Revelations about an advanced Chinese missile test in August have startled many by the technological know-how displayed by China. In the test, a space rocket boosted a hypersonic glide vehicle, one capable of carrying a nuclear device, which circled the globe before impacting.
The startling news, presented in a story written by Demetri Sevasopolu and Kathrin Hille, was broken by the Financial Times on 17 October. The hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) was launched atop a Long March 2C rocket, and it flew through space in a low orbit before impacting about 24 miles from its target. China failed to divulge this 78th launch of a Long March 2C rocket, which occurred between other launches on 19 July and 24 August.
This underscores how China’s space program falls under the aegis of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). This project is led by the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics, a subdivision of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).
CASC’s achievement was certainly astounding. It was the first time China has conducted such a feat, and the pace at which Beijing is developing such technologies is stunning US officials.
This capability bears all the hallmarks of a fractional orbital bombardment system (FOBS). Russia was the first country to develop one in the mid-1960s, before fielding multiple-warhead missiles made its FOBS redundant. What is a fractional orbital bombardment system? It comprises an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that launches a warhead into low Earth orbit. When the payload approaches its target, an onboard retro rocket detaches the payload and causes it to return to Earth.
The trajectory of an FOBS is very different to that of a ballistic missile, which follows a parabolic curve with its apogee in space. FOBS, on the other hand, are more maneuverable and have a flatter trajectory, making them more difficult to track and hit.
Frank Kendall, the US Air Force Secretary, dropped hints last month that China was developing such a weapon. He noted China was making huge advances, including the “potential for global strikes…from space”. He said about FOBS: “If you use that kind of an approach, you don’t have to use a traditional ICBM trajectory. It’s a way to avoid defenses and missile warning systems.”
Indeed, a fielded FOBS-type missile and HGV would bypass existing American ballistic missile defenses (BMD).
Its early-warning radars are in Alaska, California, Greenland, Massachusetts and the UK, pointing north, east and south. Most interceptor missiles are based in Alaska, ready to face an attack coming from the north via the North Pole.
The problem for American BMD is that Chinese FOBS can perform strikes from unexpected directions and vectors – via the South Pole, for example. Furthermore, they would have virtually no limit to their range, and would be highly challenging for US midcourse interceptors to counter since they are designed for parabolic ballistic trajectories that have a known range for each flight stage. Thus, an FOBS would be the most formidable target for a BMD network.
In other words, this Chinese innovation will completely upset the apple cart of American missile defense if it becomes operational. Derek J. Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, tweeted, “China may have just achieved its own Sputnik moment against the US military. Hard to exaggerate how much of a game-changer this space-based capability might be if perfected. US missile defenses could become negated or even obsolete.”
It must be stressed that this was a test, rather than deployment of a fully developed FOBS. The fact that China used a space rocket rather than an ICBM showed it is still some time away from developing a militarized launch-and-delivery package. Presumably, this is not China’s final form of the weapon, and the August launch was an opportunity to test combinations and capabilities. China refused to comment on the test, merely saying, “We don’t have a global strategy and plans of military operations like the US does. And we are not at all interested in having an arms race with other countries. In contrast, the US has in recent years been fabricating excuses like ‘the China threat’ to justify its arms expansion and development of hypersonic weapons. This has directly intensified arms race in this category and severely undermined global strategic stability.”
Beijing insisted its military policy is purely “defensive in nature”, but this does not jibe with development of an offensive FOBS system. Normally an FOBS would carry a nuclear-armed re-entry vehicle, but China went one step further by using a hypersonic glide vehicle. This hybrid combination possesses great kinetic energy and allows a long, maneuvering, high-speed flight as it closes on a target.
China is not the only country to develop hypersonic weapons, but there is alarm over China’s stiffening nuclear posture. For example, three massive fields of siloes for ICBMs are under construction deep in China’s interior, and more might be uncovered. These three fields could hold more than 250 ICBMs if each silo were filled, perhaps some with such FOBS.
China had actually toyed with the idea of an FOBS in the 1960s. A feasibility study led to proposals for a three-stage DF-6 missile that was supposed to be operational by 1974.
However, a chain of technical problems forced its cancellation in late 1973. China’s August test also raises questions over China’s commitments as a party to the Outer Space Treaty. One principle enshrined in the treaty is that “states shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner”. A Chinese nuclear warhead orbiting the earth would represent a violation.
Joshua Pollack, Editor of the Nonproliferation Review, and Senior Research Associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, observed: “What’s a bit puzzling about this account is the use of a glider as an FOBS payload.
