120,000 square-meters (1,300,000 square-meters). The upgrade appears to be less advanced with substantial work still going on in the silo, the gun turret not yet completed, no cable trenches visible yet, and the security perimeter only partially done. Visible in this area, however, is a unique entrance feature (see image below).

Click on image to view full size.

These are just a few facilities of Russia’s extensive land-based nuclear missile force, which has been under upgrade since the late-1990s. The upgrade of Russia’s four ICBM silo missile divisions and seven road-mobile ICBM divisions currently without just over 300 ICBMs is expected to be completed by the mid-2020s. Despite the modernization program, the U.S. Intelligence Community projects “the number of missiles in the Russian ICBM force will continue to decrease because of arms control agreements, aging missiles, and resource constraints,” according to the Air Force National Air and Space Intelligence Center.

For a breakdown of Russian nuclear forces, including locations of its entire land-based missile force, see the FAS Nuclear Notebook in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

To compare Russia’s nuclear forces with those of the world’s other eight nuclear-armed states, go here.

This publication was made possible by generous grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Ploughshares Fund, New Land Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

New Nuclear Notebook: Pakistani Nuclear Forces, 2018

A Babur-3 dual-capable SLCM is test-launched from an underwater platform in the Indian Ocean on January 9, 2017.

By Hans M. Kristensen, Robert S. Norris, and Julia Diamond

The latest FAS Nuclear Notebook has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: Pakistani nuclear forces, 2018 (direct link to PDF). We estimate that Pakistan by now has accumulated an arsenal of 140-150 nuclear warheads for delivery by short- and medium-range ballistic and cruise missiles and aircraft.

This is an increase of about ten warheads compared with our estimate from last year and continues the pace of the gradual increase of Pakistan’s arsenal we have seen for the past couple of decades. The arsenal is now significantly bigger than the 60-80 warheads the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency in 1999 initially estimated Pakistan might have by 2020. If the current trend continues, we estimate that the Pakistani nuclear warhead stockpile could potentially grow to 220-250 warheads by 2025.

The future development obviously depends on many factors, not least the Pakistani military believes the arsenal needs to continue to grow or level out at some point. Also important is how the Indian nuclear arsenal evolves.

The Pakistani government and officials initially described Pakistan’s posture as a “credible minimum deterrent” but with development of tactical nuclear weapons later began to characterize it as a “full spectrum deterrent.” Moreover, development is now underway to add a sea-based leg to its nuclear posture, and a flight test was conducted in 2017 of a ballistic missile that Pakistani officials said would be capable of carrying multiple warheads to overcome missile defense systems.

Additional information can be found here:

The Pentagon’s Annual Report on Chinese Military

By Hans M. Kristensen

[Updated August 21, 2018] The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on China’s military and security developments has finally been published, several months later than previous volumes. Normally it takes about one month after the report is generated to be published. This year it took three times that long.

The report covers many aspects of Chinese military developments. In this article I’ll briefly review the nuclear weapons related aspects of the report.

Overall, nuclear developments are not what stand out in this report. Although there are important nuclear developments, the Pentagon’s primary concern is clearly about China’s conventional forces.

Nuclear Policy and Strategy

The DOD report repeats the conclusion from previous reports that China has not, despite writings by some PLA officers (and occasional speculations by outside analysts), changed its nuclear policy but retains a no-first-use (NFU) policy and a pledge not to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear weapon state or in nuclear-weapon-free zones. That would, strictly speaking, include Japan, even though it hosts large numbers of U.S. forces.

The NFU policy, DOD says, has “contributed to the construction of [underground facilities] for the country’s nuclear forces, which plan to survive an initial nuclear strike.” Stimulants for the tunneling efforts were the 1991 Gulf War and 1999 Kosovo war, which made the Chinese realize how vulnerable their forces would be in a war with the United States.

Nor does the report indicate China has yet mated nuclear warheads to its missiles or placed nuclear forces on alert under normal circumstances. The report repeats the assessment from last that “China is enhancing peacetime readiness levels for these nuclear forces to ensure responsiveness.” That responsiveness is thought to ensure the force can disperse and go on alert if necessary.

