Wednesday, November 23, 2005

What is better – missile or guided bomb?


Russian Guided weapons; far right is KAB-1500KR, second from the right is KAB-500KR.


photo Remko van de Bunt

It was recently unveiled that Russian Air Force tests three types of new guided bombs. There are: UPAB-1500KR, which is a gliding version of KAB-1500KR heavy TV-guided bomb; KAB-500S GPS/Glonass guided bomb similar to American JDAM and KAB-250L, first Russian light laser guided bomb, very similar to American GBU-12. At the same time no new tactical guided missile was recently developed in Russia, only some new versions of existing types. Interestingly, for many years Soviet Union preferred missiles over the guided bombs. The necessity to drop guided bomb from medium or high altitude was deemed as a serious imitation of the guided bomb. It was assessed that a missile launched from a quick jump to 200-300 m, at some distance to the target (typically 5-7 km) would guarantee engagement of a battlefield target before its defense could react. Even when the launching aircraft would enter the range of small caliber AAA guns and MANPADs envelope, it would happen after the missile launch and the target kill probability is still high. Along with the guided missiles, also the other weapon was favorable. It was a retarded bomb, which was used in various size (100, 250 or 500 kg). The OFAB-250ShN or FAB-500Sh bombs, equipped with parachutes, could be dropped from level flight on the altitude of 50 m and usually hit the target with accuracy of 15-20 m, almost comparable with the accuracy of laser guided bomb dropped from high altitude. Even when somebody says that 15 m is not the same as 3 m, but I would like not to be even 200 m from 500 kg bomb explosion, not mentioning 15-20 m. My wing was allowed to drop the 250 or 500 kg retarded bombs against only specific targets at shooting range, because dropping them against a tanks in column (real T-34s withdrawn from service; my favorite target) usually overthrown the poor tanks turret down, and the commandant of the range had to hire a heavy crane to put the wreckage back on place. The both, retarded bombs and guided missiles could be used on relatively low altitudes at high speed and do not expose the aircraft against air defense fire. So according to this notion all the Soviet Su-17 and MiG-27, other Warsaw Pact countries Su-22 and MiG-23BN were armed with missiles. Even the Su-24M attacking in the first wave were to carry missiles, though usually heavier ones

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Future of the US Army's FCS

I'd like to go back to my post here yesterday about the Pentagon's selected acquisition reports, specifically the 63.3% increase in the cost of the US Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) program. Following the restructuring of the FCS program last year, it should have been clear that a cost increase was on the horizon. The Army most likely read the tea leaves as well and began its push to present its argument in favor of the FCS program. But is the FCS program in any real danger of serious cuts? Probably not.

First of all, the FCS program recently passed its functional review -- a review of the critical technologies upon which it's based -- with flying colors. But more importantly, the FCS program encompasses far too many different capabilities that the Army needs. Frankly, the Army did the smart thing in bundling its force upgrades into one program. The "18+1+1 platforms," as they are called -- the 18 FCS vehicles, along with the network and the individual soldier -- under the FCS program covers pretty much the Army's entire force.

So where does one begin to cut? One of the 18? Hardly. The Army will argue that it needs new cannons, especially given the cancellation of the Crusader program. Unmanned vehicles? Nah, they've have proven far too useful in recent conflicts, for missions from reconnaissance to the disposal of improvised explosive devices (IEDs)(plus, the loss of an unmanned vehicle doesn't bring any political repercussions). The individual soldier? Yeah, that'll fly in Congress. And the network? Not a chance, given the Pentagon's focus on network-centric warfare.

Sure, there may be slight cutbacks in funding, but not enough to seriously wound the FCS program. What we're more likely to see is more rapid fielding of "spin-outs" from the FCS program, getting individual elements into the hands of warfighters more quickly, rather than waiting for the eventual culmination of the program. The Army's already started down this path and, if the program is in any jeopardy, will certainly "spin out" more to the current force more quickly than previously planned, especially with troops in the field wanting some of these new capabilities (Micro Air Vehicles, for instance).

The FCS program, despite its difficulties, is in no real danger of serious cuts. But more rapid fielding of some of its elements may be in the cards.

