18 May 2021

China’s Nuclear and Missile Capabilities: An Overview

  Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)  

Since China first conducted a nuclear weapon test in 1964, its nuclear doctrine has remained unchanged and is underpinned by two principles: a minimum deterrent doctrine and a No First Use (NFU) policy. China’s 2019 defence white paper states, “China is always committed to a nuclear policy of NFU of nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstances, and not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones unconditionally.”

However, a recent U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) report claims that the scope of China’s nuclear modernisation and its lack of transparency “raise concern that China is not only shifting its requirements for what constitutes a minimal deterrence but that it could shift away from its longstanding minimalist force posture.” The data available show that China is modernising and expanding virtually every element of its nuclear forces, including each aspect of its nuclear weapons and missile, sea, and air delivery systems. What is not clear are China’s current and planned holdings of nuclear weapons, China’s future plans for deploying additional delivery systems, its commitment to some form of NFU, first preemption, or launch on warning, and the extent to which it will accept what might be called a form of ‘minimum assured destruction.

China’s Port Investments in Sri Lanka Reflect Competition with India in the Indian Ocean

By: Anita Inder Singh


Located at the crossroads of global shipping lanes, Sri Lanka has become a significant recipient of Chinese economic and military influence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). For its part, Sri Lanka has largely welcomed China as a major investor and strategic partner in the past decade. China surpassed India to become Sri Lanka’s largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2011 (Gateway House, December 1, 2016). Additionally, China is Sri Lanka’s second largest source of trade imports and arms sales after India (SIPRI, accessed April 27; WITS, accessed April 27). In return, Sri Lanka has been a critical partner in China’s expansive foreign policy and infrastructure-focused Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), although the relationship has been balanced by local tensions over Chinese influence. Sri Lanka has been held up as an example of China’s so-called “debt trap diplomacy” model for foreign investment, but this narrative is insufficient to fully describe the complex situation unfolding, as well as obscuring the Sri Lankan government’s own agency in balancing neighboring powers while simultaneously seeking investments for ambitious development goals (China Brief, January 5, 2019, April 13, 2020).

Developments in Colombo

Recent news about the development of Sri Lanka’s strategically important port in the capital city of Colombo further highlights Sri Lanka’s delicate balancing act between China and India. In 2011, a consortium led by the state-owned enterprise (SOE) China Merchants Port Holdings Company signed a 35-year build, operate and transfer agreement to develop the deep water South Container Terminal, later called the Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT),at Colombo Port (Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry, accessed April 20). It promised an initial investment of $500 million in exchange for an 85 percent stake in CICT, which is now the only state of the art deep water terminal in South Asia. China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC)—a key competitor with China Merchants, responsible for building the controversial Hambantota port project and which has also been involved in land reclamation efforts around Colombo—signed an agreement late last year to develop a financial district in Colombo Port City (Xinhua, December 18, 2020). China Harbor’s $1.4 billion investment marks the first of a $13 billion plan to develop Colombo Port City into a world-class financial and trade center (Xinhua, September 9, 2020). The agreement was promptly challenged by opposition parties, civil society groups, and labor unions alleging that the project violated Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, constitution, and labor rights (The Hindu, April 17).

China’s State-Backed Messengers See Opportunity in India’s Coronavirus Woes

Bryce Barros Etienne Soula

China’s state-backed messengers are using India’s health crisis to denigrate the United States and encourage India to step back from its deepening partnership with the United States and other democracies. According to data from the Johns Hopkins University, daily Covid-19 cases in India have exceeded 300,000 since April 21. As Indian authorities struggle to stem the tide of new cases, Chinese government officials and state-backed media see the health crisis as an opportunity to mend relations. To alleviate strains caused by last summer’s border clashes and to drive a wedge between India and its democratic partners, Chinese government officials and state-backed media are portraying China as a friend, while denigrating the United States as an opportunist.

What We’re Seeing on Hamilton 2.0

Through messaging and narratives about India’s coronavirus outbreak, Chinese officials and state-backed media have portrayed China as India’s friend. In the last week of April, Hua Chunying and Zhao Lijian, the two most prominent spokespeople for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, both tweeted out their government’s support and willingness to help.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan: Is China in its Crosshairs?

