FYRP: The Price of Doing Business

After a brief (SAT-induced) hiatus, it has returned!

Washington Examiner | Congressmen Doug Lamborn and Trent Franks give us their views on President Obama’s missile defense plans. Space-based interceptors are still needed, they say. How much that would cost?  And how practical that would be?

Lobe Log | Usha Sahay discusses the differences between Iran and North Korea.  With roads like these, how could anyone confuse the two?  More from Meir Javedanfar.

CS Monitor | Israel has ostensibly obvious motives for bombing Syria, but is it worth the risk?

FAS Strategic Security Blog | Russia’s SSBN fleet hasn’t been doing much. Come to think of it, the U.S.’s hasn’t been very active of late either.  The financial burdens of SSBN modernization are heavy both at home and abroad.  And while we’re reading the FAS blog, what are the Chinese doing with their ICBMs?

Department of Defense | The Pentagon’s eagerly awaited annual China military report has arrived, so now we know what the Chinese are doing with their ICBMs. Hey, now there’s a North Korea report along with it. There’s an Iran report, too, but you can’t read it.

Foreign Policy Association | Why is the NRA so interested in the ATT?  Scott Monje explains.

Aviation Week | The X-51A went really, really fast. Video.

The Diplomat | Despite being a phenomenal TV show, Battlestar Galactica cannot help us determine military policy.  Right?  Wrong, says James Holmes.

Japan Times | Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has lately been making some bold moves in cutting nuclear supply deals.  What is he heading towards?

We hope you enjoy this installment of FYRP.


  1. Anon2 (History)

    Space Based Interceptors:

    1) CBO says spaced based boost phase interceptors would be higher cost than ground based by 2 to 3 times (because satellites don’t hover in low earth orbit), and we are talking about 10’s of billions in 2004 dollars. I can almost see that on a pure physics basis: if the energy to boost one warhead is X then the energy to orbit one set of say 20 interceptors to defend against one warhead payload is say 20*X. Until someone develops the dilithium crystal engines to boost interceptors and maintain station, the chemical energy and missile infrastructure cost seems to me to be far more expensive for the defender with a spaced based interceptor system. Unless of course a geosynchronous directed space based beam weapon (i.e. fire phasers) could quickly deal with many warheads. Apparently the directed energy weapons are not working well enough in 2013 to be deployed.

    2) Instead of permanent basing of the missile interceptors on the ground, would it not be cheaper and more flexible to base them in something similar to a B-52’s (big, slow, but not stealthy aircraft) and Aegis cruisers that can be moved? Same with radars. This has the advantage that extra missile defense assets can be moved quickly to provide extra coverage during a crisis, but left at home bases during the other more peaceful times.

    3) The rest of the APS report (all 462 pages) is available here: http://www.aps.org/policy/reports/studies/

    • j_kies (History)

      The APS study was biased toward answering questions as to whether or not physics essentially prohibited certain concepts in boost phase negation. Certain of the assumptions applied by the APS were perhaps naive as to sensing limitations / capabilities but the overall problems as to time and distance for interceptors to travel are pretty immutable. Dean Wilkening wrote a dated piece on airborne boost phase interceptors, his sensing construct choice was ‘unwise’ (flying a AN/TPY-2 integrated in a 747 class aircraft).

      I personally like the more recent treatment by many of the same authors writing under the NAS/NRC rubric as it has much more of the engineering feel and attempted to cost certain concepts such as the constellation of space based interceptors. Try http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=13189

      As for airborne sensing, consider whether you prefer numbers divided by R^2 or R^4 – for all numbers of R that would matter, the correct sensing approach should be obvious.

    • Anon2 (History)

      J Kies,

      Thank you. I guess you mean r^4 as in

      P_r = {{P_t G_t}\over{4 \pi r^2}} \sigma {{1}\over{4 \pi r^2}} A_{eff}

      (right out of wikipedia radar cross section article) as I was not a radar engineer but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

      I am assuming the problem with the 747 AN/TPY-2 is that the surface area of the receiving antenna is too low, hence insufficient gain. I’m no expert, but can they use an array of smaller aperture radars to get higher total effective aperture, i.e. a bunch of smaller antenna flying in formation (and on the ground, and maybe also in space)? I think the astronomers do the same thing with both optical and radio telescopes by using individual telescopes to get larger effective aperture.

