Strengthening the Russian Nuclear Horn

Russia’s Most Powerful Nuclear Attack Submarine Ever Is Almost Ready for Sea

Dave Majumdar
March 15, 2017

Russia is set to launch its second Yasen-class nuclear-powered attack submarine on March 30. Called Kazan, the new vessel is an upgraded Project 885M design that is in many ways much more capable than the lead ship of the class, K-560 Severodvinsk.

“Kazan is expected to be rolled out and put afloat on March 30,” a Russian defense source told the Moscow-based TASS news agency.

The Russian Navy will take delivery of Kazan in 2018. Once the vessel is operational, she will be the most formidable enemy submarine that the U.S. Navy has ever faced. “It’s probably the most capable nuclear powered submarine out there fielded by a potential adversary,” Center for Naval Analyses Russian military affairs specialist Michael Kofman told The National Interest.

Indeed, Kazan is expected to be substantially improved over her older sister, the Severodvinsk. The vessel incorporates new technological developments that have emerged since Severodvinsk started construction in 1993. Kazan also incorporates lessons learned from testing the older vessel.

“The 885M is really the first ship of the class,” Kofman said. “The 885M is intended as a substantial improvement, based on the lessons learned from the lengthy development, construction, and testing process for the original 885.”

The Project 885 vessels are a departure from previous Soviet and Russian submarine designs. Unlike older Soviet vessels, the Project 885 submarines are multimission boats similar in concept to American vessels like the Seawolf or Virginia-classes.

“[Severodvinsk] is Russia’s first truly multipurpose submarine,” Michael Kofman and Norman Polmar wrote in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings journal. “The Severodvinsk is capable of antisubmarine, antiship, and land-attack missions. Among the more interesting features are a large bow sonar dome for the Irtysh-Amfora sonar system and an amidships battery of eight vertical-launch cells that can carry 32 Kalibr (SS-N-27/30 Sizzler) or Oniks (SS-N-26 Strobile) cruise missiles. These antiship and land-attack weapons are particularly significant after Russian surface ships and submarines fired long-range mis­siles into Syria in 2016.”

Russia plans to build a total of seven Project 885M submarines—Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Arkhangelsk and Perm are currently under construction at the Sevmash shipyards on the White Sea port city of Severodvinsk.

Meanwhile, Russia is planning on developing a follow-on class of attack submarine that would hunt U.S. Navy ballistic missile submarines. According to the authors of that article, “Now in development is a new Russian ‘hunter-killer’ submarine. This SSN will have the primary role of countering Western SSBNs. The new SSN is probably a significant program, but very little is known about it other than construction is slated to begin in the near future.”

The Russians undoubted have the technical skills to develop an extremely formidable new class of attack submarines. The question is does the Kremlin have the financial wherewithal to fund another expensive new defense project.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Preparing for Nuclear War (Revelation 8)

If you like Cold War-style thrillers and don’t mind getting the bejeebers scared out of you, we recommend an article by arms control expert Jeffrey Lewis titled “North Korea is Practicing for Nuclear War.” On the edge of your seat already, right?

North Korea is America’s strangest adversary: isolated, paranoid, belligerent and — here’s the worst part — armed to the teeth. Earlier this month the regime of Kim Jong Un simultaneously test-fired four missiles in the direction of Japan on an arc leading directly toward the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station at Iwakuni, Japan. Removing any doubt, North Korea announced that it was testing its capacity “to strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan.”

Lewis said that calling this provocation a “missile test” underplays the threat. North Korea has a proven ability to fire missiles that could reach Japan and South Korea. It also has nuclear weapons and is developing the ability to put them on warheads. “These aren’t missile tests, they are military exercises,” Lewis wrote in Foreign Policy. “North Korea knows the missiles work. What the military units are doing now is practicing — practicing for a nuclear war.”

His thesis is that North Korea, the U.S. and its South Korean ally are embarked on a dangerous course of gaming out first-strike capacities. Currently the U.S. and South Korea are conducting annual joint military exercises that appear to be dress rehearsals for a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, which would come in response to a threat. The practice efforts include taking out Kim and assaulting his nuclear and missile facilities, according to Lewis.

North Korea hates these exercises and responded with its multiple-missile test. The significance of firing four rockets is that firing a quartet would increase the chances of eluding a sophisticated U.S. anti-missile defense system known as THAAD. This system, Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, can shoot down an incoming short- or medium-range missile while it’s still high in the atmosphere. With Kim acting tough, the U.S. Army says it’s moving “as quickly as possible” to deploy THAAD in South Korea.

