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Entries in Nukes (8)

Saturday
Apr132013

Alaskan Fort Is Last Defense Against Possible North Korea Nuke

Ralph Scott/MDA Public Affairs(FAIRBANKS, Alaska) -- In the remote Alaskan wilderness, some 3,800 miles from Pyongyang, North Korea, the United States' last line of defense against a nuclear warhead from North Korea or Iran stands ready to attack.

Fort Greely, Alaska, a World War II-era Army base that was reopened in 2004, is America's last chance to shoot down a missile from overseas that could be carrying a nuclear weapon. Its underground steel and concrete silos house 26 missile interceptors that have, in tests, a 50 percent success rate.

The 800-acre base is located some 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks, in the looming shadow of Denali. It is one of only two missile defense complexes in the country. The other, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, houses four interceptors that are used for testing and "backup," according to defense officials.

In March, as the North Korean crisis began to heat up, President Obama ordered another 14 interceptors be sent to Fort Greely, bringing its arsenal to 44 by 2017.

Concern about North Korea heightened earlier this week when the Defense Intelligence Agency released a document that concluded with "moderate confidence" that North Korea might have a nuclear weapon small enough to be placed on a ballistic missile. But the agency also said the reliability of a North Korean missile would be low.

Greely is equipped to handle the current threat, which is seen as slight, according to Leon Sigal, an expert on North Korea at the Social Science Research Council in New York.

"If all it has to worry about is a single missile coming at it, chance is it could kill it. If you fire six missiles at one time ... and if one gets through, your whole day is ruined ... The problem is sooner or later, North Korea will improve its missile ranges, so the question you have to ask is will our anti-missile capabilities make sufficient progress so it could work against a more robust threat?" Sigal said.

"What we've got at Greely is of some limited utility. It's better than nothing," he said.

The U.S. military, however, is confident that Greely is poised to swat away any missile threat.

"Basically central Alaska was an ideal spot because of the geometry you'd have to conduct a hit-to-kill intercept from a country like Iran or North Korea," said Ralph Scott, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency in Alaska.

"Alaska is like the top of the world, and the only way you can view it as a missile defense benefit would be to look at a globe. You can see the routes the missiles from North Korea and Iran would take to get to the U.S. Having the system there in central Alaska would give you that geometry," Scott said.

The base at Fort Greely is desolate and spare, with one highway that rolls into and out of the base connecting it to a rugged Alaskan landscape. As the base's spokeswoman, Deborah Coble, pointed out, the nearest stoplight is 100 miles away.

The base was used in the years after World War II to train soldiers in cold climate-warfare. Soldiers now stationed at the base still test cold-weather uniforms, layered with synthetic and engineered fibers, for the Army.

"Travel to areas with standard day-to-day services can be treacherous," Coble said. "Temperatures can reach from 60 below zero and colder in winter to the high 80s to low 90s in summer. Winds can reach over 80 (miles per hour). Fort Greely is truly the 'Home of the Rugged Professional.'"

Now, Fort Greely's sole purpose is missile defense, and its only occupants are staff to operate and maintain the missiles, their software, and the base's operations. The population is usually about 1,450 people. Most are contractors charged with maintaining the technology and base support staff. The crew includes only 40 active duty Army troops and 160 members of the National Guard's 49th Missile Defense Battalion.

The interceptor silos are spread across two missile fields on the base. In the event of a missile launched from the other side of the world, clam shell-like doors at the top of the silos would shoot open and the interceptor would rocket more than 100 miles into the sky at speeds of 18,000 miles per hour, according to Scott.

When the 54-foot-long interceptors reach the right altitude, the interceptors launch the attached 140-pound "kill vehicle" at the warhead, Scott explained. The two collide, taking down the nuclear warhead.

"There are no explosives. It's all done by kinetic energy," he explained.

 "It's hit-to-kill technology," said Rick Lehner of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. "What it does is, you're colliding the kill vehicle directly with the warhead, and just the sheer force of the collision happens very high in space."

Tests of the technology, however, have shown problems with the interceptors and their effectiveness in taking down another missile. While the Alaska interceptors have never been tested, the ones at Vandenberg have been tested with about a 50 percent success rate.

