January 20, 2012

Hypersonic Missile Research and Doctrine

Artist's conception of HyStrike in flight and internally. This is one hoped for practical product of hypersonic missile research.
On July 11, 2007 I did a post on progress of Australia-DARPA "HyCause" hypersonic ramjet research. Something that may now be using results from that research (or working in parallel) is the "HyFly" test series.

From Defence Talk.com, October 6, 2008 comes the following:

ST. LOUIS: Boeing has been awarded an $18.3 million follow-on contract from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to conduct a third powered flight of the HyFly hypersonic missile. HyFly is powered by a Dual Combustion Ramjet (DCR) engine.

"The DCR engine is designed to accelerate HyFly and sustain flight at Mach 6," said Carl Avila, director of Advanced Weapons and Missile Systems for Boeing. "This will be a major step in the development of a weapon system that could revolutionize the military's ability to respond rapidly to time-critical threats hundreds of miles away. It will demonstrate that hypersonic weapons are viable and will put us one step closer to making a high-speed strike weapon available to the warfighter."

This third HyFly test follows two initial flights that, while partially successful, yielded significant data that will be useful in completing a successful test flight. The first flight in September 2007 successfully tested stage separation, inlet cover ejection, and DCR engine ignition. A software error prevented missile acceleration, ending the test.

For the second test in January 2008, HyFly successfully boosted to Mach 3.5. The missile achieved stage separation and inlet cover ejection, but the DCR engine failed to light due to a malfunction in the fuel system unrelated to the engine. HyFly remained under control during the flight and successfully completed a demonstration of terminal guidance accuracy.

Both flights were launched from a Boeing-operated F-15E aircraft over the sea range at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, Point Mugu, Calif.


The HyFly project may well by ahead of any hypersonic research being conducted by Russia or France or ahead of any Russian-Indian hypersonic "BrahMos-2" research. About BrahMos-2 see my post of August 31, 2008.
My estimation is that proponents of hypersonic missiles see them (in mainly classified specs) as being used for extremely rapid reaction and short to intermediate range. An early US goal was 700 nautical miles (1,300kms). Further than that ballistic missiles may have the edge.
Unlike ballistic missiles hypersonic could be guided by an operator right onto target or (unlike ballistic) exploded or disarmed midair if a decision is made not to hit the target. Alternatively (unlike ballistic but like subsonic) they could be redirected mid flight to different targets.
All launch modes, fixed and static, land, sea and air are possible. Of this subs operating close to enemy coasts may be a particularly suitable scenerio.
For Australia I think hypersonic cruise missiles fired from a future conventional "baby Virginia" sub may be what we'll have by 2030. Australia probably won't be realistic enough to go to nuclear powered subs with small ballistic missiles - but hopefully the upward firing cruise missile launch tubes could be reconfigured to ballistic (like the Indian ATV plans).
So in that sense hypersonic may partly be seen as a compromise by "peaceful nations" short of (or before) going ballistic.
Unlike ballistic (assumed nuclear if sent by a nuclear power) there is no such assumption that a hypersonic missile will be armed with a nuclear warhead.
Just like subsonic cruise missile doctrine shifted from purely nuclear to mixed warhead uses hypersonic may be mixed - although the expectation might lean towards nuclear till experience proves otherwise.
The technical difficulties of long distance hypersonic flight are still extreme. They centre on the missile overheating through friction in the dense lower atmosphere. Something for the aerodynamicists and metallurgists to nail by 2012 or so.

January 19, 2012

Australia 2009 Defence White Paper - Submarine Bonanza

One of six existing Australian Collins Class (to be replaced around 2020 to 2027)
Australia's long awaited 2009 2009 Defence White Paper Defending Australia in the Asian Century: Force 2030 is according to the Media Release a “...complete re-examination of Defence strategy, capabilities, business processes and resources,..”. It covers a great deal of ground. I think it does it well.

About the India Ocean the White Paper says in part:

“[page 37, 4.43 The Indian Ocean will have greater strategic significance in the period to 2030. It will become an increasingly important global trading thoroughfare, particularly for energy supplies between Asia and the Middle East.
There are a number of significant inter-state and intra-state conflicts along its periphery that have the potential to draw in other powers. Over time, and in response to these factors as well as transnational security issues such as piracy, the Indian Ocean is likely to host a larger military (particularly naval) presence.
A number of major naval powers are likely to increasingly compete for strategic advantage in this crucial maritime region. Over the period to 2030, the Indian Ocean will join the Pacific Ocean in terms of its centrality to our maritime strategy and defence planning.”

The most surprising and significant decision in the White Paper is to build a class of 12 large conventional submarines, hence:

"page 64. 8.40 In the case of the submarine force,the Government takes the view that our future strategic circumstances necessitate a substantially expanded submarine fleet of 12 boats in order to sustain a force at sea large enough in a crisis or conflict to be able to defend our approaches (including at considerable distance from Australia, if necessary), protect and support other ADF assets, and undertake certain strategic missions where the stealth and other operating characteristics of highly-capable advanced submarines would be crucial. Moreover, a larger submarine force would significantly increase the military planning challenges faced by any adversaries, and increase the size and capabilities of the force they would have to be prepared to commit to attack us directly, or coerce, intimidate or otherwise employ military power against us.

[page 70] 9.3 ...12 new Future Submarines, to be assembled in South Australia. This will be a major design and construction program spanning three decades, and will be Australia's largest ever single defence project. The Future Submarine will have greater range, longer endurance on patrol, and expanded capabilities compared to the current Collins class submarine. [hence heavier] It will also be equipped with very secure real-time communications and be able to carry different mission payloads such as uninhabited underwater vehicles.

9.4 The Future Submarine will be capable of a range of tasks such as anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare; strategic strike; mine detection and mine-laying operations; intelligence collection; supporting special forces (including infiltration and exfiltration missions); and gathering battlespace data in support of operations.

9.5 Long transits and potentially short-notice contingencies in our primary operational environment demand high levels of mobility and endurance [hence Air Independent Propulsion] in the Future Submarine. The boats need to be able to undertake prolonged covert patrols over the full distance of our strategic approaches and in operational areas. They require low signatures across all spectrums, including at higher speeds. The Government has ruled out nuclear propulsion for these submarines.

9.6 The complex task of capability definition, design and construction must be undertaken without delay, given the long lead times and technical challenges involved. The Government has already directed that a dedicated project office be established for the Future Submarine within Defence, and will closely oversee this project.