The report mentions unidentified PLA writings expressing the value of a “launch on warning” nuclear posture, but it does not say China has adopted such a posture. A launch on warning posture would require high readiness of nuclear forces to be able to launch as soon as a warning of an incoming nuclear attack was received. China already has a “ready the forces on warning” posture that involves gradually raising the readiness level in response to growing tension in a crisis.

In U.S. military terminology, “launch on warning” is a higher readiness level than “launch under attack” because it would involve being able to launch upon detection that an attack was imminent but before incoming missiles had been detected. “Launch under attack,” in contrast, would require the force to be able to launch before incoming warheads hit U.S. launchers. The DOD report says the PLA writings highlight the “launch on warning” posture would be consistent with China’s no-first-use policy, which would imply it is more compatible with a “launch under attack” posture.

The DOD report also continues to describe China’s work on MIRV, the capability to equip missile with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles. Rather than a sign of an emerging counterforce strategy, however, DOD states that the purpose of the Chinese MIRV program is to “ensure the viability of its strategic deterrent in the face of continued advances in U.S. and, to a lesser extent, Russian strategic ISR, precision strike, and missile defense capabilities.”

Indeed, the counterproductive effects of U.S. ballistic missile defenses on Chinese offensive force developments is clearly spelled out in the report: “The PLA is developing a range of technologies China perceives are necessary to counter U.S. and other countries’ ballistic missile defense systems, including MaRV, MIRVs, decoys, chaff, jamming, thermal shielding, and hypersonic glide vehicles.”

The growing inventory of ICBMs and SSBNs means that China has to improve nuclear command and control of these systems for them to be effective. It is unknown if Chinese SSBNs have yet sailed on a deterrent patrol (we assume not), much less with nuclear warheads onboard (we also assume not). But the growing and increasingly mobile ICBM force is carrying out extensive combat patrol exercises that place new demands on the nuclear command and control system.

A unique feature of the Chinese missile force is the mixing of nuclear and conventional versions of the same missiles (DF-21 and DF-26 have both nuclear and conventional roles). For China, this is a means to provide the leadership with non-nuclear strike options without having to resort to nuclear use. For China’s potential adversaries, it is a dangerous and destabilizing practice that risks causing confusion about the character of missile attacks and potentially trigger mistaken nuclear escalation in a conflict.

China has, like other nuclear-armed states, lowered the yield of its nuclear warheads as ballistic missiles became more accurate. The current warhead used on the DF-31/A ICBMs is thought to be ten times less powerful than the multi-megaton warhead developed for the DF-5. Moreover, as China seeks to ensure the survivability of its warheads against missile defense systems, it is likely to continue to try to reduce the weight and size of its warheads to maximize penetration aids on the missiles.

The DOD report mentions a “defense industry publication has also discussed the development of a new low-yield nuclear weapon,” but does not provide any details about the publication or what it said. The classified version apparently has more details.

The Land-Based Missile Force

The overall number of Chinese ICBM launchers reported by DOD has remained stable since 2011: 50-75. One type (DF-4) has reload capability, so the number of available missiles is a little higher: 75-100 missiles. That number has also remained stable for the past three years. Indeed, other than the arrival of the DF-26 IRBM force, the total Chinese rocket forces estimate is identical to that of presented in the 2017 report.

This indicates that the DF-31A force is not continuing to increase, that the DF-31AG has not yet been operationally deployed (or is replacing older DF-31s on a one-for-one basis), and that the DF-41 is still in development more than 20 years after it was first listed in the annual DOD report.

DOD’s reporting shows that the number of Chinese ICBM launchers has roughly doubled since 2003, while the number of missile available for those launchers has more than doubled. The numbers of missiles show a mysterious increase in 2016 from just over 40 to more than 80 (see table below). The increase is curious because it does not follow the number of launchers but suddenly jumps even though there was no corresponding increase in launchers that year.

The DF-4 is thought to have reloads but that system has been deployed since the 1980s. There is considerable uncertainty in the number of launchers (some years 25). The increase coincides with the deployment of the MIRVed DF-5Bs, so a potential explanation might be that there are two full sets of DF-5 versions. But it should be underscored that it is unknown if this is the reason.

Click chart to view full size.