A glider can also evade defenses, but putting one in orbit a la FOBS renders that advantage moot. An intercontinental glider is designed to travel through the atmosphere, ‘under-flying’ exo- atmospheric intercept systems like the USA’s Ground-based Midcourse Defense. There seems like no good reason to put one into space.”
However, Pollack discerned a possible reason. “…Here’s a hypothesis. The weapon reportedly tested by China in August may be multifunctional, like Russia’s Sarmat, capable of delivering weapons via different trajectories.” That would mean it can carry various warheads, including HGVs, and attack the USA, or anyone else, over either the North or South Pole.
Pollack noted, however, “That seems like an over-engineered weapon: why not just have one glider-type missile and one FOBS-type missile, rather than a ‘Swiss Army knife’ missile?”
He mused, “Perhaps the idea is to have the flexibility to evade defenses in an unpredictable manner. After all, the US has begun testing its sea-based Aegis defense system against ICBM-class threats. Boats move around, and the US is always upgrading the interceptors. An over-designed missile with both glider and FOBS capabilities could be the PLA’s way of staying ahead of diversifying, improving defense systems.”
Pollack referred to the Russian 200+-tonne Sarmat multiple-warhead (e.g. HGVs) ICBM that can attack over either the North or South Poles. President Vladimir Putin said, “Sarmat is a formidable missile and, owing to its characteristics, is untroubled by even the most advanced missile defense systems.” One wonders whether North Korea might be trying to develop such an FOBS too.
It should not be surprising that Beijing is seeking to circumvent American BMD systems, even though they are designed more to counter small-scale attacks and rogue nations, rather than a mass attack by someone like Beijing. Nonetheless, this Chinese revelation shows that the more defense the US builds, the more creative a hostile nation will be to circumvent it.
China is currently not bound by any arms control treaty, and it is extremely reluctant to engage with Washington DC on the topic. Unfortunately, the risk of miscalculation between the two protagonists is growing.
Drew Thompson, a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, warned, “The US and China are not talking about their respective perceptions, concepts and investment at official, authoritative senior levels, despite considerable strategic nuclear developments on both sides.”
Indeed, the last military-to-military strategic nuclear dialogue was in 2008, while the most recent State Department-Ministry of Foreign Affairs talks were held ten years ago. Thompson lamented, “The two governments are not talking today, and do not understand one another. The risk of misperception is high, particularly in the midst of a security dilemma. Beijing feels that diverging interests in other sectors – political, economic, technological, as well as diverging interests in Taiwan – preclude strategic talks, which require a better political environment.”
“There is no trust in the bilateral relationship,” Thompson noted, “and I see no pathway to building trust. No pathway to a future bilateral arms control agreement (forget trilateral), or even military confidence-building measures. Neither side is interested in going down that path right now. The senior-most officers in the US military have little to no experience engaging Chinese counterparts, and virtually no understanding of Chinese strategic thought or nuclear concepts. China’s strategic posture is changing, its concepts are changing, and I don’t think US leaders understand what is happening, or how US actions affect China’s calculations.”
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Taliban expands interim cabinet, appoints 25 more
The Taliban has declared the extended interim cabinet in Kabul where they added more than two dozen members who are given the post of ministers and deputy ministers in the government. Local media reports quoted Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesman for the interim government, that the appointments in the interim government had been made on the orders from Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.
Among the prominent appointees includes Mohammad Abbas Akhund who has been appointed as acting minister of disaster management and Maulvi Ezatullah who has been appointed as the deputy chief of the Supreme Audit Office.
As many as 25 others have been appointed as deputy ministers, corps commanders, and heads of independent departments.
