New Nuclear Notebook: Chinese Nuclear Force Modernization

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Launch pads for DF-21 mobile medium-range ballistic missile launchers have been added to a Second Artillery base in southern China.
Click image for large version with annotations.
Image: Digital Globe 2012 via Apple Maps.

By Hans M. Kristensen

China continues to upgrade bases for mobile nuclear medium-range ballistic missiles. The image above shows one of several new launch pads for DF-21 missile launchers constructed at a base near Jianshui in southern China.

A new satellite image* on Apple Maps shows the latest part of a two-decade long slow replacement of old liquid-fuel moveable DF-3A intermediate-range ballistic missiles with new road-mobile solid-fuel DF-21 medium-range ballistic missiles.

Similar developments can be seen near Qingyang in the Anhui province in eastern China and in the Qinghai and Xinjiang provinces in central China.

This and other developments are part of our latest Nuclear Notebook on Chinese nuclear forces, recently published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.   Continue Reading →

Capabilities of B61-12 Nuclear Bomb Increase Further

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A B61-12 radar test drop conducted earlier this year.

By Hans M. Kristensen

With every official statement about the B61 nuclear bomb life-extension program, the capabilities of the new version (B61-12) appear to be increasing.

Previously, officials from the DOD, STRATCOM, and NNSA said the program is a consolidation of the B61-3, B61-4, B61-7, and B61-10 gravity bombs that would provide no additional military capabilities beyond those weapons.

This pledge echoed the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, which states: “Life Extension Programs (LEPs)…will not support new military missions or provide for new military capabilities.”

Yet the addition of a guided tail kit will increase the accuracy of the B61-12 compared with the other weapons and provide new warfighting capabilities. The tail kit is necessary, officials say, for the 50-kilotons B61-12 (with a reused B61-4 warhead) to be able to hold at risk the same targets as the 360-kilotons B61-7 warhead. But in Europe, where the B61-7 has never been deployed, the guided tail kit will be a significant boost of the military capabilities – an improvement that doesn’t fit the promise of reducing the role of nuclear weapons.

More recently we also learned that the guided tail kit will provide the B61-12 with a “modest standoff capability,” something the current B61 versions don’t have.

And during yesterday’s hearing in the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, defense officials said the B61-12 would also replace the B61-11, a single-yield 400-kiloton nuclear earth-penetrating bomb introduced in 1997, and the B83-1, a strategic bomb with variable yields up to 1,200 kilotons.  Continue Reading →

India’s Missile Modernization Beyond Minimum Deterrence

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An Agni V missile is test launched from Wheeler’s Island on September 15, 2013.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Every time India test-launches a new ballistic missile, officials from the defense industry go giddy about the next missile, which they say will be bigger, more accurate, fly longer, and carry more nuclear warheads.

Until now, all Indian ballistic missile types have carried only one warhead each, an important feature that has helped constrain India’s so-called minimum deterrence posture.

But the newest missile, the 5000+ kilometer-range Agni V, had not even completed its second test launch last month, before senior officials from India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) declared that the next Agni variant will be equipped to carry multiple warheads.

While the single-warhead Agni V is a major defense weapon, the multiple-warhead Agni VI will be a “force multiplier,” declared the former head of DRDO.

Moreover, the DRDO chief said that all future missiles will be deployed in large canisters on a road- or rail-mobile launchers to get “drastically” shorter response time with an ability to launch in “just a few minutes.“

It still remains to be seen if these are just the dreams of excited weapons designers or if the Indian government has actually authorized design, development, and deployment of longer-range missiles with multiple warheads and quick-launch capability.

If so, it is bad news for South Asia. The combination of multiple warheads, increased accuracy, and drastically reduced launch time would indicate that India is gradually designing its way of out its so-called minimum deterrence doctrine towards a more capable nuclear posture.

This would almost certainly trigger counter-steps in Pakistan and China, developments that would decrease Indian security. And if China were to deploy multiple warheads on its missiles, it could even impede future reductions of U.S. and Russian nuclear forces.   Continue Reading →

New START Data Shows Russia Reducing, US Increasing Nuclear Forces

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By Hans M. Kristensen

While arms control opponents in Congress have been busy criticizing the Obama administration’s proposal to reduce nuclear forces further, the latest data from the New START Treaty shows that Russia has reduced its deployed strategic nuclear forces while the United States has increased its force over the past six months.

Yes, you read that right. Over the past six months, the U.S. deployed strategic nuclear forces counted under the New START Treaty have increased by 34 warheads and 17 launchers.

It is the first time since the treaty entered into effect in February 2011 that the United States has been increasing its deployed forces during a six-month counting period.

We will have to wait a few months for the full aggregate data set to be declassified to see the details of what has happened. But it probably reflects fluctuations mainly in the number of missiles onboard ballistic missile submarines at the time of the count.   Continue Reading →

German Elections Raise Important Questions about Drones as Tools for Political Opposition, Protest, and Violence

In a few days, Germans will head to the polls to vote in their federal elections.  Few are predicting an easy win for long-standing German Chancellor, Angela Merkel (CDU/CSU), who is expected to face a serious but not insurmountable challenge.

Unlike the SPD, Greens, FDP, and The Left, the Pirate Party has not been a major factor in this election. The party’s inability to connect with voters and “capitalize on widespread unhappiness over state surveillance fuelled by revelations from the American whistleblower Edward Snowden” has meant that it might not even reach the electoral threshold necessary to qualify for parliamentary seats. Far-right German nationalist parties, like the Neo-Nazi leaning National Democratic Party of Germany, have fared even worse.

Continue Reading →