By: Sudha Ramachandran

On April 21, a car packed with explosives detonated in the parking lot of the Serena Hotel in Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s restive Baluchistan province. Five people were killed and another twelve were injured in the attack (Dawn, April 21). Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the deadly explosion (The News, April 23). An umbrella grouping of Pashtun militias that operate in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas, the TTP wreaked havoc in Pakistan between 2007 and 2014. It carried out countless attacks on military installations, convoys, police stations, schools, and places of worship for minority religious sects. The violence it unleashed claimed the lives of over 80,000 soldiers and civilians in this period (Terrorism Monitor, March 26). However, the TTP’s capacity began to weaken in 2014, relegating it to “near-irrelevance” in subsequent years (TRT World, August 21, 2020). It is in this context that the TTP’s attack at the Serena Hotel is significant as it indicates that the grouping is ascending again. The TTP could also increasingly target Chinese projects and nationals in Pakistan.

The TTP’s Rise and Fall

The TTP was established in December 2007 in response to the Pakistani military’s crackdown on militant clerics holed up in Islamabad’s Lal Masjid. Its main objective is to topple the Pakistani state and establish Islamic law in the country. Within a year of its formation, the TTP was in control of much of the seven Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and wielded influence over a large expanse of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. After taking control over much of Swat, it advanced to Buner and seemed within striking distance of Islamabad (Dawn, July 13, 2017).

Top general: US considering training Afghan forces in other countries


The U.S. military is considering continuing to train Afghan forces from different countries after U.S. troops fully withdraw from Afghanistan, the U.S. military’s top general said Thursday.

Asked at a Pentagon press briefing whether training Afghan forces from a different country is an option, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said. “It’s possible.”

“There's a lot of different options out there, and we haven't settled on one of them yet,” Milley added.

Milley was speaking alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the pair’s first joint press briefing since Austin took office in January.

On President Biden’s orders, the U.S. military is in the midst of fully withdrawing from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that sparked the war.

A top concern that lawmakers and others have raised amid the withdrawal is the fate of Afghan interpreters and others who helped U.S. troops whose lives would be in even more danger than they are now if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban.

The United States has a program called the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program to allow those Afghans to come to the United States, but thousands of Afghans are facing a years-long backlog in processing their applications.

On Thursday, Milley said it’s “a moral imperative that we take care of those that have worked closely with us.”

But he also reiterated that he does not think the worst-case scenario in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdraws is a “foregone conclusion.”

Pentagon Struggles to Wean Afghan Military Off American Air Support

By Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt

KABUL, Afghanistan — The United States has continued limited air support to Afghan national security forces in recent days, launching a half-dozen airstrikes as Taliban fighters stepped up an offensive in the country’s south before the full withdrawal of American troops ordered by President Biden.

Even so, Afghan ground commanders are asking for more help from American warplanes, exposing a stark reality of the war there: Even in the twilight days of the American involvement, the Afghan dependency on U.S. pilots and warplanes as backup is unquestionable.

The Pentagon is now weighing how it will wean Afghan security forces from their dependency, something that it has failed to do since 2015, when the United States formally ended its combat mission in the country. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III suggested that it would be up to Gen. Austin S. Miller, the top American commander in Afghanistan, to decide when to turn off the spigot.

“In terms of when he does what, there’s a reason he’s a four-star commander,” Mr. Austin said during a news conference.

The Biden administration has sought to portray Afghan security forces as well equipped to handle the war on their own, but that view appears starkly different than the reality on the ground. Since May 1, when the United States formally began its withdrawal, the Taliban has taken territory in practically every corner of the country.

Is Myanmar Headed for Collapse or Revolution?

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) held a special leader’s summit on April 24 to discuss the escalating crisis in Myanmar. The country’s military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, who seized power from Myanmar’s democratically elected government on February 1, was invited to the summit. Representatives of the newly formed National Unity Government (NUG), representing the ousted democratic leaders and some ethnic minority parties, were not. The ASEAN leaders surprised their harshest critics by reaching a consensus position on next steps. But in the days since, it has become clear that the organization has little hope of implementing that consensus.