The old liquid-fuel DF-4 (CSS-3) ICBM is still listed as operational, even though the relocatable missile will probably be replaced by more survivable road-mobile missiles in the near future. The DF-4 appears to be retained in a roll-out-to-launch posture.

The old, but updated, liquid-fuel, silo-based DF-5 ICBM is still listed in two version: the single-warhead DF-5A and the MIRVed DF-5B. This missile was first deployed in the early-1980s and is based in 20 silos in the eastern part of central China. There is no mentioning of a rumored C version.

The DF-31 and DF-31A are the most modern operational ICBMs in the Chinese inventory. First fielded in 2006 and 2007, respectively, deployment of the DF-31 appears to have stalled and DF-31A is operational in perhaps three brigades.  Each missile can carry a single warhead. The DF-31AG is mentioned for the first time as an enhanced DF-31 with improved launcher maneuverability and survivability but may not yet be fully operational.

The long-awaited DF-41 ICBM remains in development and is listed by DOD as MIRV-capable. The report states that China is “considering additional launch options” for the DF-41, including rail-mobile and silo-basing. In silo-based version it would likely replace the DF-5.

The medium- and intermediate-range nuclear missile force is made up of three types: the new DF-26 IRBM, which is dual-capable and able to conduct conventional (both land-attack and anti-ship) and nuclear precision attacks; and two versions of the DF-21: DF-21A and DF-21E. The DF-21 A (SSC-5 Mod 2) has been deployed since the late-1990s. The DF-21E (note: the E designation is not official but assumed) is known as the SSC-5 Mod 6 and was first reported in 2016. The DF-21 also exists in two conventional versions: DF-21C and DF-21D (anti-ship).

The dual-capable DF-26, first fielded in 2016, is capable of conducting “nuclear precision strikes against ground targets.” There appears to be one or two DF-26 brigades.

The role of the new Strategic Support Force is listed as intended to “centralize the military’s space, cyber, and EW [Early Warning] missions. These would probably support the rocket force.

The Submarine Force

The DOD report says that China still operates four Jin-class (Type 094) SSBNs (all based at Hainan), each of which can carry up to 12 JL-2 SLBMs. At least one more Jin-SSBN is said to be under construction. Construction of a new SSBN (Type 096) may begin in the mid-2020s with a new SLBM (JL-3). DOD speculates that Type 094 and Type 096 SSBNs might end up operating concurrently, which, if accurate, could increase the size of the total SSBN fleet.

China also operates five Shang-class (Type 093/A) nuclear-powered attack submarines, with a sixth under construction. The Shang has now completely replaced the old Han-class (Type 092). DOD anticipates that a modified Shang (Type 093B) equipped with land-attack cruise missiles may begin building in the early-2020s. [Note: while many public sources call the two existing Shang versions Type 093A and Type 093B, the DOD report calls them Type 093 and Type 093A. The Type 093B is listed as a future type that until 2016 was called Type 095.]

Overall, China operates 56 submarines, of which 47 are diesel-electric. The report projects this force may increase to 69-78 submarines by 2020, a significant increase in only two years.

There is no mentioning in the DOD report of the nuclear sea-launched cruise missile listed in the Nuclear Posture Review fact sheet from February 2018.

The Bomber Force

One of the most interesting nuclear developments in the DOD report is the assessment that “the PLAAF has newly been re-assigned a nuclear mission.” This contrasts with last year’s report, which stated the “PLAAF does not currently have a nuclear mission.” The “re-assignment” indicates that the bombers previous had a nuclear mission. We have estimated that a small number of bombers had a dormant nuclear capability for gravity bombs as indicated by their extensive role in the nuclear weapons testing program and China’s display of nuclear bombs in military museums.

The DOD report states that the H-6 and the future stealth bomber could both be nuclear-capable. The future bomber, according to the DOD report, could potentially be operational within the next ten years.

The report repeats the estimate made by the U.S. Intelligence Community from the past two years that China is upgrading its aircraft with two new air-launched ballistic missiles, one of which may include a nuclear payload.

The DOD report does not mention the nuclear air-launched cruise missile listed the Nuclear Posture Review fact sheet from February 2018.

Additional Background:

Chinese nuclear forces, 2018