Disappointment Over IEDs

Our new best buds over at Defense Tech (who tripled our traffic with this link today, thanks guys) have an article on the failure of the Pentagon to come up with an effective counter to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the so-called roadside bombs that have killed the bulk of US troops in Iraq. The article is link-filled and fair. It notes that there had been the promise of a "Manhattan Project" to develop and field IED countermeasures, and this promise has largely come to naught.

Two years ago, I used the thwarted assassination of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to express my hopes that the US DoD would engage in a crash program to counter IEDs. Rather than the Manhattan Project, I was thinking of another instance where the US military-industrial complex responded to a new and dangerous threat in record time -- the Wild Weasel program:


A jamming device in the motorcade of President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan apparently saved him from a radio-detonated bomb on December 14 [2003] that suspected Islamic militants had planted to assassinate him. The president’s convoy was at least 30 seconds clear of the bridge where the bomb had been planted before the bomb went off, destroying the bridge but hurting no one. As the AP reported it: "The sophisticated bomb – initially estimated to contain 550 pounds of explosives – was believed to include both a remote control and a timing device to trigger it, two intelligence officials told AP. Jamming equipment in Musharraf’s limousine stopped the timer for about a minute and also jammed the remote control, the officials said."

The technology to jam radio-detonated bombs or set them off too late or prematurely to affect their intended target is not a particularly exotic one. Moreover, the supporting electronic-intelligence (ELINT) technologies to monitor cell phones and walkie-talkies – the guerilla’s battlefield network – are also available to modern armies. I have been told off the record by industry sources that one contingent of Western forces serving in Afghanistan would not deploy until they had been provided with convoy protection against roadside bombs. It’s fairly amazing to think that units patrolling the roads of Afghanistan and Iraq wouldn’t all be equipped with jammers similar to the one that apparently saved President Musharraf’s life. It can’t be because such systems aren’t already available or can’t be developed quickly.

The story of the US Wild Weasels in Vietnam is one that Old Crows delight in recounting. The Soviet-supplied SA-2 Guideline surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) came as a nasty shock to US aircrews operating over North Vietnam in 1965. Planes and lives were being lost. Less than a year later, crash programs of technology development and training in new tactics produced the SAM-killing Wild Weasel teams. The achievement was a result of several factors coming together. First, there was a moment of clarity. The SAM threat was so universally perceived that typically clogged bureaucratic channels opened to allow the solution through. Second, there were great people on hand. People in industry and the services, in uniform and out, were willing to put in the overtime required to get the job done in the fewest number of days possible. Days equaled lives. Finally, there was an aggressiveness of spirit among all involved, from the labs to the cockpits. The enemy has what? We can beat that. We will beat that.

I like to think that the wheels are in motion right now to come up with new ideas, technologies, and training to combat the threat posed by remote-detonated bombs. The need to get countermeasures for land-convoy protection out into the field in Iraq is just as pressing as was the need to counter enemy SAMs in North Vietnam. Of course, it is possible that US and allied forces are already well supplied with such devices. There were reports in the fall that the Pentagon is spending money to this effect. Jammers do not have an effect on attacks by suicide bombers or human-aimed weapons, such as small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, and these have become the preferred weapons used by guerillas in Iraq. Furthermore, US forces have thwarted a number of ambushes, and one can speculate as to what ELINT systems were available to monitor enemy communications.

I am looking forward to finding out about the "Wild Weasel" program to equip US ground forces with jammers in response to the threat posed by remote-detonated bombs. My only question would be: Why weren’t the forces equipped with countermeasures before hand?


There are a lot of reasons why this hasn't happened. For one thing, the SA-2 Guideline was an "regular" weapon that had to be fielded and operated by well-trained crews using fairly rigid tactics. Therefore, a technological-tactical counter to it could be developed and fielded, and the Wild Weasels were the result. An IED is exactly the opposite sort of weapon. There is no single IED template that can be countered. Means of employment and detonation are myriad. There is no "silver bullet" to defeat them.

But this doesn't make the lack of success any less disappointing. And I just hope it wasn't about money.

Ground-Based Midcourse Defense Against ICBMs

Here is an excerpt of a feature article on the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system from eDefense Online. For a brief description of the GMD, see this earlier post on Situational Awareness.


