About Defense Tech

Defense Tech examines the intersection of technology and defense from every angle and provides analysis on what’s ahead.

Tip Us Off

Tip for Defense Tech?


It’s Confidential!


Obama Administration Says Iran Still Three to Five Years From Usable Nuclear Weapon

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

A revealing exchange at today’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Iran’s nuclear program that featured some of the Obama administration’s defense policy heavy hitters. Things got interesting when director of military intelligence, Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, said Iran could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb in one year.

This led a number of SASC committee members to assume that Iran could have a nuclear bomb in one year, which is not the case. He was referring only to uranium enrichment. Committee chair Sen. Carl Levin, asked for further clarification: If Iran made the decision today to develop a nuclear bomb, how long would it take them to do so?

To produce enough highly enriched uranium would take Iran one year, said vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. James Cartwright. To develop a “deliverable weapon that is usable tactically… something that can actually create a detonation, an explosion that would be considered a nuclear weapon” would take “another two to three, potentially out to five years.”

Sen. John McCain said he was somewhat astonished as every report he’s seen said a year to 18 months. To clarify, and Levin specifically asked what the intelligence community’s best assessment was, if Iran decided to simultaneously enrich uranium and develop a deliverable nuclear weapon, how long would it take?

“Three to five years is a historical estimate of how long it takes a nation with a low enriching capability to move both through the high enrichment protocols and then to things that would put it together to make it a weapon. Three to five years,” Cartwright said.

– Greg

Gates Says U.S. Has Conventionally Armed ICBMs

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Yesterday, on NBC’s Meet the Press, Defense Secretary Robert Gates may have revealed the existence of a new weapon in America’s arsenal, a conventionally-armed ICBM. It was thought development and deployment of conventionally tipped ICBMs was still years away; a prototype is scheduled for a test flight next month.

Responding to a question from NBC’s David Gregory on the ability to deter nuclear armed rogue states, Gates said: “We have, in addition to the nuclear deterrent today, a couple of things we didn’t have in the Soviet days… And we have prompt global strike affording us some conventional alternatives on long-range missiles that we didn’t have before.”

The Bush administration tried repeatedly to insert money into the defense budget to modify Trident II submarine launched ballistic missiles to carry conventional warheads, an effort repeatedly rejected by Congress; although it funded continued R&D on a Trident re-entry vehicle. The concern has been how other nations might react to a Trident launch. A conventionally armed ICBM could strike anywhere in the world within minutes, penetrating any and all known air-defenses.

After New START was signed in Prague last week, the Department of State released a fact sheet on conventional prompt global strike, pointing out that the new treaty does not put any constraints on development or deployment of conventionally tipped ICBMs. Conventional ICBMs would count under New START’s 700 delivery vehicle limit; the treaty does not distinguish between missiles armed with conventional and nuclear warheads.

The Navy has been working on a conventionally-tipped D-5 Trident II missiles for at least a decade, says naval strategist Craig Hooper. Since 2002, Lockheed Martin has “quietly tinkered” with Trident II reentry vehicles, providing new maneuverability and guidance packages.

Perhaps Gates misspoke and meant to say “we will soon have.” The D-5 production line is still open, so it’s easy to envision a test warhead or two sitting on a shop floor being quickly fitted atop a Trident; or, perhaps, that’s already happened.

– Greg

The Post New START Nuclear Arsenal

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

So now that the Nuclear Posture Review is out, one of the stated aims of which is to reduce the role of U.S. nukes, and a new arms reduction treaty with the Russians (New START) is signed (though not yet ratified by the Senate), let’s take a look at where things stand, or will soon stand, with America’s nuclear arsenal.

Assuming it’s ratified, New START, which replaces the 1991 START I Treaty which expired last year, sets limits of:

• 1,550 strategic warheads

• 700 deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs and deployed nuclear capable heavy bombers

• A combined limit of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers and nuclear capable heavy bombers

New START is only the beginning, according to the NPR, as the U.S. and Russia will continue discussion on further reductions in the nuclear arsenal. After some speculation that the Obama administration’s NPR would axe a leg of the nuclear triad, the NPR decided to keep all three legs.


Arabs Developing a Nuke

Friday, January 8th, 2010

We have a pretty dramatic story this afternoon on Military​.com from our Associate Editor Bryant Jordan.

The sharp-eared gumshoe picked up a throw away line during a panel discussion yesterday that had giant implications. Here’s a taste:

According to an expert on the Middle East, Israel may soon no longer be alone in possessing nuclear weapons in that volatile region of the globe.