"We've had 15 tests, and eight have had successful intercepts. Seven did not, but of those seven only three were actual misses and the other four came from problems with quality control or software issues," Lehner said.

"Based upon what we learn from the failures, we've incorporated fixes into the silos in Alaska and California," he said. "We have very, very high confidence in their ability to perform."

Congress has also asked the Defense Department to look into placing a missile defense system on the East Coast, though Lehner insisted that the Alaska base would be able to protect the entire country from a missile attack.

As rhetoric from North Korea has grown more belligerent in recent weeks, missile defense systems around the world are prepared for any kind of launch, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. That includes defenses against short- and mid-range missiles aboard battle ships in the Pacific as well as radar and ground systems in Japan and Guam.

But the interceptors at Fort Greely are specifically designed for long range missiles, known as Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles or ICBMs, currently in development in North Korea and Iran.

The Defense Department believes that North Korea was testing one such ICBM when it launched a rocket in December that the North Korea press described as a space launch.

"We believe they're testing their ICBM," said Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson of the Secretary of Defense's office. "That's why the international community objected to the December launch."

If North Korea developed the ability to launch a nuclear warhead on an ICBM, the interceptors would need to be ready, the Defense of Department said.

The time between a missile being launched to the interceptors needing to be fired would be "minutes," Scott said.

"We know that they have an ICBM program, and we know that they are pursuing a nuclear program," Wilkinson said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Mar052013

US General: An Iranian Nuke Would Spark Arms Race

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A high-level U.S. military commander said Tuesday that if Iran is allowed to develop a nuclear weapon, another country in the region has already pledged to do the same.

"At least one other nation has told me they would do that," said Gen. James Mattis, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, before an open hearing for the Senate Armed Services Committee. "At a leadership level, they have assured [me] they would not stay without a nuclear weapon" if Iran had one.

Mattis said he feared that Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would be the, "most destabilizing event that we could imagine for the Middle East."

Mattis did not identify the regional actor to which he was referring, but answered in the affirmative after Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked if it was a "Sunni Arab state." And Mattis said he didn't believe it would necessarily end there, saying other, "non-Sunni Arab states in the general region" may seek a similar capability.

Iran, which is dominated by Shiite Muslims, is for the most part surrounded by countries in which a majority of the population is Sunni. In December 2011, a Saudi Arabian prince, Turki al-Faisal, reportedly suggested that his country, a powerful regional rival led by Sunni Arabs, would consider a nuclear weapons program should it become clear Iran had obtained the bomb. Last October, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a British newspaper he believed Egypt and Turkey would follow suit. Israel is widely believed to already possess nuclear weapons of their own, but the government has not confirmed their existence publicly.

The "likely" possibility that an Iranian nuclear weapon would lead, "other governments in the region to pursue their own nuclear weapons programs," was noted in the new Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, legislation introduced to the House last week by Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., with 48 co-sponsors.

However, some analysts believe the threat of a Middle Eastern nuclear domino effect is overly hyped.

Colin Kahl, a senior fellow at the Center for New American Security, wrote in a report last month that Saudi Arabia would have "significant disincentives" to conducting a crash course on nuclear weapon development in response to an Iranian nuke, particularly if it relies on nuclear-armed Pakistan for help. Kahl told ABC News Tuesday that doing so would make both countries, "extraordinarily vulnerable to international sanctions and rupture the security relationship with the United States."

Also, Kahl said he believes Saudi Arabia is at least a decade away from having the rudimentary infrastructure necessary to support such an effort, making that possibility, "a long way away."

Joseph Cirincione of the anti-nuclear proliferation group Ploushares Fund also questioned whether a regional arms race might be triggered if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon and looked to North Korea as a counter-point to the U.S. and Israeli officials' warning words.

Cirincione noted that the small Asian nation has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006 and -- save for the already nuclear-armed China and Russia -- said its smaller neighbors still have not sought to match the capability. He said a nuclear Iran might set off regional discussions, but he too believes Saudi Arabia would be risking too much by attempting to join the nuclear club.

"Would Saudi Arabia really break its alliance with the United States and pull out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty?" he said.

