By Luisa Kenausis, Scoville Fellow
In U.S. military lingo, a “broken arrow” refers to a incident involving the loss of a nuclear weapon. Here, we’re bringing you the nuclear weapons news that’s been ‘lost’ in the last week.
Pentagon report: Chinese military “likely training for strikes” against U.S. targets
A report released by the Pentagon on Thursday, August 16 states that over the last three years, China’s People’s Liberation Army has been “likely training for strikes” against U.S. targets. That line was highlighted in media reporting by Reuters and CNN last week.
The Pentagon report in question is this year’s annual report to Congress on military and security developments involving China. Media interest has focused on a subsection entitled “Special Topic: Overwater Bomber Operations,” which discusses efforts by the Chinese military to expand the range of its air strike capability by expanding its overwater bomber operating areas. According to the document, the Chinese military has been “gaining experience in critical maritime regions and likely training for strikes against U.S. and allied targets.”
The section discusses China’s expansion of its overwater bombing operations in three regions: the Western Pacific (particularly the area around Taiwan), the Sea of Japan, and the South China Sea.
The report’s release comes a few months after China announced that it had landed several bomber aircraft on an island in the South China Sea in May. A few weeks later, the United States flew two nuclear-capable bombers near disputed South China Sea islands, leading China to announce that it had conducted more than 30 anti-aircraft drills in the area. The military situation in the region has remained tense, although Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited Beijing in late June in an effort to reduce tensions.
Moscow reportedly ready to discuss newest strategic nuclear weapons with U.S.
Last week, Reuters reported that Moscow has indicated that it is ready to discuss its newest strategic nuclear weapons with the United States, citing a report by Russian state news agency RIA. Russian state news agency TASS reported that on Tuesday, August 14, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that the Russians “are ready for this dialogue” on the issue of Russia’s new types of strategic arms, which Russian President Vladimir Putin dramatically unveiled in a March 1 speech.
Ryabkov added that “there are relevant platforms and venues to discuss this issue,” pointing specifically to the Bilateral Consultative Commission of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). New START mutually limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons of the United States and Russia. The Bilateral Consultative Commission is the treaty’s implementation body, which serves as a mechanism for resolving implementation disputes.
Under the newly-signed National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, President Trump is required to discuss with the Russians the issue of Russia’s new nuclear weapons and how they relate to New START. (This and other nuclear-related provisions of the law can be found in the Center’s analysis of the conference report.)
In another article released by TASS on Tuesday, Ryabkov said that the United States has “sizably deviated from the terms” of New START by modernizing its nuclear arsenal. Of course, there is no indication whatsoever that the United States has violated the treaty.
According to Reuters, Ryabkov also specified that Russia’s new strategic weapons are not part of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which prohibits Russia and the United States from deploying ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Even if true, it is clear that Russia is already in violation of the INF Treaty by testing and deploying a ground-launched cruise missile within the treaty’s banned range. This has become a serious issue in the U.S.-Russia strategic relationship.
United States worried by Russian space weapons program, unusual satellite behavior
In a meeting of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament last week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Yleem Poblete said that the United States is “concerned” about Moscow’s research into space weapons, Newsweek reports. The subject of the UN Conference on Disarmament meeting was preventing an arms race in outer space.
Among the concerns raised by Poblete was the “disturbing” behavior of a particular Russian satellite. According to the American diplomat, the satellite was declared as a ‘space apparatus inspector,’ but its behavior in space has been “inconsistent with anything seen before from on-orbit inspection or space situational awareness capabilities.” Poblete went on to call Russian intentions with respect to the satellite “a very troubling development.”
During her remarks, Poblete did not name the specific satellite of concern, but other media reports have suggested that she may have been referring to the Cosmos 2519, which was launched by the Russian Ministry of Defense last year. Although Poblete refrained from commenting on what the satellite’s true purpose might be (if not normal inspection activities), Quartz reported that her statement suggests that there may be reason to believe that the satellite could be surveilling — or even, in a worst case scenario, planning to attack — American assets in space.