9.7 The strategic importance of this capability is such that Australian industry involvement will need to be factored into the design, development and construction phases, and the sustainment and maintenance life cycle of these boats, which will extend well into the 2050s and possibly beyond. The Government

[p71] 9.7 continued - will give early consideration to the complex capability definition and acquisition issues involved in this substantial undertaking. The Government will also consider matters such as basing and crewing, and will seek early advice from Defence on those and other issues.

9.8 For this project to succeed, we need to engage with a number of overseas partners during the design and development phase. In particular, the Government intends to continue the very close level of Australia-US collaboration in undersea warfare capability. This will be crucial in the development and through life management of the Future Submarine.

9.9 The Government has also agreed to further incremental upgrades to the Collins class submarines throughout the next decade, including new sonars, to ensure they remain highly effective through to their retirement. The construction program for the Future Submarines will be designed to provide the Government with the option to continue building additional submarines in the 2030s and beyond, should strategic circumstances require it.

9.10 The Government is determined to respond decisively to deficiencies in the current availability of operationally ready submarines. The Navy will embark on a major reform program to improve the availability of the Collins class fleet, and will also ensure that a solid foundation is laid for the expanded future submarine force. These reforms will change how we attract, remunerate, train and manage the submarine workforce, and improve the deployment and maintenance of the submarines."

- while earlier boats may launch Tomahawks (along with Harpoons, torpedoes and mines) through conventional, horizontal torpedo tubes later boats in the new class of 12 (say number 5 onwards) might have an 8 (or so) tube vertical launch system (VLS) for Tomahawks.
- 12 new conventional submarines, mainly launched 2020 to 2035

- large conventional probably 4,000 tons surfaced, 4,500 tons submerged (hence larger than the Collins Class at 3,000 submerged). Note that this will be more modern than the closest foreign boats, the four 4,200 ton submerged Japanese AIP Soryu Class submarines (one launched this year).
- requirement for longer range means more diesel fuel so more weight. If the submarines were merely defensive then long range would be less important. New emphasis on land attack ability with Tomahawks implies range sufficient to move underwater near the Asian mainland (China, Pakistan, a nuclear Iran and maybe India (sorry ;) and possibly against a resurgent Japan. Once a launch zone near the mainland is reached, a loiter time of 3 to 4 weeks would be ideal. This is a deterrent only - so Australia wouldn't be a pushover if countries wished to take our resources by force or blockade.

- Given an opponent's satellite and other sensors ability to detect snorkelling any self-respecting conventional sub needs an Air Independent Propulsion system (AIP) allowing much longer submerged operation (weeks rather than days).
- Australia may build a development of the Collins Class design with Dutch, German (HDW), French, Spanish (watch the S-80) and/or US assistance. Language barriers, possible strategic competition would probably rule out South Korean and Japanese (add Japanese constitutional restrictions) designs.
- Lack of recent US experience in conventional propulsion or with AIP would reduce its chances of being the only foreign contracting nation. Yet the US is a "dark horse" there were many problems with the Collins on hull quieting and cavitation that the US worked out. Part of Kockums problems (I think) stemmed from enlarging a smaller Swedish design to Collins size. A noisy, hull resulted. The US has more experience with quieting measures pertaining to large ocean going hulls. Where the Paper talks about US assistance on submarines and that is likely to come in the form of intergrating weapons, sonar, command and control amounting to combat system (Raytheon is the existing contractor to the Collins for this). electromagnetic/electronic signature minimisation (stealth) and weapons fit General Dynamics Electric Boat perhaps Northrop Grumman (if it lives down "Wedgetail").

- subsonic Tomahawk missiles are stealthy and part of an EW attack, however, a much faster mach 2+ weapon (retaining 2,000+ km range) would eventually be preferable for surprise land attack, quick response and to evade anti missile defences, such as the Russian or Chinese sourced S-400 (or equivalent) SAMs.
It is likely that no Future Submarine will be launched before 2025 if competitive selection, design, production, and Collins retirement cycles are taken into account. Furthermore most Australian politicians mark time in 3 year electoral cycles so there are few certainties over ten to twenty year time spans. Given the state of the Australian economy (in recession) a reduction to just six Future Submarines by 2030 is quite possible.

After talking of 100 F-35s for the Air Force (RAAF) and the 12 submarines for the Navy the White Paper did not discuss needs for the army to the same extent. A tradeoff towards Army needs (especially in Afghanistan, East Timor, maybe the Solomons, one day PNG) may reduce the Air Force and Navy wish list. Though I still think more capable submarines for Australia are a very manpower effective way to wage medium intensity and high intensity (nuclear) warfare.

As someone who sees submarines as a key defensive and offensive weapon for a maritime country like Australia I feel satisfied (almost vindicated) that the Australian government is leaning heavily towards submarines for our defence.


January 18, 2012

Aussie Scramjet Missile - Early Development

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

TALOS booster rocket carrying the HyCAUSE scramjet experimental payload lifts off the launch pad at Woomera in Australia

Scramjets are air-breathing supersonic combustion ramjet engines. Australia's Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) successfully launched one on June 15, 2007 [Aussie time].

The TALOS rocket reached an altitude of 530 kilometres before re-entering the earth's atmosphere allowing the HyCAUSE scramjet engine to be successfully ignited. The scramjet engine experiment reached speeds of up to Mach 10, approximately 11,000 km per hour, or ten times the speed of sound.
The flight took place at the Woomera Test Facility in South Australia under a collaborative effort between the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and DSTO, also representing the research collaborators in the Australian Hypersonics Initiative (AHI).

"This test has obtained the first ever flight data on the inward-turning scramjet engine design," said Dr. Steven Walker, Deputy Director of the Tactical Technology Office at DARPA. "DARPA will compare this flight data to ground test data measured on the same engine configuration in the US."

The technology has the potential to put numerous defence and civilian aerospace applications within our reach during the next couple of decades.

Hypersonics is the study of velocities greater than five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) and could have a significant impact on Defence as well as on international transport and future access to space.

Future defence applications for hypersonic vehicles include long-range time critical missions (ie missiles, bombers and UAVs) with civilian applications including "low-cost" [thats what they all say!] satellite launching and high-speed aircraft.

As part of its continuing commitment to a research program in Hypersonics, in November last year DSTO signed the $74 million Hypersonics International Flight Research Experimentation (HiFire) Agreement with the United States Air Force. Up to ten Hypersonic flight experiments are planned to occur at Woomera over the next five years under the agreement.
It should be noted that scientists and engineers at the University of Queensland did early, groundbreaking research for the Australian scramjet effort.


