Posts from February, 2007

Divine Strake Experiment Canceled

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency announced today that it has canceled the controversial Divine Strake experiment.

A 700 tons chemical explosion at the Nevada Test Site was intended to provide data for calibration of nuclear and conventional weapons against underground targets. Local fear that the explosion would kick up and disperse radioactive material from the ground – as well concern about Divine Strake’s role in calibrating the use of low-yield nuclear weapons against underground targets – prompted members of Congress to raise questions about Divine Strake.

The Federation of American Scientists was the first to obtain and publish confirmation from DTRA that Divine Strake was the same experiment described in the FY2006 and FY2007 DTRA budget requests as intended to “improve the warfighter’s confidence in selecting the smallest proper nuclear yield necessary to destroy underground facilities while minimizing collateral damage.” DTRA public affairs officials subsequently denied Divine Strake had any connection to nuclear missions, but were later contradicted by senior DTRA officials saying that it was nuclear related.

Background: Divine Strake

Questions about Iranian Weapons in Iraq

At an unusual press briefing on Monday, U.S. military officials provided the first physical evidence of Iranian arms shipments to Iraqi extremist groups. The display, which the New York Times called “extraordinary,” consisted of explosively formed penetrators, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile reportedly found in Iraq and bearing Iranian markings. Notably, the officials also claimed to have proof that the operation was being directed by “the highest levels of the Iranian government,” a claim that was rigorously denied by Tehran.

The briefing raised more questions than it answered. Topping the list are questions about the extent of the Iranian government’s involvement in the arms shipments. Defense Department officials reportedly provided little proof for their claims of high-level involvement by the Iranian government, and the next day General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chief of staff, appeared to contradict them. Commenting on the captured weaponry, Pace conceded that the weapons “[do] not translate to that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this.” Yesterday President Bush sided with General Pace, confirming that “we don’t…know whether the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds force to do what they did.”

The captured weapons themselves are also puzzling. Not only were they reportedly manufactured in Iran, they are also emblazoned with manufacture dates and lot numbers – hardly indicative of a government that wants to maintain “plausible deniability.” Architects of covert aid programs usually go to great lengths to conceal their government’s involvement by purchasing weapons from foreign suppliers and clandestinely shipping them through third countries. The Iranians apparently did neither. Why?
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China’s Submarine Fleet Continues Low Patrol Rate

China’s entire submarine fleet conducted only two patrols in 2006, according to information declassified by the U.S. Navy and obtained by the Federation of American Scientists under the Freedom of Information Act. The low patrol rate follows a drop from an all-time high of only six patrols in 2000 to none in 2005. China’s single sea-launched ballistic missile submarine Xia, the data shows, has never conducted a deterrent patrol.

The low level of Chinese submarine patrols is a curious contrast to warnings by the Pentagon, some private institutes and news media that China is expanding its submarine operations deeper into the Pacific. Although Chinese submarines occasionally venture into the waters around Japan and Taiwan, the fleet is surprisingly inactive.
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Bush Gets it Right on Small Arms Threat Reduction

The President’s foreign aid budget request for FY2008 contains an unexpected and laudable surprise: a five-fold increase in funding for the State Department’s Small Arms/Light Weapons Destruction initiaitive. If approved by Congress, the additional funding will bolster US efforts to stem the illicit trade in deadly light weapons.
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