Putin warns Russia will deploy new indefensible Zircon hypersonic weapon against U.S., NATO navies if Pentagon puts new missiles in Europe

In a threat harkening back to the days of the Cold War, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Wednesday that he’ll order his military to aim its new hypersonic missiles at the United States if the Trump administration decides to deploy new intermediate-range missiles in eastern Europe.




Speaking to his country during the annual state of the nation address, Putin said the military’s new Zircon missiles, which he said can travel at nine times the speed of sound and have a range of 620 miles are part of the Kremlin’s effort to build up its defensive capabilities over what he says is an increasingly aggressive and hostile United States.

Putin’s announcement comes after the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from a key Cold War-era arms control pact banning the development and deployment of intermediate-range missiles, Fox News reported.

During his address, the Russian leader denounced the U.S. decision to quit the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, which the Pentagon says Russia has been violated now for years. Putin said those accusations are false, but U.S. intelligence and State Department officials say the proof is irrefutable.

The Russian president repeated an earlier claim that Moscow wouldn’t be the first to deploy new intermediate-range missiles near Europe’s (and NATO’s) boundary. However, he warned that if the Pentagon puts missiles on the continent it would mean he will not only target host countries but also U.S. command-and-control centers and the American homeland.

Analysts say that Putin’s warning was clearly aimed at rattling Europe and NATO members who are considering U.S. missile deployment proposals.

Fox News reported further:



Speaking before lawmakers in the Russian capital, Putin added that the other weapons, which he announced last year, including the nuclear-powered Burevestnik cruise missile and the Poseidon nuclear-powered underwater drone, have been undergoing tests successfully.

Putin also focused on a range of social issues in the annual speech, promising to raise welfare payments, improve education and healthcare, as well as remove toxic dump sites from cities.

As for the Zircon, it is designated the 3M22 and it is listed as a scramjet-powered maneuvering anti-ship hypersonic cruise missile. If the missile’s specifications touted by Russia are accurate, it would mean that Zircon is capable of traveling about two miles per second, making all current state-of-the-art missile defense systems useless.

CNBC reports that Russia has conducted five tests of the Zircon, with the latest test occurring on December 10. The December test hit a top speed of Mach 8, or 6,138 miles an hour. A second report in December claimed that Russia has tested the Zircon 10 times.

It is reportedly compatible with surface warships, bombers, and can be submarine-launched as well.


 

Advertisements

U.S. Navy stepping up patrols in South China Sea but they aren’t likely to deter China

The Pentagon is stepping up so-called “Freedom of Navigation Operations” — FONOPs — in the South China Sea as a means of meeting and deterring Chinese aggression and expansionism.

The Navy has already carried out two FONOPs this year and officials say more are planned, the South China Morning Post reported.

However, observers say that the increase in U.S. Navy operations isn’t liable to influence Chinese decision-making in the region or deter Beijing from continuing to make outsized claims in the South China Sea.

In January, the USS McCampbell sailed near the Paracel Islands. On February 11, the USS Spruance and the USS Preble sailed near Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands, both missions of which triggered predictable angry responses from China.

The U.S. Navy carried out five FONOPs last year and four in 2017, the SCMP noted.

Adm. Phil Davidson, head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, suggested last week during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee that FONOPs in the South China Sea would be increased in the coming months.

He also said Britain’s naval activity would also increase in the South China Sea along with the activity of other U.S. allies.




China, thus far, is undeterred. In recent months Beijing has dispatched its own warships to the region in an effort to confront U.S. Navy ships. One such confrontation nearly led to a collision between U.S. and Chinese warships.

Collin Koh, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said the U.S. would have to resort to other strategies than simply using FONOPs to deter Beijing.

“While freedom of navigation operations may be one of the ways the US expresses its security commitment to the governments, they will have a negligible effect on Beijing’s continued strategic and economic forays – especially via the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ – throughout the Indo-Pacific region,” he told the paper.



Indeed, he added, “Beijing may likely use the intensified foreign military presence, including joint FONOPs, as a justification for these build-ups.”

Yue Gang, a retired People’s Liberation Army colonel, told the SCMP that neither the U.S. nor China wants to go to war over the South China Sea.

“If the US sent a large number of warships, then China would do the same in order to maintain a balance, so that would increase the risk of confrontation,” he said.

“But China doesn’t want a military conflict in the South China Sea, and the claim America is willing to stage a war against China is an overstatement.”


