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Since I’ve already inflicted my thoughts on the Iran deal over at Foreign, I am happy that my friend Jofi Joseph has agreed to share his here at the blog.

Pleasant Surprises and Grudging Disappointments

Jofi Joseph

Jeffrey has kindly offered his blog as a venue for my thoughts on some of the specific technical elements of the P5+1 political framework with Iran announced last week.  For someone who worked on this issue in the U.S. government between 2011 and 2013, it is gratifying to see the efforts of many, many individuals in multiple governments finally bear fruit.

What follows is a checklist of pleasant surprises and grudging disappointments when it comes to this agreement’s nonproliferation bona fides.  Like many others, I was quite pleased at the depth and specificity of Iranian commitments when it came to real world constraints on their fuel cycle capabilities, but recognize the hardest negotiations are likely to take place over the next twelve weeks as broad text is translated into detailed annexes.


Pleasant Surprises:


Iran Only Permitted to Use IR-1s for Enrichment for Next Ten Years


At one time, the Administration was prepared to concede to Iran the flexibility to deploy various centrifuge models at its own discretion, so long as overall enrichment capability remained under an ironclad SWU ceiling.  In other words, if Iran was limited to an operational capacity of 7500 SWU per year, it would be the AEOI’s choice as to whether to deploy a larger number of the inefficient IR-1 centrifuges or introduce a smaller number of more advanced machines.  Although this formula would help ensure any prospective Iranian breakout timeline would not fall under one year, it contained a potentially fatal flaw – enabling Tehran to exploit production-scale enrichment to further develop and perfect more advanced centrifuges.


Under this agreement, however, Iran will only be permitted to enrich uranium with 5060 IR-1 machines at Natanz, which means the P-5+1 has frozen Iran’s enrichment program at existing levels for the next ten years.  Not only are the IR-1 centrifuges woefully out of date and prone to high failure rates, Iran has been using these machines for almost a full decade.  In other words, it has nothing further to learn from continued enrichment with this technology, and the next decade becomes a “lost decade” when it comes to the modernization of Iran’s enrichment program.


Broad Constraints on Iran’s R&D Capability


Some critics argue that, because Iran will be permitted to continue limited research and development on the IR-2, IR-4, IR-5, IR-6, and IR-8 models over the next decade, it can use the next decade to master operation of these more advanced models and launch a more powerful enrichment program once constraints under the CJPOA begin coming off.  Yet this argument ignores the significant differences between limited, small-scale testing of individual centrifuges in a laboratory setting and production-scale operations employing large centrifuge cascades where actual enrichment can occur.  The halting progress of Iran’s enrichment program over the past fifteen years underlines the difficulty its scientists have faced when taking laboratory-scale technology into a real world setting.  Without the ability to test these advanced models with actual enrichment and utilizing production-scale cascades, Iran will only make incremental progress in developing more advanced centrifuge models.


Comprehensive Transparency and Verification Requirements


As Jeffrey has so usefully argued before, the real danger from Iran’s nuclear program is not a breakout involving one of its overt facilities, but rather Iran’s use of a civilian nuclear program to camaflouge covert facilities/activities where inspectors are not present.  The best means to ferret out a covert program is a broad-based set of inspections, verification requirements, and transparency measures that aims to detect the production of fissile material at every iterative step of the process – from the initial milling/mining of natural uranium to the final steps of weapons grade enrichment or reprocessing of spent fuel rods.

And that is exactly what the U.S. and P5+1 negotiators have managed to achieve.  Whether it involves continuous surveillance of uranium mines and mills or access to the production facilities where Iranian centrifuges – and key parts like bellows and rotors – are assembled and manufactured, the agreement covers all the bases remarkably well.  While “anytime, anywhere” access was never a realistic objective, the Iranian agreement to concede IAEA access to any suspicious sites where covert enrichment – and necessary precursor steps like uranium conversion, yellowcake production, and centrifuge manufacturing — may be occurring is an important one.  For the duration of this agreement, it will be extremely challenging for Iran to carry out a covert program on its own soil.