But the other power with “the bomb” may not necessarily be Iran. While some countries claim Tehran is bent on becoming a nuclear-armed power – a claim Iran denies – an Arab country already is taking steps to go nuclear, says Jim Hoagland, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post journalist, who spoke Thursday at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“As a senior Arab political official who was in town recently said to a small group of us, [that] it’s clear there is already activity underway on the Arab side on the development of nuclear weapons,” Hoagland told a packed room at the institute’s offices. Hoagland did not identify the Arab official or others in the “small group,” and hastened to add that there were “no details to provide.”

Bryant tried to reach Hoagland but to no avail. He got some comments from a nuke watchdog group and some analysts, but he’s still digging into who Hoagland might have been talking about.

Read the entire story HERE.

– Christian

Iran Missile a Big Deal

Thursday, December 17th, 2009


Our boy John Noonan has a good post over at the Weekly Standard that dissects the threat from the reported Iranian missile test yesterday.

First, the Sajjil-2 is a solid fuel rocket. That’s the type of power source that we use in our own Minuteman III rockets, as solid fuel is stable in flight and requires no preparation time ahead of a launch. Liquid fuel, which powers the Iranian Shahab-3 fleet, is highly corrosive and sloshes around in a rocket’s downstage, destabilizing flight and degrading accuracy. It’s so toxic that the fuel eats away at a missile’s internal tanks, and thus needs to be inserted right before launch. That prep time is important, as it gives us a little extra warning prior to a hostile missile launch, which could be used to kill Iranian birds before they fly. With this new Sajjil-2 system, Iran has the ability to keep their missiles hot and ready for execution, killing any chance of an advanced warning or neutralization actions prior to a launch.

Second concern is that this missile is staged. Our Minuteman III ICBMs are a three stage, solid fuel system that have impressive range and accuracy (particularly impressive considering the fact that the fleet is approaching its 40th anniversary). Iran now has a two stage, solid fuel rocket. When they figure out how to add that third stage to the Sajill-2, they’ll have a delivery system with the legs to reach the east coast of the United States.

I tend to just poo poo these tests as grandstanding with souped up bottle rockets, but Noonan knows the threats better than anyone. Design is one thing, and if the Iranians have solid fueled rockets with multiple stages, that’s pretty advanced. But guidence is clearly another technical hurdle entirely and I’m not sure they’re there yet.

But when you’re not targeting specific silos or point detonations and just an air blast over a city, your control systems don’t need to be that refined, do they?

And Noonan goes on to say that the Sajjil 2 design is specific to a weapon system and doesn’t have the characteristics of a space launch vehicle.

Do I see Israeli F-15s being loaded at Ramat David for a Hanukka strike?

– Christian

Catchin’ Some Zs in a Nuke Tube

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009


Is there any better indication that we’ve got to change the Cold War nuclear alert program we’ve still got in place than this awesome story:

BISMARCK, N.D. — The Air Force discharged three North Dakota ballistic missile crew members who fell asleep while holding classified launch code devices, the military announced Tuesday. Officials said the codes were outdated and remained secure at all times.

The crew members were discharged last Thursday under orders from Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, said spokeswoman Laurie Arellano. They had been barred from working around nuclear weapons and classified material since the July 12, 2008 incident, she said.

Can someone please tell me why we have guys sitting in a tube 24 hours per day ready for a bolt out of the blue nuclear attack from the Soviet Union … er, Russia? I can imagine the mentality of a nuke tube officer these days who must be asking him or herself what the heck is all this redundant process and alert mumbo jumbo for…

Not that I’m into troops falling asleep on duty. That’s a major no-no and it seems from the story it was in a crew rest area. But these secret codes and keys and old-school 1980s processes have to be changed or more incidents like this are going to happen and increasingly degrade the morale of an important segment of our Air Force.

– Christian

NorkNuke Raises Persian Threat

Friday, May 29th, 2009


The director of the Missile Defense Agency, Lt. Gen. Patrick OReilly, said during an otherwise pretty dull hearing before the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee that the threat to the United States has increased substantially with the recent launch by Iran of a small satellite and the launch last week of a mid-range ballistic missile.

That caught the ears of the professional congressional staffers at the Thursday hearing, who wondered what the implications might be, since they were not explored at the hearing.

Some possible answers came from the venerable RAND Corporation. It came out with a report about Iran and its relations with the US over the next decade. One of the key recommendations of the May 19 report, Dangerous But Not Omnipotent: Exploring the Reach and Limitations of Iranian Power in the Middle East, is that the US should back off de-escalate in the reports language on a bilateral basis and combine that with muscular multilateral efforts targeted at Iranian behaviors that are not acceptable to the international community, such as terrorism and its development of nuclear weapons. Key to this multilateral approach would be support from Russia and China, which the report concedes is questionable.