The junta continues its deadly crackdown on the protests, which remain mostly peaceful. But the NUG is gearing up for a sustained and increasingly violent campaign of resistance. Key ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) have thrown their lot in with it. The country, which has been mired in some form of civil war for over 70 years, is seeing its most serious fighting in decades. Washington, London, and Brussels continue their campaign to isolate the military regime and marshal international support for sanctions. But they also want to keep those sanctions targeted at the generals and military-controlled entities, not the Burmese public. That the violence and humanitarian crisis will worsen seems unavoidable. What is unclear is whether the unfolding tragedy will end in state collapse, the return of smothering military rule, or the emergence of a new, potentially more democratic, regime.

Q1: What did ASEAN accomplish?

China Helping Russia on Northern Sea Route Now but Ready to Push Moscow Aside Later

By: Paul Goble

Russia’s ever-closer economic cooperation with China may not end the way Moscow hopes. Instead of strengthening Russia as Moscow expects, it may put Beijing in a position to dominate its partner. Indeed, China’s involvement with the Northern Sea Route (NSR), a prime concern of Russian President Vladimir Putin, suggests that whatever contribution to Russia’s goals Beijing might make there in the short term could simultaneously set the stage for China to eventually elbow Russia aside even there. In that event, Beijing may establish “a Polar Silk Road,” in which Russia will be reduced to a supporting role. This possibility has now become so real that it is sparking concerns not only in Russia but also in the West, which fears that a China-dominated NSR could put Beijing in a position to project power across the Arctic and challenge not just Russian interests but Western ones as well.

Russian worries that the short-term assistance China is providing on the Northern Sea Route may open the way for Beijing to dominate that increasingly ice-free passage in only a few years were highlighted again, at the end of April, by an article focusing on this issue as a whole in Sovershenno Sekretno (Sovershenno Sekretno, April 26). And this was reinforced by a discussion in the media of China’s effort to gain control of ice breaker repair contracts in Russia (Kommersant, April 6; Murmansk.ru, April 21; The Barents Observer, April 26). The first sketches out just how large China’s aspirations appear to be given Russia’s inability to finance necessary construction along the NSR; and the second highlights how tight a squeeze Moscow already finds itself in regarding this Chinese role, given that the Russian authorities are trying to develop the maritime route on the cheap.

Moscow has long been concerned about China’s role in the Arctic (see EDM, June 12, 2019 and September 3, 2019). That apprehension stems not only from the fact that global climate change is progressively leaving the NSR ice-free for more months of the year but also because the Russian government has acknowledged it lacks the money to build the necessary infrastructure or even the ships to service the route without assistance from foreign firms or governments (see EDM, December 6, 2018).

Tianhe Launch Marks a Key Step in China’s Growing Space Ambitions

By: Elizabeth Chen

Image: The launch of a Long March 5B Y2 rocket carrying the Tianhe module that will become the core of the China Space Station, on April 29 from Wenchang Launch Site in Hainan Province. Once completed in 2022, it will be China’s first long-term space station. After 2024, it may be the only international space station in orbit (Image source: Xinhua).

On April 29, a Long March 5B (长征五号B, Changzheng wuhao B) heavy rocket carrying the Tianhe 1 (天和一号) core module of China’s space station was successfully launched into low earth orbit from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site, Hainan Province (Xinhua, April 29). It marks the first step in the construction of the China Space Station (CSS, 中国空间站, Zhongguo kongjian zhan), long seen as the culmination of a national manned spaceflight program that will aid in “realizing the shared vision of a community of destiny for the benefit of all mankind” in international space cooperation (People’s Daily, June 20, 2019).