The scramjet missile and aircraft is only at an early stage of development. Most technical problems need to be ironed out before it becomes a practical flight technology.

A hypersonic scramjet cruise missile within the next 20 years may fill a gap in Australia offensive [known as "defence"] capability.
Scramjets will likely propel missiles first, since that application requires only cruise operation after a rocket pack gives the missile sufficient speed for the scramjet to kick in.

The prospect of commercial passenger scramjets (say Sydney to London) or bombers will take longer to develop as rocket assist is not conducive to pilot or passenger comfort or even survival. Rocket assisted scramjet aircraft taking off horizontally in populated areas would also be enormously noisy.

In terms of military uses current Harpoon missiles in Australia's armoury (and perhaps Tomahawk cruise missiles if ordered one day) are relatively slow to target and vulnerable to the latest Russian produced anti aircraft missiles which may, on day, be exported to regional countries. Something faster is needed.

Traditional ballistic missiles (which also happen to be hypersonic) may be too large and too controversial to be fielded.
Scramjets are an "explosive neutral" technology, so far. With scramjets approaching the hypersonic speed of ballistic missiles you get speed but not the heat/sigint signatures of ballistic missiles. Hence an enemy won't necessarily overreact as it won't automatically assume that it is under nuclear attack from almost always nuclear tipped ballistic missiles..
Scramjet missiles may be favoured if if they are small enough to be launched from existing Australian platforms including:

January 17, 2012

Blackstar & the Space Shuttle as Nuclear Bombers

Imaginary depiction of a Blackstar mission.

Thanks Anonymous

For the information on Polyus. This is interesting but I'm thinking more along the lines of military spaceplanes like Blackstar with a nuclear missiles to Earth capability.

Blackstar may well not exist. However it would be interesting to know:

- whether a project ever existed?

- whether and why the project stopped (like FOBS, Polyus and perhaps Aurora)?

- if Blackstar is still a slow research project how quickly could it become a mature, deployable technology?

Why is the Space Shuttle still flying?

It bothers me that 33% (2 out of 6) operational Space Shuttles (STS) have blown up (Challenger then Columbia) and each mission now seems a dangerous drama - YET the US still operates them.

Even the national prestige argument has become more minor because the public is bored by them and a third have failed/crashed.
Why would any country operate a manned device with such a murderous failure rate?

The answer may lie in: the Space Shuttles giving the US unique military capabilities (ie: capabilities Russia and China don't have).

We need to keep in mind the USAF:

- planned military spaceplanes before the Shuttle

- wished to acquire Shuttles (to be launched at Vandenberg) for military purposes, and

- used Shuttles for spy satellite deployment.

There may, however, be a more compelling capability - that is as a first strike orbiting platform for nuclear bombs/missiles to "win" nuclear wars.

Without pressing military capabilities the economics and dangers of the Shuttle have never made sense and never will.

Do you have any information to support/refute these theories?


January 16, 2012

Someone went up to Ft. Meade around 1965


Memories of a signals employee from 1965

Listening for a Sound That Won't Be There

by Jamie Fraser-Paige
by Jamie Fraser-Paige
Once upon a time we fought a war in Southeast Asia, a war we pretty much lost, no matter what Nixon said. Let's not get into the whole set of lies and half-truths that got us into that war. Nor the lies that kept us there or the lives thrown away and the patriotism squandered. All on an unwinnable war far from our shores whose end result was a peace that we could have had thirty years before. I mention the war only to provide context for a small glimpse into how we fought that war in the intelligence arena and why so much of today looks so very, very familiar to me.

I was drafted in September of 1965, one of the 50 thousand that Johnson requested to escalate the war in Vietnam. I didn't have any strong feelings one way or another about the war. I wanted to believe that we were doing something good and noble over there. Call me naïve, I probably was. I grew up reading about World War Two and watched Korea unfold on the screens of the local movie houses in the newsreels – I'm of the last generation so privileged. I felt it was my duty to serve my country when asked. I admired the writing of Robert Heinlein and found the premise of granting suffrage only to veterans that he put forth in Starship Troopers to make some degree of sense.

When I went down for my induction, I opted to enlist, choosing the Army Security Agency as my branch. I made this choice because my cousin had been in the ASA and several of my other friends had served either in that branch or in the Air Force equivalent. I had a facility for language and was fascinated with the world of intelligence. Blame Ian Fleming and Graham Greene for that. I tested well, too well in fact to be trained in any of the languages I really wanted like German (which I'd studied along with Spanish in High School) Russian, Czech, Hungarian and so forth. I scored in the top one percent on the Army Language Aptitude Test, the ALAT. I was doomed to be sent to learn an Asian language. Even that might have been alright. Chinese, Korean, Japanese – Japanese, especially since I liked the culture and had some family history in the area. But no. The Army had other ideas.

I was selected to be trained as a Lao linguist and area analyst. I spent thirty-nine weeks in the Foreign Service Institute – or rather in a contract class taught in some anonymous high-rise in Alexandria, VA – on civilian status learning the language of Laos, a language spoken by only about six million people. I did reasonably well, spending six hours in class each day and an additional two to four in the language lab working with tapes. My classmates and I spoke Lao among ourselves, sitting in bars and clubs in the District and being enigmatic.

I went up to Ft. Meade, assigned to the ASA unit located just outside the grounds of the NSA headquarters known as the Puzzle Palace, America's codebreakers. America's eavesdroppers, phone tappers, cable interceptors. It's called Signal Intelligence – SigInt – and it was considered a very important part of our defense against the great enemy against whom we were struggling, World Communism. I learned my trade there under a very informal Navy Chief Petty Officer who insisted we all call him "Bob." It was anything but glamorous, but you knew that, right? Intelligence is mostly a lot of drudgery unless you're a field agent and even then there's more paperwork than anything else. For that matter, that's true of a lot of jobs that people who don't do them consider exciting and glamorous. Like being a cop. I've done that, too, for that matter.

While I was at NSA, assigned to the Southeast Asia desk, clipping newspaper articles that mentioned my unit's target, the Lao Neutralist Army of Kong Le, there was a major flap in the Royal Lao Air Force. I was at my desk, going through the day's papers when I came across a front-page story about an attempted coup in Laos. At dawn of 22 October 1966, under the command of General Thao Ma, commander of the Tactical Air Force, eight RLAF T-28s set out to strike different targets in Vientiane. I was about to call my boss when some of the upstairs brass strode into the area demanding to know why they had to learn about something like this in the morning's paper.

