Arms Control Wonk

The war in Yemen has seen the highest usage of ballistic missiles since the Iraq War, and the highest usage of ballistic missile defense assets in any conflict, offering a preview of any future conflicts with Iran.

Aaron and Scott talk about a new CSIS report, The Missile War in Yemen, the utility and difficulties in producing accurate datasets on ballistic missile usage in Yemen, and the operational lessons learned by air and missile defense strategists during the ongoing conflict in Yemen.

Scott unironically uses the phrase "theory of missile power."

Links of Note:

Ian Williams and Shaan Shaikh's Missile War in Yemen, CSIS: https://missilethreat.csis.org/report-the-missile-war-in-yemen/

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Direct download: 161.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:25pm EDT

Another day, another suspected nuclear facility in North Korea.

Anne and Jeffrey discuss the Wollo-ri Suspected Nuclear Warhead Manufacturing Facility. 

They discuss how the CNS team has monitored this site since 2015, the satellite imagery analysis that went into it, and Ankit Panda's impressive sourcing. They also discuss the immediate pushback, claims that this site is a training facility, and the open-source methods used to evaluate this site. 

Arms Control Wonk post on the Wollo-Ri Facility, by Catherine Dill, David Laboon, Jeffrey Lewis, and Dave Schmerler: https://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/1209644/wollo-ri-nuclear-facility/

CNN reporting on the Wollo-Ri analysis: https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/08/politics/north-korea-nuclear-facility-wollo-ri-satellite-images/index.html

Daily NK report claiming Wollo-Ri is not a nuclear facility: https://www.dailynk.com/english/source-nuclear-pyongyang-just-school/

 

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Direct download: 160.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:57pm EDT

In a cross-over podcast with FPRI’s Middle East Brief, Aaron speaks with Fabian Hinz, a frequent guest on the podcast, about the recent explosions in Iran and what open source intelligence has revealed about the two incidents.

You can find the Foreign Policy Research Institute's Middle East Brief at: https://www.fpri.org/multimedia/middle-east-brief/

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Direct download: 159.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:28pm EDT

John Hudson and Paul Sonne at the Washington Post broke the story that Trump administration officials have discussed conducting additional nuclear tests in the United States. 

Jeffrey and Anne discuss why this is a bad idea, how this would disproportionately benefit U.S. nuclear competitors, and the primarily political (not technical) utility of a "rapid" nuclear test. 

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Direct download: 158.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:26pm EDT

Turkey previously announced that its S400 air defense regiment would be activated and in service by the end of April, 2020, after its delivery from Russia in 2019.

Since it is now May 2020, with no S400 deployment in sight, Aaron and Scott sat down with Rob Lee for an in-depth talk about what could be holding it up. 

Rob Lee is pursuing his PhD at the Department of War Studies at King's College London. He was previously a Marine infantry officer and fellow at the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST). 

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Direct download: 157.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:14pm EDT

The Wall Street Journal reported that "China might be secretly conducting nuclear tests with very low explosive power" based on the State Department's 2020 Annual Compliance Report, but that is not quite what the report actually says.

Jeffrey and Anne sit down to talk about open-source tracking of the Lop Nur nuclear testing site, the difference types of nuclear-related tests, and how one little treaty could make a big difference in preventing actual nuclear explosive tests. 

Direct download: 156.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:44am EDT

Iran launched a small satellite into orbit. But more importantly, it was Iran's revolutionary guards, not the civilian space program, that did the launching -- and with a new solid rocket motor as the second stage. Fabian Hinz joins Jeffrey to talk about the IRGC space program and break down its most recent launch.

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Direct download: 155.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:13am EDT

In mid-April, Russia tested a direct ascent anti-satellite missile (DA ASAT), the Nudol/PL19, against a point in space.

Anti-satellite weapons are an old favorite of the pod, so Anne, Aaron, and Jeffrey meet to discuss the history of anti-satellite weapons, the U.S. negotiating strategy that led to the spread of hit-to-kill and anti-satellite weapons, and the hypocrisy of certain PR statements. They also gush over open-source collection and analysis of NOTAMs, which allowed Michael Thompson to predict the ASAT test ahead of time.

Check out previous Arms Control Wonk episodes about Hit-to-Kill and Anti-Satellite Weapons:

2019's Mission Shakti: The Indian Anti-Satellite Test

2016's China's HQ-19 Hit-to-Kill Interceptor

2014's Satellites Under Threat: The Spread of Hit-To-Kill

 

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Direct download: 154.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:48am EDT

The International Atomic Energy Agency has questions about three sites in Iran -- but Iran doesn't feel like answering. Aaron, Anne and Jeffrey discuss the atomic archive, access to suspect facilities, and environmental sampling.

Plus, there are a few things in recent IAEA reports that worry us.

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Direct download: 153.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:26pm EDT

The People's Liberation Army Rocket Forces used to be a nearly opaque organization to all but a few open-source researchers. Now, increased availability of satellite-imagery and public media enable open-source exploitation and tracking of PRC missile forces like never before. 

Decker Eveleth joins Jeffrey and Scott to discuss open-source tracking PRC missile brigades, his geolocated order of battle KMZ, and the increasing accessibility of open-source research methods. 

Links of Note:

Decker's blog and PLARF ORBAT in KMZ form: https://www.aboyandhis.blog/post/mapping-the-people-s-liberation-army-rocket-force

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Direct download: 152.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:31pm EDT

Mort Halperin a giant as an academic and a policy practitioner. And he's working on a memoir that covers his sixty year career in foreign policy. Mort played an important role in the US decision to revert Okinawa to Japanese control without nuclear weapons -- a case study Jeffrey teaches in is class on decision-making. Jeffrey talks to Mort about that pivotal period in US-Japanese relations.

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Direct download: 151.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:18pm EDT

Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. While the popular perception of Biden is that he's quite moderate, on nuclear issues he's always been relatively progressive.

Aaron and Jeffrey discuss Biden and bomb.

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Direct download: 150.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:03pm EDT

China's People's Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) has been very busy in the last few years, testing new high-tech missiles and standing up new launch brigades. 

Superproducer Scott joins Jeffrey and Anne to talk about reports of the PLARF test launching over 100 missiles in 2019, rapidly expanding since 2017, and some of the data issues with analysis of the PRC's nuclear and missile arsenal. 

Links of Note:

The PLARF launched over 100 missiles in 2019: https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2020/02/50ceb602df35-china-fires-over-100-missiles-in-2019-far-more-than-us.html

The PLARF stands up 11 brigades since 2017: https://www.popsci.com/story/blog-eastern-arsenal/china-missile-force-growing/

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Direct download: 149.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:52am EDT

James Palmer of the UK's Atomic Weapons Establishment joins the ACW trio to talk about the importance of 3D modelling and data visualization, including recreations of North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test site and virtual reality training simulations.

Links of Note, Courtesy of James Palmer:

  1. Enhanced briefings for a CTBTO On-site Inspection SnT2017  (Palmer and Stevanović).
  2. How to put technical data into an enhanced briefing (Palmer and Stevanović).
  3. Presenting work on the DPRK test site destruction event SnT2019 (Palmer and Selby).
  4. Comparative talk for test site, showing 3D visualisation capability at SnT2015 (Pabian), from 3 minutes 20 seconds in.
Software discussed during podcast.

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Direct download: 148.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:13pm EDT

Iran tested a satellite launch vehicle, and it failed. But this isn't a reason to cheer.

Iran showed off a lot of goodies this month, pointing to an active solid-propellant missile program and has no said a future satellite launch is going to use a solid-propellant space launch vehicle. 

This is bad news.

Aaron and Jeffrey talk about Iran's space program and why we should embrace the Simorgh and worry about the future.

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Direct download: 147.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:40pm EDT

After the Iranian ballistic missile raid on U.S. forces in Iraq, the IRGC appears to have accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner flying out of Tehran. The Iranian government took about 3 days to admit that it was shot down, initially denying that it was shot down.

Prior to the admission, the Arms Control Wonk Podcast slack channel jumped on the case and started a collaborative open-source intelligence effort to figure out what actually had happened and if Iran's denial held water.

Friend of the pod Patrick Kerley joins Jeffrey to talk about the Arms Control Wonk Podcast slack channel's collaborative OSINT efforts at tracking down details of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, including tracking flight paths, pulling satellite imagery, and locating videos based on sound cues. 

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Direct download: 146.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:36am EDT

As it turns out, the ACW trio thinks that Iran’s missiles are accurate. Super accurate. As Anne flies across the United States, Aaron and Jeffrey spoke about Iran’s ballistic missile strikes Ain Assad Air Base in Iraq, why the strike on Erbil may have been an outlier, and how nobody is in control of escalation.

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Direct download: 145.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:27pm EDT

The ACW crew discusses the JCPOA...again. Iran has announced its 5th step away from the JCPOA. The trio discusses what that means, what it doesn't mean, and where we go from here. 

And, for your ease of reference, Iran's Five Steps:

  1. May 2019: No longer limit stockpiles of LEU or heavy water
  2. July 2019: No longer limit uranium enrichment to 3.67%
  3. September 2019: Abandoned all limits on R&D for new centrifuges 
  4. November 2019: Resume uranium enrichment at Fordow, resulting in a podcast.
  5. January 2020: Abandon limits on number of centrifuges. 

 

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Direct download: 144.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:38pm EDT

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