China took a 30-year-long route toward developing an indigenous space station. Smaller “space laboratories” (空间实验室, kongjian shiyan shi) with shorter lifespans were launched in September 2011 (Tiangong 1 (天宫一号), 8.5 tons) and September 2016 (Tiangong 2, 8.2 tons), which provided important lessons about cargo transportation, on-orbit fuel resupply and life support (Xinhua, September 17, 2016).[1] Following the launch failure of a Long March 5 rocket in 2017, the core module launch was delayed by three years (GBtimes.com, March 5, 2018).

Why China’s Air Force Keeps Invading Taiwanese Air Space

by Mark Episkopos

Here's What You Need to Remember: China’s military and foreign policy apparatus has been increasingly less demure about Beijing’s territorial claim on Taiwan. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping famously proclaimed that the People’s Republic of China can wait one hundred years to reunify with Taiwan if necessary.

Taiwan’s Defense Ministry has reported a new incursion by China’s Air Force, the latest in Beijing’s increasingly bold pattern of encroachment into Taiwanese airspace.

Taiwanese officials stated several weeks back that four J-16 and four J-10 multirole fighter jets, a Y-8 anti-submarine aircraft, and a KJ-500 early warning and control plane entered Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ). The Y-8 reportedly flew through the Bashi Channel connecting the Pacific to the South China Sea, while the others traveled in airspace southwest of Taiwan.

Taiwan scrambled planes to warn the Chinese aircraft away, according to the defense ministry. This incident is the latest in a procession of increasingly ambitious Chinese incursions. In late March, Taiwan reported the largest ever Chinese foray into its ADIZ—the defense ministry identified as many as twenty Chinese aircraft, including four nuclear-capable H-6K bombers and ten J-16 fighter jets. A “person familiar with Taiwan’s security planning” told Reuters that the flights were part of an exercise to “simulate an operation” against U.S. warships sailing through the Bashi channel.

Don’t Let China Hijack the UN Security Council

by Morgan Lorraine Vina

This month, China will hold the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council. Despite the presidency being a largely ceremonial role, Beijing will use the presidency as an opportunity to shape the world order according to its narrative; a narrative that denigrates democracy and shields dictators from accountability. The Biden administration shouldn’t let Beijing get away with it.

During the month security council members serve as president, they shape the council’s official agenda, also known as the Programme of Work, to reflect their national priorities. When the United States took the gavel in April 2017, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Nikki Haley added the first thematic debate on human rights to the agenda. Despite human rights being intrinsically linked to peace and security, China and Russia initially objected to the addition, arguing that a discussion on human rights was not germane to the Council’s work.

Similarly, when China last held the presidency in March 2020 as the world struggled to combat the coronavirus pandemic (believed to have originated in Wuhan), Beijing’s ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun refused to add a meeting to the Council’s agenda, saying, “We don’t have any plans to discuss the coronavirus before the security council. It is really beyond the scope of the Security Council. It is a public health issue.” Instead, China focused on countering terrorism and extremism in Africa, peacekeeping, and the role of multilateralism in settling disputes: all areas China in which has increased its resources and influence.

Diving Off the Platform-Centric Mind-set

By Lieutenant Commander Evan A. Karlik, U.S. Navy

The most forward-looking, eagerly awaited, and closely scrutinized acquisition document the Department of the Navy produces each year is the Report to Congress on the Annual Long-Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels—the 30-year shipbuilding plan. Nominally presented in conjunction with the Secretary of Defense’s annual budget submission, the plan tabulates how many naval combatants and support vessels will begin their build each year, plots the total battle force inventory over time, and estimates naval procurement and operation and sustainment (O&S) costs over the next three decades.1 On its release, reporters solicit industry leaders and members of Congress for comment, while shipyards and suppliers divine future demand from the sentences and figures contained in roughly two dozen single-spaced pages.2 The most recent rollout, in December 2020, was bolstered by a Wall Street Journal op-ed from the national security advisor and the director of the Office of Management and Budget enumerating the long-term projections: 80 fast-attack submarines, nearly 70 small surface combatants, and 11 aircraft carriers.3

Last year, the Air Force’s most celebrated and widely circulated acquisition vision looked quite different. Streaks of green characters run vertically down the cover page’s dark background, and if the reader did not immediately recognize the riff on the 1999 sci-fi film The Matrix, the introduction on the following page is headlined with a quote from Laurence Fishburne’s iconic character Morpheus. From the leading paragraph of There Is No Spoon, Dr. Will Roper, then–Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, invites readers down the proverbial rabbit hole of digital engineering, agile software, and open architecture, toward a future as “truly digital forces,” while warning that maintaining the status quo means “we lose the competition with China and Russia.”4

China hints it will choke off U.S. ‘rare earths’ access. But it’s not that easy.

By David J. Lynch

MOUNTAIN PASS, Calif. — Rusty tin shacks are all that remain of the gold miners who once prowled this desert hillside about an hour’s drive southwest of Las Vegas. Almost a century later, their modern-day descendants are prospecting for the more exotic materials that have become the latest flash point in the U.S.-China trade war.

This is Mountain Pass, the only mine in the United States that harvests rare-earth elements, the raw ingredients used to produce high-tech products such as smartphones, wind turbines, electric vehicles and fighter jets.

China dominates the global market for these materials and has been threatening to take them hostage in the deepening trade conflict. Just the suggestion that Beijing could starve American factories of essential materials has sent rare-earth prices soaring over the past month, with dysprosium oxide, used in lasers and nuclear-reactor control rods, up by one-third.

But the alarm overlooks the rise over the past decade of alternative sources of rare earths — including Mountain Pass — and ignores the difficulties China would face in implementing a ban, including the prospect of widespread smuggling and the likelihood of hurting countries that Chinese authorities may prefer not to alienate.

“We have an absolutely world-class resource,” said Michael Rosenthal, chief executive of MP Materials, which operates the California mine. “That’s our competitive advantage.”

Tatmadaw Deploys Chinese-Made UAVs

The Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, on February 1 deposed the democratically elected government led by the National League for Democracy. The coup precipitated protests across the country, but the countermeasures enacted to curb the unrest have left hundreds of civilians dead and several thousand detained. Satellite imagery suggests that the Tatmadaw may be leveraging the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities of Chinese-made unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to monitor the ongoing situation.

Sightings of UAVs have been reported on social media amid the protests, and an article published by Janes on April 8 confirmed the presence of at least two Caihong 3A (CH-3A) UAVs at Shante Air Base on January 31. The air base serves as the headquarters for the Myanmar Air Force's Central Sector Operations Center and houses several squadrons, including a CH-3A unit. It is situated only a couple hundred miles from Mandalay and Sagaing, two epicenters of unrest and well within the range of the CH-3A. Satellite imagery from February 10 shows one CH-3A at Shante.

Abu Walaa’s Islamic State Network and Germany’s Counter-Terrorism Prosecutions

By: Herbert Maack

A German court sentenced on February 24 the alleged “Islamic State leader of Germany” to a lengthy prison sentence. The trial against Salafist preacher Ahmad Abdelaziz Abdullah Abdullah, better known as Abu Walaa, lasted three-and-a-half-years and provides insights into radicalization and Islamic State (IS) recruitment in Germany in the years from 2012 to 2016. This article’s insights on Abu Walaa and his network are based on his recent court verdict and the memoirs of “VP-01,” Germany’s top police informant, who successfully spied on Abu Walaa and his network. In addition, this article illustrates how Germany’s security authorities and justice system continue to face challenges in bringing terrorism suspects to justice.

Abu Walaa’s Network from Germany to IS in Syria and Iraq

Born in Iraq and an ethnic Kurd from Kirkuk, Abu Walaa arrived in Germany in 2000 as a refugee and originally settled with his family, including two wives and seven children, in the town of Tönisvorst in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. Subsequently, Abu Walaa established himself as one of the most influential Salafists in Germany while preaching as the imam of Deutschsprachige Islamkreis mosque, which was established in 2012 in Hildesheim in the northwestern state of Lower Saxony. The mosque became a hotspot of the Salafist scene in Germany and Abu Walaa was known for his fiery sermons both at his now-banned Deutschsprachige Islamkreis mosque and online, where he was called “the preacher without a face” due to his habit of preaching with his back to the camera, leaving his features hidden from view. Abu Walaa was successful in building a strong social media following that at one point amounted to as many as 25,000 fans on Facebook and included followers from across Europe (Stern.de, September 26, 2017; Deutsche Welle, December 11, 2018).

There have been 7m-13m excess deaths worldwide during the pandemic

Official figures say there have been 55,000 covid deaths in South Africa since March 27th last year. That puts the country’s death rate at 92.7 per 100,000 people, the highest in sub-Saharan Africa. It is also a significant underestimate—as, it seems safe to infer, are all the other African data on the disease.

Over the year to May 8th the country recorded 158,499 excess deaths—that is, deaths above the number that would be expected on past trends, given demographic changes. Public-health officials feel confident that 85-95% of those deaths were caused by sars-cov-2, the covid-19 virus, almost three times the official number. The discrepancy is the result of the fact that, for a death to be registered as caused by covid-19, the deceased needs to have had a covid test and been recorded as having died from the disease. Although South Africa does a lot of testing compared with neighbouring countries, its overall rate is still low. And the cause of death is unevenly recorded for those who die at home.

South Africa is not particularly unusual in its levels of testing or in missing deaths outside the medical system. Excess mortality has outstripped deaths officially reported as due to covid-19, at least at some points in the course of the epidemic, in most if not all of the world. According to the most recent data, America’s excess deaths were 7.1% higher than its official covid-19 deaths between early March 2020 and mid-April 2021.

Proportionate Deterrence: A Model Nuclear Posture Review


Ever since the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, every U.S. presidential administration has published a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that explains the rationales behind its nuclear strategy, doctrine, and requested forces. These reviews have helped inform U.S. government personnel, citizens, allies, and adversaries of the country’s intentions and planned capabilities for conducting nuclear deterrence and, if necessary, war. The administration that takes office in January 2021 may or may not conduct a new NPR, but it will assess and update nuclear policies as part of its overall recalibration of national security strategy and policies.

Nongovernmental analysts can contribute to sound policymaking by being less constrained than officials often are in exploring the difficulties of achieving nuclear deterrence with prudently tolerable risks. Accordingly, the review envisioned and summarized here explicitly elucidates the dilemmas, uncertainties, and tradeoffs that come with current and possible alternative nuclear policies and forces. In the body of this review, we analyze extant declaratory policy, unclassified employment policy, and plans for offensive and defensive force postures, and then propose changes to several of them. We also will emphasize the need for innovative approaches to arms control.


Tracking the Digital Component of the BRI in Central Asia, Part Two: Developments in Kazakhstan

By: Sergey Sukhankin


This is the second of a three-part series describing the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) growing digital presence in Central Asia—part of a larger project commonly referred to as the Digital Silk Road (DSR, 数字丝绸之路, shuzi sichou zhi lu) that supplements the wide-ranging geo-economic and foreign policy Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Part One of this series focused on Central Asia’s most populous country, Uzbekistan (China Brief, February 11). In this article, special emphasis will be put on the region’s most affluent and resource endowed actor, Kazakhstan, which has had a particular importance for the BRI since the initiative was first launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his state visit to Kazakhstan in 2013 (PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs, September 7, 2013).

Background: Deepening Sino-Kazakh Relations and Technology Cooperation

Kazakhstan’s ties with Beijing have been boosted after the 2019 election of President Kassym-Jomart Kemeluly Tokayev, a professional sinologist who spent time studying in the PRC during the 1980s (Ru.sputnik.kz, June 17, 2019). Under Tokayev’s leadership, the bilateral relationship was elevated to a “comprehensive strategic partnership” in 2019. Cooperation in the realm of new digital technologies has rapidly become yet another facet strengthening bilateral ties. Both sides have their own interests in boosting technological cooperation: for China “cooperation in the fields of digital economy, e-commerce and artificial intelligence” opens up a new and rapidly developing market for its domestic technology companies seeking to become competitive players in the global market (Xinhua, January 22) as well as being a means of boosting Chinese influence in Central Asia more generally. China has also relied on Kazakhstan to support a variety of international technology issues, including a global initiative on data security and “jointly combatting disinformation” following the COVID-19 pandemic (Xinhua, September 13, 2020), as well as promoting a concept of internet sovereignty that is friendly to authoritarian control of the Internet (CPO Magazine, August 1, 2019).

