Arms Control Wonk

This is a complicated one. According to Demetri Sevastopulo at the Financial Times, China tested something that sounds a whole lot like FOBS with an HGV. Something that orbited the globe and dropped a hypersonic glide vehicle against a target. 

Jeffrey, Aaron, and Scott try to figure out what actually was tested (HGV-FOBS? An intercontinental glider? A super-lofted ballistic missile??), talk about what it means to be a "fractional orbital bombardment system" versus a regular ballistic missile, and why the pursuit of perfect missile defenses may make us all less secure.

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Direct download: 191.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:42pm EDT

Glide or die, baby. 

The North Koreans, on a real cavalcade of missile debuts reminiscent of 2017, have tested what they claim to be a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV). Which means they are just checking off their list of goals, leaving a nuclear powered submarine, a MIRV, and a solid propellant ICBM as the main untested-but-announced capabilities....

While it isn't 100% clear that they actually tested an HGV, the team dissects what it might have been, if a DPRK HGV is realistic, and why HGVs and other missile-defense-defeating technologies fit the DPRK's national strategy perfectly. 

Oh, and FOBS makes an appearance, almost entirely to give Scott nightmares. 

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Direct download: 190.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:53pm EDT

Put another pot of coffee on because it is launch week again. North Korean launched two missiles off of the back of a train this week, right as the president of South Korea watched their own tests of a submarine launched ballistic missile, stealthy air launched cruise missile, ballistic missile test, supersonic anti ship cruise missile test, large diameter solid motor test, and good lord it is a hard week to keep up. Oh right and North Korea is expanding its uranium enrichment facilities. 

One day we'll catch up to AUKUS.

Jeffrey and Scott try to keep up and parse through everything that is happening, from why trains are a strategically sensical choice for North Korean missile basing to why the South Korean conventional SLBM makes us very, very nervous. 

Recent Episodes of Note:

North Korea's recent long-range strategic land-attack cruise missile test: https://armscontrolwonk.libsyn.com/not-lackin-lacms

North Korea's plutonium reprocessing campaign: https://armscontrolwonk.libsyn.com/boiling-fish-at-yongbyon

 

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Direct download: 189.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:18pm EDT

The DPRK tested a cruise missile, but this time it was a big one. Like "INF Treaty" big, if that term still meant anything. 

The DPRK announced that it launched a 1500 km range cruise missile, after months of hints that a strategic nuclear-capable cruise missile was in the works. While it technically does not fall under the United Nations Security Council resolutions sanctioning DPRK ballistic missile and space tests, it is a huge concern, especially since it is probably meant to carry a nuclear payload one day. 

Jeffrey and Aaron talk about the tech, cruise missile proliferation, how the DPRK has been signaling this capability for a while, and why this is a very serious capability that needs to be addressed.

And, of course, they make fun of the JLENS.

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Direct download: 188.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:53pm EDT

Looks like Yongbyon is running a little hot.

The IAEA has announced that it believes the DPRK is conducting a plutonium reprocessing campaign at Yongbyon. 

Jeffrey and Aaron discuss why the DPRK would want to do this. What could the mystery be? Why would the DPRK reprocess plutonium?

For nukes. It's for nukes. Basically like the DPRK has been saying. 

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Direct download: 187.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:06pm EDT

Jeffrey and his team fear no cloud. Working with Capella Space to acquire cloud-piercing synthetic aperture radar (SAR) data, the MIIS team has been monitoring eternally-cloudy Novaya Zemlya, Russia, for evidence of Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile tests.

Evidence pointed to the Burevestnik test site being revived after the previous failures, and the team started utilizing radar returns to obviate the satellite-imagery-frustrating weather that plagues Russia's northern nuclear test ranges. 

Jeffrey and Aaron discuss remote sensing technical education, and the value of teaching practical imagery interpretation, technical processing skills, and how to evaluate imagery at a non-technical level.

 Previous Episodes:

Discussing the tragic accident during the previous Burevestnik test.

Links of Note:

Zachary Cohen's CNN article on monitoring the Burevestnik.

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Direct download: 186.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:48am EDT

Bad news abounds for Iranian and US returns to JCPOA compliance.

Aaron and Jeffrey talk through the frustration around breakout time requirements, the timidity of the Biden administration, and the shortfalls of the wait-and-see approach. 

 

Links of Note:

The Economist article on OSINT, including Arms Control Wonk and the Slack channel, which is filled with only the most brilliant and beautiful of people, whom all listeners should aspire to emulate: 

https://www.economist.com/briefing/2021/08/07/open-source-intelligence-challenges-state-monopolies-on-information

 

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Direct download: 185.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:45am EDT

Matt Korda and Hans Kristensen with the Federation of American Scientists have tracked down what appears to be a second field of missile silos near Hami, Xinjiang. 