And The Not-So-Good Stuff:


The Curious Language Surrounding Iran’s AP “Implementation”


Longtime ACW readers are quite familiar with the tortured history of Iran and the Additional Protocol.  Iran originally signed the AP in 2003, but never got around to ratifying it.  Several years later, when the United Nations Security Council formally took up the Iran file, Tehran retaliated in part by suspending its implementation of the AP, where it has stood ever since.  Getting Iran back into compliance with the AP has always been a key objective, not least because this agreement is uniquely constructed to help ferret out potential covert activities to produce fissile material.

It is for that reason why the language in the U.S. fact sheet outlining Iran’s commitment here is so curious.  The fact sheet only declares that “Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol of the IAEA”.  It does not specify the duration of this commitment; will Iran only implement the AP for a period of ten, fifteen or twenty five years, or is this an indefinite commitment?   If the latter, then why doesn’t Iran agree to take the necessary steps to eventually ratify the AP?  The joint statement read out by the EU High Representative and Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif is even more disconcerting, as it refers only to the “provisional application” by Iran of the Additional Protocol.

Resumed Iranian compliance with the AP has always been assumed to be one of the easy “gets” in any final agreement, not least because the AP is in no way specific to Iran; it is a universal agreement which the vast majority of other NPT signatories have signed and ratified.  Iranian insistence that it be treated like every other normal NPT state holds no water when it comes to AP ratification – because that is what normal NPT states have already done!

I don’t have any good guesses on Iranian motivations here.  There may have been a reluctance by the Iranian negotiating team to commit to future action involving ratification by the Majles when that may be out of their lane of authority.  Any final agreement should better flesh out the specifics of what Iran will do when it comes to AP implementation and lay out a clear rationale if that implementation will be time-limited.


Last and Perhaps Least – the PMD Dossier


And, finally, the long nettlesome issue of investigating and documenting Iran’s past efforts to develop a nuclear warhead capable of fitting onto a ballistic missile.  The U.S. intelligence community concluded in 2007 that Iran halted such efforts in 2003, although concerns have persisted to this day on whether some elements have continued at low levels.   Those critics who have insisted that any comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program include a full accounting of such efforts are likely to be disappointed by the language in the U.S. fact sheet:  “Iran will implement an agreed set of measures to address the IAEA’s concerns” regarding the PMD issue.  Negotiators may have reached agreement on a much more detailed set of understandings on what these measures entail, but I doubt it.  Iran has agreed to “measures” on PMD before, most recently in 2013 in the run-up to the agreement on an interim accord, yet then proceeded to largely ignore its implementation, even while continuing intensive talks with the P5+1 on a broader agreement.


All this points to an unavoidable reality:  like it or not, if an Iran deal is ultimately to succeed, the quest for a full accounting of Iran’s past activities may have to be sacrificed.  Put yourself into the shoes of a U.S. negotiator.  You recognize upfront that you will not get everything you want from Iran and you will have to accordingly prioritize.  Eventually, you may have to choose between insisting on tougher constraints on Iran’s future nuclear activities that serve the purpose of deterring both an overt and covert breakout vs. an exhaustive historical inquiry that assesses what exactly Iranian physicists may have been doing in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  For most folks, the decision there is relatively straightforward.


Some argue that it will be very difficult to identify future covert Iranian nuclear weapons efforts without a detailed understanding of what happened before.  I’m not so sure.  It is not clear if the individuals involved with the previous Amad Plan would be the ones tapped again for a future covert program or whether a clear understanding of their previous actions would help identify future efforts.


What is of some concern is where this leaves the IAEA and its Director General – Yukiya Amano.  DG Amano in some respects has served as the necessary skunk at the picnic on this issue – reminding everyone that the allegations surrounding PMD remains an outstanding piece of the puzzle.  If this deal is completed and then implemented in good faith by all sides, there may come a time when the PMD issue will have to be gently brushed aside.  Let’s hope that the good Director General doesn’t get caught in the stampede.



















I just wanted to write down a brief explanation about the documents that exist describing the Iran “deal”.  There seems to be some confusion about what they are and what they are not.  They are a deal in the sense that they tell us what the final agreement will look like.  But they are not a deal in the sense that many important details remain to be worked out.

The only official document is the Joint Statement by EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, which was read out in English by Ms. Mogherini and in Farsi by Dr. Zarif. This is a “framework” agreement that serves as a kind of proof that the negotiators are close enough to begin negotiating what will be called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA.  The framework agreement tells us broadly what the comprehensive agreement will look like, but turning the solutions and compromises outlined in the framework into the language of an proper agreement will be a challenge.

There are other texts, some of which we can see.  The United States released a fact sheet entitled Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program, and so did the Iranians.  (Payam Mohseni at the Belfer Center made a translation.)  Marie Harf mentioned both fact sheets during the April 3 press briefing. Gary Samore notes some of the interesting questions raised by the two fact sheets, which I would describe as being broadly consistent though with interesting differences of emphasis that point to challenges that remain.

For example, the US fact sheet notes that the IAEA “will have continuous surveillance of Iran’s centrifuge rotors and bellows production and storage facilities for 20 years.”  That’s great, but what does continuous mean?  The IAEA will have to develop a entirely new set of arrangements to provide continuous surveillance of rotors and bellows production and storage facilities, which is something it has never — to my knowledge — done before. The negotiators now will have to work this out.  The negotiators have given themselves three months — until the end of June — to do so.

Similarly, how will Iran reduce its stockpile of LEU to no more than 300 kilograms of material enriched to no more than 3.67 percent?  The Iranians seemed to have considered shipping the excess abroad, presumably to Russia, before changing their mind.  Will they instead dilute excess material?  Sell it on the open market?

These are just two of several interesting questions that must be addressed. The parties may already have resolved many of the discrepancies, just not in public.  There is the infamous whiteboard that recorded many solutions and compromises.  John Kerry, according to AFP, “had his own version committed to paper to consult on the go.”  I’d be shocked if it didn’t go beyond the Joint Statement.  The US fact sheet, for example, refers to Iran conducting “research and development on centrifuges will be carried out on a scope and schedule that has been mutually agreed.” Press reports suggest R&D was a sticking point at the end, so it must have come unstuck. (If I ever open a pub, I am calling it The Scope and Schedule.)

Overall, Joint Statement, as elaborated upon in the fact sheets, suggest that the parties have the framework of a strong agreement.  But these papers alone do not constitute an agreement, at least not yet.  An agreement is written down, with significantly more detail, and signed by the parties.  As the Obama Administration discovered during the ill-fated “Leap Day Deal” with North Korea, getting words on the paper is no small task.

Still, I am, for the first time in this process, hopeful about a successful outcome.  Neither of the two examples I cited are impossible for negotiators to solve. But solve them, they must.  And, in three months.  Give or take a few all nighters at the end.


I have a new column at about the 1987 Institute for Defense Analyses report,  IDA Memorandum, Report M-317 Critical Technology Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations.

The report is now widely available online, but copies have been floating around for years.  The picture atop the post is my copy. (You can tell the provenance of any copy by the upper right hand corner which notes “Copy 2 of 5 copies” and so on.)

In the column, I didn’t have space to point out how many times this document has already been mentioned in the press.  I do here.

The document is hardly secret.  I am pretty sure IDA announced it’s publication in the Technical Reports Awareness Circular so people could order it.  (Although I need to find the right volume.) No matter. Here you go:

And, since that is hard to read, here is the entry for six IDA reports covered by this volume of TRAC, including IDA MR-M-317 Critical Technology Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations.

One thing I wanted to point out is how often the report has been referenced publicly.  After all, I tracked down a copy because I had heard about it and seen it cited many times.  Here is a short list.

The first instance I can find is a 1989 article by Michael Gordon in the New York Times.  Gordon wrote:

A 1987 Pentagon-commissioned report, which was disclosed this week, asserts that there is close cooperation between the Israeli universities and Rafael, a military research and development institute, and SOREQ, a scientific center that does research in advanced physics, which the report asserts can be applied in the development of nuclear weapons.

The Pentagon-commissioned report was published by the Institute for Defense Analyses, a Government-financed research center. Information in the report was gathered by a group of American consultants who visited Israel. The material on Israel’s program of nuclear research, for example, was prepared by R. Norris Keeler, a head of physics at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1971 to 1975. Collaboration Seen as Worrisome

The report asserts that Israel is ”roughly where the U.S. was in the fission weapon field in about 1955 to 1960” and adds that SOREQ is developing computer codes that could be useful in ”in studying the implosion of nuclear devices.” The report also states that Rafael and Technion have collaborated ”on the development and simulation of ballistic missile re-entry vehicles.”

See: Michael R. Gordon, “U.S. Sees Israeli Help in Pretoria’s Missile Work,” New York Times, October 27, 1989.

The second instance is W. Seth Carus’s Cruise Missile Proliferation in the 1990s.  Carus wasn’t interested in nuclear weapons, but noted the report contained “the first description of the Delilah” cruise missile.

The third instance is a book by William Burrows and Robert Windrem entitled, Critical Mass: The Dangerous Race for Superweapons in a Fragmenting World (Simon and Schuster, 1994). I think they had a copy, although it isn’t exactly clear to me from the text.

That’s just for starters.  There are now plenty of copies floating around.  I am not certain, but I suspect there might be a copy in the Paul Leventhal files at UT-Austin. Someone should take a peek there, as well as with our friends at the National Security Archive.

But that’s what the comments are for!



I’ve got a new column coming out on the allegation that Iran has a covert enrichment site in the Tehran suburbs called “Lavizan-3.”  Along with Paul-Anton Krüger, I tracked down someone who actually visited the site recently. It is precisely what Iran says it is: a facility to make identification documents. NCRI is full of it.

Anyway, my friend Phil Baxter, a PhD student interested in open source work, put together a little rundown of the claims.  I found it really useful, not least because it confirmed a bunch of things I thought but was too lazy to write down.  So, here is Phil’s analysis.

The Lavizan-3 Site

Phillip Baxter

On Tuesday, the exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran announced that Iran had been hiding yet another nuclear-related facility. This time, in the heart of Tehran. The facility, known as the Lavizan-3 for the neighborhood in which it resides, is officially operated by Matiran Company and is used to process passports and identity cards. Unofficially, it is claimed to conduct illicit uranium enrichment using advanced centrifuges deep underground.

The group attempts to validate their claims with satellite images and photos supposedly taken inside the tunnel. The photos shows a vault door, which they also say is lined with lead to prevent radiation leaks. Additionally, that area is home to a number of licit Atomic Energy of Iran facilities and military housing, which they use to bolster their claim.

Wikimapia as even already updated their site with a new label for the site based on the group’s assertations.

However, there are several curious inconsistencies with their claim when examining the satellite imagery.

First, there is no electrical substation on site or high-tension power lines running to the facility. If the site is imagine a large scale advanced gaseous centrifuge operation at that location, they’re going to need quite a bit of power (most advanced centrifuges run at between 400-1000 amps). If you look at the facility at Natanz, there is a massive switching station to handle the power load. Here, doesn’t even look like a light-industry substation nearby.

The second inconsistency is brought to you by snow. If we look back to imagery from the winter months with snow on the ground, there aren’t any distinguishable dry spots on the below image that would indicate air venting. With any underground facility, going to need air circulated, which would warm the ground, melting snow. If underground where NCRI claims, you would see large areas of no snow in the circled area of the image. Air could be circulated through the buildings, but even those don’t appear to be able to provide the volume necessary.


Next, how do they move material in and out?! If we are talking an experimental facility, that’s one thing. But an enrichment plant is going to need the capability to drive materials easily to the locations they are needed. Doesn’t appear to be any tunnels for entrance and egress of trucks.

This last piece of evidence is bolstered a bit by the fact that after review over a dozen images over the last 10 years, there was never once an image taken with a motorized vehicle on the grounds. It seems a bit odd that a delivery truck carrying UF6 gas canisters are never spotted.

Additionally, if the facility has been in operation since 2008, you imagine that some trace of construction of a massive underground facility would linger. Nope. Not there. The ground where the stated facility is located is untouched since 2004.

One final point is on the lead lined door of the supposed facility. Uranium-238 and 235 are both undergo alpha-decay. A couple of sheets of paper would be fine. Inclusion of this tenuous evidence serves only to cast doubt on the group’s claims.

Is it is possible that Iran is hiding advanced centrifuges at a secret facility for the purpose of getting to a breakout point? Sure. Is it at Lavizan-3? Evidence really isn’t there.

Phil Baxter is currently a PhD student in the International Affairs, Science, and Technology program in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech. He completed his B.A. in Political Science and History at Grove City College and his M.P.P in Public Policy, with a focus in national security policy, from George Mason University. Prior to joining the Sam Nunn School, Phil worked in international security related positions in the Washington, DC area, including serving as a researcher at the National Defense University on a program focused on nuclear nonproliferation and as a Nonproliferation Fellow at the National Nuclear Security Administration. His current research focuses on international security issues, primarily with respect to nuclear weapons. In particular, Phil is interested in deterrence and strategic stability in the 21st century.



As fate would have it, I will be in DC for a talk about my new IISS Adelphi book, Paper Tigers: China’s Nuclear Posture. (IISS is being unbelievably civil about the fact that I am doing the talk at another institution.)

The talk is at 11:30 am-1:00 pm on Friday, February 27, 2015 , at the George Washington University (1957 E Street NW) . RSVP here.

I need to hurry back ASAP for family reasons, but will be around on Friday night.  Since the talk falls painfully close to my 40th birthday, I’ll be heading with some friends to the Big Hunt for a few beers after work (5-ish until late-ish) in a desperate effort to, however briefly, recapture my long lost youth.  If you’d like to see that trainwreck, I’d be delighted to let you buy me a beer and laugh at me as a fall down.


In 1958, the US Air Force lost a nuclear weapon off the coast of Georgia, near Tybee Island.  The weapon is thought to be irretrievably lost, despite a brief glimmer of hope in 2004.

So, I was pretty surprised to see a story claiming that a Canadian couple found it on a diving holiday.  But it’s not true.

Barbara Johnson of the World News Daily has a completely fictitious story about a Canadian couple finding the Tybee bomb on a diving holiday. Let’s be super clear: This story is complete and total bullshit.  Although, you know, you might have guessed that from the author’s bio: ”A former pornstar, she has rapidly reached the summit in her new profession thanks to her good looks and ‘social” skills.’” Her recent body of work includes stories like “California Man Gets 25-Pound Penile Implant to Become Pornstar.”

I’ve archived the story so you don’t have to give Ms. Johnson your clicks or worry about her deleting the post or its tell-tale pictures. It’s easy to establish the story is fake, using a reverse image search.

Here are the three pictures from the story: Two of “Navy” divers with the “bomb” and one of the happy couple who “found” it on a diving vacation.

A simple reverse-image search shows the images are taken from elsewhere on the internet.  The captions are just made up.

So, I think we can basically conclude that the story is a total fabrication.  The Tybee bomb is still missing. The reference images are below.

Update | Local WOTC reporter Don Logana picked up the phone and did what any good reporter would do.  ”I spoke with Tybee Police, Ocean Rescue and city officials,” Logana writes, “who all say they would have known if anything like this had happened.”



I’ve been trying to keep track of the really impressive rate of missile testing in the DPRK over the past year plus now — not least because I was the only weirdo for a long time arguing that North Korea was testing an extended-range Toksa. (You have no idea how much crap I got for this blog post  and column that in retrospect were correct, FYI. )

The pace of testing has been really high.  After a US official talked about “turning up the volume” on the message to Pyongyang to return to Six Party Talks, I suggested making sure it was loud enough for Kim to hear over all the rocket and artillery fire.

I ended up geolocating the Wonsan test site, which helped sort out some of the rocket types. I’ve noticed that Kim Jong Un has started appearing with a green backdrop that makes “over the shoulder” geolocation a bit more difficult. Perhaps a coincidence.

Anyway, below is my best guess at a running list of tests since the beginning of 2014. It’s not perfect, but I’d love to crowd-review it in the comments.  And, in case you like really, really loud music, I’ve stuck a little earcandy at the end for you.

2014-2015 DPRK Launches of Rocket Artillery and Ballistic Missiles




Type Description in ROK or DPRK press





300mm MLRS





Scud “Scud series”





Scud “Scud-C type”





240mm MLR





“300 mm KN-09″





Frog “assumed…to be the so-called FROG”





rockets “flown around 60 kilometers”





“30 FROG ground-to-ground rockets”





Nodong “Rodong class”





ER KN-02 “ultra-precision tactical guided missiles”





Scud “missiles travelled up to 500km”





“ presumed to be 300-millimeter … KN-09”





Scud “Scud-type”





Scud “two missiles … traveled around 500km”





Scud “Scud type”





“presumed … 300-millimeter” MLRS





ER KN-02 “ultra-precision high-performance tactical rocket”





ER KN-02 “presumed…new type of tactical missile”





ER KN-02 “novel tactical missiles”





KH-35 “ultra-precision anti-ship rocket”





ER KN-02 “new type of tactical missile…test-fired last year”

Sources: Yonhap News; South Korean Ministry of Defense, Japanese Ministry of Defense, United States Department of State. Thank you to Detlef Kroeze for assisting in the preparation of this table.

 Notes: There are 2 “phantom” rockets somewhere in the data set.  I am reasonably sure they are located in the artillery firings conducted between 16-23 March.  I have removed them from the cumulative total.  The Scud and Nodong launches are all accounted for. 

The ROK MND only belatedly admitted to misidentifying a number of extended-range (ER) KN-02 launches as being for a 300 mm MLRS. All references to a 300 mm MLRS have been removed.  In instances where I am not confident the system tested was an extended-range KN-02, I have left the missile type blank.


No, it’s not a rocket.

An Israeli television station has published a number of satellite images of a launch pad at the Imam Khomeini Space Center near Semnan in Iran that purport to show a new Iranian missile.

One problem: It’s not a rocket.

A simple understanding of how the launch pad works quickly demonstrates that the object in the image cannot be a missile.  It is an architectural element on the gantry, possibly an elevator.

I love satellite photographs, but you have to interpret them in context. It’s important to model the whole facility and understand how it operates. Otherwise, you make big mistakes.

If you want to watch the original Israeli newscast, it is here.

Norbert Brügge also has copies of the images. The darkish thing does sort of look rocket-ish, I suppose.

The layout of the Iranian launch pad in question, which remains under construction, is very similar to the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, India.  Here is a comparison of satellite images of the two sites located at 13°43’59.33″N, 80°14’5.31″E (India) and 35°14’11.90″N, 53°57’1.73″E (Iran).

For a launch, the rocket is positioned over the flame bucket, next to an umbilical tower.  Once the rocket is assembled, the gantry retracts along rails. This arrangement is the same at Semnan in Iran and Satish Dhawan in India. My colleagues at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Melissa Hanham and Dave Schmerler, created a little gif showing the normal operation of the Semnan launch pad in question with a rocket in the correct location. (It’s nice having such capable colleagues.)

Imam Gantry

CNS produced a whole video on the Imam Khomeini Space Center for NTI in case you are interested.

Obviously, the object in the Israeli TV picture can’t be a rocket. It’s on the wrong side of the gantry. The “rocket” would have to mysteriously travel through back wall of the gantry and then around the umbilical tower to reach the launch point.  An Iranian ICBM isn’t half as impressive as a missile that can pass through walls and steel lattice-work. Here is a comparison using one of the Israeli satellite images of Semnan and a ground-truth picture from the Indian launch site that explains the problem.

Just to sure, we looked at construction photos to confirm that, yes, the back side of the gantry is closed.  I found the image on the left; RAJ47 provided the other one.

So, clearly, it’s not a rocket. What is it?  Tal Inbar figures it is probably an elevator.  I am wishing for a bas-relief rocket in boost, but am not getting my hopes up.  Someone will buy a new satellite photograph of the backside of the gantry sooner or later and we’ll get a better look.  But it’s not a rocket.

There is still the issue of the NOTAM. That’s interesting, but more on that in a bit.


Some time ago, I came across a funny story — did you know Taiwan tried to disguise cruise missile deployments as delivery trucks?  Guess how well it worked?  Well, you’re reading about it here, aren’t you?

The story was actually reported in near real time in Taiwan.  But I’ve never see a full write up of the cruise missile and the deployment fiasco.  So, I thought I’d write the rare blog post and do a podcast.

The HF-2E Land Attack Cruise Missile

For many years, Taiwan was reportedly interested in developing long-range missiles that could strike targets in China.  Reports of the notional ballistic missile used names like Tien Ma (天馬) and Tien Chi (天戟) to describe a long-range ballistic missile that would be developed by the Chungshan Institute of Science and Technology based on the Tien Kung SAM technology. 

As best I can tell, Tien Ma was a real program that started in the 1980s, but  ”never got off the drawing board” and was canceled in the early 1990s.  At least that is what a senior engineer who worked on the program told Defense News‘s Wendell Minnick.  There were also reports of something called the Tien Chi in the early 2000s, but noting solid.  One US official told Minnick in November 2003 that “There is a lot of smoke, but no real fire yet.”

That’s because, as Dennis Gormley might have predicted, the Taiwanese were investing in a new 600 km-range land-attack cruise missile called the HF-2E.  The name is misleading since Taiwan has an Hsiung Feng (雄風) series of anti-ship cruise missile.  But as best I can tell, the HF-2E does not share a common technology lineage with the HF-2 and HF-3 missiles. (There are reports of other names for the HF-2E like Chi Sun. There are also reports that Taiwan is developing a 1200 km-range cruise missile called Yun Feng 雲風 or Cloud Peak. Its hard to keep them all straight and some of this stuff might be vaporware.)

At this point, Taiwan has announced one LACM that goes by the name HF-2E, although there are reports of longer-range variants under development.  The National Air and Space Intelligence Center helpfully confirmed the  existence of the missile in the 2013 edition of Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat.  Michael Tsai described, a former ROC Defense Minister, has also described the missile in very general terms, including a February 2008 test, in his book God Bless Taiwan.

By the way, Taiwan was going to show off the HF-2E at a 10/10 parade in 2007, but a leaked cable suggest the striped pants cookie pushers at AIT scotched the idea.  Killjoys! (There are also reports that the US really tried to kill the program by denying technology transfers to CSIST.)

So, we’re left to guess at what the HF-2E looks like. On the outside.

Turbofan engine?

Despite having not seen a nice picture of the missile, we may have pictures of the engine. Surprising, right?

Two sets of images of an engine that is probably for the HF-2E have appeared.  This engine bears more than a passing resemblance to the turbofan engine that powers the US Tomahawk missile. I haven’t been able to determine the exhibition or who took the pictures of the first set of images, but a second pair of images was part of a  press conference by CSIST, where it seems an official explicitly said it was for the HF-2E.  You can see the little CSIST “trident” logo on the display.

It ought to be possible to make some guesses about the capability of the system using the image of the engine, but I am pretty busy right now.  It’s on my list, but I wouldn’t be sad if someone beat me to it.

Deployment Locations

Now for the really fun part. I’ve seen reports that Taiwan may produce up to 500 HF-2E missiles.  According to Minnick, the missiles were deployed in three squadrons under the 601 Group. In January 2013, Minnick published the lat/long for the three squadrons deployed HF-2E cruise missiles, spotting launchers in the open at two sites:

* Missile Command Headquarters | Taishan, Taipei County | 25°02’13.59″N, 121°25’14.90″E

* CSIST Site | Sanxia, Taipei County | 24°54’10.41″N, 121°21’17.18″E

* Former Nike SAM site | Yangmei, Taoyuan County | 24°54’07.14″N, 121°07’05.27″E

Pretty quickly, a blogger using the handle Hojiyi correlated the bases to images, apparently circulating on the Mobile01 forum, of apparently military vehicles painted to look like civilian ones such as delivery trucks.  Here is one image Hojiyi created.

I haven’t been able to find the images at Mobile01; I suspect they may have been deleted. But too late!