Since it was my desk they seemed to be gathering at, I attempted to answer. I said that, in all probability the coup attempt – Ma's second in a little over a year – had been a closely held operation with radio silence maintained. Since we had no real assets on the ground and no penetration of the Lao military, there was no way for us to know until it was fait accompli. They wanted to know how a Reuter’s correspondent had gotten the story so quickly and I told him that he was probably standing around the air field when the planes took off from Luang Prabang where he and his most loyal pilots had essentially been exiled. He'd seen the direction of flight – toward Vientiane, not Vietnam – and followed up. "How did he get this information and how could he follow up so quickly?" they asked. "Well," I replied, "they probably pay him a pretty good bonus for scoops like this." They were not amused.

People were not all that amused with General Ma, either. His sortie attacked two ammunition depots and the main command of the armed forces along with the homes of several Generals. Thirty-six people died on the ground and dozens more were wounded. Then the American and British Ambassadors interfered and forced the general to give up. He and 12 of his pilots then fled to Thailand, where – after several months in prison – all were granted political asylum. The T-28s were repainted with the Royal Thai Air Force markings and flew missions in support of various secret wars in the area.
Now, the relevance of this to the present situation is this: We have come to rely heavily on technology. We can eavesdrop on just about anyone, anywhere at any time. We have super computers and thousands of specialists in a variety of fields who can take any piece of Electronic Intelligence and process it, mine it for every bit of information and then make pretty good guesses as to what it means. But the best way to foil us is to use low tech. Meet face to face. Plan the operation before you start, meeting in small cells with little chance of penetration and then carrying out the mission with no further discussion outside that cell. No phone calls, no radio transmission, no email, nothing that requires technology or lends itself easily to technological interception.

The concern currently over the illegal use of no-warrant intercepts of domestic conversations is certainly valid, but it's not the first time we've done something like this. In theory, NSA must have a warrant. Of course, the CIA isn't supposed to operate domestically either, but they do. The practical ex-spook, ex-cop some days yearns for the freedom to use any means necessary to do the job. There's been an internal struggle for years with the two sides of my personality and the civil libertarian always wins, damn his eyes. In my opinion, no amount of wiretaps, radio intercepts, fancy programs to sift among the millions of transmissions of all kinds, analog, digital or any combination legal or illegal will prevent or even warn us of the next terrorist attack if they are following good practice. That's the really sad part. And it makes you wonder – it certainly makes me wonder – if the Bush administration knows that. I think they do and that means that all of this is a ploy to be able to control the American people. And that's not how it is supposed to be. Well, I told you I was naïve.

February 14, 2006

January 14, 2012

Send in the Marines - boost Australia's little Defence Force

The United States Marines - already (semi) based in Robertson Barracks in Australia's Northern Territory. Some tote 40mm Semi-Automatic Grenade Launchers (good for home defence!! :)

OPINION PIECE - Defence priority needs to swing back to our Asia-Pacific neighbours

"The next [Australian] defence white paper presents regional opportunities and challenges.
W are not about to be attacked, but the region looks less stable: US-China relations are developing a harder edge to military competition. China, Japan, India and other Asia-Pacific countries are vigorously modernising their forces. The potential for at-sea confrontations over resource claims in the South China Sea is rising.

Space and cyber spaceADF stabilisation operations in the future.

...Like the US, and after a decade of fighting in the Middle East, [Australia needs] to pivot back to Asia, backed by a plan for comprehensive ADF engagement in the region. A high priority should be building a deep strategic relationship with Indonesia....The white paper should also aim to rebuild a much closer relationship with Papua New Guinea. [Pete believes the development of West Papua is an important matter in the Indonesia relationship].

... we need more emphasis on defence engagement with North and Southeast Asia. Our military and defence civilian presence in our embassies in Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Hanoi and other capitals needs to grow...

A very senior Chinese officer recently told me that the People’s Liberation Army sees its relationship with the ADF as second only to its deep ties with Pakistan. While that is an unusual observation, it shows we can build regional defence ties in ways that gradually increase trust. ... we have a deeper stake in the long term security of our region than in the stability of remote southern Afghanistan.

[we need to] speed up delivering on our new defence co-operation plans with the US. There is no more vital strategic interest for Australia than to ensure the US remains deeply engaged in Asian security. Moreover, it is better to see the US working with its allies in preference to one possibility which might see Washington and Beijing working as a group of two, cutting deals on regional security.

It escapes no one in the region that a large rotational US marine and air force presence in Australia’s north would massively complicate an adversary’s plan to do us harm. Co-operating with the US sets a benchmark standard for the AD F’s level of military capability below which we must not fall.

Last, the US presence also enhances engagement and confidence in Southeast Asia. The new white paper should exp and this cooperation, for example by committing to strengthen the runway of Cocos Island to support Australian and US operations.

...The planned feasibility studies into the future submarine make it clear that no decision on submarine numbers can be made until final approval of the project in 2017.

If there is no possibility of reviewing the size and scale ot the biggest-ticket Defence equipment proposals ~the submarines, joint strike fighters and some of the major shipbuilding proposals we will end up with an ADF built around a small number of costly platforms and gaps in every other part of the force...." Complete analysis.

This articles tie in with many previous posts on this blog including: Cocos Islands and Stirling submarine base , Indonesia-Australia-maybe China exercises, China, India, Pakistan nuclear relationship and Japan missile progress and Australian Force Posture Review and UAV issues.

January 11, 2012

China and Quadrilateral Strategic Concerns

1st Published Wednesday, November 12, 2008


China's Type 093 "Shang" Class nuclear attack submarine - capable of laying mines, firing torpedoes and launching cruise missiles on coastal cities.
Nerpa Accident Sets Back Indian Submarine Program :

"The thing I was trying to understand, China is an important partner of Australia(trade).

I wanted to know the strategic value of joint exercises recently concluded in Bay of Bengal, conducted by navies of Japan, US, India, Australia, Singapore. Its no secret it was directed towards China. I understand that US, India, Japan have direct security implications.

But I don't understand how Chinese Navy(or China) bothers Australia and Singapore since they aren't directly bothered and neither within reach(at least Australia).

Also what implications it has for Aussies? The possible reasons I was able to mine is to limit their entry in Indian ocean and Australia being US ally.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008".