Aaron, Jeffrey, and Scott gather up to discuss the rapidly increasing number of missile silos, what this means for the shell game theory, how many missiles and warheads could be in the PLARF's ICBM arsenal, and how China strategically responds to U.S. ballistic missile defenses. 

Links of Note:

Our first episode on the first field of silos: https://armscontrolwonk.libsyn.com/nuclear-silos-in-the-chinese-desert

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Direct download: 184.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:27pm EDT

American weapons systems need better names.

Tom Karako, Director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, joins Jeffrey to talk about just what it is that inspires soldiers: Legendary, heroic, and historical names, not descriptive acronyms and jargon. What, are ALCM and JASSM not as sexy as Hades or Pluton?

Tom explains his philosophical and classical background, and the inspiration for his article in War on the Rocks about giving U.S. weapons systems respectable names more befitting of their purpose. 

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Direct download: 183.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:02pm EDT

Decker Eveleth and Jeffrey Lewis's team at CNS have found 119 silos for ICBMs out in the deserts of China. That's the largest expansion of PRC silos in history, by far, but it isn't totally clear what is going on, and whether each of these Bouncy Castles of Death represents a new missile or if there are some decoys in the mix...

Aaron and Jeffrey discuss how Decker found these silos out in the middle of the desert, whether each silo has its own missile or if this is a Shell Game with empty silos and decoys, and how this is going to impact arms control incentives in the very near future. 

 

Further Reading:

Jeffrey's op-ed in Foreign Policy: https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/06/30/china-nuclear-weapons-silos-arms-control/

Catherine Dill's article on new test silos at Wuzhai: https://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/1205826/open-silos/

Decker Eveleth and Scott LaFoy's article on possible silos at Sundian: https://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/1208828/possible-icbm-modernization-underway-at-sundian/

Hans Kristensen's articles on DF-41 training silos at Jilantai, which constituted the foundational discovery of DF-41 silos in open source research: 

https://fas.org/blogs/security/2019/09/china-silo-df41/

https://fas.org/blogs/security/2021/02/plarf-jilantai-expansion/

 

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Direct download: 182.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:33pm EDT

Jeffrey's team is at it again. 

This time, they (and Jonathan McDowell!) caught an unannounced (and failed) Iranian space launch attempt and have now caught what appears to be a second unannounced (and failed) Iranian space launch attempt. 

The failed launch detection was covered by Zachary Cohen and Oren Liebermann at CNN, who were kind enough to get the Pentagon to confirm that the first launch did, in fact, fail. We're still waiting to hear about that second one though...

Jeffrey and Scott walk through Iran's textbook space launch preparations, how Jeffrey's team tracked the preparation and launch, and how one assesses that a rocket flight failed in absence of a big, obvious explosion.

 

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Please note that any views expressed on the Arms Control Wonk Podcast are the views of individual hosts, and do not represent the views of hosts' respective employers.

Direct download: 181.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:35pm EDT

Is the Nuclear Posture Review something worth doing, or a massive waste of time and political capital?

Jeffrey and Aaron vote "waste." The NPR takes up a ton of time, leaves policy on autopilot during its duration, and burns a ton of bandwidth that could be used for actual reflection and policy change. 

But what is more valuable? No Review at all? An Integrated Deterrence Review? The team walks through the pitfalls of the NPR, propose some modest alternatives, and outline a possible alternative mission for the Missile Defense Agency....

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Direct download: 180.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:55pm EDT

The hype is real. Maybe it's a branding thing, maybe people forget ballistic missiles are a thing, maybe nobody thinks "glider force" sounds cool. But whatever the reason, people keep calling hypersonic glide vehicles fast compared to existing missile systems.

Jeffrey and Aaron discuss hypersonic weapons, what people keep getting wrong about them, and why the D5 missile is so dang cool.

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Direct download: 179.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:42pm EDT

On April 20, an Israeli twitter user posted a video of a large smoky cloud to his Twitter account with the comment “A mysterious explosion in northern Israel.”

Jeffrey and his team tracked down the "mysterious explosion," identifying it as a solid rocket motor test for an unknown missile or space system.

Aaron and Jeffrey walk through the team's methodology, how they found the site, how they identified that it was a rocket motor, and how CNS's knowledgebase of missile industrial facilities assists in rapidly disproving disinformation. 

https://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/1211676/israeli-rocket-motor-test/

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Direct download: 178.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 3:38pm EDT

North Korea has been active the past few weeks, launching a set of cruise missiles (probably just coastal defense systems) and a separate set of ballistic missiles (which look like stretched KN23 short-range ballistic missiles) a few days later. But these events were received very differently by the Biden administration and analysts.