What Is Known About Russia’s Secret, Advanced “Kedr” Nuclear Missile?

by Mark Episkopos

Key point: The specifics of nuclear weapons is one of the more closely-guarded secrets of any country. Just how fast or unique might Russia's new system be?

The first crop of details has emerged concerning the mysterious new Kedr intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the successor to Russia’s current Yars missile system.

Russian state news outlet TASS reported earlier this month that work will soon commence on Russia’s next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). “Research work on Kedr has been financed under the current state arms procurement program, which is in effect until 2027. Technological development will begin in 2023–2024,” a defense industry insider source told TASS.

This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Kedr is a solid-fueled ICBM system that, like its Yars predecessor, will come in both mobile and silo-based variants. Mobile-road ICBM systems enjoy several advantages over their silo counterparts; in particular, they are harder to locate, track, target, and destroy, making them potentially more survivable.

Scarcely anything has been revealed by way of Kedr’s concrete specifications, and what little is known is liable to change as the new ICBM system comes further along in the research and development process. Defense sources previously confirmed to Russian media that work on Kedr is in an early stage: “If it progresses to the experiment and design phase, we will be able to talk in substance. So far, it is still a deep R&D stage.”

The Vaccine Revolution

Nicole Lurie, Jakob P. Cramer, and Richard J. Hatchett

The novel coronavirus—SARS-CoV-2—exploded onto the world stage about a year and a half ago, infecting hundreds of millions of people, killing millions, and causing immense social and economic disruption. But just under a year after the deadly virus emerged in China, governments were able to authorize the use of vaccines against COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Vaccines that rely on messenger RNA, or mRNA, were among the first across the finish line, progressing from the genetic sequencing of the virus to human trials in less than three months. Last December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted emergency-use authorization to an mRNA vaccine produced via a partnership between the U.S. company Pfizer and the German firm BioNTech and to another developed by the U.S. company Moderna, after clinical trials demonstrated that both were about 95 percent effective in preventing COVID-19. The public marveled at the speed of the vaccines’ development, but in truth, these vaccines—and the breakthroughs in their underlying technology—were more than a decade in the making. They represent an astonishing scientific and public health achievement.

Technology based on mRNA is transforming how the world confronts current and future pandemic threats. Messenger RNA is a molecule that shuttles genetic information contained in a cell’s DNA from its nucleus to its plasma, where it is then translated into proteins. Scientists have long dreamed of harnessing this mRNA in such a way that it could be injected into humans, triggering cells to produce specific proteins for therapeutic or preventive purposes. The mRNA vaccines developed for COVID-19 work by instructing the human body to produce the so-called spike protein located on the virus’s surface (but not the virus itself), which then triggers an immune response that creates antibodies capable of fending off the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Are Augmented Humans the Future of War?

By Jacob Parakilas

The United States Space Force is the newest branch of the American military, and as its name suggests, the most dependent upon high technology and forward thinking to carry out its mission. So it is perhaps no surprise that Dr. Joel Mozer, the space force’s chief scientist, would declare that we are at “the brink of the age of human augmentation,” while addressing an event at the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Mozer’s remarks suggest a wide view of what constitutes augmentation. He refers to more sophisticated modes of human-machine teaming, where robotic agents would be given ever-increasing amounts of autonomy to make decisions while reducing the workload of their human controllers to making only the highest-level strategic decisions. There is an active debate about the ethical, legal, and operational questions raised by outsourcing ever-more-significant decisions to machines, especially where those decisions might well involve taking human lives. But we are already fairly far down the road of that type of augmentation, and — barring a major roadblock in artificial intelligence research — that trend will likely continue rapidly.

The second type of augmentation to which he refers is likely to attract more controversy, rightly or wrongly. Specifically, he refers to chemically or biologically altering humans to make them more capable of interfacing with ever faster and more capable machines.