As for Egypt and Turkey, Steven Cook at the Council on Foreign Relations wrote in a March 2012 Foreign Policy report that they too would likely not have the combination of will and ability to pursue a weaponized nuclear program even with Iranian prompting.

Mattis said Tuesday he believes economic sanctions still have a chance of dissuading the Iranian leadership from pursuing a bomb in the first place, should unpopularity in the streets trump nuclear ambitions.

"But if that doesn't work, we can bring them to their knees?" Sen. Graham asked, apparently referring to American military capabilities.

After a long pause, Mattis replied, "Yes sir. There are a number of means to do that, perhaps even short of open conflict. But certainly that's one of the options I have to have prepared for the President."

Mattis' comments come the same day newly minted Secretary of State John Kerry told ABC News' Martha Raddatz that Iran continues to move closer to developing a nuclear weapons capability.

"Lines have been drawn before and they've been passed," Kerry said. "That's why the president has been so definitive this time. This is a very challenging moment with great risks and stakes for everybody because the region will be far less stable and far more threatened if Iran were to have a nuclear weapon."

For years, Iranian leaders have maintained the country's nuclear program is strictly for peaceful energy purposes.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jul132011

Could Russia's New Idea Get Iran to Give Up Its Nukes?

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday laid out a new step-by-step approach to get Iran to give up its nuclear program.
 
The plan, first hinted at during a breakfast with reporters at the Russian embassy Tuesday, was explained in greater detail when Lavrov was asked about it during a press conference Wednesday afternoon following his meetings with President Obama and Secretary Clinton, where the proposal was discussed.
 
The proposed plan would incentivize Iran to make incremental steps in answering each of the individual concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and be rewarded along the way by easing sanctions gradually. It would start with the easiest questions and move onto the hardest ones that would take longer to answer.
 
"The response to each specific step of Iran would be followed by some reciprocal step, like freezing some sanctions and shortening the volume of sanctions," Lavrov said at a news conference with Clinton.
 
The U.S. has been reluctant if not outright opposed to easing sanctions before Iran completely abandons its nuclear ambitions and comes clean about its program, for fear doing so would lose leverage, but on Wednesday Secretary Clinton didn’t immediately reject the plan.
 
"We are committed to our dual track of pressure and engagement and we want to explore with the Russians ways that we can perhaps pursue more effective engagement strategies," she said.
 
Clinton said U.S. experts would soon travel to Russia to discuss the plan.
 
Negotiations with Iran have been at a standstill since the P5+1 met with Iran’s negotiator early this year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jan202011

US and World Powers Meeting with Iran to Talk Nukes

Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili at the conclusion of prior nuke talks Dec. 7. Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ISTANBUL) -- On Friday the U.S. will join the other members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany for a second day of meetings with Iran to discuss its nuclear program. Similar talks took place last month. Undersecretary of State Bill Burns is again leading the U.S. delegation.
 
U.S. officials are setting expectations very low for this meeting, which is being held in Istanbul.
 
“These are small, incremental steps. We're not expecting any big breakthroughs, but we want to see a constructive process emerge,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Thursday.
 
Earlier, the U.S. and its international partners had been expected to use this meeting to discuss a nuclear fuel swap offer with Iran, an update to a deal that Tehran initially accepted then rejected following an October 2009 meeting. Under such a deal, Iran would send its raw uranium abroad and would receive fuel for a nuclear reactor in return. Iran gets the fuel it wants for an energy reactor while the international community is assured Iran isn’t enriching that uranium further for use in a nuclear weapon. An updated offer would account for the fact that Iran has continued to produce uranium since October 2009, and so would include larger amounts of uranium.
 
Thursday, however, the State Department balked when asked if they would raise such an offer with Iran in Istanbul on Friday.
 
“I don't know if we're planning to bring it up. I think we're willing to discuss it,” Toner said.
 
“It would have to be some kind of updated arrangement,” he added.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jan162011

Report: Worm Used Against Iran's Nuclear Program Tested In Israel

Photo Courtesy - ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- The computer virus that reportedly wiped out one-fifth of Iran's nuclear centrifuges was tested in Israel, according to a report in The New York Times.