What disturbs Lewis is the idea that in the event of a crisis, Kim might decide to use his nukes before the U.S. and South Korea can find and destroy his missile units. “He has to go first, if he is to go at all,” Lewis wrote. Gulp.

His point is that too much attention is paid to North Korea’s obsession with developing ICBMs capable of striking the United States. That threat is likely years away, but the North soon may be able to launch a nuclear attack on U.S. installations in Japan or South Korea that gets past THAAD “before President Donald Trump has time to tweet about it.”

Instead of counting on THAAD (or Trump’s tweets) to save humanity, we have another idea for the president: Game out scenarios in which the U.S, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia acknowledge the North Korean threat and cooperate to exert pressure on Kim to come to the table to discuss security guarantees in exchange for economic benefits. This group of countries has worked together previously to negotiate with North Korea, so there is precedent.

The obvious counterargument is that previous talks have produced no resolution. But this time the stakes are higher as Kim’s weapons programs move forward. Everyone at the table would be more nervous than ever. Consider the Chinese position: They fear THAAD because the system’s powerful radar can peer beyond North Korea into China, theoretically identifying Chinese missiles and scoping out troop movements. Thus it could upset the balance of power with the U.S., setting off an increased arms race. So the Chinese would enter talks knowing that if they don’t want THAAD in the neighborhood, they have to help restrain North Korea.

This week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be in Beijing, ahead of an expected meeting in the U.S. next month between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. North Korea certainly will be on the agenda, but don’t expect immediate breakthroughs: China is North Korea’s only powerful friend and has interests other than shooing away THAAD. For one, China doesn’t root for a North Korean collapse because it would send millions of refugees over the border into China. For another, there is China’s audacious moves to control the South China Sea.

But China mistrusts Kim. Remember last month’s strange assassination of Kim’s half-brother in Malaysia? He had been living under Chinese protection in Macau. In apparent reaction, the Chinese made a show of shutting down coal deliveries from North Korea.

Here’s what’s also true: China has no more interest than anyone else in waiting for North Korea to set off World War III in Asia. So amid the scary stories of North Korean brinkmanship, there is an opportunity for the Trump administration to work with whoever is willing to find a better ending to this chilling prospect.

History Says Expect The Sixth Seal In New York (Revelation 6:12)

History Says New York Is Earthquake Prone

Fault Lines In New York City

Fault Lines In New York City

If the past is any indication, New York can be hit by an earthquake, claims John Armbruster, a seismologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Based on historical precedent, Armbruster says the New York City metro area is susceptible to an earthquake of at least a magnitude of 5.0 once a century.

According to the New York Daily News, Lynn Skyes, lead author of a recent study by seismologists at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory adds that a magnitude-6 quake hits the area about every 670 years, and magnitude-7 every 3,400 years.

A 5.2-magnitude quake shook New York City in 1737 and another of the same severity hit in 1884.

Tremors were felt from Maine to Virginia.

There are several fault lines in the metro area, including one along Manhattan’s 125th St. – which may have generated two small tremors in 1981 and may have been the source of the major 1737 earthquake, says Armbruster.

There’s another fault line on Dyckman St. and one in Dobbs Ferry in nearby Westchester County.

“The problem here comes from many subtle faults,” explained Skyes after the study was published.

He adds: “We now see there is earthquake activity on them. Each one is small, but when you add them up, they are probably more dangerous than we thought.”

“Considering population density and the condition of the region’s infrastructure and building stock, it is clear that even a moderate earthquake would have considerable consequences in terms of public safety and economic impact,” says the New York City Area Consortium for Earthquake Loss Mitigation on its website.

Armbruster says a 5.0-magnitude earthquake today likely would result in casualties and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

“I would expect some people to be killed,” he notes.

The scope and scale of damage would multiply exponentially with each additional tick on the Richter scale. (ANI)

The Pakistani Nuclear Hazard


Michael Krepon, co-founder of the U.S.-based Stimson Center, whose views are widely respected both in South Asia and in Washington, has written a thought-provoking piece on the future of U.S. policy toward Pakistan.

In the article, Krepon argues in favor of a status quo U.S. policy toward Pakistan that relies solely on inducements and engagement, rather than exerting pressure on Pakistan.

Krepon acknowledges that this policy approach has been ineffective in convincing Pakistan to crack down on some terrorist groups that endanger core U.S. national security interests in the region. Nonetheless, he argues for a status quo policy that does not levy consequences on Pakistan for continued support to international terrorist groups.