Cuba’s New Leaders Promise Continuity to a Population Seeking Change

In late April, Cuba experienced a watershed moment when Miguel Diaz-Canel became the leader of the Cuban Communist Party, completing a political transition that began three years earlier when Diaz-Canel was inaugurated as president. Now, for the first time since the 1959 revolution, a Castro leads neither the country nor the party, making way for a new generation of leaders to chart the island nation’s path forward.

After taking office in 2018, Diaz-Canel slowly moved to put his stamp on the nation, beginning with the adoption of a new constitution in April 2019 that included some institutional reforms, including the creation of a prime ministerial position, and some attempts to embed market economics within Cuba’s socialist state. But the watchword for the new leadership continues to be “continuity,” disappointing those in Cuba who had hoped for greater systemic reforms to unleash a younger generation of entrepreneurs. And the deterioration of U.S.-Cuba relations under former President Donald Trump jeopardized even Havana’s limited efforts at opening up parts of the economy to the private sector.

Cuba had enjoyed a surge in tourism when Trump’s predecessor, former U.S. President Barack Obama, normalized relations between the two countries. But after his election in 2016, Trump reversed many of the steps Obama had taken to relax U.S. policy on Cuba, tightening restrictions on commerce with military-owned businesses and on remittances and travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens.

Colonial Pipeline Paid a $5M Ransom—and Kept a Vicious Cycle Turning

NEARLY A WEEK after a ransomware attack led Colonial Pipeline to halt fuel distribution on the East Coast, reports emerged on Friday that the company paid a 75 bitcoin ransom—worth as much as $5 million, depending on the time of payment—in an attempt to restore service more quickly. And while the company was able to restart operations Wednesday night, the decision to give in to hackers' demands will only embolden other groups going forward. Real progress against the ransomware epidemic, experts say, will require more companies to say no.

HASC Lawmakers to Push Pentagon to Designate Top-Level Leaders for Electromagnetic Warfare

By: John Grady

Electronic Warfare in today’s military environment. DoD Image

Two key lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee said they will push the Pentagon to designate a flag officer on the Joint Staff and a senior civilian to take charge of electromagnetic spectrum warfare.

Speaking Tuesday at the Hudson Institute, Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I.) – who chairs the HASC cyber, innovative technologies and information systems subcommittee – said “we sure do need someone in charge,” such as a deputy assistant secretary.

He and Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), who sits on the tactical air and land forces subcommittee, agreed that for too long the Pentagon has resisted this change.

“We’ve got to stop studying and [begin] seeing some action,” particularly to close the gap between Chinese and Russian advances in electromagnetic warfare, Bacon said. “We had EW dominance in the ’80s and ’90s.” As a result, Beijing and Moscow “went on steroids,” investing in these capabilities to jam radars and disrupt sensor operations and communications flow. China and Russia are developing high-energy defenses, networked active and passive sensors, centralized control and new doctrine to use the emerging capabilities.

Shadow Warriors Pursuing Next-Gen Surveillance Tech

By Jon Harper

U.S. Special Operations Command and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity are pursuing new technologies to identify and track threats.

Commandos rely on these types of capabilities when attacking terrorist groups and performing other critical missions.

“Intel drives ops,” SOCOM Commander Gen. Richard Clarke said at a recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “In order for us to compete more effectively in the future, we have to modernize both our precision strike and ISR … so that [special operators] can quickly see and sense the battlefield that they may have to be fighting in.”

Encrypted communications and electronic warfare capabilities are also critical to protect the force, he noted.

SOCOM’s program executive office for special reconnaissance is responsible for pursuing these types of technologies.

The office’s mission “is to lead the rapid and focused acquisition of state-of-the-art sensors and associated command-and-control, emplacement, recovery and specialized communication systems across all domains to enable total situational awareness for Special Operations Forces,” PEO David Breede said in an email to National Defense.

Its technology portfolio encompasses technical collection and communication to include hostile forces tagging, tracking and locating; blue force tracking; tactical video systems for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition; and remote advise-and-assist kits.