Jeffrey, Aaron, and Scott discuss why these events were  received so differently, what the deal is with North Korea's newest short-range ballistic missile system, and what the Biden administration may be getting itself into with its denuclearization policy.

 

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Please note that any views expressed on the Arms Control Wonk Podcast are the views of individual hosts, and do not represent the views of hosts' respective employers.

Direct download: 177.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:19pm EDT

Biden campaigned on rejoining the JCPOA, but some of that enthusiasm has dried up since he took office.


Aaron and Jeffrey debate what's going on, strategies for negotiating re-joining the JCPOA, and the fallacy of letting the perfect get in the way of the good as people begin to advocate for "waiting for a better deal" again.

Also, it is a good time to start listening to Season Two of The Deal, available at IranDealPodcast.com and Apple Podcasts.

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Direct download: 176.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:25pm EDT

President Biden has extended New START for five more years. But what are we going to do with those years? How to we actually advance stability?

Aaron and Jeffrey talk about the steps necessary to secure stable, effective arms control treaties, the history of arms control, and the importance of tacking missile defenses alongside offensive systems.

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Direct download: 175.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:54pm EDT

Iran unveiled a new (mostly) solid-propellant space launcher, the Zoljanah!

But it looks....different than the other space launchers. Besides having a new fuel type, the Zoljanah may not have many IRGC or military fingerprints on it, indicating that the Iranian solid-propellant programs are robust and expansive.

Jeffrey and Aaron talk Iranian space programs, civilian vs. military control of research programs, and, of course, why a solid-propellant launcher makes a difference. 

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Direct download: 174.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:25pm EDT

Israel maintains a technologically advanced but understudied ballistic missile arsenal. 

Jeffrey and Aaron dive into the French, South African, and American influences on the arsenal, how to model the Jericho missile families, and the history of the Israeli ballistic missile program.

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Direct download: 173.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:13pm EDT

North Korea put on *another* parade, during the 8th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea. 

Kim Jong Un dropped some fascinating details about what the DPRK has allegedly completed, and what they may be working on, including a possible nuclear submarine and intermediate-range cruise missile. Then, he paraded some new missile hardware, including a new solid-fuel SLBM and some new short range systems. 

And, to top it off, Jeffrey and Dave Schmerler found that the SLBM-test platform in Nampho harbor has been moved for a possible refurb, meaning SLBM tests may be possible in the near future.

Jeffrey and Scott try to parse out what the North Koreans have built, what they showed us at the parade, and what is to come this year.

 

For our episode on the gigantic new as-of-yet-unnamed ICBM (nicknamed the Hwasong-16 or the Hwasong-X), click here.

For our episode on the October 2020 Military Parade in North Korea, click here.

 

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Please note that any views expressed on the Arms Control Wonk Podcast are the views of individual hosts, and do not represent the views of hosts' respective employers.

Direct download: 172.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 6:50pm EDT

On Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, at 8:30 a.m. Pacific Time, the U.S. Air Force, in partnership with the Strategic Capabilities Office, conducted a flight test of a prototype conventionally-configured ground-launched ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. 

But just what the heck did the DOD actually test? Jeffrey and team turn their analytic methods towards figuring out exactly what this strange, Frankenmissile was, and the open-source research lessons that can be gleaned from academic papers and unclassified laboratory newsletters.

 

And yes, we know it is actually Frankenstein's Missile, Frankenstein was actually the prime contractor. 

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Direct download: 171.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 5:30pm EDT

Nancy Pelosi has indicated that Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has assured her that there are safeguards against an "unstable president" accessing "the launch codes" and launching a nuclear strike. 

Jeffrey and Aaron discuss why that is wrong (and/or illegal), what the actual launch process is, and what the political strategy behind Nancy Pelosi's message may be.

Previous Entries in The Donald and The Nuclear series on executive power and nuclear weapons:

The Donald, The Nuclear, and No First Use

2 Donald 2 Nuclear

The Donald and The Nuclear 3: Tokyo Drift

The Donald and The Nuclear Goblet of Fire (And Fury)

The Donald and The Nuclear V: The Senate Strikes Back

The Donald and The Nuclear VI: Pushin' My Buttons

 

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Direct download: 170.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 4:53pm EDT

Jeffrey and crew have been busy at work modelling the giant ICBM that the DPRK paraded in October 2020, as well as tracing out its possible industrial provenance.

Aaron and Jeffrey talk through modelling methodologies, North Korean industrial espionage, and how to build robust public policies to account for uncertainty.  

For our episode on the October 2020 Military Parade in North Korea, click here.

 

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Direct download: 169.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:12pm EDT

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