During the Cold War, the Soviet Union's arsenal of thousands of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched balistic missiles (SLMBs) – not to mention nuclear weapons deliverable by strategic bombers and shorter-range systems – was countered by the equally impressive collective arsenals of the US, the UK, and France. It is easy to forget – even easier to lampoon – the state of affairs that dominated superpower politics in the last three decades of the 20th century, with its missile gaps, fail-safe points, duck-and-cover drills, and backyard fallout shelters. Yet it is clear today that decision-makers on both sides of the Iron Curtain understood that any general war would quickly go nuclear and, hence, to oblivion. The only question, really, was how to go about it. Do you launch on warning or ride out the attack? Do you employ massive retaliation or flexible response? Those missile-defense systems allowed at the time under the terms of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty were skeletal at best. Bombs would have bounced the rubble on both sides. This understanding, exemplified in the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), is widely regarded as having kept the peace.

There is a fear today that a rogue state possessing both nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them might be undeterrable. This is an amazing concept, really. Imagine a power so careless of its own survival that it would commit suicide by launching an ICBM at the greatest power on Earth, one that could and quite possibly would destroy the offending regime, if not the nation. Yet preventing an enemy from taking such action against the US at some point in the near future is the key mission of the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA). In fact, the US government considers the threat of North Korea lashing out in its death throes with a nuclear strike to be so real that the "urgent need" for a National Missile Defense (NMD) system required the high-risk, high-cost development tempo of the program.

Since 1985, about $90 billion has been spent on missile defense by the US under various programs, beginning with the Reagan-era Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) through the Clinton administration's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and into today's Missile Defense Agency. But funding since fiscal year 2001, at $4.8 billion, has been stepped up quite a bit, with $7.8 billion in FY02, $7.4 billion in FY03, $7.7 billion in FY04, and $9 billion in FY05. Missile defense accounts for about 2% of the Defense Department budget, more than any other program. Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) is only one facet of the expenditure. Other important activities include the Boeing Airborne Laser (ABL), Lockheed Martin Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, and the Northrop Grumman Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) programs. Each of these programs and attending technologies address different aspects of the ballistic-missile threat. The MDA views the entire package, including GMD, as an integrated, multi-phase effort to develop and deploy a defense network capable of covering the US and allied nations from the full range of ballistic-missile threats.

Urgent Need, High Risk
For all intents and purposes, the GMD system, as it is currently configured, is designed to handle one contingency: an "end-game" launch of an ICBM from North Korea, possibly during the dust-up of a regime collapse. This problem has been weighing on the minds of defense planners for more than a decade, since the latter years of President Kim Il Sung's rule. The instigation of this concern was an assessment that North Korea was determined to develop and deploy nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deliver them, apparently confirmed when North Korea declared its intent to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1993. Extended brinksmanship ensued. During this time, North Korean bellicosity was generally viewed as coercive in nature, that playing the "nuclear card" would enable the regime to achieve leverage in its dealings with the US and its allies, especially South Korea and Japan.

The resurgence of National Missile Defense as we know it took shape after the US Department of Defense (DoD) announced the so-called "three-plus-three" plan in 1997, under which a decision would be made in 2000 about whether the threat warranted a fast-track deployment of a GMD system in 2003 or if deployment could be deferred. Extended domestic politics ensued. Ultimately, the DoD decided that the threat posed by North Korea did indeed justify a rushed deployment of a rudimentary NMD capability. This decision did not come without attending costs and risks. In fact, a NMD review committee chaired by General Larry Welch, USAF (ret.), a former Air Force chief of staff, concluded that the risks were such that an initial operational capability (IOC) in 2003 was unattainable. Scheduled IOC was put off until 2005.

