Archive for the 'Nukes' Category

French Nukes

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

I’m in Paris attending Euronaval, the rapidly growing defense and naval exhibition, so I’m going to focus on some European themes this week.

Let’s start with this article from Aviation Week on upgrades to the French nuclear deterrent, specifically the M51. I think it’s fascinating France.jpgthat France, not unlike the United States, is redefining how it looks at its nuclear arsenal. In particular, this notion of a “graduated deterrent” is likely to worry those who feel this makes nuclear weapons more likely to be used.

As the article reports:

Developed by EADS, the M51 will weigh half again as much as the existing M45, allowing it carry up to six warheads over an intercontinental range–classified, but in excess of 6,000-8,000 km.–with higher performance and safety margins. The M51 will be installed on second-generation Triomphant-class ballistic missile-carrying submarines, beginning with the fourth and final of the class, the Terrible, now under construction at the DCN shipyard in Cherbourg.

In addition to vastly increased throwweight and accuracy, the M51 and its aerial adjunct, the improved ASMPA nuclear cruise missile, will offer greater operational flexibility. This is in line with France’s changing nuclear doctrine–notably with respect to regional powers. In an address at the Ile Longue nuclear submarine base in Brittany on Jan. 19, President Jacques Chirac said France would reserve the right to strike strategic nerve centers with a graduated deterrent as a “final warning” to enemy aggression–a veiled reference to North Korea and Iran.

A graduated deterrent–for example, ICBMs equipped with less than a full complement of warheads configured to explode at high altitude–could use electromagnetic shock waves to knock out enemy electronics, minimizing collateral damage.

Chirac insisted that the principles underlying French nuclear doctrine have not changed: There is still no question of fielding battlefield nuclear weapons or authorizing preemptive strikes, despite pressure to do so (AW&ST June 6, 2005, p. 27). “But the manner in which these principles are implemented has changed and will continue to change to meet 21st century threats,” he said.

They’re back….

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006


North Korea is back in the headlines again, claiming it plans to conduct a nuclear test. This has sent many people (including myself) scrambling to find any available pictures of the suspected testing site (the exact location is helpfully identified over at Arms Control Wonk based on satellite photos published in the New York Times). I’ve looked and I admit, I feel like I’m staring at a cross between ink blots and tea leaves.

How we collect intelligence on nuclear tests (before and after the fact) would appear to be a useful area of research. So, I wanted to bring attention to a fact sheet made available at a lonely little booth at last week’s Air Force conference. The one-page info sheet provides a brief description of the Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC) Detachment 452, located in U.S. Army’s Camp Long in Wonju, Korea. The detachment is also know as the Korean Seismic Research Station and Wonju Air Station — it was established in 1966, and has been involved in monitoring a number of nuclear tests, including one in China over a decade ago.

The mission statement describes their work collecting and disseminating ”seismic data to the United States Atomic Energy Detection System (USAEDS), National Data Center (NDC), and the International Data Center (IDC), for use in the monitoring of seismic activity and nuclear treaty compliance….” Today, the detachment operates two arrays and a “broadband instrument to measure vertical and horizontal ground motion through a wider frequency range.”

Trying to find specific information on Detachment 452 on the Web turns up very little (proving that the Web does have its limitations). Someone helpfully translated a Korean-language article here that references the use of the Korean Seismic Research Station for monitoring possible North Korean nuclear tests.

Considering the general infrequency of nuclear tests around the world, I imagine things must be pretty exciting for Detachment 452 this week.

Will They or Won’t They?

Sunday, August 20th, 2006


Or can they or can’t they? We just don’t know. The North Koreans, fresh from their smashing success with rocket science over the Fourth of July weekend, could be getting ready to try their hand at nuclear physics. U.S. officials claim North Korea is preparing to test a nuclear device, ABC News reports.

Considering we still don’t know if Fearless Leader really is northeast Asia’s largest importer of luxury Cognac, I’m afraid it’s hard to speculate whether this nuclear test is in the works. But I have another question: will it work?

I keep thinking of Marvin the Martian’s great quote: “Where’s the Ka-boom? There was supposed to be an Earth-shattering Ka-boom!”

(Cross-posted at