My response is:your questions touch on several broad matters:
Any multinational naval exercise has diplomatic, combat coordination and efficiency objectives.
The joint exercise that you are probably referring to was Malabar 2007 (see my
article in News Weekly
). While I understand Malabar 2008 was only India and US (?).
Malabar 2007 was an alliance strengthening demonstration with a logical geographical focus on China's projection of power into the Indian Ocean via Burma. Focus was also on the navies working together to combat piracy/terrorism and state based naval activity that would threaten the oil trade transiting the Indian Ocean.

Under Australia's Rudd government and two(?) subsequent changes of Japanese government the quadrilateral understanding has weakened. Trade with China seems more important.

China has a growing blue water naval capability (especially submarines) that initially will influence countries in the Pacific basin (eg Japan, Australia and Singapore) and later in the Indian Ocean (India, Australia).

Issues include:

- threats to Australia from Chinese submarine launched missiles (cruise and ballistic),

- trade sea-lane threats (especially over oil),

- blockade (which includes use of mines).

- Chinese power projection close to Australia is a longer term concern through potential Chinese bases in East Timor, PNG, Solomons and other micro-states who can be bought.

The US has many and varied interests and goals:

- maintaining its dominant naval position against Chinese naval competition in the Pacific and Indian Ocean.

- maintaining its economic interests vis a vis of its allies (Australia, Japan and Singapore) through protecting them with its nuclear and blue water conventional umbrella.

- US benefiting from the combined defence support of junior allies (Australia, Japan, Singapore) while tilting independent India slightly more in the US direction. Moving India away from perceived Russian orbit.

The main US/Australian strategy would be to contain China and Russia, keep India onside and protect the oil trade (with major choke points being the Strait of Malacca and Strait of Hormuz).
Helper Tip

India today conducted test of a new state-of-the-art canisterised surface-to-surface missile ‘SHOURYA’ with a range of 600 kms. The DRDO has termed as “successful” the flight-test of the ‘Shourya’ missile system from the Interim Test Range (ITR) at Balasore in Orissa at 1125 hours. This developmental flight trial of ‘Shourya’ missile system is a part of the ongoing technology development work undertaken by the DRDO.

The missile has a unique feature of simplicity of operation and maintenance. It can be easily handled, transported and stored within the canister for longer shelf life. The high manoeuvrability of the missile makes it less vulnerable to available anti-missile defence systems. 

I suspect this is the K-15 SLBM or a variant of it

January 10, 2012

Update On Australian Plans to Acquire Global Hawk style UAVs - Force Posture Review

The Australian Force Posture Review, announced June 22, 2011, will consider a wide range of issues - many specifically related to Australia's attitudes to the Indian Ocean strategic environment.

One issue is the massive size of the Indian Ocean and what are the best ways to keep is under surveillance. Australia uses or envisages using a wide range of ways (called "platforms") to watch:

- the whole Ocean:
  • using military/intelligence satellites owned by the US with some constant feeds to such ground stations as Pine Gap (central Australia) and Geraldton (on the mid coast of Western Australia).
  • land (Exmouth/North West Cape north coast of Western Australia) and navy ship based radio (eg VLF band) intercept stations. Perhaps also submarines...
- narrow/coastal surveillance -

to an extent all of the above as well as interception and radar equipment on small naval patrol boats and coastwatch boats, naval aircraft (see below) and coastwatch aircraft.

- mid range surveillance
  • land based, long range radar - the Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN) is an over-the-horizon radar network that can monitor air and sea movements out to (officially) 3,000 km. JORN radar stations are situated at Longreach, Queensland (JOR1) and a second near Laverton, Western Australia (JOR2), a control centre in Edinburgh, South Australia (JCC).
  • coastwatch aircraft and naval patrol P-3 Orions. There have been initial steps to acquire P-8 Poseidons to replace the P-3s by 2018.
After the P-8s are in service 2018-2020 the Australian Government intends to acquire high altitude long range surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) ) - also called 'Tier III' UAVs. This intention was announced in Subsection 9.70 of Australia 2009 Defence White Paper, which reads:

    We will also acquire up to seven large high-altitude, long endurance UAVs to supplement the manned maritime patrol aircraft. These large UAVs, with an ocean -spanning range, will markedly expand the surveillance coverage of the maritime approaches to Australia, in both area and duration. They will also have a significant overland capability to provide support to our ground forces in a range of circumstances. Strategic UAVs provide persistent ISR, enhancing our situational awareness in both the land and maritime domains.

 Global Hawk is the largest (weighs around 10 tonnes) and most well known long range (around 25,000 km), high altitude (20,000 metres or 65,000 feet) UAV but may be too expensive for Australia with capabilities that may be under-utilised by Australia alone.

Large (Tier III) UAVs are currently expensive and advanced niche platforms only operated by the US. Put another way only the US can currently afford large UAVs in a force mix that covers all Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) modes.

Australia is considering eventual acquisition of a large UAV type under Defence Material Organisation (DMO) AIR (for "air"-craft) 7000. AIR 7000 . AIR 7000 Phase 1B seeks"

- "Multi-mission Unmanned Aerial System (MUAS) [yet another acronym :] - a..."High Altitude Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial Systems for maritime patrol and other surveillance." At a cost of A$1,000 million  to A$1,500 million which might buy 3 or 4.

In view of the high cost of Global Hawk and the network/shared nature of large scale surveillance information (already applying to satellites) it is possible that the US might operate Global Hawk from Australian landing sites. The arrangement might be of the leased/joint facilities type that already applies to Exmouth and Pine Gap. One might expect all information gained from Global Hawk to be fed to US and Australian defence agencies.
However joint control has its downsides perhaps in terms of the US and Australia having different mission objectives and the possibility Australia may not get the full feed.

Since the deployment of Global Hawk in the early 2000s considerable miniturisation of effective UAV sensors and computer processors has been achieved. This should permit medium sized UAVs to perform the long endurance ISR role that Australia needs. Hence the long delay in Australian acquiring mid-large sized UAVs might be beneficial in such UAVs developing into smaller scale, affordable, technology.

Australia has also considered, is, or will be considering, other (medium) UAVs including:

- the Mariner - a marine ISR version of the Reaper .

- the Boeing Phantom  Eye under early development, using an an advanced propeller engine, much longer planned range/endurance projected than Global Hawk.