Krepon’s main reason rests largely on the idea that the nuclear issue is more important than the terrorism issue. Krepon seems to believe that if the U.S. penalizes Pakistan for its continued support for some terrorist groups, the U.S. will lose leverage over Pakistan in keeping its nuclear weapons safe and secure.

One of the primary U.S. concerns regarding Pakistan’s nuclear weapons is the danger that they could fall into terrorist hands. A second concern is that Pakistan would use its nuclear weapons in a potential conflict with India.

Additionally, if the Taliban make further territorial gains in Afghanistan—aided by having a sanctuary inside Pakistan—this will facilitate the revival of al-Qaeda in the region and boost the morale of Islamist extremists across the globe.

These are three potentially very dangerous scenarios that the U.S. must work to prevent. Putting pressure on Pakistan to crack down on terrorist groups within its territory is key to making sure these scenarios don’t come to pass.

Appeasement Will Not Work

Krepon’s status quo policy would likely lead to the growth of anti-India terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which conducted the 2008 Mumbai attacks that nearly led to military conflict between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

Moreover, U.S. acquiescence to Pakistan’s continued support for some terrorist groups would allow an overall conducive environment for terrorism to thrive in the country—something that puts Pakistan’s long-term stability at risk.

It is precisely because of these dangers—the threat of an Indo-Pakistani conflict that could go nuclear, the potential nexus between terror and nuclear weapons, instability of the Pakistani state from the blowback of supporting terrorism, and the need to stabilize Afghanistan—that the U.S. must adopt a more pointed policy approach with Islamabad.

This line of reasoning is spelled out in a report that I drafted with former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani and with input from several other U.S.-based Pakistan experts.

The report recommends the Trump administration take a sharper, more clear-eyed policy approach toward Pakistan that includes consequences for Pakistani failure to rein in terror groups that threaten stability in Afghanistan, as well as raise tensions with India. Consequences should include things like enforcing conditions on military aid and revoking Pakistan’s status as a major non-NATO ally.

The report stops short of recommending that the U.S. declare Pakistan to be a state sponsor of terrorism this year—though it recommends keeping that option open for the future.

I have stated my personal opposition to doing this on numerous occasions. Designating Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism would preclude the U.S. from providing any kind of aid to Pakistan and would lead to an irreparable breach in the relationship.

While tightening U.S. counterterrorism policies toward Pakistan is necessary, it’s also not in the U.S. interest to make an enemy out of Pakistan.

Our report revolves around the notion that evoking change in Pakistani terrorism policies is desirable not only for U.S. security objectives, but also for the sake of Pakistan’s own future.

Contrary to what Krepon’s article suggests, raising the bar on the Pakistanis is not an effort to stigmatize them. Krepon’s article wrongly suggests that any policy other than the status quo amounts to disengaging with Pakistan.

Krepon’s argument seems to be that the U.S. should allow Pakistan to continue support for some terror groups and wait patiently until Pakistan itself realizes the cost of its dangerous behavior through what he calls a “clarifying process.”

The Path to Stability

But the risks in the region are too acute and immediate to wait patiently and assume that Pakistan will eventually change its policies without incurring some international cost. Pressure from the United States is needed.

At the same time, the Trump administration should both publicly and privately maintain avenues for Pakistan to become a U.S. ally in the future. As we state in the report:

Were Pakistan to cease its current tolerance of and support to terrorist groups, one can envisage grounds for common interest and policies on a range of issues that would form the basis of mutual interest. This could involve a package of trade and investment cooperation that would be mutually win-win for the economies of the United States and Pakistan.
Far from stigmatizing Pakistan or proposing a witch hunt, our report provides a sound and practical way forward for improving the prospects for stability in the region, reducing global terrorist threats, and providing the basis for a stronger U.S.-Pakistan partnership over the long term.

Preparing For The Nuclear War (Revelation 15)



Last week, as tens of thousands of US and South Korean soldiers gathered at a base in Iwakuni, Japan for an annual joint military exercise, North Korea fired four ballistic missiles from Pyongyang into the sea off Japan’s northwest coast. In a world where the US is headed by a Twigger-happy political neophyte and the risk of a Cold War reboot looms larger with each Wikileaks disclosure, this demonstration wasn’t just an empty display of dictatorial propaganda. It was a reminder that the nuclear threat is still alive and well.

