On June 7, 2013 Russia launched a military satellite, designated Cosmos-2486. The satellite was delivered into orbit by a Soyuz-2.1b launcher, launched at 22:37:59 MSK (18:37:59 UTC) from the launch pad No. 4 of the launch complex No. 43 of the Plesetsk test site. Cosmos-2385 is an optical reconnaissance satellite of the new class of these satellites developed in Russia - Persona.
There is a very good video of the launch:
The satellite was registered by NORAD as an object 39178. It received international designation 2013-028A. According to NORAD data, the satellite was deployed on an orbit with an apogee of 703 km, perigee of 187 km, inclination of 98.3, and orbital period of 93.48 minutes. It is expected to perform a transfer to a sun-synchronous circular orbit with apogee of about 720 km in a few days. UPDATE: 06/10/2013:The satellite has been transferred to a nearly circular orbit 721x703 km.
Strategic Rocket Forces conducted a successful flight test of "a prototype of a new ICBM." The test took place at 21:45 MSK (17:45 UTC) on June 6, 2013 from a mobile launcher deployed at the Kapustin Yar test site. The
warhead waswarheads were reported to have successfully reached its target at the Sary-Shagan site.
UPDATE: As Alexander Stukalin pointed in the comments, it has been reported deployment of the new ICBM is expected to begin in 2014. Before that the Rocket Forces plan to conduct one more test launch of the missile. The earlier plan was to begin deployment in 2015. In 2014 the Rocket Forces were expected to begin combined test of the missile. Plans could change, of course, especially if the development program appears successful (although, there is always a chance to go back to the original schedule). Also in the news is the new name of the missile - it is now known as Rubezh, not Avangard.
A few more points - the Rocket Forces representative said that the missile carried several warheads. He also said that it was the fourth test of the missile - which is in agreement with what has been reported so far - the first one in September 2011 (failure), second in May 2012, third in October 2012, and now the fourth. This doesn't look like a very intensive test program, especially given that two of the three successful tests were conducted from Kapustin Yar to Sary-Shagan - far from a nominal range. So, my guess is that it's a not particularly deep upgrade of the Topol-M/Yars line of ICBMs.
Finally, as far as I can tell, this missile is an unlikely candidate for anything "hypersonic" - that thing is too big to fit in a standard silo, not to mention a mobile launcher.
According to the commander of the Space and Air Defense Forces, the new Voronezh-DM radar in Armavir has entered combat duty. Although it is not immediately clear if this applies to just one of the two radars in Armavir, most likely this is the case. The radar was reported to began limited operations in February 2009, so it's been providing data for some time now.
Russia began construction of a new Voronezh-DM early-warning radar near Barnaul. The radar is expected to be ready for service in 2016, although it could begin limited operations earlier.
The radar in Barnaul will be the fourth Voronezh-DM radar in the existing early-warning network. Two are deployed in Armavir and one in Kaliningrad. The report suggested that the radar site will be located near village of Konyukhi - as reader SL suggested, this might be the former Shadrino airfield south of Konyukhi.
The report suggests that new early-warning radars will be built in Omsk and Orenburg regions.
The change is partially explained by the increase in the number of planned space launches with ICBM-derived launchers. According to today's announcement, the Rocket Forces will conduct eight launches of this type, both from Baykonur and Dombarovskiy/Yasnyy. It is not immediately clear what these launches are - as of today, two Dnepr (R-36MUTTH/SS-18) launchers from Dombarovskiy and two Strela (UR-100NUUTH/SS-19) launches - from Baykonur.
Russia appears to have made a final decision to eliminate two Project 941 Typhoon submarines - TK-17 Arkhangelsk and TK-20 Severstal. This decision has been expected for quite some time - the submarine division that included these submarines was disbanded in 2004 and in September 2012 Russia and the United States announced that the CTR program had completed elimination of R-39 missiles that were deployed on these submarines. The Russian Navy tried to come up with other uses for the submarines, but apparently none of the options worked.
The third submarine of the Project 941 class - TK-208 Dmitry Donskoy - has been converted to a test bed for Bulava SLBMs. It is expected to remain in service until 2017.
Archival documents contain all kind of interesting information, especially when they are published in full. A while ago, someone discovered that the Russian Federal Archival Agency published a collection of documents on the early days of the Soviet nuclear weapon project as part of their project "Archives - to schools." The collection itself is very interesting, but one document definitely stands out. It is the draft of a Council of Ministers decree "On conducting a test of the atomic bomb." The draft was handwritten by Igor Kurchatov and dated 18 August 1949. The test of the bomb, known as RDS-1, was conducted some days later, on 29 August 1949, at the Semipalatinsk test site.