The phased deployment of the GMD segment of the NMD system envisioned a series of threat levels that could be matched over time with ever-increasing capability. The so-called C1 threat level of a strike from North Korea using up to five single-warhead ICBMs that dispense few if any countermeasures would be countered by a system very much like the one now in place. The C2 threat level projected a reasonably orchestrated strike from East Asia or the Middle East involving a dozen or more sophisticated ICBMs equipped with countermeasures. This threat would require 100 or so Ground-Based Interceptor missiles, an expanded early-warning radar network, and a new-generation satellite-based Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS). Original estimates for this capability achieving operational status were 2010, but this has been pushed back to 2012 at the earliest. Projections of more advanced threat levels exist, but since these involve ICBM strike capabilities possessed by Russia and those under development by China, there is not much detail available on what the NMD architecture to counter them would look like or when it might be deployed.

In fact, one of the challenges to NMD had been the diplomatic one. First of all, there was the ABM Treaty to be withdrawn from, since many of the technologies required for strategic ballistic-missile defense were banned under it. But this was accomplished with surprisingly little shoe-banging from Russia in 2002, despite apocalyptic predictions from critics. Subsequently, the US has taken pains to assure Russia and even China – which was not a party to the ABM Treaty – that NMD is not intended to counter their strike capabilities. The assumption, strategically, is that the time-proven concept of deterrence will continue to keep the peace with both nations, at least with regard to nuclear war. From a practical standpoint, Russia appears confident that it will remain able to overwhelm or evade any NMD system the US deploys, and the latest generation of Russian ICBMs, the Topol-M, bears this out. China, which is understood to have only a limited number of true ICBMs capable of striking the continental US, has reasons to be more suspicious of US intentions with regard to NMD. Certainly, a bubbling disagreement over the status of Taiwan (see "Flashpoint Taiwan Straits") runs the risk of open conflict between the US and China. A 1999 Rand report entitled "Planning a Ballistic Missile Defense System of Systems: An Adaptive Strategy" pointed out that managing the objections of China would be an important component to deploying NMD.

Leaving aside diplomatic issues, there are real technical challenges to deploying a robust NMD capability. The Rand report put it this way:

"Even under ideal circumstances and with the latest technologies, ballistic-missile defense is exceedingly difficult. Destroying an RV [reentry vehicle] in flight requires an end-to-end sequence of successful tasks: detecting and classifying the threat missile, predicting the threat trajectory, cueing sensors down the line, tracking the target, discriminating the target from clutter and countermeasures, acquiring the target for intercept, intercept, kill assessment, and repeating the sequence as required. A failure anywhere in this chain precludes successful intercept."

Physics, Not Political Science
ICBMs go through a number of phases from launch to when payload warheads detonate over the target. The launch proceeds from the boost phase of approximately 90 to 300 seconds, during which the missile's series of booster stages ignite, burn, and fall away. All the while, the missile accelerates into the midcourse phase, lasting up to 20 minutes, in which the payload complex arcs out of the atmosphere on a suborbital trajectory. During the midcourse portion of the flight, the payload complex may release decoys and could possibly maneuver using attitude-control thrusters. The warhead or warheads are released during this phase. In the terminal phase, lasting perhaps 30 seconds, the warheads reenter the atmosphere and fall toward their targets. Shorter-range ballistic missiles go through the same stages, but of shorter duration.

Each phase has its own program to develop "interceptors" that would intercept and eliminate the enemy missile. Addressing the boost phase, the Airborne Laser system would consist of aircraft that fly about in shifts, all day and every day, ready to shoot down ballistic missiles using a chemical-oxygen-iodine laser, the heat of which would cause the ballistic missile to explode or at least leak so that resultant change in pressure causes the missile to go off course. There is also the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) under development that would be able to engage ballistic missiles in their boost phase with very fast interceptor missiles from either land- or ship-based launchers deployed in theater. For the mid-course phase, the GMD system, as outlined above, would swing into action.

In addition, apart from the threat of intercontinental ballistic missiles, still other programs are being developed to intercept short- or medium-range ballistic missiles, including Scud missiles, which Iraq was known to lob on Israel and US forces during Operation Desert Storm. These interception systems include the Patriot Advanced Capability-3/Medium Extended Air Defense System (PAC-3/MEADS), the Arrow 2 missile-defense system deployed by Israel, and the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system using the SM-3 missile. All of these missile-based interceptor technologies employ "hit-to-kill" kinetic warheads.

These various forms of interception will need a lot of help to hit their targets, particularly the long-range ballistic missiles. A number of supporting systems are in development to sense these incoming missiles and guide the interceptors to them. The Forward-Based X-band Radar Transportable program, for instance, would use solid-state, phased-array antennas to watch out for and track intercontinental ballistic missiles and medium-range threats. The Space Surveillance and Tracking System, along with the Space-Based Infrared System-High (SBIRS-H) program, would also be able to detect and track missiles from their launch to midcourse flight but, instead of using X-band radar, would use visible and infrared sensors. The Aegis system, in addition to having its own SM-3 interceptors, would also provide long-range surveillance and tracking of threats. These various means of tracking threats would be overseen and controlled by the Command and Control, Battle Management, and Communications element of the program. Information from the various surveillance systems could be correlated and passed along to the different types of interceptors, with the battle-management system used to make decisions about how to respond to threats.

Proponents of GMD technology, and particularly the contractors, focus on the capability and reliability of the key technologies. The sensor systems on the DSP satellites have a long track record of reliability. Similarly, the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system has successfully detected, tracked, and engaged missile targets in numerous tests. Likewise, the various phased-array radar systems that will be used for early warning and tracking of ballistic missiles have been shown to be effective and reliable. Perhaps most importantly, though, the hit-to-kill concept employed by the various kinetic kill vehicles under development for the NMD program has been demonstrated in suborbital- and terminal-engagement live-fire tests. Moreover, target-discrimination technology that fuses data from radar and EO sensors has been shown to be successful in picking warheads out from attending decoys and debris. It is their ability to demonstrate these key capabilities that is the source of much of the confidence expressed in the NMD system by officials at the MDA and its top contractors.

In all of these tests, the testers knew ahead of time where the target missiles were coming from and when they would be launched. Knowing ahead of time where and when a target is going to be makes tracking that target much easier than having no advanced notice, as might expected to be the case in an actual missile attack. Apart from criticizing the nature of the testing so far – at least to the extent that the unrealistic conditions surrounding the tests mean that statements about the system's effectiveness at this point can only be conjecture – critics also point to the use of certain types of countermeasures by enemy missile designers that could stymie the missile-defense system. These include the use of radar-absorbent materials (RAM) on the surfaces of the enemy missiles that would make them hard to detect by the interceptor sensors, as well as the use of advanced decoys to throw the interceptor off its scent.

Frankly, defeating advanced decoys and countermeasures is not in the cards for the C1 implementation of GMD. The North Koreans do not yet have a demonstrated ICBM capability, let alone the expertise to incorporate advanced countermeasures technologies into their systems. Many of the criticisms leveled at NMD – and the GMD segment in particular – about its inability to handle multiple decoys and advanced countermeasures or launches from unexpected quarters of the globe are unfair, in that such threats are not expected as imminent. The C1 implementation of GMD is a point defense against a very specific potential enemy at a particular moment in time. Everything points at North Korea. As the threat evolves, NMD will be upgraded accordingly. Charles LaDue, director of advanced missile-defense directed-energy weapons at Raytheon Missile Systems (Tucson, AZ), called this a capabilities-based approach. "The goal is to build up capabilities and deploy them to stay ahead of what the enemy can do," he said.

However, mundane problems can sometimes overshadow the greatest technological achievements. Even though the tests done to date have been quite controlled, based on advanced knowledge of the locations of objects to be tracked and targeted, not all of the tests done so far have been successful. Of the 10 times the GMD has been tested, for instance, it has successfully intercepted an incoming missile five times, with the most recent successful test in 2002, noted Victoria Samson, a research analyst with the Washington, DC-based Center for Defense Information (CDI) research group. It is important to note that all of these interception tests were done with kinetic-kill vehicles launched from modified Minuteman missiles as opposed to the GMI rocket, which is undergoing a separate test series.

Cooling problems in the EKV's EO sensor, faulty signals between the booster rocket and the payload, and faulty components in the EKV's separation mechanism have all caused test failures. The possibility of such low-tech failures compromising a missile-defense test, let alone a live interception under wartime pressures, is a real worry. The highly complex GMD system, which requires an extended chain of events to occur flawlessly in order to achieve an intercept, has had a comparatively spare testing regimen. One potentially encouraging aspect of the testing program has been periodic failures in getting decoys to inflate. Perhaps the North Koreans will have this problem, too.