Covert testing of the bug known as the Stuxnet worm took place at Israel's alleged nuclear weapons facility in Dimona, the Times reported, and was a joint project with the United States. Unnamed American sources say Israel built centrifuges nearly identical to those at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility and then tested the virus to make sure they malfunctioned.

Israeli officials are refusing to comment on the report.  

Iran's nuclear centrifuges have been plagued with breakdowns over the last few years. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently blamed malicious software for the problems. Sources told the Times that the Stuxnet worm appears to have been the biggest factor in setting back the country's nuclear program.

The worm -- which causes the nuclear centrifuges to spin wildly out of control -- is considered the most sophisticated cyber-weapon ever deployed.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec072010

Iran Agrees to Second Round of Talks, Won't Give Up Nuclear Enrichment

Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili. Photo Courtesy - AFP/Getty Images(GENEVA) -- World powers have wrapped up their first meetings with Iran in over a year and, in a small victory, announced that Tehran had agreed to hold another round of talks in late January. Iran’s negotiator, however, told reporters that his country had no intention of halting its uranium enrichment program.

European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, who represents the group, said in a statement the talks in Geneva Monday and Tuesday were “detailed” and “substantive.” Ashton insisted Iran comply with its “international obligations” to halt its nuclear program. Iran, however, remained defiant.

Expectations for this week’s talks had been low, and Iran’s agreeing to another round of discussions is more than the group of world powers was able to achieve last time they met with Iran. This week’s meetings were preceded by Iran’s announcement that it had developed an indigenous capacity to produce yellowcake uranium.

The so-called P5+1, the permanent five UN Security Council members plus Germany, had been expected to present Iran with an offer to transfer its uranium stockpiles out of the country for enrichment abroad, in exchange for fuel that could be used in a nuclear power plant. The deal was similar to one that Iran initially accepted, then quickly rejected at a meeting in October 2009 but this time called for a larger amount of uranium to be transferred out in order to compensate for Iran’s continued production in the past year. As part of the deal Iran would also be required to halt its move to enrich uranium up to 20%, a process that could help it perfect the techniques needed to eventually produce bomb-grade fuel.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Dec052010

Iran Claims Nuclear Program is Self-Sufficient

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Photo Courtesy - ABC News(TEHRAN, Iran) -- An Iranian state official says that the country's nuclear program is now self-sufficient -- that it has produced its own uranium for enrichment, material that could be used to manufacture a nuclear weapon.

This latest development comes just ahead of Monday’s meeting in Geneva to persuade Iran to stop its nuclear program.

The announcement is a sign of defiance from Iran's government -- seen by some as political posturing -- and could signal that sanctions are working and that the country is finding it more difficult to secretly import raw uranium and yellowcake from abroad.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec012010

Iran Agrees To Nuke Talks Next Week

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(ASTANA, Kazakhstan) -- Iran has agreed to meet next week with the group of countries seeking to curb its alleged nuclear weapons ambitions, the EU announced Wednesday.

The so-called P5+1 will sit down with Iran’s negotiator in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday, the first such meeting since October 1, 2009. Under Secretary of State William Burns will represent the United States.

The group is expected to lay out an updated offer to Iran that would provide fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor while removing Iran’s uranium stockpile. Under the terms of the proposed deal, much of Iran’s uranium would be sent abroad for enrichment and in return Iran would receive fuel for the reactor for electricity generation. Such a deal does not allow Iran to enrich its own fuel and divert it for military programs.

The updated offer is similar to one Iran agreed to last year but backed out from. This one, however, would involve double the amount of fuel being sent out of the country to account for Iran’s continued production. Additionally, the P5+1 would demand that Iran halt enriching its own uranium to 20%, which allows it to perfect techniques needed to create bomb-grade highly enriched uranium.

“We are encouraged that Iran has agreed to meet in Geneva next week with representatives of the P5+1," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday in Astana. "rThis is an opportunity for Iran to come to the table and discuss the matters that are of concern to the international community:  first and foremost, their nuclear program.”

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, has said that his country won’t budge at the talks.
 
Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







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