- perhaps the stealth UAV Sentinel or a similar stealth UAV might be a future possibility, and

- several other medium UAVs under development in the US or planned by US corporations.

The Australia Force Posture Review is highly likely to further develop doctrine for the use of a (AIR 7000 Phase 1B) medium-large UAV - though just an incremental step in a long process to 2021. The Force Posture Review is due to release a public report in 2012.

January 9, 2012

Joint US - Australian Base Envisaged for Cocos Islands in Indian Ocean

The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are ideally situated to base air and sea assets to cover alternate (to the Strait of Malacca) sea lines of communication (SLOCS) between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
The Australian, November 21, 2011, reports:

"Smith forecasts Cocos Islands joint military base"

THE upgrading of defence ties with the US may include the development of joint military facilities on Cocos Islands.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith said yesterday the first priority would be upgrading the HMAS Stirling naval base [Australia's main submarine base - envisaged for greater use by US SSNs] , near Perth. "In the future, there may well be some possibility or prospect of greater utilisation of Cocos Islands," he said.

Mr Smith told the Ten Network there would have to be a major upgrade of the infrastructure on Cocos Islands, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, before they were fit for joint use by the Australian and US forces.

His comments confirm that the steps announced last week, starting with 250 additional US troops visiting Darwin, mark the start of what is likely to be a much wider collaboration. Mr Smith has played down suggestions of China's displeasure with the new military arrangement between Australia and the US, saying the official response has been measured and appropriate.

But a spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Liu Weimin, said the move might not be in the interests of countries in the region and questioned the expansion of military ties while global economics were still shaky.

An editorial in China's state-run People's Daily newspaper went further, saying if Australia used its military bases to help the US hurt Chinese interests, "one thing is certain . . . Australia will be caught in the crossfire".

Mr Smith said the media commentary should be divorced from China's official response. "And the official response has quite frankly been a measured one. It hasn't been over the top." He said China was against military alliances, but understood Australia's ties with the US."

January 8, 2012

Prominent defence thinker Professor Babbage suggests 12 nuclear submarines and ballistic missiles for Australia

The concept of an arsenal ship proposed for use in the US Navy and also by Professor Babbage for the Australian Navy.

An extraordinary essay by prominent defence thinker, Professor Ross Babbage, on Australia's response to the China threat, will become public in 48 hours on January 7. The following is a preliminary analysis in The Australian January 5, 2011 by conservative journalist Greg Sheridan. My blog has long supported the notion of nuclear submarines for Australia - preferably armed with (hypersonic) ballistic missiles because cruise missiles are too slow for first or second strike. Long flight times lose the element of surprise and cruise missiles are more easily shot down.  Hence cruise missiles lack the deterrent value of ballistic missiles. Sheridan's preliminary analysis is:

'Boost military' to take on China: adviser AUSTRALIA will need nuclear-powered attack submarines among a range of highly potent weapons systems, and must revolutionise its strategic culture to answer the security dangers posed by China's massive military build-up, according to one of the federal government's chief military advisers.

Ross Babbage, who served on the government's advisory panel for the 2009 Defence white paper, believes Australia should acquire a fleet of 12 nuclear-powered attack submarines.

He also favours developing a conventionally armed cruise and ballistic missile capability to be carried on new "arsenal ships", as well as a massive increase in Australia's cyber-warfare investment. [Pete's comment: The concept of specialised arsenal ships comes from the US Navy which (unlike the Australian Navy) can afford a whole range of specialised ships.  A ship which carries cruise and/or ballistic missiles would be a warship, requiring a regular navy crew to maintain and fire the missiles. The crew and surrounding escort ships would likely also defend the "arsenal ship" from air, submarine and sea-surface threats. Making the ship submersible would improve survivability and would improve the element of surprise as well as deterrent value. In short a SSBN would be a better solution than an arsenal ship.]

In a report to be published on Monday, Australia's Strategic Edge 2030, Professor Babbage calls for Australia to host a range of American military bases. This would help disperse US military assets and make them harder to hit in the event of military conflict with China.

It would also emphasise the strength and intimacy of the US-Australia alliance and discourage any aggression against Australia, as any hostile power would fear that this would automatically involve the Americans.

Professor Babbage, the founder of the influential Kokoda Foundation security think tank, believes all this is necessary because China's extremely aggressive military build-up has transformed Australia's strategic environment, making it much more dangerous.

"Australia cannot overlook the way that the scale, pattern and speed of (Chinese) People's Liberation Army's development is altering security in the Western Pacific," Professor Babbage argues in the new paper, which has been obtained by The Weekend Australian.

Professor Babbage believes that China's massive military expansion is focused on "striking United States and allied forces in the Western Pacific" and that this has been accompanied by much more aggressive military and diplomatic behaviour by Beijing.

"Australia has to develop an effective response," he argues.

"The challenge posed by the rising PLA is arguably one of the most serious that has confronted Australia's national security planners since World War II," he says.

"China is for the first time close to achieving a military capability to deny United States and allied forces access to much of the Western Pacific rim."

Professor Babbage argues that this is not a question of distant threats to Australia's region but of direct threat to Australia itself, as it is within range of many existing Chinese weapons systems.

He identifies a vast range of Chinese military capabilities that are on a massive growth path. These include cruise and ballistic missiles, which can attack US and Australian ships and fixed targets; a massive investment in cyber-warfare capabilities, with reports of tens of thousands of Chinese cyber intrusions daily; new classes of both nuclear and conventionally powered submarines, including more than 40 new Chinese subs since 1995; a massive increase in Chinese nuclear weapons that will double or triple in number by 2030; a huge investment in space warfare so that China could destroy the communications satellites which are central to the Western way of war; and a massive increase in fighter bomber and other airborne strike capabilities.

Professor Babbage does not believe Australia can match these Chinese capabilities.

Rather, his strategic response consists of two elements.

One is Australia taking action to strengthen the US military position in Asia, such as by hosting more US military facilities.

The other is for Australia to do to China what China is doing to the US, which is to develop an "asymmetric" ability to use a smaller force to impose massive costs on China in the event of any conflict.

This would help to deter Chinese military adventurism and avoid conflict."

[Elsewhere in the January 5, 2011 edition of The Australian Sheridan describes http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/time-to-beat-china-at-its-own-game/story-e6frg6zo-1226000381520 the Babbage Essay (to be published on January 7 as:

 "one of the most important, deeply considered and logically compelling strategic documents ever seen in Australia".
Babbages views on Australia defence carry special weight due to his long career in the Australia DoD, in academia and because he has been asked several times to contribute to pivotal strategic (White) Papers on Australia's Defence.

