World News

Defense Issues Weekly – week of May 19th, 2013


Russia builds up its missile defenses, criticizes the US for doing the same

For a long time, Russia has strongly opposed the deployment of any US missile defense systems in Europe, claiming that such deployment would undermine its nuclear deterrent, give the US a first strike advantage, and spark an arms race. Western disarmament advocates have been constantly claiming the same. They and Russia’s leaders, with whom they are in complete agreement, have been lobbying the Bush and Obama administrations to cancel such deployments or, at least, sign agreements that would limit US missile defenses and thus their effectiveness.

But at the same time, Russia has been developing, deploying, and perfectioning its own missile defense systems.

Since the early 1970s, the A-35 and later A-135 nuclear-armed missile defense systems have been deployed around Moscow. These were joined in the late 1980s (in violation of the ABM treaty) by the very capable S-300 family of air- and missile defense systems, first the S-300V series and later the S-300P series, described and documented in great detail by air defense expert Carlo Kopp, founder of Air Power Australia. The S-300 (also widely exported by Russia around the world, most recently to Syria) has a range of 200 kms.

In 2007, these were then joined by the much longer-ranged S-400 “Triumf” (SA-21) system, first deployed around Moscow and then in other locations in Russia. Both can shoot down ballistic and cruise missiles (even barrages of them) as well as aircraft. Russia recently agreed to sell the S-400 to China; other countries may receive it as well. For short-range area defense against aircraft and cruise missiles, Russia has Tor-M1 and Pantsir-S1 systems (exported around the world).

Russia is now developing the new S-500 “Triumfator” system, which will have even greater range and the capability to shoot down massive barrages of ballistic and cruise missiles. The S-400 and the S-500 will greatly outperform the PATRIOT and THAAD.

Concurrently, Russia and China are developing laser-based missile defense systems. With its acquisition of S-300 and S-400 systems, procurement of many domestically-produced HQ-9 system batteries, and developments of other systems, China is likewise building a missile defense network of its own.

Such systems, if they continue to be deployed in large numbers, could undermine America’s nuclear deterrent, which the Obama administration is cutting unilaterally. In 2010, President Obama signed and the Dem-controlled Senate ratified New START, which obligates only the US (not Russia) to cut its arsenal by 1/3; between 2010 and 2013 he also unilaterally withdrew nuclear-armed cruise missiles from US submarines, while Russia has not done so and does not intend to ever do so.

But while developing and deploying BMD systems of their own, Moscow and Beijing never cease to protest America’s development of the same and to demand that the US limit or forego the development and deployment of these. Moscow’s and Beijing’s protests and demands are seconded by the American Left, particularly by Western disarmament advocates.

The Obama Administration is currently engaged in secret talks with Russia on an agreement on missile defense “cooperation”; it, like the Bush Administration, has been cravenly trying to appease Moscow on the issue and seeking Russia’s permission to deploy these systems. Some former arms control and missile defense officials, however, have condemned such outreach attempts to a hostile Russia. Former Assistant Secy. of State for Arms Control Paula DeSutter and former MDA Director LTG Henry Obering (USAF, ret.) oppose any deal that would limit America’s missile defense systems and say the US should deploy a full panoply of such systems with or without Russia’s approval.

China tests another anti-satellite missile

On Monday, China successfully tested an anti-satellite ballistic missile, thus proving it can shoot down US satellites and make the US military blind and deaf in the opening stage of any campaign. The missile was disguised as a space exploration rocket, according to the Washington Free Beacon. That newspaper was the first to report its existence (in October 2012) and its planned test (in January 2013). The test itself came just a week after China protested the DOD’s annual report on China’s military power, wherein the DOD mentioned China’s anti-sat missiles.

The missile, designated Dongning-2 and launched from the Xichang Space Launch Center – China’s main space facility, located in southern Sichuan Province –  reached the Earth’s orbit successfully, but it is not know if it hit a target. In 2007, however, China tested an SC-19 ICBM against an obsolete weather satellite, which left thousands of debris pieces still in the Earth’s orbit, posing danger to spacecraft (this debris did not reenter the atmosphere and thus didn’t burn on reentry). Also, several years ago, China blinded a US satellite with a laser, thus committing an act of war against the US.

Pentagon spokeswoman Major Cathy Wilkinson refused to comment: “We don’t have a comment on it as we don’t discuss intelligence.” China Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Hong Lei didn’t deny the test, but claimed that China opposes the militarization of space and advocates its peaceful use: “I am not aware of the development that you described. China has consistently advocated the peaceful use of outer space and is opposed to militarizing and conducting an arms race in outer space.”