However, Brian Weeden, a space policy expert, explained on Twitter that the movements of the satellite appear to be fairly typical, and it is “hard to see at this point why the US is making it a big deal.”
NATO Missile Defense
Poland’s Aegis Ashore missile defense site still plagued by construction issues
As of last week, the construction issues affecting the development of an Aegis Ashore missile defense site in Poland remain unresolved, with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency continuing to seek a resolution of the problems, according to a statement given by the director of the Missile Defense Agency to Defense News.
The Aegis Ashore is an American missile defense system. Its deployment in Poland is planned as part of a larger NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) defensive umbrella to, in theory, protect Europe from Iranian missiles. Despite repeated statements by US officials to the contrary, Russia continues to argue that the defenses are meant for its offensive missiles. Earlier this year, Missile Defense Agency director Gen. Samuel Greaves said that construction delays at the Aegis Ashore site in Poland would delay the completion of the project until 2020, two years after its scheduled completion.
According to Greaves’ most recent statement to Defense News, the construction delays can be attributed to several factors, including insufficient management by the construction contractor in Poland, poor weather on location, and a slow ramp-up of necessary manpower and resources for the project. Greaves said that the contractor “remains committed to the project” but has failed to meet its contractual obligations. He also said that the contractor “has been directed to take action to address the construction delays.”
Greaves said that the construction delays will not impact the cost to the United States to build the site. He also noted that while the construction project has suffered, other aspects of the Poland Aegis Ashore project have proceeded as planned, including the maturity of the radar software and delivery of other Aegis equipment to the site.
This week: Bolton to discuss arms control with Russian counterpart in Geneva
On Thursday, August 16, a Trump administration official said that John Bolton, National Security Advisor to President Trump, will discuss arms control and other issues with Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev in Geneva this week. The meeting will be a follow-up to Trump’s July summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
When the two security advisors speak this week, they are set to discuss arms control treaties and Iran’s role in Syria. Likely topics in the arms control arena include the INF Treaty and the possible extension of New START. Those two treaties were reportedly discussed between Trump and Putin at their summit last month, but the administration official cited by Reuters said that the two leaders did not agree to a path forward on arms control during that meeting.
Lockheed Martin awarded two new Air Force contracts, for hypersonic weapons and missile-warning satellites
Last week, defense contractor Lockheed Martin was awarded two new contracts by the U.S. Air Force: one to develop a second prototype of a hypersonic weapon, and one to develop the first three next-generation missile-warning satellites. Both contract awards were reported by Defense News.
On Monday, August 13, the Air Force announced that Lockheed Martin would develop a second hypersonic weapon prototype. The contract, when finalized, could be worth up to $480 million to develop the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW. Since April, Lockheed has already been contracted to develop a separate hypersonic weapon prototype for the Air Force under the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon program, under a contract that could be worth $928 million during its lifetime. With last week’s award of the ARRW contract, Lockheed Martin looks set to become a powerhouse in the manufacture of U.S. hypersonics, an area of technology that is increasingly prioritized by the Defense Department.
On Tuesday, August 14, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin with a $2.9 billion contract to conduct the design work, hardware procurement, and early manufacturing for the first three advanced missile warning satellites in the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) program. The Air Force has said it plans to launch the first Next Gen OPIR satellite in 2023. In a statement, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said that the Air Force is “focused on providing a missile warning capability survivable in a contested environment by the mid-2020s.”
The three missile-warning satellites contracted to Lockheed Martin will ultimately be launched into a geosynchronous Earth orbit, meaning that their path will pass over a given location on the Earth’s surface at the same time each day. The Air Force will also be awarding a contract to Northrop Grumman to establish requirements for polar orbit satellites for Next Gen OPIR, which will pass over the two poles of the Earth in their orbit. The Northrop contract to define requirements for those satellites is still forthcoming.