Pence: U.S. ‘will not stand idly by’ while Turkey buys Russian S-400 systems

Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday repeated earlier warnings that the United States would not look at all favorably on Turkey’s purchase of Russian-made S-400 air- and missile-defense systems a day after Ankara blew off the first of two deadlines to end the deal.

Speaking to attendees at the Munich Security Conference, the VP said the Trump administration “will not stand by idly while NATO allies purchase weapons from our adversaries.

“We cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East,” he added.

Pence’s comments come after Germany continues moving ahead with plans earlier this month to build the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia that the U.S. also opposes.

As for the S-400, Washington had established a Feb. 15 deadline for Ankara to indicate its intention to stop the sale, according to a U.S. military official who spoke to Military Times. If Turkey refuses to do so, a forthcoming sale of the U.S.-made Patriot missile defense system would be stopped.




“We have been clear with Turkey,” the U.S. official said. “The will not receive the Patriot if they purchase the S-400.”

The Patriot sale, valued at about $3.5 billion, covers the purchase of 80 Patriot MIM-104E Guidance Enhanced and 60 PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement missiles and associated gear.

In addition to ratcheting up tensions with the U.S. and NATO, to which Turkey is a long-standing member, the purchase of the S-400 would also likely endanger Ankara’s participation in the international development of the F-35, the fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter program.

Turkey sources some parts for the fighter and its development could be hampered if the U.S. ditches Turkey as a partner.

As for the Nord Stream pipeline, some U.S. analysts believe that Germany is seeking to diversify its natural gas supplies and that it intends to also purchase U.S.-produced LNG at some point.

President Trump has criticized Germany’s partnership with Russia on the project, saying the deal makes it ludicrous for Washington to continue spending so much money on helping Germany itself and Europe against Moscow, which remains an adversary.

Still, as Reuters reports, Germany will consider changes laws governing the Nord Stream 2 in order to ensure that it complies with new European Union regulations, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier told Reuters on Friday.

“My assumption is that it can be built under the new conditions,” he said. “But there will clearly be some changes. One regarding the ownership of the pipeline, since European law requires ownership of pipeline and production to be separated.”


U.S. substantially increasing forces in Pacific to counter ‘massive’ buildup by China

The Pentagon will continue to shift forces to the Pacific to counter what a top commander has deemed a “massive” military buildup by China.

Adm. Philip Davidson, the U.S. Navy’s new Indo-Pacific theater commander, said the U.S. military’s efforts to bolster its presence in the region is necessary to counter aggressive efforts by China to expand its influence and force the region to bend to Beijing’s wishes.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Davidson told members that China’s military buildup consists of large numbers of new, advanced missiles, planes, warships, submarines, and nuclear forces. In addition, he described China as “the greatest long-term threat to a free and open Indo-Pacific region,” the Washington Free Beacon reported.

“Through fear and economic pressure, Beijing is working to expand its form of communist-socialist ideology in order to bend, break, and replace the existing rules-based international order,” the PACOM commander said.

“In its place, Beijing seeks to create a new international order led by China and with Chinese characteristics,” Davidson noted further, an outcome that will replace the over 70 years of U.S.-backed peace and stability.

Davidson told the committee the Pentagon was adding additional weapons and forces to the region in response to China’s continued buildup of conventional, nuclear, and “gray zone” forces, the latter amounting to influence operations short of traditional armed conflict. China uses its maritime militia and Coast Guard in this manner.




Currently, PACOM is staffed with approximately 375,000 military and civilian personnel, some 200 warships including five aircraft carrier strike groups, and some 1,100 aircraft, the Free Beacon noted.

“Over the last 20 years, Beijing has undertaken a massive effort to grow and modernize the People’s Liberation Army (PLA),” Davidson said.

“The PLA is the principal threat to U.S. interests, U.S. citizens, and our allies inside the first island chain—a term that refers to the islands that run from northern Japan through Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia—and the PLA is quickly increasing its ability to project power and influence beyond the first island chain,” he added.

U.S. allies in the region have grown increasingly concerned over the past couple of years as China has become more aggressive and assertive in the region, constructing islands in the South China Sea and equipping them with surface-to-air missiles, radar systems, and runways for warplanes.

During Davidson’s testimony, Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), the new Armed Services chairman, said the U.S. military needs “urgent change at a significant scale” to deal with China.