The new anti-sat missile is but one part of China’s huge, diverse, sophisticated, and continually growing arsenal of anti-access/area-denial weapons whose purpose is to create, around the Western Pacific and China itself, a zone which US military units won’t be able to enter without suffering prohibitive casualties – a “no-go zone”.

These weapons are intended to cripple US bases and warships in the region, as well as communications and cyber networks (and the satellites on which they depend, including the GPS), in the first few hours of the conflict while keeping US warships and aircraft out with anti-ship missiles, submarines, naval mines, and air defense systems. This would mean striking at America’s current vulnerabilities – overdepence on carriers, short-range nonstealthy aircraft, cyber networks, and satellites, as well as poor anti-submarine and demining capabilities.

The idea comes from ancient Chinese general and strategist Sun Tzu, who, in his famous treatise, The Art of War, counseled strategists to attack weakness, not strength, strike where they’re unexpected, and strike boldly like a thunderbolt or like a falcon that swiftly strikes its prey.[1] China’s deceptive claims of favoring a peaceful use of space and opposing its militarization – while militarizing it with anti-sat weapons – also stem from Sun Tzu’s treatise, wherein deception and total secrecy – which have been the hallmarks of China’s military buildup – are highly advised and recommended as the norm. Sun Tzu believed that “all warfare is based on deception.”

Striking on US satellites, such as those of the GPS constellation, would have severe consequences for US civilians, not just the military. Richard Fisher, a defense analyst, commented to the WFB that:

“This is not merely a threat against some American military satellites, but a threat to a what has become a vital part of the global electronic infrastructure, affecting global commerce and financial flows, to your personal finances that contribute to personal freedom.”

China currently has around 24 ASAT missiles, according to the WFB. These could shoot down US weather, communications, intelligence, and navigational satellites (the latter being used for missile guidance and for military and civilian navigation alike). Thus, for example, American drivers could no longer rely on GPS.

X-47B drone test successful, but China tests its own UCAV

Earlier this week, the Navy celebrated a successful test of its first carrier-capable combat drone, the X-47B, a prototype for future operational Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles. The drone took off from the USS George H. W. Bush and landed at NAS Patuxent River. Later this week, the drone performed touch-and-go landings on the ship. Should carrier-capable drones be proven viable, they would dramatically increase a carrier wing’s combat capability while enabling it to stand off far from the shore of an enemy country.

Currently, the Navy’s longest-ranged strike aircraft is the F/A-18E/F Super Bug, with a 450 nm combat radius. The F-35C’s combat radius will be about 600 nm. That would put Navy carriers well within the range of Chinese and Iranian anti-ship missiles, including the Silkworm, the Moskit, the Yingji family, the FL family, and the Dongfeng-21D, which has a range of 3000 kms (over 1000 nmi).

One DF-21D or one Moskit would be sufficient to sink any ship. Their long range means USN surface ships would have to stay over 1000 nmi away from China’s coast, and thus, their aircraft wouldn’t come even close to that coast, let alone to targets deep inland. The drone, with a combat radius of over 1,500 nmi, will solve that problem, allowing carriers to stand off at safe distances.

It is not clear, however, why the Navy continues to spend money on developing and procuring the F/A-18 and F-35 aircraft that are already obsolete and overtaken by events.

Anti-ship cruise missiles can still be carried by aircraft, however, including China’s Flankers, J-10s, H-6s, and JH-7s, as well as China’s surface ships and submarines, thus extending their range still further. The longest-ranged of these, the H-6K bomber, has a combat radius of 2,200 kms. China also has 36 Tu-22Ms on order.

Moreover, China is not behind the US in drone technology. Last week, it revealed its first domestically-produced UCAV, which is very similar in appearance to the X-47B and the European nEUROn drone. It is not known whether the Chinese developed the technology domestically or stole it.

Richard Fisher, the IASC analyst, told the Washington Times: “This UCAV demonstrates an understanding of current concepts for proportioning and shaping to confer range and low observability, or stealth. The [Chinese military] likely is very pleased that these images of China’s UCAV appear at about the same time that the X-47B is about to commence carrier testing.”

The flights of China’s stealthy manned fighters, the J-20 and J-31, have already demonstrated that China has mastered advanced stealth technology, including shaping, which is the dominant factor in determining low observability. Fisher says the drone is likely being built by the Hongdu Aircraft Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corp. – the J-31’s constructor.

[1] Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter VI verse 27, Chapter VII verses 13 and 15.

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One Comment

  1. I would also add that the Obama administration is now engaged in secret negotiations with the Russians regarding a possible cancellation or dumbing down of US missile defense systems and is seriously considering a transfer of crucial, classified information on these systems to the Russians – who will then use this information to defeat such systems and will also almost certainly pass it on to China, North Korea, and Iran.

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