The new names in the interim cabinet of Islamic Emirate – Mullah Mohammad Abbas Akhund minister of Disaster Management; Haji Mullah Mohammad Esa Akhund, deputy minister of disaster management; Maulvi Shahabuddin Delavar, acting minister of mines and petroleum; Maulvi Qudratullah Jamal, Supreme Audit Office head; Maulvi Ezatullah, deputy chief of the Supreme Audit Office; Maulvi Mohammad Yousef Mastari, acting director of prisons; Mullah Habibullah Fazli, deputy director of prisons; Maulvi Keramatullah Akhundzadah, head of the Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission; Maulvi Ahmad Taha, deputy minister of border and tribal affairs; Maulvi Gul Zarin, head of Kochi affairs at the Ministry of Border and Tribal Affairs; Maulvi Hamdullah Zahed, procurement director; Sheikh Abdul Rahim, deputy director of procurement;; Sheikh Maulvi Abdul Hakim, deputy minister of martyr and disabled affairs; Maulvi Saeed Ahmad Shahidkhel, Mullah Faizullah Akhund, deputy minister of youth affairs at the Ministry of Information and Culture; Maulvi Saifuddin Tayeb, deputy minister of communications; Maulvi Fathullah Mansour, head of Kandahar airport; Mohammad Ismail, executive commander of the Military Court; Maulvi Esmatullah Asim, deputy head of the Red Cross; Maulvi Rahimullah Mahmoud; deputy minister of education; Maulvi Abdul Rahman Halim, deputy minister of rural rehabilitation and development; Maulvi Atiqullah Azizi, deputy minister of finance and administration at the Ministry of Information and Culture; Mullah Faizullah Akhund, deputy minister of youth affairs at the Ministry of Information and Culture; Maulvi Saifuddin Tayeb, deputy minister of communications; Maulvi Fathullah Mansour, head of Kandahar airport; Mohammad Ismail, executive commander of the Military Court; Maulvi Esmatullah Asim, deputy head of the Red Cross; Maulvi Rahimullah Mahmoud, deputy commander of the Al-Badar Corps in Kandahar; Maulvi Abdul Samad, deputy commander of Azam Corps in Helmand; Mullah Nasser Akhund, deputy minister of finance; and Maulvi Arefullah Aref, deputy minister of energy and water.
The Taliban took over Kabul from the US-backed Ashraf Ghani administration in August. Since then the country is facing an acute crisis with civil servants unpaid for months and the treasury unable to pay for imports bills. Afghanistan, a country strategically located in South Asia has been seeing instability for the last 40 years— a period that started with an invasion by the erstwhile Soviet Union in the late 1970s and ended with the withdrawal of the United States-led NATO troops on August 31.
China continues with propaganda over Covid-19
China has resorted to all types of propaganda techniques to shift the blame for the origin of the COVID-19 using different conspiracy theories through political statements, state-run news media, social media as well as using rap songs.
The latest conspiracy story blames lobsters from the US. A news article claimed a cargo containing 55 boxes of Boston lobsters, which had landed in Shanghai on November 11, 2019, maybe responsible for the origin of COVID-19. The news portal named Sina said the traceability of coronavirus pointed at the cold chain of US seafood products, The HK Post reported. “Therefore, it is entirely possible for the virus to attach to the cold chain packaging of this batch of seafood products in the United States and enter the South China seafood market,” reads the article.
China has been denying the reports that coronavirus leaked from the laboratory in Wuhan. Meanwhile, in November 2020, Chinese authorities had claimed that coronavirus was found on the shrimps imported from Saudi Arabia.
Earlier, China also suspended beef imports from Brazil. The state-run Global Times said the Brazilian beef sent to the Wuhan market was found with active coronavirus, The HK Post reported.
Beijing has even blamed the US military for leaking coronavirus into China.
Zhao Lijian spokesperson for the Chinese foreign affairs ministry said “It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation!”, The HK Post reported.
It further reported that another such spokesperson Hua Chunying demanded that a team of international experts including the World Health Organisation (WHO) be allowed to inspect the biological lab at Fort Detrick in Maryland.
The propaganda to frame the US was aimed at diverting blame from China as most of the world population believed Wuhan was the origin of the coronavirus. “Right after the Wuhan lab leak became a credible hypothesis in the US, official media in China basically doubled down on allegations that a US military lab could be the origin point of the pandemic,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow at New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. The Wuhan Lab is very close to the Wuhan wet market, which is considered as the source of COVID-19, The HK Post reported.
PAKISTAN JOINS HANDS WITH TALIBAN TO DESTROY AFGHAN IDENTITY, CULTURE: FORMER PAK SENATOR
A former senator of Pakistan from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has accused Islamabad of joining hands with the Taliban to “destroy” Afghan identity and its culture.
In an interview with the Amsterdam-based European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS), Afrasiab Khattak, who is also a Pashtun rights activist said,
“Pakistan expanded into Afghanistan through its strategic depth policy. During the Afghan civil war, the Pakistani military establishment, aided by the US and the Arab Gulf States, enrolled Afghan refugees in Pakistani madrassas to brainwash them with extremist Islamist ideologies”. Khattak believes that these measures were aimed at ultimately emphasising the Afghans’ Muslim identity over their identity as Afghans and Pashtuns, and thereby deconstructing the Afghan/Pashtun component of their communal identity.
The Taliban, according to Khattak, were thus programmed to destroy Afghan identity and thereby serve the Pakistani military establishment’s aim of ultimately transforming Afghanistan into a cultural extension of Pakistan.
From the late 1980s onwards, this strategic depth policy was also expanded towards India’s Jammu & Kashmir. Here too, the identity of Kashmiris as Muslims was and is prioritised over other identity markers.
However, as Khattak argued, this is a “suicidal policy” for Pakistan, because while Pakistan invests all its efforts in militarisation, its economic development eventually deteriorates. While Pakistan has the potential of becoming even a regional economic power, this strategic policy of Talibanisation has hindered its socio-economic development.
He further criticised Pakistan for historically using Afghan refugees as a political tool and turning these refugees into members of the Taliban against Kabul when relations with respective Afghan governments were strained. India and Pakistan, he argued, must reconcile as the staunch anti-Indianism in Pakistan legitimises military rule that in turn undermines democracy.
The same was said for Pakistan’s relations with Afghanistan: Pakistan’s high military expenditures, Khattak argued, curtail Pakistan’s political and economic development. The historical role of the Pakistani military establishment embodies the empowered role of the armed forces under colonial rule.
AFGHANISTAN: AROUND 15 INJURED IN BLAST AT MOSQUE IN NANGARHAR
At least 15 people have been injured in a blast that took place on Friday in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, reported local media.
Locals said that the blast was caused by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) planted in a mosque during prayers at the Shadal Mosque in eastern Nangarhar, Pajhwok Afghan News reported citing a source. Three of the people injured in the blast are in critical condition, Syed Qayum Shinwari, a resident of the area, told Pajhwok Afghan News.
The developments came days after three people were killed and several others sustained injuries in twin blasts in the capital of Nangarhar province.
Meanwhile, Two armed men on Friday killed one person and injured another in an attack in the capital of the northern Kunduz province in Afghanistan.
The armed men attacked shop owners in Kunduz city on Friday, killing one on the spot and injuring another, Xinhua news agency reported citing locals. A provincial government official has confirmed the incident, saying a probe has been initiated into the case.
Separately, another blast was reported in Nangarhar province on Friday, Pajhwok Afghan News reported citing a source
Two explosions went off in Jalalabad city in Nangarhar followed by a shooting incident, Russian news agency Sputnik reported citing an eyewitness on Sunday.
PAK GOVT REMAIN IN DENIAL DESPITE WORSENING ECONOMIC SITUATION
Despite the worsening state of the economy in the country, and rising unemployment, Pakistani authorities remain in denial mode and Prime Minister Imran Khan keeps telling people in his every other address, not to be “disheartened”.
The denial of the authorities continues despite the reports from the World Bank and IMF stating that Pakistan features in the list of 20 countries where inflation is at its peak ranking 6, according to Vernacular media report. This year, the unemployment in Pakistan stands at 9.8 per cent, which is expected to be around 9.4 per cent in 2022.
Despite such figures, Imran Khan said that the country will get over such times.Pakistan will sail through the rough times only when the government takes other experienced politicians and financial experts along with the opposition, reported the vernacular media .
The Imran Khan government has to leave its confrontationist attitude to the Opposition if it wants to regain the trust of the people.
The rate of inflation in Pakistan could lead to unrest and protests against the Imran Khan government.
Imran Khan had vowed to lift people out of poverty before gaining power as he promised the creation of 10 million jobs. Instead, he announced financial support of USD3 billion from Riyadh after his visit to Saudi Arabia last month.
Imran Khan blamed inflation in the international market for the miseries of the people and announced a “relief package” of 120 billion Pakistani rupees providing subsidies on the essential food items, wrote Shah Meer Baloch in The Guardian.
“The package is a drop in the ocean and will do little to help the mass of ordinary people. The pressure on Imran Khan will continue to mount because we have seen further price hikes, such as of fuel and sugar, after the announcement of the package,” The Guardian quoted an economist, Khurram Hussain as saying.
Journalist sentenced to 11 years in prison
A Myanmar military court has sentenced US journalist Danny Fenster to 11 years in prison, media reports said on Friday.
37-years-old Fenster has been detained in Myanmar for more than five months and denied bail, CNN reported. Fenster, who hails from Michigan is being held in Insein Prison in Yangon city, since his May 24 arrest.
The American broadcaster said charges on Fenster include visa breaches, unlawful association with an illegal group and incitement.
He was also given a fine in the local currency equivalent to USD 50. The American journalist is one of about 100 scribes detained since the coup. Around 30 remain behind bars, the CNN report said.
“There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges. His legal team clearly demonstrated to the court that he had resigned from Myanmar Now and was working for Frontier from the middle of last year,” said Thomas Kean, editor-in-chief of Frontier Myanmar, one of the country’s top independent news outlets.
“Everyone at Frontier is disappointed and frustrated at this decision. We just want to see Danny released as soon as possible so he can go home to his family.”
According to his lawyer, Fenster was hit with two new criminal charges under the country’s sedition and terrorism laws, which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
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