America and Russia Test New Tactical Nuclear Missiles

The Buzz

Both Russia and the United States are scheduled to test new tactical nuclear missiles this month.

According to the Russian state-owned Tass, Moscow is currently preparing to test its Iskander tactical missile systems.

“Servicemen of a missile unit of the Southern Military District deployed in the Krasnodar Territory began preparations for drills and live-firing of tactical Iskander-M missile systems that will start in late July at the Kapustin Yar range in the Astrakhan Region," Tass quoted the unit’s press service as saying.

Earlier this year, a Russian defense industry official said that Moscow would complete all certification tests for the missile by the end of this year. “We hope to be through with government certification tests by the end of 2015. But, as you understand, anything can happen," the industry official said.

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The Iskander-M missile system is a road-mobile tactical nuclear-capable missile with a range between 50 and 500 kilometers. It is Russia’s successor to the Scud missile system.

The Iskander has a number of advantages over the Scud system. According to Global Security, a defense website:

The launch carrier vehicle carries two missiles, rather than one. And each missile can be independently targeted, in a matter of seconds. The missiles can be retargeted during flight not only against fixed targets, but also against moving targets, such as a tactical missile launcher, a tank column, or a convoy. The Iskander has another unique feature: the optically guided warhead can also be controlled by a coded radio signal, including from an AWACS or an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). This provides a self-homing capability. The missile's onboard computer receives an image or images of the target. Then the missile, by locking on the target with its sights, will travel towards it at supersonic speed.

Russia has repeatedly said it plans to deploy the Iskander system to its westernmost Kaliningrad region, which borders on NATO members like Poland and the Baltic states. Western officials have criticized this move, including Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Commander, who described it as part of a “pattern of continuing behavior to coerce its [Russia’s] neighbors in Central and Eastern Europe.”

The United States has hardly remained passive in the face of Russia’s modernization. Indeed, earlier this month, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) conducted the first developmental flight test of their jointly-produced B61-12 gravity bomb.

(Recommended: 5 Russian Weapons of War America Should Fear)

“This test marks a major milestone for the B61-12 Life Extension Program, demonstrating end-to-end system performance under representative delivery conditions,” Dr. Don Cook, NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs, was quoted as saying in a NNSA press release announcing the test. “Achieving the first complete B61-12 flight test provides clear evidence of the nation's continued commitment to maintain the B61 and provides assurance to our allies.”

The test was the first of three planned for this year, the press release went on to say. The missile was launched from a F-15E Strike Eagle in the first test.

Once operational, the B61-12 gravity bomb will replace the B61-3, -4, -7, and -10 bombs. Meanwhile, the B61-11 is expected to be retried as well. Since the 1960s, the United States has produced around 3,000 different B61 bombs, which have served as America’s primary tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Europe. Only about 825 B-61 bombs are currently in existence, with less than half of those being active.

The Federation of Atomic Scientists estimates that B-61 bombs are currently stationed at six bases in Europe, spread across five different NATO nations (in addition to those stationed in the United States). The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is expected to be equipped to carry the new B61-12.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tony R. Tolley

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurope

Great Depression or Great War: Is This China's 1929 Moment (Or Worse)?

The Buzz

China’s economy may be facing its 1929 moment. Or this may be only the painful burst of a big bubble. Will it become a cascading catastrophe or just a crashing correction?

Pay your money and place your bets. And hold your breath. No jests about a Communist Party flummoxed by the workings of a central motif of capitalism, please.

The obvious point for Australia is that Greece is concerning but China is the main event. For Oz, Chinese investors panicking at plunging values trump Greeks shaken by the shriveling of their economy.

In the 20th century, recession in Europe and America meant something similar would happen in Australia. In the 21st century, Australia’s economy has decoupled from the U.S. economy. America gets pneumonia but Australia doesn’t sneeze. Plugged into Asia, Australia sailed past the U.S. dotcom bust and the Great Recession. Australia is coupled to Asia. And at the head of the train is China.

As the IMF noted, Australia’s decoupling from America’s economy, made explicit at both ends of the previous decade, means the U.S. negative effect on Oz is “no longer statistically significant.”

A huge shift of historic dimensions. Ho hum, say the nation of pragmatists who live in Oz. Old news. Got the Asian Century memo, thanks, understood the point. The calm rests on the reality that so far the decoupling from the American economy and the firm coupling to Asia has delivered copious good news.