As founder and most prominent member of the Kokoda Foundation Babbage regularly produces highly creative ideas on Australia's defence. Here is an earlier blog article where I comment on Professor Babbage's ripping the arms off Asian giants Kokoda article of March 2008.
Unfortunately the US is likely to maintain its position that its allies, such as Australia and Canada, cannot have nuclear submarines. In comments below my blog article Australia New Submarine Program - On Drawing Board I wrote on March 22, 2009 :

"The US has policies, laws and has signed treaties against nuclear proliferation. Proliferation includes the spread of nuclear weapons, fissile material, and weapons-applicable nuclear technology and information, to nations which are not recognized as "nuclear weapon States" by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

As submarine reactors often contain weapons grade uranium (97% for US sub reactors when only 85% would be enough for a bomb)) exporting such a reactor would amount to weapon proliferation. Teaching Australian technicians the skills to maintain and operate such reactors would amount proliferation of dual use information.

So the US in its self appointed role as world policeman and moral high grounder would be unlikely to help Australia in the nuclear propulsion and weapon areas.

But probably more likely nuclear exporters are France for naval reactors and Israel for actual weapons.

France has a history of building handy little SSNs that would be a better size for Australian requirements. For example the 6 French SSNs of the Rubis Class only displace 2,400 tons surfaced, 2,600 submerged. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubis_class_submarine

The Rubis Class are less than a third of the weight of US Los Angeles or Virginia class SSN/SSGNs. The Rubis' crew of 62 (the smaller the better for Australia) is only half that of US SSNs. Rubis are fairly recent with the first launched 1979 - obtaining them second hand or new build followon French SSN's ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barracuda_class_submarines  ) may be the best way to go if Australia considered nuclear propulsion.

Australia also fields Harpoon anti shipping and land attack missiles in its Collins Class subs. Given probable Israeli sub cruise missile warhead developments and Israel's past willingness to supply nuclear weapons technology to South Africa - Israel could well help Australia some day. Israel would certainly value Australian uranium aand diplomatic support in return:

"In June 2002, former State Department and Pentagon officials confirmed that the U.S. Navy observed Israeli missile tests in the Indian Ocean in 2000, and that the [Israeli HDW 214 derivative] Dolphin-class vessels have been fitted with nuclear-capable cruise missiles of a new design. Israel issued new denials, albeit in an indirect manner. In October 2003, unidentified senior U.S. and Israeli officials were quoted as saying that Israel had successfully modified nuclear warheads to fit its Harpoon missiles." http://www.nti.org/db/submarines/israel/index.html "
In line with US strictures Australia dismissed the option of Australian nuclear subs in the 2009 Defence White Paper - see http://gentleseas.blogspot.com/2009/05/australia-defence-white-paper-submarine.html However Professor Babbage is reviving that option due to the increasing China threat and perhaps a resultant decline in US power to limit US allies' weapon preferences. In http://gentleseas.blogspot.com/2009/05/australia-defence-white-paper-submarine.html I also noted:

"subsonic Tomahawk missiles are stealthy and part of an EW attack, however, a much faster mach 2+ weapon (retaining 2,000+ km range) would eventually be preferable for surprise land attack, quick response and to evade anti missile defences, such as the Russian or Chinese sourced S-400 (or equivalent) SAMs." [Ballistic missiles and their warheads are the only practical and mature hypersonic vehicles over their whole flight - not just a hypersonic endrun as seen in the BrahMos. Ballistic missile and warheads mainly operate in space where they do not overheat. Although there is much impractical, overheated, complete flight, hypersonic research in the atmosphere going on].

January 7, 2012

Thorium Reactors - Indian and Australian Prospects

This post is about the highly complex scientific and economic topic of thorium reactors. Much is claimed but little appears to have been achieved in any country over the last four decades of thorium breeder reactor research and development. India has put in a considerable amount of its nuclear effort into developing such reactors. My views are:
- thorium reactor research is as difficult a set of tasks (see "Disadvantages" below) as the intense multinational effort that produced the world's first nuclear weapons.
- Compared to building a miniturised submarine reactor (which, in the end, required Russian assistance) India faces a tougher technical hurdle in independently making thorium a mature process.
- there are currently perceptions in most other countries of uranium abundance including all the major nuclear countries, except India.

- Most countries that have embarked on thorium in reactor research programs have closed down programs due to technical difficulties and high relative cost of using thorium. See List of Thorium Fueled Reactors for reference to Indian and foreign reactors partly using thorium.
- if ample uranium were available to India in future its nuclear research effort might also move away from thorium (a complex issue which needs to be considered)

- At least two reactors (CIRUS and DHRUVA) that partly use thorium also have produced significant amounts of weapons grade plutonium. This association of inputs and outputs suggest that part of India's interest in thorium might be weapons driven. This runs conter to the standard belief that reactors using thorium produce less plutonium and thus are more "peaceful". The peacefulness or otherwise of thorium is thus an open question.
- with the post 1998 test sanctions being lifted by most countries (Australia has maintained sanctions) it may well be that India already has sufficient uranium to make continued thorium research (other than for plutonium production) a lower priority.
- without considerable US, European, Japanese and Russian involvement, thorium fuel cycles will not be complete, cost-effective or efficient in other respects for decades. -
Australia's position (or lack of...)
- while Australia has good scientists and some useful theoretical knowledge it has nowhere near the government, academic or commercial resources to assist India with practical thorium applications or standand uranium nuclear reactors.

- India like most major countries is way ahead of Australia in applied nuclear matters.
- in Australia all nuclear research has been intentionally run down by the government for Labor Party unity, environmental green and nuclear free regional utopian reasons.