      Or does that just improve the resolution, but not the detection range??? I ask, because with modern networked highly computational nodes it would be possible now to link the radars in a way that would not have been possible in the 1980’s or even 1990. If so, modern technology provided advances in defensive systems.

      Anyway, thanks for the link.


    • j_kies (History)

      Anon2, I wasn’t trying to be subtle
      The conversion of chemical energy in rocket propellants to the kinetic energy and potential energy of the boost trajectory has significant thermal emissions. (that astoundingly bright rocket plume) Notice that various passive satellite sensors apparently monitor rocket launches from ~36Mm (Geosynchronous orbits) and further while using sensors well less than 1 m aperture.

      Airborne platforms are notoriously difficult to build to carry massive loads with huge power draw. I was stating that passive optics are far better for sensing boosting missiles from aircraft than any radar concepts you may wish to consider.

    • Anon2 (History)

      J Kies,

      “I wasn’t trying to be subtle”

      I don’t know why I was thinking all radar, i.e. r^4, when I should have been also thinking IR (r^2, no?). I’m new to this having been sequestered in another life for the past N years where N is a larger number than I like to admit. I clearly enjoy the technical aspects to this blog.

      Thanks for you comments.


  2. Anon2 (History)

    One other thing —

    Is there an inherent reason that as assumed in the CBO space based interceptor report that all liquid fueled missiles need to be so much slower to accelerate in the boost phase than solid fueled missiles?

    My guestimate is that the specific impulse is higher in the liquid fueled missiles than solid fueled due to more optimized fuel and hotter burning engines. For the solid fueled missile, there can be a much larger volume of combustion as essentially it is possible for the entire interior of the cylindrical fuel to be burning at the same time. (Liquid fueled engine = tiny burn to fuel ratio. Solid fueled engine = big burn to fuel ratio.)

    So I believe that when the CBO compared solid fueled missiles (example Minuteman) to liquid fueled (their example, Titan), the solid fueled missile had a shorter burn time because it was possible to burn the solid fuel faster in the casing than a liquid fueled engine could. Is this still the case (relatively long boost phases) with “modern” DPRK and IRI liquid fueled IRBM/ICBM missiles?

    • George William Herbert (History)

      From an engineering point of view, there is no direct linkage. One can put much bigger liquid engines on missiles if one wants to.

      There are limits to that; the thrust-to-weight ratio of a “conventional” bare liquid rarely exceeds 100:1, so a Sprint missile would be hard to make liquid fueled no matter what. But for anything with liftoffs under 25 Gs or so, it’s really a “what set of engineering problems and operational problems do you prefer accepting to start with?”.

    • Anon2 (History)


      I will read more about it. I just found it strange that the CBO thought solid fueled missiles were so much harder to intercept as I thought like you, for an ICBM, it is which set of tradeoffs do you want, i.e. higher specific impulse more efficient liquid fueled, or better long term storage, handling while fueled, and quick launch fueling of the solid fueled. The slow grace of the old Titan, Saturn, or Atlas I thought was more representative of what was at the time of design, a maximum takeoff weight launch to get the most payload into space or down range. Surely the IRI and DPRK engineers have done better chemical designs with 50 years of data and lighter warheads. I have seen on this blog and elsewhere photographs of the 4 pack first stage engines for the Taepodong-2 and the Iranian equivalent. They look well engineered (unfortunately for those of us on the other end).

  3. Rene (History)

    Thanks so much for this very useful weekly ritual.

    I have a reservation about Sahay’s peace. I fully agree with her that Iran and North Korea are quite different, but I’m not sure the conclusion she draws is the right one: “Iran is integrated into the global economy and dependent on international trade. So, economic sanctions should give us far more leverage with Iran than they have with North Korea.”

    Yes, Iran is certainly interested in doing normal business with the world, but Iran is also very serious about its sovereignty. Many people don’t understand this (or perhaps don’t give a damn about it!), because they don’t know much about Iranian history. For more than a century, Iran was controlled by the Russians and the British; she lost territory in this period and she gave significant economic and political concessions to these countries. These humiliating episodes are very much alive in the minds of Iranians (Jack Straw recently had a thoughtful peace about this: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9892742/Even-if-Iran-gets-the-Bomb-it-wont-be-worth-going-to-war.html). The ‘Neither Eastern, Nor Western’ motto of the revolution is still a cornerstone of Iranian foreign policy, and it has significant public appeal to this day. Therefore, I think it is extremely unlikely for Iran to completely capitulate on the nuclear issue, so I’d be very careful about estimating the potential efficacy of sanctions.

    Which is not to say that there is no solution. I still think ElBaradei’s proposal is viable: Iran may agree to have a small-scale ENR capability as opposed to an industrial scale one (say, 10,000 SWU/yr instead of 100,000 SWU/yr). I think this would address the serious concerns of both sides. Otherwise, if the UNSC invests too much on the zero ENR condition, I don’t think tighter economic sanctions would induce Iran to abandon enrichment.

    • Usha Sahay (History)

      Hi Rene, thanks for your input. I fully agree with your skepticism about whether Iran will be susceptible to sanctions, and I think the point about sovereignty and the sense of humiliation is important and probably under-discussed. But I was attempting to make a point that, in a sense, precedes the discussion about how sanctions play out – before we even get to that point, we have to acknowledge that Iran has a level of international engagement that’s very different from DPRK. I’m not sure I whether I would describe its engagement as qualitatively different – would have to think about that.

      At any rate,what matters is that with Iran we have a foundation or context for sanctions to be a viable option to begin with (regardless of efficacy) in a way that I don’t think we see with North Korea. I think that does matter, because it puts us in a position where sanctions COULD succeed on the level of strategy, and whether they get mishandled on the level of tactics is a separate matter (I would argue that that is what’s happening right now). But my original point was just that to the extent that external engagement matters, it provides us an opening for progress that may not exist with DPRK.

      Again, though, I agree with everything you brought up, and you are absolutely right about the problems with a focus on zero ENR. There hasn’t been a whole lot of analysis to date on a) whether that focus is giving way to a softer stance at the levels of top diplos and b) how the P5+1 stance on enrichment interplays with the sanctions discussion, but I think that would be a worthy topic to explore.

    • Magpie (History)

      I think the Iranian position in the world community lends itself more to the other side of sanctions: publically and dramatically decide to trust them. Give them a big win in return for decent safeguards. Let ‘em gloat. Galling for some, perhaps, but I genuinely think it’s the best chance anyone has to maintain non-proliferation here.

      Persians pride themselves on their pride. An overgeneralisation, perhaps, but true in my experience. Shift the field to let them put their pride in being a responsible power, one who nobly refrains from nuclear weapons, one who stands on the moral high-ground, one who is trusted and respected in the international community. Make the idea of going back on their word to use nuclear power only for peaceful purposes every bit as humiliating as we’ve presently made the idea of submission to foreign powers.

      Shift the frame. It’s the best bet we’ve got, I reckon. And the change of President this year might be a perfect opportunity.

    • Rene (History)

      Thanks for taking the time to reply, Usha. I think the distinction you make between the strategic and tactical value of sanctions is very helpful, and on this level I agree with your thesis that ceteris paribus Iran’s relative integration into the global financial landscape makes it more responsive to sanctions than North Korea—after all, Iran suspended enrichment for two years out of fear that punitive measures will be adopted by UNSC. But I think Iran’s bottom line of having some ENR capacity isn’t going to change with tougher sanctions. (In fact, given the huge price that they have paid so far for their program, it’s very difficult for them to capitulate and then justify this capitulation to the Iranian people.) And if anything, I think the problem obstructing a deal is not a shortage of sanctions, but the excessively punitive, broad sanctions currently in place.

      Of course there’s also the problem that some lawmakers (perhaps the overwhelming majority of them) are interested in isolating and punishing Iran no matter what happens on the nuclear front. Currently the Senate is considering another round of sanctions that would cut Iran’s access to its Euro reserves abroad. So I’m losing hope that there will be a peaceful resolution of this standoff …

      Magpie, I find your analysis very interesting 🙂 Yes, perhaps shifting the frame would solve many of the problems in one breath. But it would first require accepting the IRI as a legitimate government, which appears next to impossible given the leanings of US Congress, and given all the regional issues over which the US and Iran are at loggerheads (Israel, Syria, etc.).