A 1998 Welch Panel report pointed out that one of the vulnerabilities in the high-risk development track of the GMD program was that it would be "hardware poor," meaning that there would be little, if any, prototyping and that articles would fly as built. The report concluded: "Due to the inability to perform end-to-end tests in a realistic environment, simulation and analyses will provide much of the necessary design and decision information."

Despite not having completed testing of the various components, the MDA in 2004 began deploying ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska, at the behest of the Bush administration, which wanted to achieve its promised goal of having some type of missile-defense capability ready by the end of 2004, even if limited (see "Early Deployment of Missile Defense"). Thus, the first ground-based missile interceptor was planted at Ft. Greely, AK, on July 22, 2004. The SBX was originally scheduled to be in place by October 2005. It did perform a 58-day shakedown cruise in the Gulf of Mexico that ended that month (the 282-foot-high, 50,000-tons ocean-going structure was obliged to dodge Hurricanes Katrina and Rita), but it will be several more months until the SBX reaches its homeport of Adak Island, AK.

Tests of other NMD elements are proceeding apace. The Forward-Based Transportable X-Band Radar and an Aegis ship were tested in September to track a US Air Force missile originating from Vandenberg AFB, with their tracking information passed along to the command-and-control system. The Sea-Based X-Band radar transmitted a radar beam for the first time last Sept. 11. Also, a series of tests of the Airborne Laser's battle-management system and fire-control radar were completed this summer (see "Testing Continues on USAF Airborne Laser").

Complaining about critics who characterize the system as untested or unproven, and expressing the wish that "more people would give us the benefit of the doubt," MDA Director Lt. Gen. Henry Obering in an interview in the November issue of Arms Control Today declined to discuss in detail the likely current effectiveness of the system, saying that information is classified but calling it "much better than zero." The system cannot handle a "complex threat suite," he said, but it can handle what the MDA believes is the likely existing threat, adding that the recent unsuccessful tests of the GBI do not indicate the system's lack of functionality but were simply "technical glitches."

The Bush administration and the MDA, while noting that the missile-defense system is a work in progress, say that an initial capability for the system already exists. But at the same time, it has not been declared operational by the US military. This points to what some observers see as essentially inaccurate statements about the system's current capability. Though not tested as a system under realistic conditions – that is, without the system having any prior knowledge of the time of the enemy missile's launch, its location, or its trajectory – the MDA and members of the Bush administration nevertheless say the program provides a "limited capability." It would not be able to stop barrage of missiles that a country like China or Russia would be able to launch, but then again, it's not intended to. This harkens back to the "high confidence" expressed that the system could, right now, defeat a one-off, two-off attack from North Korea. This was the urgent need, and this is the capability as advertised.

The unofficial motto of the NMD program is "Engage early, engage often." Building on the initial GMD capability, the US plans to deploy a series of systems that will enable this motto to be put into practice. Ultimately, the purpose of NMD is to loosen constraints on US national-security policy by reducing or even eliminating the capacity of certain nations to threaten a nuclear attack. But in order to for NMD to achieve this, it will have to be widely perceived as effective. The US is only at the initial stage of demonstrating the effectiveness of such a system. But the security-policy implications of it are already being calculated around the world.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Didn't Need a Crystal Ball for This...

Defensetech.org recently noted that the US Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) program was among those mentioned in the Pentagon's Selected Acquisition Reports this year. Of course, Defensetech saw this coming a mile away, as one can see by following the links to view the history of that site's extensive coverage of the FCS program.

Anyone who's been reading eDefense could also have told you the FCS program was in trouble, what with last year's restructuring of the program and all. Restructuring a program is a recipe for cost increases. Hardly ever is a program "restructured" without an attendant boost in the program's price tag.

For that matter, though, a number of the programs that ended up in the Selected Acquisition Reports should've come as no surprise really. To stick with the Army, earlier this year, it was noted that the Army's Aerial Common Sensor (ACS) program had serious issues with the weight of the payload on the selected aircraft. Eventually, the Army decided to stop work on the ACS program until these issue could be resolved. And, not surprisingly, the ACS program was one of those listed in the SARs.

Other programs included in the SARs that should've come as no shock, again sticking with Army, were the Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasures/Common Missile Warning System (ATIRCM/CMWS), considering that the Army has an urgent need for IR countermeasures for its helicopters but the ATIRCM system is lagging behind its CMWS counterpart.

But the Army's not alone. Other services have troublesome programs. Like the Army's FCS program, the Navy's DD(X) destroyer program recently changed course, leading to a schedule slip. And the US Air Force's Space-Baced Infrared System-High (SBIRS-High)? Well, even the commander of the US Air Force Space Command has referred to the after-effects of SBIRS-High program as a hangover.

The signs were all there. How anyone can be surprised is beyond me.

Topol-M: Missile Defense Penetrator

Bill Gertz of the Washington Times is reporting today on the new Russian Topol-M ICBM system with a maneuvering reentry vehicle. The missile booster flies a faster, flatter trajectory and has more opportunities to change course in flight because it spends more transit time in the atmosphere and less in suborbital space than typical reentry vehicles. The development of this capability is actually well known to observers. The technique is also employed on shorter range missile systems, such as the Tochka.

Here's a description of the Topol-M from my colleague, Michal Fiszer, from a feature article on US National Missile Defense (NMD) soon to be published on eDefense Online:


The most promising missile in the Russian inventory is the RT-2PM2 (also called RT-2PMU; 15Zh62 according to the GRAU designation system) Topol-M, known in the NATO as SS-27. Topol-M has the weight of 47.1 tons, the length of 22.7 m and the diameter of 1.86 m. The system also has very high accuracy: 180 m side error and 230 m error in distance. In 2006 there are to be 50 such missiles in service and it was also recently announced that first regiment (10 missiles) will be issued the mobile version of the missile. It is planned that 220 Topol-M missiles will be deployed through 2012, while older types (SS-18 and SS-19) will be withdrawn.

The missile's development started in 1991 at the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology and confirmed by a decree from President Boris Yeltsin in February 1993. The design team was headed by Boris Lagutin and Yuri Solomonov. The first launch test took place on December 20, 1994. The first test of the mobile launcher (and 15th overall test) took place on April 20, 2004. Production at GPO "Votkinsky Zavod" in Votkinsk started in 1998. The first missile was declared ready on December 27, 1998. The system was officially accepted to service on April 28, 2000.

The Topol-M has three stages, with the first stage having three rocket motors developed by Federal Center for Dual-Use Technologies "Soyuz" in Moscow. This gives the missile a much higher acceleration than other ICBM types. It enables the missile to accelerate to a speed of 7,320 m/s and to travel through more flat trajectory to a distance of up to 10,000 km. The missile carry a single warhead but has a high throw weight: about 1,200 kg. This enables three warheads to be fitted, when necessary. Presently the capability is used to carry realistic decoys that have the same weight and radar cross section as the actual warhead. These decoys reenter atmosphere at the same speed and with a similar thermal signature as the actual warhead. Unlike "balloon" and "relector" decoys, the mock reentry vehicles are not stripped away by the atmosphere and remain effective through the terminal phase. Also, the decoys are probably able to maneuver, as the actual warhead can. The warhead and decoys are all covered with radar-absorbing materials (RAM) to make their signatures very low.

Reportedly, the warhead and decoys are also equipped with active-deception jamming systems, activated as soon as the thermal cover is dropped after decelerating in the atmosphere. The missile was developed to overcome eventual defense system under development by the US, but not all of the details were unveiled. Nevertheless, if the Topol-M works as described it will be able to overcome many of the discriminator and hit-to-kill technologies being developed for the US NMD. According to a statement by Sergei Ivanov, the Russian minister of defense, each Topol-M will have an 87% change of penetrating the GMD [Ground-Based Midcourse Defense --Ed.] system.


UPDATE: Thanks to Noah Shachtman of Defense Tech for the link to this post. Read more about the Topol-M there.

Also, the eDefense Online article on US National Missile Defense is up. I'll post an excerpt on Situational Awareness as a separate entry.