Among other things, the copy that was published there at some point contained previously unpublished data on the details of the first Soviet atomic device. Here is the translation of the relevant parts:
a) Plutonium charge:
mass of the charge: 6403.39 grams,b) expected efficiency of the charge: =~ 10%, which is equivalent to an explosion of ~10,000 tonnes of TNT;
outer diameter: 93 millimeters,
inner diameter: 28 millimeters;
c) expected probability of an explosion with decreased efficiency is =~10% (of which in the 5% of cases expected yield of the explosion is equivalent to an explosion of 10,000 to 3,000 tonnes of TNT and in the 5% of cases - less than 3,000 tonnes, but not less than 300 tonnes of TNT).
These are the numbers that have never been published before. Indeed, the copy of the document has pencil marks around the numbers with handwritten instructions to take them out. But someone apparently didn't follow the instructions. The numbers were taken out a few days after the document was "discovered," but the information has already got out. At this point, of course, these numbers have mostly a historical value, but they are quite interesting anyway. And not only for the history of the Soviet program - since RDS-1 was a copy of the U.S. plutonium devices, these numbers also provide some insight into the first U.S. nuclear weapons.
At 6.4 kg, the RDS-1 core was a bit heavier than that of Trinity, which reportedly used 6.1 kilogram of plutonium (see footnote on p. 184 in this paper). The RDS-1 dimensions are most likely also very close to those of Trinity, but it's hard to tell - I don't think the size of the Trinity core has ever been disclosed.
The data show that the density of the material used in the RDS-1 core was 15.6 g/cm3, which is consistent with the plutonium-gallium alloy with about 1.4 wt percent of Ga added to stabilize plutonium in the δ phase. Trinity reportedly used 1 wt percent of Ga.
The efficiency estimates are very interesting as well. The 10% estimate assumes fission of about 640 g of plutonium, which would be equivalent to about 13 kt. The first measurements, conducted after the test, suggested that RDS-1 produced an explosion with a yield of about 10 kt, which was a bit lower than the expected value, but not inconsistent with it. However, that initial estimate was apparently based on the energy of the blast wave, so the total energy release was probably higher. The official account of Soviet nuclear tests lists RDS-1 as having the yield of 22 kt. But it's a somewhat different story.
Now to the probability of a fizzle. Kurchatov's estimates appear to be consistent with the analysis that is based on Carson Mark's paper on the explosive properties of reactor-grade plutonium. Figure A-1 on p. 183 there suggests that one would get 10% probability of a less than nominal yield at Pu-240 concentrations of about 0.5%. This is consistent with the Soviet plutonium production records - according to the data in Anatoli Diakov's paper on the Soviet plutonium, the first batch of about 10 kg of plutonium was produced in a 100 MW reactor during a campaign that lasted about 100 days (the reactor core contained about 120 tonnes of natural uranium, see pp. 32-33). My quick estimate showed that this plutonium would contain about 0.7% of Pu-240 [Update: I corrected my estimate - it's 0.7%, not 0.35%].
A more careful look at these numbers could probably tell more about parameters of the RDS-1 implosion process. However, one should be careful about interpreting these data - as it turned out, Kurchatov's estimates used wrong values for the neutron background - the Soviet scientists discovered in 1950-1951 that the neutron source that they were using in 1949 to calibrate their instruments was actually about 20% stronger than they thought. Accordingly, the measured values, which were used in calculations, underestimated the actual neutron background. The fizzle probabilities were recalculated in 1951, but we don't know what the new values are (we know, however, that they were still within the acceptable limits).
My final note would be that this document is clearly a very unusual find (as was the one discovered last year - my special thanks to those who helped discover these documents and combed through books on the history of the Soviet program to find other information used in this post). But one does not have to rely on these accidental discoveries to get a good picture of the Soviet nuclear weapon program - a lot of documents have been properly declassified and published. I hope one day someone will put together a detailed technical history of the Soviet nuclear effort that would make full use of that information. There is a lot of interesting data out there.
At 09:23:41 MSK on April 26, 2013 (03:23:41 UTC), the Space Forces conducted a successful launch of a Soyuz-2.1b launcher from the launch pad No. 4 of the launch complex No. 43 of the Plesetsk launch site. The launcher, equipped with a Fregat-M boost stage, successfully delivered into orbit a Glonass-M navigation satellite.
The satellite has been given Cosmos-2485 designation. It received international designation 2013-019A and NORAD number 39155. The internal number of the satellite is 747. The new satellite was deployed in the first orbital plane of the Glonass constellation.
Previous Glonass launch took place on 28 November 2011.
Later this week five nuclear weapon states will meet in Geneva for their now regular P5 meeting. The meeting is taking place right before the NPT PrepCom, which is also held in Geneva this year. One issue that will probably come up at the meeting is the transparency of nuclear arsenals. The five addressed transparency in the past, but the best they came up with was a working group that is supposed to develop a glossary of nuclear terms. This is, of course, a very useful product, but it is a rather small step as far as transparency is concerned. The P5 is widely expected to do more - one of the items in the action plan adopted by the 2010 NPT Review Conference encourages nuclear-weapon states to agree on a standard reporting form that would be used to provide information on their "systematic and progressive efforts to reduce nuclear weapons." The UN even created a web page where it will publish the information provided by the nuclear weapon states. The P5 states are expected to report on the progress they made on the disarmament front at the 2014 PrepCom, so there is some pressure on them (albeit not particularly strong) to get something done by then. Transparency seems like a good area where progress might be possible.
There are a number of proposals designed to address transparency. For example, the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative, a group of ten non-nuclear weapon states, developed a fairly detailed reporting form that it submitted to the P-5 Paris meeting in 2011, only to be met with silence. There are other proposals as well, some of them asking for quite a bit of information - down to serial numbers of warheads and warhead production and dismantlement history going all the way back to the first nuclear devices. This, of course, would be nice to have, but we are probably a long way from the point when nuclear weapon states would be able to agree to release this kind of information. As someone described the P-5 discussions, "some states are more interested in transparency than others," which is a way of saying that some are probably not interested in it at all.
Aside from the reluctance of states to make information about their nuclear arsenals public, there is a practical issue of defining what should be included in the report. For example, the NPDI form asks for things like "number of strategic or non-strategic deployed nuclear warheads," but to answer this kind of request one would need to agree on what is a warhead, when it is strategic and when it is not, and at what point a warhead is deployed. This are all good questions that would have to be answered some day, but at this point these questions just hold the process back.
This is where it would make sense to turn to the experience of Russia and the United States who have been dealing with the issues of definitions and reporting for several decades as part of their arms control and disarmament talks. Even if you don't count the early treaties, the START agreement, which included very comprehensive reporting provisions, is more than 20 years old. The treaty that is currently in force, New START, also includes detailed data exchange among its many provisions. One particularly important element of the treaty is that it defines quite clearly what it is dealing with. For example, in New START the concept of a strategic deployed nuclear warhead has a fairly precise meaning - these warheads are counted and their number can be verified. Purists could say that New START definitions are not perfect, but in the end the treaty does give a reasonably good picture of the number of operationally deployed nuclear warheads in Russia and the United States (and that, by the way, includes all warheads, as there are few, if any, deployed non-strategic warheads). Overall, what New START provides is a well-developed and thoroughly tested data exchange mechanism that could be used as a starting point in the effort to bring universal transparency to nuclear disarmament.
Last year UNIDIR launched a project that looked into the practicalities of this kind of data exchange and I'm glad to report that we are ready to present the results. The project has a dedicated web site NuclearForces.org that has all the links, maps, and Google Earth files that show where the bases and other facilities in China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States are. Please visit the site, read the report, and take a look at the model New START data exchange documents in the supplement.
The basic idea of the project was to look at how New START-type reports from all NPT weapon states would look like. The table below shows aggregate numbers reported in New START format for all five NPT nuclear weapon states:
|Deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs, and deployed heavy bombers||60||48||491||24||806|
|Warheads on deployed ICBMs, on deployed SLBMs, and nuclear warheads counted for deployed heavy bombers||0||288||1,499||88||1,722|
|Deployed and non-deployed launchers of ICBMs, deployed and non-deployed launchers of SLBMs, and deployed and non-deployed heavy bombers||109||64||884||64||1,034|
It is important to note that it reflects the status of forces on 1 September 2012 (the date of one of the most recent data exchanges) - the numbers would change somewhat if a different date is chosen. There are few surprises here, but a couple of things are worth highlighting. China would report zero deployed warheads as we assumed that no warheads are actually mounted on China's ballistic missiles. Under New START definition that means exactly that China has no warheads on deployed ICBMs or SLBMs (we assume that no SLBMs are deployed). China, however, has deployed ICBMs and also non-deployed launchers that provide a good sense of what the size of its nuclear force might be. Another interesting feature of this table is that the number of warheads deployed on U.K. SLBMs is fairly low - only 88. It is a result of the timing of the report - in September 2012 only two U.K. submarines had missiles on board, as Vengeance was in overhaul and Vigilant, which was emerging from overhaul, was in Kings Bay, waiting for her missiles to loaded. Go to NuclearForces.org and download the reports to see a more detailed discussion.