The truck isn’t really all that well disguised.  It looks a lot like a known ROC missile launcher — notice the similarities in the chassis compared to an HF-3 launcher.  They are not identical, but they clearly bear a family resemblance.

The similarities are more pronounced when compared to real delivery vehicles used by FedEx, DHL and other delivery services in Taiwan.  Real delivery trucks tend to be smaller, commercially-available vehicles (Isuzu is a popular brand) that are marked with advertising information such as a website address or telephone number. You know, in case you wanted to use the service.

After the blogger’s analysis, a reporter from United Daily News tried to look the company up. Nothing. A guy running a betel nut stand — a nice bit of local Taiwanese color — told the reporter he always wondered why there were suddenly delivery trucks all over his relatively quiet neighborhood.

The Taiwan Defense Ministry no commented the United Daily news story (see comments), but an anonymous Taiwanese defense official told Minnick the idea was “idiotic” and “embarrassing.”

The Missile Command site, one of the deployment locations, is pretty amusing. Here is a view of the front gate.  You can see the Nike-Hercules missiles on display from the street.  You don’t have to guess what sort of base this is, thanks to the historical collection.

The picture that Hojiyi posted online from this base wasn’t the greatest.  Here is a better image.  You can clearly see the white cabs that are apparently painted to look civilian.  Other vehicles are tarped up.

Moreover, this deployment yard was built in 2009, which coincides perfectly with public reporting about the deployment of the HF-2E. The Taiwan Defense Ministry may have no commented the stories, but in 2013 they confirmed them — they covered the lot to make it harder to see who was home.  Here are three images from 2012, 2013 and 2014.  Now you see them, now you don’t.

Of course, now by then it was too late.  They might as well have painted “SECRET LACM DEPLOYMENT SITE” on the roof, in simplified characters.

One can see the same kind of construction to cover the LACM deployment area at Yangmei. There was less change at Sanxia, but perhaps that site was always covered up.  Minnick didn’t see any launchers out in the open at that site.  If I had to guess, I’d focus on the covered vehicle sheds at:  24°54’13.63″N, 121°21’25.47″E.

The big take away is that it is pretty dumb, in this day and age, to try to disguise ground-launched cruise missile launchers as delivery trucks.  It’s hard to make a fake that is convincing enough to fool everyone.  Sure, lots of people wouldn’t notice, but someone will and then they’ll buzzing about it online. (Ask the Office of Secure Transportation.)  Once Minnick reported that Taiwan had deployed the HF-2E to specific sites, someone like Hojiyi was bound to put two and two together.

The legend didn’t survive the slightest scrutiny by a reporter who quickly confirmed that “Red Bird Express” wasn’t a real company.

Still, this probably isn’t the last we’ve heard of such ideas.  The Russians market the Klub-K in a nifty, hard-to-identify shipping container.  And our friends at the Oryx blog have noted the Syrian Arab Army’s preference for Mercedes trucks when hauling missiles around.  But what the Taiwan case illustrates is that concealing a missile deployment requires a lot more work than simply adding livery to a military vehicle. In the modern era, where it is tremendously easy to snap a picture with your camera phone and there share it with thousands of people, Defense Ministries are going to have to try a lot harder than this.

Well, I guess the upside is that Taiwan can include the HF-2E in the next 10/10 parade.

Hmmm.  Seems legit.


Ok, so I am biased.  The Carnegie Corporation of New York has always been a supportive funder for the arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation field.  The whole staff is filled with people who’ve been nice to me. And Carl Robichaud is one of my favorite people in the field.

But still, this is an awesome idea.

The Carnegie Corporation just released an RFP …

“… for innovative research projects that examine how new and evolving weapons systems affect nuclear deterrence, and under what circumstances they could lead to nuclear crises.

We are looking for interdisciplinary, policy-relevant research that can help policymakers and the public grapple with these issues, and are especially interested in hearing from new voices.


The full details, including how to apply, are available on our website:

By the way, I am pretty sure they are serious about the “new voices” thing.  The hardest thing in this field is to develop relationships with funders.  This is really a golden opportunity for folks with a technical background or laboring in the some dark basement to dip a toe into the policy pool.