“Our military advantage and deterrent edge in the Indo-Pacific is eroding,” Inhofe said. “The Chinese Communist Party leadership in Beijing senses weakness. They are testing our resolve, and if we do not act urgently, they may soon conclude that they can achieve their goals through force. We can’t take that peace for granted.”

Davidson noted that the South China Sea has become the most volatile flashpoint for conflict between the U.S. and her allies and China.

In addition to meeting security concerns, the U.S. has legitimate economic interests in the region as well. Total “trade with regional states in Southeast Asia totaled more than $1.8 trillion in 2017 and more than $1.3 trillion by the third quarter of 2018,” the Free Beacon noted.

Because of the importance of the region for trade and commerce, the U.S. called on China to remove sophisticated missiles from its islands in November, The Diplomat reported.



“The United States called on China to withdraw its missile systems from disputed features in the Spratly Islands, and reaffirmed that all countries should avoid addressing disputes through coercion or intimidation,” the U.S. statement said following the second annual U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue.

Director of the Office of Foreign Affairs of the Central Commission of the Communist Party of China and Politburo member Yang Jiechi responded, “The Chinese side made it clear to the United States that it should stop sending its vessels and military aircraft close to Chinese islands and reefs and stop actions that undermine China’s sovereignty and security interests.”


Wow: DARPA seeks to develop ‘counter-hypersonics’ capable of intercepting game-changing weapons

As Russia and China get closer to actually fielding nuclear-armed hypersonic ICBMs, the Pentagon has been hard at work on a pair of concepts designed to meet the threat.

In addition to developing its own hypersonic missiles, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is also working on a game-changer of its own: ‘Counter-hypersonics.’

As reported by Warrior Maven, DARPA is working on an interceptor that can take on incoming hypersonic warheads traveling at speeds in excess of Mach 5. As such, the secretive agency is soliciting proposals for a concept known as “Glide Breaker,” which seeks to “develop an enabling technology critical for an advanced interceptor capable of defeating hypersonic vehicles,” according to FedBizOpps.gov.

The concept is straightforward enough: Build a countermeasure fast enough and accurate enough to intercept boost-glide vehicles and engage them high into the atmosphere as they sit atop an ICBM.

One of the most advanced hypersonic vehicles thus far is Russia’s Avangard, which has been touted by Russian President Vladimir Putin as impossible to stop using current anti-missile technologies and systems.




The Avangard is hoisted into the atmosphere atop a gigantic RS-28 Sarmat ICBM, then glides to earth reaching a top speed of about Mach 20. But again, the U.S. and China are also developing this technology.

But wouldn’t it be advantageous to have both offensive and defensive hypersonic capabilities? DARPA and the Pentagon think so.

In fact, for DARPA it’s a priority: The agency wants a test bed developed by 2020, indicating the maturity of existing enemy hypersonic programs and the urgency with which they are likely to be deployed.

The rush to develop a countermeasure is also being fueled by the fact that the U.S. cannot defend its capital ships — namely $13 billion aircraft carriers — and in-ground ICBM silos against conventionally-armed warheads traveling at Mach 15 or better.

This will be challenging as well. It’s hard enough to shoot down conventional missiles; it will be monumentally more difficult to shoot down warheads traveling at hypersonic speeds, experts note, especially if they are being evasive.

“The most obvious challenge is the maneuverability of HGVs, which makes it very difficult to maintain track on the vehicle and plan an intercept course using our current capabilities,” George Nacouzi, an engineer at the RAND Corp. think tank, told the National Interest.

“Flight altitude is also challenging for our current systems. The HGV may fly too high for many endo-atmospheric interceptors and too low to be detected and tracked early by long-range radars,” he added.


 

DIA report says China pulling ahead of U.S. in key weapons technologies

A new unclassified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency is warning of technological gains against the U.S. military that include pulling ahead of the Pentagon in the development of key weapons systems, particularly China.

“China is building a robust, lethal force with capabilities spanning the air, maritime, space and information domains which will enable China to impose its will in the region,” wrote DIA Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, in a preface to the report.




In a briefing to reporters at the Defense Department on Tuesday, a senior Pentagon official said that in terms of ballistic and cruise missile technology,” I would say they [the Chinese] are with the most modern militaries in the world.”

In particular, the official noted, China is leading in hypersonic missile development. Beijing has been testing for years and is close to deploying a maneuverable hypersonic glide vehicle that will sit atop its ballistic missiles.

Also, China has a major advantage over all other military forces around the world with its massive arsenal of 1,200 sophisticated short-range ballistic missiles.

“For a variety of reasons they’re out ahead of the world in medium-and intermediate-range precision strike systems, partly because the United States and Russia that limited them,” the official said, referencing the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

That agreement bans the U.S. and Russia from developing and deploying land-based or ballistic or cruise missiles that have ranges between 500 and 5,500 km (310 – 3,417 miles).

China’s distinct advantage in precision strike capability is another reason why the Trump administration is set to withdraw from the Cold War-era treaty — that, and the fact that Russia is violating the treaty anyway by developing and deploying a land-based cruise missile system.

China, meanwhile, has never been a signatory to the INF agreement and has used it to take full advantage of the restrictions on U.S. and Russian forces.

“From the Chinese perspective, they would hope that it would cause a great threat to U.S. warships,” the DIA official said. “They certainly have developed anti-ship capabilities in a variety of different ways to deal with concerns that they’ve had a couple of decades about the potential for U.S. Navy and other allied navies operating in the region.”

China’s continued, rapid military development is a departure from previous decades when Beijing sought only to defend itself. Now, China seeks to be assertive globally.

“Chinese leaders characterize China’s long-term military modernization program as essential to achieving great power status,” Ashley noted.

“As it continues to grow in strength and confidence, our nation’s leaders will face a China insistent on having a greater voice in global interactions, which at times may be antithetical to U.S. interests,” he wrote.



The South China Sea is already a major point of contention, the DIA official noted. The Chinese built three large islands between 2014-2015 and have since developed and fortified them.

“They have three large airfields on these artificial islands that they created down there where they can base all types of military capabilities down there. They can have a lot of sensors down there. They can support naval operations, and in the future, air operations much further away from China,” the official said.

“They’re able to be present in a more persistent manner than they might have been before, if they had to come all the way down from the mainland or from Hainan Island up nearer the mainland, to get into some sort of a conflict with a regional claimant or with the U.S. or allied forces.”

For Chinese President Xi Jinping, resolve the ‘Taiwan issue’ remains a priority, the official said, adding that he “has made it clear that resolving or making progress, at least, on resolving, from his perspective, the Taiwan situation is a very top priority for him.”

As for whether China will attack Taiwan, the DIA assesses that action is not imminent nor likely in the near-term. The official said China could always launch a suprise attack using is massive arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles — which he said appear to have been built specifically to target Taiwan.

The official also noted that overall, the Chinese military is not on par with U.S. forces, noting that China has “not fought a major war in 40 years.”

“When you talk parity … there is more than just technology involved; there’s experience, there’s experience, there is command structure, there is training, there is proficiency … they have a lot that they need to do,” he said.

Over time, however, China will continue to improve its air, sea, and land forces to a point where, internally, a decision will likely be made that Bejing’s forces are capable enough to use military force regionally, Taiwan being the target.


White House sought options from Pentagon to strike Iran

The White House national security team tasked the Pentagon with providing options to strike Iran last fall after a group of militants linked to the Islamic republic fired on an area in Baghdad that houses the U.S. embassy in Iraq, Reuters reported Monday, citing an unnamed administration source.

The source noted that the Pentagon formulated options to the White House in response to the request, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal and which came from the White House National Security Council headed by John Bolton.

In citing current and former U.S. officials, the paper noted the request alarmed officials in the Pentagon and the State Department.

“It definitely rattled people,” a former senior administration told the paper. “People were shocked. It was mind-boggling how cavalier they were about hitting Iran.”



The Journal also reported that it wasn’t clear whether the options were actually given to the NSC, whether POTUS Donald Trump was aware of the request, or whether there were ever any serious plans drawn up to strike Iran.

The request for options came in response to three mortars fired into a diplomatic sector in Baghdad in September, the WSJ reported.

The rounds landed in the open and there were no injuries.

But three days later, unidentified militants fired a trio of rockets that struck near the U.S. consulate in Basra, a southern Iraqi city. They did not cause any serious damage.

In a separate report, Axios reported that former Defense Secretary James Mattis was frequently upset by the president’s questions about why U.S. Navy warships did not destroy Iranian “fast boats” as they approached them in the Persian Gulf.

“So these boats, they get in, they come in really fast, they come in really close … and they might have explosives on them and we don’t even know,” the president said, as recounted by someone who claims to have been in the Oval Office at the time. “Can you believe this? And we don’t do anything?”