But even if you’ve taken a decades-long break from stocking your fallout shelter, the federal government hasn’t. Over the last ten years the US has poured millions of dollars into technologies and treatments it hopes to never have to use, but could, in the event of a nuclear catastrophe. From assays that measure radiation exposure to cell therapies that restore dwindling blood cells to liquid spray skin grafts, government officials are now far better equipped to deal with diagnosing and treating people if the unthinkable were to happen. And the next generation of treatments are being funded right now.

In 2006, the Department of Health and Human Services established the Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise to coordinate federal solutions to large-scale public health threats, including the nuclear one. Pretty much every agency you can think of is involved—CDC, NIH, FDA, DoD, DHS, USDA, VA, and OEM, among others. But in terms of nuclear countermeasures, three programs nested within HHS do the bulk of the heavy lifting.

The NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease is the first stop; it runs clinical and preclinical trials for promising technologies. Then there’s the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority—Barda—which is basically a taxpayer-backed investment firm that develops these potential drugs, vaccines, treatments, and supplies and ushers them through FDA approval. Finally there’s Project BioShield, which Barda uses to contract with companies when their products are almost ready, ensuring a national market. To date, the program has acquired 12 products related to a nuclear blast or reactor meltdown, some FDA-approved, some still in late stage development, but all destined for the Strategic National Stockpile, the CDC-managed backup supply of drugs and medical supplies for use in a public health emergency. And each class of products addresses a different part of the threat.

The first is diagnosis. When a person is exposed to high levels of radiation, unpaired electrons careen around their cellular machinery, breaking DNA and causing damage to every organ, including the bone marrow. This means you can’t generate new red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, so you can’t fight off infections or coagulate your blood. People usually don’t start feeling the effects of acute radiation syndrome for 24 to 48 hours, but damage to their cells’ DNA starts almost immediately. Which is why you need a reliable diagnostic device; following a nuclear event, people who feel well might actually be in danger, and people who weren’t exposed will want treatment just to be safe.

So using Project BioShield, Barda has acquired two diagnostic devices, known as biodosimeters, to tell the difference. One works by measuring gene expression, the other by visually analyzing cell nuclei. “In the event of a nuclear event, the countermeasures we’ve procured will be precious resources,” says Joe Larsen, acting director of Barda’s division of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear medical countermeasures. “We’re going to end up with a lot of worried well demanding treatment, and we can only afford to treat people that need it.”

That treatment, at least right now, consists of injections of immune-boosting cytokines, developed for cancer patients to restore depleted white blood cells lost during radiation treatments or chemotherapy. Project BioShield has acquired three such cytokine treatments—but, Larsen notes, they won’t work for about 20 percent of people. For them, the only option will be bone marrow or cord blood transplants, which come with the extra obstacle of having to be matched with a donor. So Barda is now looking for cellular therapies that don’t require any donor matching to their portfolio—a universal treatment. “That could shore up gaps in our initial capability to treat radiation.” And they’ve got at a few promising options coming down the pipeline.

Barda recently signed a $188 million contract to develop a stem cell therapy produced by California-based Cellerant Therapeutics, which restores white blood cells in leukemia patients who’ve had theirs taken out by chemotherapy. The cells are cryopreserved and shelf-stable, important features for a stockpile item. But the treatment is focused on white blood cells, and radiation exposure doesn’t limit itself to the immune system’s front-line fighters.

To that end, NIAID is funding clinical trials for a placenta-derived stem cell treatment developed by an Israeli company, Pluristem, that has shown the ability to restore all three blood cell lines—red and white blood cells, as well as platelets—in animal models. Like Cellerant’s, the treatment comes cryogenically frozen along with a thawing device to deploy it easily in the field. The cells stay viable on liquid nitrogen inside their canisters, so you don’t have to worry about losing them if the power goes out. From their injection site, the placental stem cells sense stress signals in bone marrow tissues, and send more than 20 signaling molecules to repair and restore their functions. The company isn’t testing efficacy in humans, for obvious reasons. But Pluristem says their animal studies showed close to 100 percent survival rates with the treatment, compared to 30 percent without.

Arik Eisenkraft, who began working on an ARS application for Pluristem’s technology following the Fukushima disaster, isn’t surprised that a potential solution to nuclear radiation would come out of a place like Israel. “We live in a world of imminent threats, not theoretical ones,” he said. “Even though we don’t have the same budgets and the same scope of institutes, what we do have is a real sense of urgency.”

Neither Barda nor Pluristem could confirm whether or not a contract is somewhere in their future. But the agency did say it was looking at all the options. And with Barda’s budget cut by $160 million last year and an uncertain future for disaster preparedness funds in a Trump administration, there’s no time like the present for some urgency of their own.