The model data exchange reports provide more information about nuclear forces of all states. For example, it is clear that the U.S. practice to remove coordinates of missile silos and other facilities from the unclassified version of the report is a bit silly - it may have made sense in 1991, when this practice started, but now all that information is easily accesible on Google Earth. Russia could also release its report in full without problems - most of the contents can be easily reconstructed from the open data (as it turned out, internet forums where parents discuss military service of their sons has very much all you need to know and more - which missile regiments are active, how to get there, and what is the cell phone number of the regiment commander). France and the United Kingdom should be able to release their complete New START-type reports tomorrow - very much everything that would be included there is already open knowledge. In the U.K. case, even the unique IDs of the missiles that are on U.K. submarines are known to Russia, so there are no secrets there. The number of deployed warheads would be the only piece of information that is not available in the open, but it's hard to see why publishing this number would do any harm to either country. I don't think anyone really cares whether France has 200 or 288 deployed warheads.
China, of course, is an outlier - it's difficult to get a good picture of where its bases and facilities are. But not entirely impossible. Also, as I understand, with all the skepticism about openness, China might be looking for ways to do something about transparency of its nuclear forces. Releasing a New START-type report, maybe limited to aggregate numbers at first, could be a step in that direction. Then, in a detailed report China would have to release information about its non-deployed missiles - a good way to put to rest the speculations about tunnels with thousands of missiles in them.
The results of our project show that New START does indeed provide a practical way of bringing transparency to the nuclear disarmament process. It is, of course, just a starting point, but it has the advantage of having two states with decades of experience and a very elaborate legal and institutional framework behind it.
Before I conclude, I must say that I am very glad I had Tamara Patton and Phillip Schell as my collaborators - SIPRI is very lucky to have them. For those of you who are in Geneva next week, we will present our report to the PrepCom on Tuesday, April 23rd, 13:15-14:45 at Room XI of the Palais des Nations. If you couldn't come, visit the project web site, NuclearForces.org, look at the data, and download the report and the documents to see how New START would work in practice. I think it would do pretty well.
As I was reading a new report by Alexei Arbatov and Vladimir Dvorkin, The Great Strategic Triangle, published by the Carnegie Moscow Center in April 2013, I noticed a small footnote that tells something about how things have changed in Russia in the past year. Here is the footnote in full (it's footnote 6 in the report):
In consideration of the new amendments to the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation adopted on November 14, 2012, that extended the definition of "high treason" to "the provision of financial, material, technical, consulting or other assistance to a foreign state ... in activities directed against the security of the Russian Federation...." all the factual information presented in this work is derived from Russia's official sources, or from foreign official or unofficial sources that by definition cannot be classified as state secrets of Russia. Data from numerous Russian expert materials are not used in order to avoid accidental disclosure of classified information (authors' note).
All the numbers in the reports have indeed been taken from official or foreign sources. This didn't really affect the quality of the report, but it is still something that a careful reader would notice. I'm sure it was done out of an overabundance of caution, but the problem is that the change in the criminal code is quite real. The definition, in fact, is a bit broader than the quote in the footnote suggests. The new criminal code defines high treason as:
"the provision of financial, material, technical, consulting or other assistance to a foreign state, international or foreign organization or their representatives in their activities directed against the security of the Russian Federation."
In the past, to be accused of treason one would have to be either passing classified information to states or foreign organizations in their activities that are "hostile" (враждебная) to Russia or collecting information under a direct assignment from a foreign intelligence. Not that the Russian security services ever had any problems extending that definition to any activity they didn't like. But the new law makes this task much easier. As the things stand today, the FSB would have no problem stating in the Russian court ("Russian" is an operative word here) that, say, Carnegie Endowment is a foreign organization involved in "activities directed against the security of the Russian Federation." After all, it would be the FSB that would define what security is.
I don't think this law will be applied in practice - it would be a scandal if Russia indeed accused a respected international organization of fostering treason in court, even if it's a Russian court. But that's not how the law is supposed to operate - the idea is to create the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in the society that makes it easier for the FSB types to control people and institutions. At the moment, it seems that they are succeeding.