- the very abundance of Australian uranium and coal likely means that Australia would not seriously consider undeveloped thorium technology for domestic use for decades - and that is after we build our own standard uranium reactors
- any Australian standard power reactors (none are planned) might not go on line before 2035 - probably much later, then add 20 years for thorium/fast breeders.
Comments arising from my post Indian-Australian Differences but Hope November 19, 2009 covered India's nuclear, specifically thorium technology prospects:

jbmoore said... ...If Australia played its cards better, it could come out ahead on any deal. Help the Indians develop thorium reactors (you guys have a lot of thorium deposits). Setup joint research programs between India and Australia...Friday, November 20, 2009 11:07:00 AM"

Parminder Grewal said...
"I have been going through your blog for the last few days. It has a lot of interesting stuff. ...3. Regarding Australia and the uranium politics: India and Australia are both rich in another ore called as thorium. Thorium is a much more cleaner source of nuclear energy than uranium(less dangerous by products), it cannot be used to make nuclear weapons, it is much more abundant (conservative estimates say that Indian reserves can satisfy Indian needs for 350 years, optimistic estimates talk in terms of millenia).
The technology to use thorium exists with the United States since the 1970's but has not been used (my speculation is that this was ensured by the oil companies and uranium industry). India has been planning to do the same and is at stage 2 of her 3 stage plan to develop thorium based reactors (there is speculation that the civilian nuclear deal was partly aimed at blocking this thorium based energy cycle). Thorium could be the ultimate solution to the climate/energy problem for centuries to come but the vested interests of a few companies is stopping that from happening. Its very sad I'd say. Saturday, November 21, 2009 6:43:00 AM"
Wiki contains this fairly clear description of the Thorium fuel cycle:
The thorium fuel cycle is a nuclear fuel cycle that uses the naturally abundant isotope of thorium, 232Th, as fertile material, and the artificial uranium isotope, 233U, as fissile fuel for a nuclear reactor.
However, unlike natural uranium, natural thorium contains only trace amounts of fissile material (such as 231Th) that are insufficient to initiate a nuclear chain reaction. Thus, some fissile material must be mixed with natural thorium in order to initiate the fuel cycle. In a thorium-fueled reactor, 232Th will absorb slow neutrons to produce 233U, which is similar to the process in uranium-fueled reactors whereby fertile 238U absorbs neutrons to form fissile 239Pu.
Depending on the design of the reactor and fuel cycle, the 233U generated is either utilized in situ or chemically separated from the used nuclear fuel and used in new nuclear fuel.

A thorium fuel cycle offers several potential advantages over a uranium fuel cycle, including greater resource abundance, superior physical and nuclear properties of fuel, enhanced proliferation resistance, and reduced plutonium and actinide production.

Concerns about the limits of worldwide uranium resources motivated initial interest in the thorium fuel cycle. It was envisioned that as uranium reserves were depleted, thorium would supplement uranium as a fertile material. However, for most countries uranium was relatively abundant, and research in thorium fuel cycles waned. A notable exception is the Republic of India which is developing a three stage thorium fuel cycle. Recently there has been renewed interest in thorium-based fuels for improving proliferation resistance and waste characteristics of used nuclear fuel.

Thorium fuels have been used in several power and research reactors. One of the earliest efforts to use a thorium fuel cycle took place at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s. An experimental Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) technology to study the feasibility of such an approach, using thorium(IV) fluoride salt kept hot enough to be liquid, thus eliminating the need for fabricating fuel elements. This effort culminated in the Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment that used 232Th as the fertile material and 233U as the fissile fuel. Due to a lack of funding, the MSR program was discontinued in 1976.
- Advantages of thorium as a nuclear fuel
There are several potential advantages to thorium-based fuels.
Thorium is estimated to be about three to four times more abundant than uranium in the earth's crust
, although present knowledge of reserves is limited. Current demand for thorium has been satisfied as a by-product of rare-earth extraction from monazite sands. Also, unlike uranium, naturally occurring thorium consists of only a single isotope (232Th) in significant quantities. Consequently, all mined thorium is useful in thermal reactors.
Thorium-based fuels also display favorable physical and chemical properties which improve reactor and repository performance. Because the 233U produced in thorium fuels is inevitably contaminated with 232U, thorium-based used nuclear fuel possesses inherent proliferation resistance. Uranium-232 can not be chemically separated from 233U and has several decay products which emit high energy gamma radiation. These high energy photons are a radiological hazard that necessitate the use of remote handling of separated uranium and aid in the passive detection of such materials. [can also be seen as a toxic disadvantage].
[however plutonium may be worse in toxicity] The long term (on the order of roughly 103 to 106 years) radiological hazard of conventional uranium-based used nuclear fuel is dominated by plutonium and other
minor actinides, after which long-lived fission products become significant contributors again.
Disadvantages of thorium as nuclear fuel
Unlike uranium, natural thorium contains no fissile isotopes; fissile material, generally 233U, 235U, or plutonium, must be supplemented to achieve
criticality. This, along with the high sintering temperature necessary to make thorium-dioxide fuel, complicates the fuel fabrication process. Oak Ridge National Laboratory experimented with thorium-tetrafluoride as fuel in a molten salt reactor from 1964-1969, which was far easier to both process and separate from fuel poisons (contaminants that slow or stop the chain reaction.)

If thorium is used in an
open fuel cycle (i.e. utilizing 233U in-situ), higher burnup is necessary to achieve a favorable neutron economy. Although thorium dioxide has performed well at burnups of 170,000 MWd/t and 150,000 MWd/t at Fort St. Vrain Generating Station and the German AVR reactor [closed 1980], there are challenges associated with achieving this burnup in light water reactors (LWR), which compose the vast majority of existing power reactors.

Another challenge associated with a once-through thorium fuel cycle is the comparatively long time scale over which 232Th breeds to 233U. The
half-life of 233Pa is about 27 days, which is an order of magnitude longer than the half-life of 239Np [Neptunium]. As a result, substantial 233Pa builds into thorium-based fuels. Protactinium-233 is a significant neutron absorber, and although it eventually breeds into fissile 235U, this requires two more neutron absorptions, which degrades neutron economy and increases the likelihood of transuranic production.
Alternately, if thorium is used in a closed fuel cycle in which 233U is recycled, remote handling is necessary for fuel fabrication because of the high radiation dose resulting from the decay products of 232U. This is also true of recycled thorium because of the presence of 228Th, which is part of the 232U decay sequence.
Further, although there is substantial worldwide experience recycling uranium fuels (e.g. PUREX), similar technology for thorium (e.g. THOREX) is still under development.

Although the presence of 232U makes it a challenge, 233U can be used in
fission weapons, but this has been done only occasionally. The United States first tested 233U as part of a bomb core in Operation Teapot in 1955. However, unlike plutonium, 233U can be easily denatured [rendered not suitable for weapons ] by mixing it with natural or depleted uranium.

Despite the fact that thorium-based fuels produce far less long-lived
transuranics than uranium-based fuels, there are some long-lived actinides produced that constitute a long term radiological impact, especially 231Pa.