China’s market mayhem highlights another great decoupling—the parting of the ways of Engage & Hedge. This is the grand strategy that the U.S. and Australia have employed towards China since the end of the Cold War. Engage economically. Hedge militarily.

Engage & Hedge were never really closely aligned or tightly joined. Now, though, they exist in different universes. Engage & Hedge can no longer be seen as the twin legs of a coherent strategy.

Two concepts supposed to run at least in parallel aren’t even in parallel universes. They have become policy poles with opposed existences. That’s why the U.S. effort to create a Trans-Pacific Partnership excluding China is much more about the Hard-Power-Hedging universe than the Win-Win-Engage-and-Trade universe.

Tony Abbot got the terms of the decoupling into one vivid phrase when he said that Australia’s policies towards China are driven by two emotions: “fear and greed.” The fear demands strategic hedging and the greed fuels economic engagement. These are opposed, not linked emotions. Off in their different universes, fear and greed no longer feed into a united policy recipe.

Fear of the hedging universe is going to keep growing whether China booms or busts. A rich China has shown it can be aggressive and assertive, A China that suddenly confronts the danger of being poorer than the trend line promised might be worse.

A Communist Party that can’t deliver ever-enriching growth has to play instead to the emotions of pride and nationalism (and belligerent fear of the perfidious foreign powers that seek to block China’s rise). The world’s second biggest economy is plenty big enough to matter, no matter what happens next. So whether China goes up or down, the demands of hedging just increase. Not much linkage there between Engage & Hedge.

Kevin Rudd captures the truth of the decoupling of Engage & Hedge in his Harvard report describing “the emergence of an asymmetric world in which the fulcrums of economic and military power are no longer co-located, but, in fact, are beginning to diverge significantly.”

The Ruddster is a sensitive and difficult subject in Oz. It’s going to take a long time for Australia—much less the Labor Party—to get over The Kevin. So approach the Rudd study via a recommendation from a fine former Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, who nominates Rudd as the smartest guy in the room:

“Rudd’s recommendations are undoubtedly ambitious. But, given his credentials—he is a formidable Chinese linguist and creative policy thinker, with long and close personal relationships with key figures in both the U.S. and China—his argument must be taken seriously. Indeed, though Rudd’s tenure as Australia’s prime minister was anything but smooth, his sheer force of intellect is unmatched by that of any public figure with whom I have interacted over the last 30 years. (Not that this will much help his evident willingness to be drafted as the next UN Secretary-General: in that role the major powers have always preferred bland secretaries to creative generals.)”

Rudd advocates a new framework of “constructive realism” between the U.S. and China. The choice he describes is stark. Either China and America create a common understanding of mutual benefit and achievement—including a common strategic narrative—or they will drift toward conflict.

The Engage policy must become so dominant and so central that it changes the color of the sky in the Hedge universe. A big, big ask. Kevin is always ambitious.

Kevin being Kevin, he asks and then answers seven core questions on the rise of China. And publishing a couple of months before the crashing sounds out of Shanghai, Rudd offers his answer about whether we are seeing catastrophe or mere painful correction.

“Sorry,” he writes, “but on balance the Chinese economic model is probably sustainable.” That confident prediction about China’s next decade is about to get an extreme pressure test.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s Strategist here

Image: Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Prodigal U.S. Client

Paul Pillar

In a blast from the past in Afghanistan, a warlord who became a model for combining ruthless ambition and destructive methods with radical ideology, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has advised his followers to support the so-called Islamic State or ISIS in fighting against the Afghan Taliban. While some in the West might see this as one more indication of ISIS spreading its tentacles with an ever-widening reach, a better lesson flows from observing that this is another instance of ISIS being invoked by a protagonist in a local conflict with local objectives. Hekmatyar's game has always been about seeking power in Afghanistan and bashing opponents of his efforts to do so.

A further lesson comes from noting that it is the Taliban that Hekmatyar finds to be either too moderate or too inconvenient for him right now. It probably is not coincidental that this statement by Hekmatyar comes just as the Afghan government and representatives of the Taliban have concluded what may be the most promising peace negotiations so far that are aimed at resolution of the long-running conflict in Afghanistan. All of these players—the government, the Taliban, and Hekmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami—are focused on struggles for power in their own country and not on transnational causes. Afghanistan is a nation in which politics and policy largely rest on ad hoc deals among various local power-holders, which are struck in ways that do not correspond to what might make sense to Westerners in terms of recognizable left-right, radical-moderate, or religious-secular dimensions. The outcome of the current multidimensional conflict in Afghanistan will depend on such deals. This ought to call into question the wisdom of calls to extend what has already been a 14-year U.S. military operation in the interests of beating back what gets portrayed as an undifferentiated set of bad guys.