One of the most interesting policy recommendations concerns how the US should communicate its policy goals. We must issue unambiguous statements about US interests and intentions in the region, particularly regarding Iraq, the authors say, The messages must be simple and easily understood, and the United States must stick to them long enough for them to be taken seriously. Among those statements should be a pledge that the US will say it has no long term interest in occupying Iraq or establishing a permanent military presence in Iraq.

The 230-page report, was commissioned by the U.S. Air Force in order to accurately gauge the strategic challenges from Iran over the next decade. If the threat from Iran really has increased substantially, as the MDA director told the subcommittee, quickly finding answers and implementing alternatives to the policies that have failed to deter Iran from developing ICBMs and pursuing nuclear weapons for much of the last decade is imperative.

– Colin Clark

The Art of WMDs

Friday, January 16th, 2009

midgetman.jpg I read Kipling because I love the poetry of empire and war. So if the fusion of art and war worked through the medium of rhythm and rhyme, why not extend it to say — hauntingly beautiful photos of the US strategic arsenal? Enter Martin Miller’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, a Visual Perspective –

Although the term, WMD, has become a part of our daily lexicon, it remains very much an abstraction for most of us. This series of images offers a retrospective look at some of these weapons. Most of my subjects are drawn from the Cold War period during which there was a very real threat to the survival of civilization itself. The last sixty years has seen a frenzied tango between strategy and technology that has left us with the chilling array of doomsday machines seen here.

The shot above is of the now-canceled “Midgetman” ICBM, one of the Reagan procurements that never survived the fall of the USSR. Check out the rest of Mr. Miller’s gorgeous (and chilling) collection here.
–John Noonan

Russia’s Waving its Missiles Around Again…

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008


From the headlines at Military​.com:

Russia will deploy missiles near NATO member Poland in response to U.S. missile defense plans, President Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday in his first state of the nation speech.

Medvedev also singled out the United States for criticism, casting Russia’s war with Georgia in August and the global financial turmoil as consequences of aggressive, selfish U.S. policies.

He said he hoped the next U.S. administration would act to improve relations. In a separate telegram, he congratulated Barack Obama on his election victory and said he was hoping for “constructive dialogue” with the incoming U.S. president.

Medvedev also proposed increasing the Russian presidential term to six years from the current four, a major constitutional change that would further increase the power of the head of state and could deepen Western concern over democracy in Russia.

The president said the Iskander missiles will be deployed to Russia’s Kaliningrad region, which lies between Poland and the ex-Soviet republic of Lithuania on the Baltic Sea, but did not say how many would be used. Equipment to electronically hamper the operation of prospective U.S. missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic will be deployed, he said.

He did not say whether the short-range Iskander missiles would be fitted with nuclear warheads and it was not clear exactly when the missiles would be deployed.

“Mechanisms must be created to block mistaken, egoistical and sometimes simply dangerous decisions of certain members of the international community,” he said shortly after starting the 85-minute speech, making it clear he was referring to the United States.

The president said Georgia sparked the August war on its territory with what he called “barbaric aggression” against Russian-backed South Ossetia. The conflict “was, among other things, the result of the arrogant course of the American administration, which did not tolerate criticism and preferred unilateral decisions.“

Medvedev also painted Russia as a country threatened by growing Western military might.

– Christian

One Ring Command to Rule Them All

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

strangelove.jpg Chin up kids — Strategic Air Command’s back!
Eh, kind of:

The Task Force on Nuclear Weapons Management recommended the Air Force put all its nuclear missions under Air Force Space Command and call the whole thing Air Force Strategic Command.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates organized the task force which was headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger after axing the Air Forces top two leaders last June due to its nuclear problems.
The recommendations Schlesinger announced Friday at the Pentagon also would mean that Air Combat Command would lose its nuclear bomber mission.
The task force recommended assigning a group of bombers to a numbered Air Force that would fall under AFSTRAT and have a sole nuclear mission.

Solid. And just in time to meet the challenges of a newly aggressive Russia!
The big changes, as I see them, call for (1) Air Force Space Command to morph into Air Force Strategic Command (2) New billets and career opportunities for the long-neglected nuclear officer (3) Shifting the entire bomber force into Strategic Command.
That’s the largest organizational shake up since the much-lamented days of Merrill McPeak. The times, they are a-changing. Or –depending on how far Putin plans to take Russia’s nuclear revitalization– could be returning to the old status quo.