North Korea: Where Do We Go From Here?

North Korea has successfully launched a BM-25 Musudan/ Hwasong-10 IRBM from a facility in Wonsan. The launch reached a height of 1000 km and landed 400 km downrange of Wonsan in the Sea of Japan. The missile has a theoretical range in the order of thousands of kilometers, long enough to hit Guam. This test however, used a high apogee flight path that allowed the test to avoid Japanese air space as it flew across the Sea of Japan. The high angle launch would theoretically also allow the missile to avoid most ballistic missile defense systems on it’s way to targets in South Korea should the DPRK be so inclined.*
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America is Fighting the Taliban…Again

Over the past year the Taliban have begun to gain ground against the Afghan government. They  now control more territory than they have had since their regime was overthrown in 2001. In the wake of this, President Obama has authorized new action against the Taliban. Last month Obama authorized a drone strike against Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in Pakistan.
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Countering Russia’s INF Violation (Part 2)

In my last post, I wrote about how the United States could deal with the threat of conventional Russian cruise missiles arising from the failure of the INF treaty. However, If the treaty fails, there is a strong possibility that Russia could rearm it’s intermediate forces with nuclear warheads. Given Russian doctrine and the nuclear armed enemies it faces, this scenario is especially likely.

Such weapons would create a nuclear escalation dynamic where Russian weapons could strike targets in Europe, and leave NATO with only strategic nuclear weapons and slower reacting planes to respond.(think escalate to deescalate.) In this case, a deploying nuclear capable short range missiles to Europe is an option worth considering to create a sense of parity with the Russians.

Nuclearizing the ATACMS

The United States would still not need to violate the INF treaty if the Russians go nuclear. The MGM-140 ATACMS could be easily fitted with a nuclear warhead. In fact, there was originally a planned nuclear version of the MGM-140 which was cancelled after the Cold War ended and there is no evidence that it could not be equipped with such a warhead.

Finding warheads for the missile would be simple. There is a stockpile of hundreds of retired or non deployed W-80 warheads stored near Kirtland AFB. The W84 used on the GLCM is also still available. The W-80s and are extremely light and compact. Designed for use on nuclear cruise missiles the warhead weighs only 290 lb (131 kg), signifantly lighter and smaller than the current 230kg (500 lb)warhead fitted to the missile.

There was also version of the ATACMS  fitted with a Mark 4 reentry vehicle loaded with conventional explosives. The same reentry vehicle is currently used for the W-76 nuclear bomb. Weighing just over 360 pounds (162 kg), the warhead would also be lighter than the current conventional versions, enabling it to be fitted to the missile.

Military Benefits

The advantages of such a weapon are clear. The MLRS systems could be housed in NATO bases in Eastern Europe and dispersed in the event of a crisis. They are both highly survivable and mobile. Each launcher is also capable of firing up to two missiles in quick succession.

Unlike cruise missiles which are limited in speed and can take hours to reach their targets, the ATACMs missiles take a fraction of the time, allowing them to react quickly to threats. The range of the ATACMS is sufficient to hold vital targets at risk and would certainly increase because of the weight reduction that would come with nuclearization.

A hardened Mobile Launcher for the missile is already in service in the form of the M270 MLRS. The launcher can carry two  missiles and is built on a Bradley IVF Chassis. With such a heavy duty chassis it should be no problem to add additional hardening for nuclear use if necessary.

Economic

A nuclearized MGM-140 would also be a fairly cheap missile to build and field. All of the components have already been in use for decades. The missiles, launcher, and warheads already exist. The only investment needed would be the cost of integrating the components.

Political 

Nuclearizing the ATACMS in the event of INF failure would have a lot of political benefits. Foremost, the U.S would not need to violate the INF to field the nuclear variant of the missile. NATO could still retain the moral high ground.

The missile could also be used as part of a second dual track strategy, like the one implemented to achieve the INF in the first place. The plan would combine a arms build up with diplomatic overtures. While such a policy would be initially destabilizing, it has been successful before and could be severely disruptive to Russia’s escalate to deescalate strategy.

Russia may think twice about employing nuclear escalation if it knows could be hit with a counterforce strike before it’s missiles reach their targets.

Conclusion

While mounting a nuclear warhead onto a interceptor evading missile like the ATACMS may not be the most calming prospect, it is an option. It could be done quickly, without the need for a lengthy acquisition process or designing a new nuclear warhead. It would disrupt Russian strategy, Reassure allies, and pressure Russia to abandon development of intermediate weapons.

Countering Russia’s INF Violation Part 1

Signs are emerging that Russia may soon pull out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty. Should this occur, Russia would be free to build and deploy  missiles that could directly threaten targets as far away as Iceland with nuclear or conventional weapons,providing Russia the ability to target the whole of Europe.

The consequences of this would be both dire and destabilizing; leading to a spiral of escalation. Russia’s Iskander missiles are designed to evade modern air defenses and destroy hardened targets like bunkers and airfields. Currently, NATO does not have a system that can reliably destroy these weapons. The mass deployment of Russian missiles would cause a fear of an air defense gap and missile gap; even if these weapons were not equipped with nuclear warheads.

Consequences

In the panic created by a pullout NATO may decide that rearmament with intermediate range missiles is the best course of action to match the Russians. Such a rearmament could happen rapidly and abruptly. Many nations already have short and intermediate range missiles based on ships and bombers. The United States, for example, has the Tomahawk and JASSM-ER cruise missiles already active on destroyers and cruisers.

In my view, this would be a destructive and dangerous path to go down, creating the foundation for both a new arms race between the United States and Russia and a nuclear standoff between the two powers. It is also an unnecessary path, as there are other ways to protect our allies for intermediate range missiles besides parallel escalation and total rearmament.

One of the reasons Russia would pursue intermediate range missiles like the Iskander-k  would be to create friction within NATO. This new threat would be employed to coerce members of the alliance.

Russia has already given us a preview of what this would like. Just recently, Putin threatened Poland and Romania with strikes because they agreed to let NATO build parts of a missile defense system in their countries.

Air Defense

To mitigate this threat, the first focus for NATO nations should be air defense. Point and area defense systems should be introduced and built up to offset the missile threat.The more reliable NATO’s intermediate missile defense is the less influence Russia will have.

Systems like the Patriot, Iron Dome, and IFPC could provide enhanced protection to European cities and key military installations. Most of these systems are already fully developed and could be easily fielded on preexisting bases.

Reassurance

Another way to fight this threat is to match it. In this case, the match does not have to be symmetrical. The geography of Europe doesn’t require NATO to field intermediate weapons. The Russians do not have as much strategic depth as the last time these weapons were deployed to Europe. An equivalent to the Perishing II is not necessary or advisable. The current short range MGM-140 ATACMS is sufficient provide counterforce capability against the Russian missiles if it could be based in eastern Europe.

The ATACMS is the rough equivalent of Russia’s Iskander. It is a quasi-ballistic missile designed to defeat air defense systems by maneuvering outside a predictable flight path. Although it only has a 300 km range, such a missile would be able to strike most missile bases in Russia’s from within NATO’s borders.Russian Intermediate missile are currently suspected to be based in Luga; well within range of the ATACMS.

Basing M142 and M270 MLRS systems in the Baltics, Romania and Poland would give the the U.S the ability to retaliate against Russia missiles and reassure members of the alliance closest to the threat.

A follow-on missile called the LRPF is expected to extend this to 500 km; the limit of the INF treaty. Such a missile could threaten targets as far away as Smolensk and the Russian naval base at Sevastopol.

For longer range targets in Russia’s Caucasus like Rostov and Stalin…I mean Volgograd, NATO warships in the Black Sea or fighter/bombers armed with JASSM cruise missiles stationed in Turkey are perfectly capable of attacking those targets with ease. A tomahawk has enough range to strike the Russia base at Volgograd from the Sea of Manama, Beyond Istanbul.

Conclusion

Whatever the scenario, America already has the tools to deal with a rearmed Russia. The addition of more air defense would help secure vital NATO assets while the deployment of short range missile will provide counterforce capability. Because of Russia’s decreased strategic depth since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact, the United States does not need to deviate from it’s current missile development path. NATO’s current missiles are up to job if they are deployed correctly.

 

 

How Germany Could Save NATO

 

As Eastern Europe has come under threat from a resurgent Russia the call has gone out to station more troops on NATO’s eastern periphery. Such a move is intended to reassure allies and deter Russia from meddling in the region. The problem is that many countries simply do not have the capacity to increase spending and build their forces in a way that will impact the broader strategic picture and create a credible deterrent in the east.
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