Yet another lesson comes from reflecting on Hekmatyar's four decades as a major player in turmoil in Afghanistan. Although it is not true, as is sometimes alleged, that the United States once aided Osama bin Laden, it is true that a single-minded U.S. focus on defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan and their client regime under Najibullah led the United States to bestow its favors on some seedy characters. U.S. aid aimed at beating the Soviets was given, through the intermediary of Pakistan, to seven Afghan resistance organizations. Hekmatyar's group was probably the most radical of these but also, because it was a favorite of the Pakistanis, probably received as much of the U.S. aid as any other. The attitude within the Reagan administration toward the question of what further consequences would flow from aiding such radicalism was one of "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it." The later chapters of the Hekmatyar story involved fierce fighting against the other resistance groups once Najibullah fell, with Hekmatyar's forces shelling Kabul even as he was supposed to be the prime minister, and later his group making common cause with the Taliban before the most recent falling out.

A moral of this story is: don't put off thinking about those future bridge-crossings. In focusing on defeating whoever the enemy of the moment may be, worry also about how our intervention in a conflict may be sustaining others who can spell trouble. That's always been true in Afghanistan and is true in other places as well, such as Syria.                     

TopicsAfghanistan RegionsSouth Asia

Indonesia Is Building New Military Base in South China Sea

The Buzz

Indonesia is developing a plan to build a new military base in the South China Sea, according to local media reports.

On Friday, the Jakarta Post reported that Indonesian officials are preparing a plan to build a new military base somewhere in the South China Sea, which has seen an uptick in tensions over competing sovereignty claims. The report said Indonesia’s Defense Ministry and the The National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) held a meeting on Friday to discuss the potential locations for such a base.

“Our meeting today is aimed at synchronizing our ambition to guard the national interest and protect the sovereignty of our territory,” Bappenas chief Andrinof Chaniago was quoted as saying in the report.

“The findings from the team will be conveyed to President Jokowi [Joko Widodo], who will make his decision. We hope that in the near future, the plan will be realized,” he added.

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Among the places being considered, according to Andrinof, are areas in Sambas, West Kalimantan; Natuna Islands, Riau Islands and Tarakan, North Kalimantan.

Indonesia’s Defense Minister, Ryamizard Ryacudu, who previously served as Army Chief of Staff, expressed his support for the proposed military base.

“I previously worked in West Kalimantan and I believe that building a military base in that territory is a very good decision. We have natural resources that we need to guard,” he said, according to the report.

Indonesia isn’t an official participant in the South China Sea disputes, however, in the past China's nine-dash line maps of sovereignty have included Indonesia’s Natuna Islands. This has been met by sharp rebukes from Indonesian officials.

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“China has claimed Natuna waters as their territorial waters. This arbitrary claim is related to the dispute over Spratly and Paracel Islands between China and the Philippines. This dispute will have a large impact on the security of Natuna waters,” assistant deputy to the chief security minister for defense strategic doctrine, Commodore Fahru Zaini said, in March of last year during a trip to the Natuna area.

He added: “What China has done is related to the territorial zone of the Unitary Republic of Indonesia. Therefore, we have come to Natuna to see the concrete strategy of the main component of our defense, namely the National Defense Forces (TNI).”

Around the same time, Indonesia’s Military Chief General Moeldoko took to the Wall Street Journal to blast China’s claims. “Indonesia is dismayed… that China has included parts of the Natuna Islands within the nine-dash line, thus apparently claiming a segment of Indonesia's Riau Islands province as its territory,” Moeldoko wrote.

(Recommended: China's New Trump Card in the South China Sea)

He went on to write: “The Indonesian military has decided to strengthen its forces on Natuna. We will need also to prepare fighter planes to meet any eventuality stemming from heightened tensions on one of the world's key waterways.”

More recently, in February of this year, General Moeldoko referred to the South China Sea as a potential flashpoint. “In the future, we expect that the South China Sea will be a flash point. So a task force, such as the Kogabwilhan, will be very important,” Moeldoko said in an interview.

Indonesia’s popular president, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, has also waded into the dispute from time to time. For example, just before a trip to Japan and China in March of this year, Jokowi said “The ‘nine-dashed line’ that China says marks its maritime border has no basis in any international law.”

Outside observers have regularly pegged Indonesia as a potential leader of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the organization’s secretariat is indeed located in the country. Thus, Indonesia’s position on the South China Sea dispute carries particular weight.

However, Indonesia has tried to take a balanced approach on the issue, and Jokowi reaffirmed in March that Indonesia seeks to remain an "honest broker" in the dispute.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Wikimedia/KAI

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Russia May Build India New Super Advanced Submarine

The Buzz

India and Russia are in the final stages of talks for Delhi to lease another nuclear attack submarine from Moscow.

According to India’s Economic Times, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin will discuss the deal on the sidelines of the BRICS Leadership Summit currently being held in Ufa, Russia.

“Several sources related to the project that ET spoke with confirmed that talks on leasing a new submarine under the 'Chakra 3' project are in advanced stages and that the issue will be discussed during Prime Minister Modi's visit to Russia this week,” the report said.

There has been previous signs that India intends to lease a second Russian-built nuclear attack submarine (SSK). And, during a trip to India last year, Vladimir Putin indicated that Russia would be interested in such a deal.

However, the new Economic Times report said that in contrast to previous Indo-Russian submarine deals, under the “Chakra 3” project, Russia will build India a customized submarine. The report speculates that the boat may be one of Russia’s new Yasen-class submarines, or else a derivative with a similar design.    

"The final shape is yet to be decided, but it is now almost certain that a 'greenfield' submarine will be built," ET quotes an unnamed source close to the program as saying.

A Yasen-like submarine would be a significant boost to India’s depleted undersea fleet. As Kyle Mizokami has observed on The National Interest: “The Yasen class is one of the most advanced submarines in the world. The class reportedly has a crew of only ninety, implying a high level of automation. A 200MW nuclear reactor is thought to power the submarine to a maximum speed of 35 to 40 knots, with a ‘quiet operating speed’ of 20 knots.”

Regarding weaponry, Mizokami pointed out that: “The Yasen class has eight vertical launch tubes, four 650mm torpedo tubes and four standard-diameter 533mm torpedo tubes. Besides standard guided torpedoes, Yasen will almost certainly be armed with the Shkval supercavitating torpedo, capable of traveling at 200 knots to ranges from 7 to 13 kilometers.”

India is currently in the process of trying to revamp its submarine fleet, which has been battered by a number of mishaps in recent years. For starters, India is trying to build nuclear-powered ballistic missile (SSBNs) to serve as the sea-based leg of its strategic deterrence.

In addition, earlier this year India greenlit a project to build six-indigenously produced nuclear attack submarines, which would likely be manufactured with significant foreign assistance from abroad. In fact, as The National Interest previously reported, Russia and India have been in discussions over starting a joint-venture involving the nuclear attack submarines. Those talks are still in the very preliminary stages.

Still, India has a long history of relying on Russian submarines to power its undersea fleet. In the 1960s and 1970s, for example, the Soviet Union sold India eight Foxtrot-class submarines, which India operated as Vela-class submarines. India also currently operates a number of Kilo-class submarines, which are designated as Sindhughosh-class submarines by the Indian Navy.

Furthermore, India has experiencing leasing Russian-built nuclear attack submarines. In the 1980s, India briefly leased a SSK from the Soviet Union under Chakra 1. Delhi took on a ten-year lease for a second Russian-built SSK in 2012. Unlike the deal currently in discussion, both of those earlier submarines were refurbished Soviet and Russian boats.

In related news, Russia is reportedly interested in making India a global hub for the upgrade, maintenance and repair of Russian-built conventional submarines. Evgeny V. Shustikov, Deputy Director General of Russia’s state-owned Zvyozdochka Shipyards, tells the Economic Times that: "We are in the process of negotiating with an Indian shipyard and if these negotiations are successful, it could become our partner for future tasks of modernising Kilo class submarines. Not just for India but for third nations as well.”

The report went on to say that: “Officials from the state-run Zvyozdochka shipyard told ET that a memorandum of understanding could be signed within a month as it is in final talks with an Indian partner for the project. Russian engineers have already visited the Indian yard and advised it on changes to be made as well as investments needed to execute the project.”

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Admiralty Shipyards

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurasia