What IAEAs Cameras Cannot tell us about the Iranian nuclear deal

Iranian nuclear deal
Inspection of IAEA’s cameras without data storage during new Iranian nuclear deal talks. [source]

Negotiators engaged in indirect discussions between Iran and the United States to save the Iranian nuclear deal. They have only a few weeks left to try to reach an agreement and avoid a military escalation. However, the actors at the table changed from 2015. The recent election of Ebrahim Raïssi and the rapprochement of Iran and China do not seem to promise a (new) successful nuclear deal.

Key Assessment 1

Iran has likely improved its nuclear capability in the 4 last years, breaching the limits imposed by the JCPOA.

  • The United States withdrew from the JCPOA deal in 2018 under Trump governance. Since then, Iran has violated several of the sanctions aimed to extend the time required to manufacture enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon’s breakout time.
  • Since the nuclear deal fell apart, Iran has begun enriching uranium to 60% purity, rather than the 3.67 percent authorized by the deal. On a scale of order, the percent authorized by the JCPOA would be sufficient for a power plant, whereas military grade requirements require 90 percent purity.
  • Iran also started using increasingly sophisticated centrifuges, which were banned under the agreement. [source]

Key Assessment 2

Regional tensions are likely to lead more countries to develop nuclear options

  • While the United Arab Emirates has a strong deal with the US guaranteeing they will not enrich their uranium, Saudi Arabia claims it wants a centrifuge program. It is also ready to hurry for a nuclear weapon if Iran has one, very likely raising the possibility of nuclear proliferation. 
  • Despite its opaque nuclear policy, Israel is almost certainly a nuclear-weapons state. It is highly likely developing a large-scale construction project in its secret nuclear reactor near Dimona. Its nuclear program is not subject to IAEA monitoring, and it never signed the NPT. Iran frequently refers to Israel’s weapons program as a double international standard. [source]
  • Several sabotages targeted at Iran’s nuclear program were recorded in the last decade. Iran’s nuclear plants in Natanz and Karaj were the main targets.
  • Some of the country’s best nuclear scientists were killed. The Stuxnet virus used against Iran’s enrichment program a decade ago blamed Israel and the United States.
  • Iran is investigating the possibility that the IAES’s cameras helped in the last purported Israeli attacks. Iran has since refused IAEA access to replace the cameras damaged during the incident. [source]
Iranian nuclear deal
Memorial of Iranian murdered scientists [source]

Key Assessment 3

Laying the groundwork for a new agreement is highly unlikely in the next 12 months.

  • Iran adopted the IAEA’s Additional Protocol in 2015, which allows for inspections of undeclared facilities using IAEA cameras.
  • After the sabotage in June 2021, critical footage from a surveillance camera at the Iranian centrifuge-parts workshop in Karaj went missing. Iran removed the cameras and showed them to the IAEA. But the data storage device from the destroyed cameras wasn’t inside.
  • The Karaj workshop includes sophisticated centrifuges, required to make enriched uranium. Therefore the IAEA and western nations have demanded that Iran replace the video equipment on the site.
  • Relocation of cameras and other relevant technical activities will take place before the end of the year. The recent agreement with the IAEA represents a questionable concession. The IAEA will not be able to view the content of the cameras without lifting the sanctions. [source]

Nanda Devi: Nuclear Detection in the Himalayas

Nanda Devi: the Folklore Behind

The Indian regions of Garhwal and Kumaon are rife with plains and foothills leading up to the Himalayan Mountain range. The glorious mountain is home to some of the tallest peaks on the earth, where local legends say Hindu deities dwell; embodied in rock and sentiment.  

Nanda Devi is the tallest of the regional peaks; named after a powerful goddess, according to local folklore.

Legend has it, a Pashtun prince who was madly in love with Nanda chased him. This prince was on the warpath against her father for refusing to give him the princesses hand in marriage. Nanda, desperate to evade the prince, ascended 25,643 feet up the mountain and merged with it. She became the “Devi”, meaning “fort” or “protector” in the Sanskrit language. Nanda Devi is the divine home of the goddess who protects the region from harm. A matriarchal figure made of stone.

Nanda Devi: a Nuclear Weapon?

If we get abstract, we can remove the archetype of a divine protector in the sky, and apply it to a tangible reality: nuclear weapons.

To a global superpower or even fledgling state, the possession of a nuclear weapon is its own Nanda Devi. With a nuclear strike capability, a small island nation like the Bahamas could hypothetically be equal in some sense to a nation multiple times its size and military strength. Instead of a mountain peak, the warhead embodies the protector. A defence advantage to be gained, and a gained ability to protect the land against any adversaries.

The idea of mutually assured destruction that results from nuclear proliferation is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it keeps nations at bay, knowing that if one strikes, the other may strike back. As North Korea shows, nuclear arms in the hands of a volatile nation carry a grave danger. Nuclear deterrence is a game of meekness. Some actors on the world stage can get a bit unchained or unpredictable after getting intoxicated with power.

A Nuclear China

China had metaphorical alcohol poisoning from power during the Cold War era. In addition, it was a regional threat to Central and South Asia. Intelligence agencies of the Western Bloc desired tangible analysis on the strength and capabilities of the Chinese military machine. They also looked into the new field of professional intelligence and sparked innovation in the development of tradecraft technology.

Being the time of the Cold War, nuclear arms were the flavour of the era, and the nuclear armament of communist China was a genuine issue that had a high probability of eventually taking place. In 1964, fears turned to reality when the Chinese government conducted their first nuclear test in the Gobi Desert of the Xinjiang province.

The CIA took a particular interest in the test and developed an unconventional way to monitor future ones. Agency sights shifted to the summit of Nanda Devi, whose proximity to Xinjiang province and towering altitude made it an ideal spot for a nuclear detection system. An “Eye of Sauron on the Tower of Barad-dûr” in its own strange way.

Nomenclature of a Modern Nuclear Detection System

With nuclear proliferation comes the need for detection. Early warnings for launches give a potential target a chance to prepare or go the scorched earth route and respond. Of course, in intelligence, there is a strong utility in having a way to detect the operations of a nation’s nuclear program, whether it be testing or development. Since the cold war, different states have developed various systems to aid in such matters similar to the CIA’s desired use of Nanda Devi.

The current system used by the US Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Energy (DOE) is the Nuclear Detonation Detection System (NDDS), which comprises separate modules that unite into one ecosystem.

GPS Satellites

GPS satellites with nuclear detection capabilities have been in orbit since 1963. These satellites carry onboard instruments that are sensitive to multiple phenomena and can sort through said phenomena in order to determine what is natural and what is of nuclear origin. Phenomena include gamma rays, light, x-rays, neutrons originating from a nuclear explosion, and the way those energy outputs interact with the atmosphere, as annotated by the Los Alamos National Laboratory. There is currently an entire fleet of satellites orbiting the earth that provide 24/7 detection for relevant US agencies.   

Ground Control & Software:

A ground control element transmits and processes all data from the satellites through a Ground NDS Terminal (GNT). A software element called the Integrated Correlation and Display System (ICADS) also processes it. Then DOD operators further analyze and compile into an intelligence product. They then submit the product up the chain of command.

The Ocean

The ocean–another last frontier–is also the home for a global NDDS. According to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), there are 11 hydro-acoustic monitoring stations spread globally in eight different countries. These sensors use underwater hydrophone and seismometer technologies. These technologies deliver 24/7 real-time data to the International Data Centre (IDC) in Vienna.

Nanda Devi: A Nuclear Graveyard

CIA ingenuity led to the development of a more primitive system than described above, for the 1964 Nanda Devi mission. Instead of launching a satellite into orbit or laying data cables off a ship into the deep sea, a traditional alpine style climb was on the docket.

According to Mint, “Installing the device… meant carrying up equipment weighing around 56kg, including an 8-10ft-high antenna, two transceiver sets and the most vital component, a system for nuclear auxiliary power (SNAP) generator.” The SNAP was crucial, for it contained seven plutonium capsules in a specialized container that provided the nuclear fuel.

On the 14th of October 1965, the Indian and American climbing team reached Camp IV at 24,000-ft point, in which case tragedy struck as a blizzard.

Fortunately, the climbers reacted quickly enough and descended into a nook in the mountain, where they could hopefully outlast the storm. But while it prevented the loss of life, losing gear was a different story. The team failed the mission and had to abandon the equipment at the highest reached point. Abandonment included the highly radioactive nuclear fuel for the SNAP. A team returned the following year, with much dismay, could not locate the lost materials. To this day, they remain lost.

One more legend to embody the mountain.


The apparent advancement of NDDS technology between the Cold War and today is truly remarkable. Fortunately, there is no longer a requirement to risk lives for mountaineering. Neither is there a necessity anymore to mishandle radioactive materials in a land of natural beauty. The Nanda Devi expedition may have had good intentions. Instead, the expedition left behind a potential for serious health and environmental issues within local communities.  


The Forgotten Rogue Nuclear Power of Africa

Nuclear South Africa

It is easy to think first of Iran or North Korea as aspiring and actual rogue nuclear nations respectively when asked about this subject. To others still, Israel and its purported nuclear deterrent may occur first. However, there was (until relatively recently) another rogue nuclear power, this one on the African continent. This, of course, was South Africa.

The South African nuclear programme began soon after the Second World War in 1948, with the establishment of the Atomic Energy Board (AEB), later renamed the Atomic Energy Corporation (AEC). South Africa has some of the world’s largest reserves of yellowcake uranium and supplied both the UK and the US. In 1957, South Africa took advantage of the U.S. “Atoms for Peace” programme and obtained a research reactor, as well as a supply of fuel from the U.S. Government.

The AEC began to consider the possibility of “peaceful nuclear explosives” in the late 60s and early 70s. Though this may sound like a fig-leaf for the pursuit of a weapons programme (and doubtless this played a role in the minds of some that supported the project), it isn’t as illogical as it may initially sound. Mining in South Africa represents a major sector of the economy, and the U.S. and USSR were both considering the industrial, peaceful uses for nuclear explosions at the time. Given the lack of understanding of radioactive materials and the consequences of nuclear fall-out, the limited use of nuclear explosions was not seen to be hugely far from economically viable.

Nuclear South Africa

The weaponization side of the equation began to change dramatically with changing political circumstances in the 1970s. In 1973, the UN passed resolution 3068, condemning apartheid and beginning the isolation of South Africa. Additionally, South Africa refused to accede to the Nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 1978, souring relations with the United States and ceasing nuclear cooperation. With decolonisation in Africa kicking off, Portugal withdrew from Angola in 1975, creating a potentially unfriendly neighbour. Despite not being on great terms with the United States, the South African government was even more fearful of the USSR and its intentions to grow influence across Africa, and undermine apartheid. In particular, USSR-funded Cuban soldiers were to play an increasingly important role in the Angolan Civil War, not to mention Namibian efforts to gain independence from South Africa.

In 1974, the then Prime Minister of South Africa, John Vorster and then-Israeli Minister of Defence Peres met in Switzerland. Though the meeting’s agenda is still a mystery, it is theorised that the Israeli and South African governments agreed to cooperate on nuclear matters. With the fear of its neighbours and desire for a nuclear deterrent high enough, the South African government began to develop a domestic output of highly enriched uranium (HEU). This is the kind needed to create the simplest kinds of nuclear bombs, similar to those used on Japan during the Second World War. In 1977, a secret test site for such a bomb was spotted by Soviet satellites, who promptly informed the Americans. Under intense pressure, the South African government was forced to dismantle the site. Regardless, it seems likely (though certainty is not assured) that two years later, a test went ahead, causing the Vela Incident.

Nuclear South Africa

Finally, by the 1980s, South Africa had developed its first nuclear bombs. Though of simple design, there was the domestic capability to produce several such bombs per year. This was all done in a state of extreme secrecy. In order to avoid even more international pressure, the South African government cultivated a strategic ambiguity over whether the government had a nuclear deterrent. The pursuit of mounting devices on missiles was attempted, though projects were never finished.

Disarmament and accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons happened between 1989 and 1991, under Prime Minister de Klerk. This coincided with the end of the Cold War and the ending of apartheid, destroying the rationalisation for possession of nuclear weapons. De Klerk denies to this day that in the last days of the apartheid government in South Africa, it was decided to disarm because he did not trust a black government with that responsibility – for him, it was a matter of principle to disarm completely. Today, South Africa operates the only nuclear power plant on the continent, and maintains a modest civil nuclear programme.

Perhaps the biggest historical lesson to be gained from this example is that a state, when the rationalisation for expensive nuclear weapons is removed, is far more likely to disarm. Few states would willingly spend millions of dollars where no threat exists, and it seems likely that if de Klerk had not disarmed, the successor to his government in the ANC would have, as dealing with poverty in South Africa would have been a higher priority than maintaining even a small nuclear arsenal.

Image 1: Wikipedia (link)

Image 2: UN Legal Office (link)

Image 3: Wikipedia (link)


Japan-Australia in the Indo-Pacific: 12 Month Outlook

On January 6th, 2022, Japan and Australia signed a reciprocal access agreement (RAA). The agreement established further alliances on trade, foreign policy, and security in the Indo-Pacific. Specifically, the RAA facilitates the cooperation between the Self-Defence Forces of Japan and the Australian Defence Forces. As such, Japan-Australia relations in the Indo-Pacific are integral to security within the region.

Indeed, the agreement represents a strategic message in a context where China is aggressively rising in the East and the South China Sea. Notably, China is interested in reunifying Taiwan as an economic advantage in the Indo-Pacific. To avoid this escalation, Japan is trying to sign a similar agreement with the United Kingdom. These cooperations will widen the strategic stronghold of Japan in the Indo-Pacific. In the next 12 months, Japan-Australia cooperation will stabilise the Indo-Pacific.

Key Judgement 1: In the next 12 months, Japan-Australia cooperation will likely make the Indo-Pacific secure and stable. 

  • PM Kishida and PM Morrison are trying to ensure stability across the Taiwan Strait to avoid military confrontation between China and Taiwan.
  • Australia contributes to Japan’s air policing effort against China, as China increases its air presence in the East and the South China Sea.
  • Japan-Australia cooperation points to decreasing the threats coming from China as one of the most important actors in the Indo-Pacific.

Key Judgement 2: In the next 12 months, China will likely make a move over Taiwan to challenge Japan-Australia cooperation. 

  • China considers Taiwan a breakaway province. Indeed, Beijing has consistently claimed Taiwan as a part of China. 

  • As a result, China is trying to reunify Taiwan to strengthen economic ties and obtain more strategic capabilities in the Indo-Pacific. This aligns with China’s wider geopolitical objectives.

  • Moreover, China is trying to expand its power over Southeast Asia for example, Thailand and Vietnam. Specifically, China seeks economic influence, geopolitical legitimacy, and maritime claims. These aims form the main motives for China’s expansionism. 

Key Judgement 3: In the next 12 months, Japan-Australia will highly likely sign a similar pact with the United Kingdom. 

  • Since 2018, the United Kingdom has supported Japan in the Indo-Pacific. Indeed, the UK provides maritime back-up to Japan under the Maritime Security Agreement between the Royal Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Forces (JMSDF).

  • In September 2021, the UK joined the security alliance between the US and Australia. As a result, Britain will provide Australia with technology to deploy nuclear-powered submarines.

  • Japan and the UK have already started formal negotiations on a reciprocal access agreement (RAA) at the end of September 2021. Firm talks between the two countries occurred in May 2022, with an agreement in principle reached. This is highly likely to be ratified within the next 12 months.

Intelligence Cut-Off Date: 10th May 2022


Russia’s Threat to Sweden in the Next 24 Months

Russia’s threat to Sweden has become more and more real in the last months. This is mainly due to Sweden’s ambition to join NATO.

In the past years, the relationship between Sweden and Russia has not been stable. On the one hand, Sweden published its Arctic policy in 2020. It focuses on climate change and international cooperation, which also includes Russia.

On the other hand, in October 2020, Sweden announced an increase in military spending by 40% over five years. This is due to the Russian presence and activity in the Baltic Sea. In December 2021, Russia threatened Sweden, threatening with political and military consequences if Sweden joins NATO. Lastly, Sweden has condemned Russia’s invasion and strengthened its desire to join NATO as early as May 2022. Furthermore, it started supporting Ukraine with military and humanitarian aid.

Key Judgment 1: In the next 24 months, Sweden will strengthen its relationship with Western countries. Consequently, it is highly likely that it will join NATO.

  • At the end of December 2021, Russia threatened both Sweden and Finland in the event that they would join NATO. Moscow said that there would be “serious military and political repercussions”. In the past, Sweden carried out military exercises with NATO. However, it did not want to join the international organisation. This is because it feared that it would limit its decisional independence.

  • In February 2022, an SVT poll, a Swedish public broadcaster, showed that 35% of Swedes opposed NATO membership. On the other hand, 41% supported it. However, the percentage of the population that would like Sweden to join NATO is likely to grow, since Sweden is condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Even though some political parties, such as the Social Democrats, are still against NATO membership, it is clear that the Russian invasion of Ukraine changed the whole security setting of Europe and especially the Baltic region. On the 15th of May, the Swedish Prime Minister and other leading members are meeting to discuss the issue, and whether join or not NATO.

Key Judgment 2: In the next 24 months, it is highly unlikely that Russia will attack Sweden, despite the recent threats.

  • In the past years, Sweden secured closed military cooperation with Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Sweden is now helping Ukraine with humanitarian, military, and technical support. It imposed sanctions against Russia, following the European Union, and it also banned Russian aircraft from its airspace.
Russia's threat to Sweden
Swedish Minister of Defence, Peter Hultqvist, US Secretary of Defence, Jim Mattis, and Finnish Minister of Defence, Jussi Niinistö, at the Pentagon signing a new trilateral agreement.

Despite Sweden does not interpret Russia’s words as a military threat, it started boosting its military presence in Gotland and other key areas in the country. The militarisation started immediately after, six Russian Amphibious Warfare ships entered the Baltic Sea, in mid-January. Even though the ships left the area a couple of days later, Swedish troops are remaining in place. In the case of a hypothetic Russian attack, Sweden would be able to contrast the first wave of attacks.

Key Judgment 3: In the next 24 months, it is highly likely that Russia will keep threatening Sweden by cyber attacking structures and facilities.

  • Last year, after three years of investigations, the Swedish prosecutors found out that between December 2017 and May 2018 the Russian GRU military intelligence hacked the national sports federation in Sweden. The “Fancy Bear” group, which is a Russian hacking group controlled by the GRU, according to the US intelligence agencies, is responsible for the data security breaches. The “Fancy Bear” stole and then published personal details, medical records, and records of doping tests of Swedish athletes.

  • In January 2021, large drones were seen flying over the royal family palace in Drottningholm, two airports, Kiruna and Lulea, and three nuclear plants, Oskarshamn, Ringhals and Forsmark, in Sweden. The military style of the drones and their coordination suggest that there could be a state government behind it. A Russian man was arrested for flying a drone on the royal family palace. However, there are no suspects for the others. Moscow’s involvement could be taken into consideration since the accident happened after the Russian threats were sent to Sweden. It is highly likely that this was not an attack, but a Russian attempt to spread fear among the population. The Swedish intelligence agency took over the investigation. However, there is no evidence that a foreign power is behind these actions.

Key Judgment 4: In the next 24 months, It is highly likely that Russia will keep spreading disinformation in Sweden, in order to weaken Sweden’s relationship with NATO.

  • In the past years, Sweden has been the subject of a Russian disinformation campaign. Russian aim is to intimidate and threaten Sweden and increase polarisation which would then lead to Sweden moving away from NATO. Russia has been targeting Swedish news organisations, in order to prevent and contrast a hypothetical NATO membership.

  • Even before the Russian invasion, Putin and his government started stating that Ukraine was killing many Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. This was done in order to depict Ukraine as the enemy and the aggressor. After the invasion, the disinformation campaign intensified. For example, various pro-Russia accounts started spreading fake videos on Ukraine and its actions on Telegram.

Intelligence cut-off date: 6th of May 2022


Energy Weapons: From Science Fiction to Real World

Before new technology even becomes a concept, it often exists in the realm of science fiction or is simply unknown entirely. Experimental technology often evolves from a theory, to a credible concept, to a prototype and then finally to a real world creation. When one says the words “energy weapon”, one might think of lightsabers, plasma rifles, or any other myriad of sci-fi weapons that have yet to leave the realm of movie screens and imagination. While we are by no means arming our soldiers with the same armaments of an imperial Stormtrooper, energy weapons are not strictly science fiction anymore. 

Make no mistake, energy weapons are not a standard weapon at all, they still exist at the periphery of both theoretical and practical battlefield application. However, developments in energy generation, micro-electronics and large national defense budgets have allowed the technology to make substantial gains. This comes in a few forms, including Directed-Energy Weapons (DEW), Active Denial Systems (ADS), sound weapons and other highly experimental devices.

Power to the Machine

A massive prerequisite to making energy weapons more usable and viable is, unsurprisingly, energy. In the 1950s, the advent of nuclear power gave rise to ideas that soon, society would be flooded with technology like flying cars and ray guns given the near infinite power mankind had tapped into. However the efficiency and resource requirements of these technologies is the main reason that this tech has only recently begun its journey into reality. In order to power and use energy weapons, an immense amount of power is required, making a system that can generate such amounts of power an essential component.

The most notable example of this is Shiva Star. Shiva is a large pulsed-power system developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory that stores nearly 10 million joules of energy. (Source) Since its inception in 1975, it has become more and more efficient in its power generation, leading to developments in not only theoretical pulse propulsion, but also energy weapons based on high energy plasma. (Source

Energy weapons
Image of Shiva Star conducting an energy yield test. Image via Wikimedia commons (source)

The Magnetically Accelerated Ring to Achieve Ultra-high Directed Energy and Radiation project, or MARAUDER, utilized the energy made by Shiva Star to power its tests. MARAUDER’s goal was to create a weapon that would compress toroids to high mass density, which would then be accelerated and used as a plasma projectile. (Source) The system yielded a number of successful tests, but since a project report in 1995, there has been no word as to the project’s status.

Energy weapons of today are noticeably smaller, yet still quite large. Their graduation from a reliance on experimental, building sized generators has led to them having a number of new applications and deployments.

Directed Energy Weapons

Of the energy weapons that exist today, directed energy weapons are perhaps the closest we have come to a real “laser cannon” or similar sci-fi weapons. These systems are large, bulky and require a substantial amount of power to operate, making the ways they deployed and used limited.

Directed energy weapons are made of multiple types of weapons, including laser, radio based, microwave and particle beams. As the U.S. Department of Defense outlines, these weapons can be used “primarily as a direct means to disable, damage or destroy adversary equipment, facilities, and personnel.” (Source) This more generally outlines what directed-energy weapons could be used for, and these systems have already been visibly used in the field. Laser and particle beam weapons in particular have seen consistent and even reliable usage in a number of theaters of war. 

Lines in the Sky

There are a few different contemporary deployments and usages of direct energy weapons. The US has conducted some of the most extensive research and integration of these systems in its military, with usage in both the Army as well as the Navy.

The US Army has begun testing a prototype version of the M-SHORAD system, which provides aerial and munitions protection to mechanized ground divisions of the US Army. This version, the DE M-SHORAD, featured a directed energy weapon system designed to overload and destroy incoming smart ordnance, as well as destruction of UAVs in the field. (Source) Despite the tech still being in its relative infancy in the field, LTG L. Neil Thurgood, Director of the Hypersonic, Direct Energy, Space and Rapid Acquisition says “The technology we have today is ready. This is a gateway to the future” (Source)

Image of a GLDS IM-SHORAD, a system that will soon more frequently feature Directed Energy Weapon systems. Image via Joint Forces (Source)

Additional uses of such systems can be observed in a number of projects, including ones designed to guard military bases, protect forces in the field through other systems and even are being tested to guard planes from smart projectiles. (Source)

The usage of directed energy weapons to destroy aerial threats and protect personnel is perhaps even more common in the naval sphere. Due to directed energy weapons requiring such a substantial amount of power, they often rely on large tactical platforms to support them. Naval vessels are some of the largest possible weapons platforms, allowing direct energy weapons to have a special place amongst naval weapon systems. Lockheed Martin in particular has developed the HELIOS integrated weapon system, one that provides laser weapon capabilities to any ship it is mounted on. (Source) The HELIOS system can be used against UAVs, incoming projectiles (similar to a Phalanx system) as well as strikes on small surface craft. 

Energy weapons
Image of a Laser Weapon System (LaWS) – KTM Prototype, an example of Directed Energy Weapon intended for naval deployment. Image via Wikimedia commons (Source)

These systems are also used outside the US military, and have been successfully used in a number of theaters. One of the most recent uses is by the Turkish military against a drone in Libya in 2019. The Chinese made Wing Loong II experienced critical failure after its central chassis was burned by a ground based direct energy weapon system and it crashed. (Source)

There are a number of other systems utilized around the world, including ones deployed by France, Russia and Turkey to name only a few. Though still in its infancy, direct energy weapons are very likely going to become increasingly common in developed militaries and in a range of theaters.

Active Denial Systems

Energy weapons are not limited just to lethal directed energy weapons; other less lethal, but somewhat more sinister systems exist as well. The Active Denial System, or ADS, is an innovation of energy weapons aimed at crowd control and combatant disabling rather than lethal solutions.

In 1997, the US military funded the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program, in an effort to provide non-lethal field solutions to their soldiers. (Source) Among the bean bags, tear gas and pepper spray emerged a system that would utilize energy to disable and control crowds. Since its inception, the ADS has undergone a few different iterations, but the general principle of the system is the same. An ADS generates a focused millimeter-wave radio frequency beam, which it directs from a large radio dish. (Source

Energy weapons
Image of a larger, base based ADS mounted on the back of a large transport vehicle. Image via Wikimedia commons (Source)

The effect of the Active Denial System is a unique one. According to testing records, volunteers in the ADS program describe the sensation of being hit by the ray as extreme heat, or like opening an oven door. (Source) The sensation is so uncomfortable that it causes an almost instant reaction to those hit by it. Other participants who have been hit by the device describe it as even more intense, like a “blast furnace” that overwhelms the target’s nervous system. (Source)

The science behind the system is disturbing yet effective. Because the waves the device is sending out don’t penetrate the skin past the top 1/64th layer of the dermis, it doesn’t cause permanent damage. (Source) Within this layer however, nerves are attacked directly and blood is heated, causing an extreme level of discomfort. 

Ray Guns for Peace

The ADS is deployed primarily inside military bases in areas that may face civilian crowds and potential protests. The system allows crowds to be rapidly dispersed, without any lethal force being used. Studies on the system’s long term physiological effects surprisingly conclude that there are no lasting effects on a person’s body. (Source

The system of course is not without its faults. It is noticeably less effective in rain, dust and snowing conditions. It also faces the notorious issue among energy weapons of energy demand. It is noted that many ADS, particularly ones deployed to military zones, can take a long time to get up and running, and cost a tremendous amount of power to operate. (Source)

Despite all these shortcomings, a device that can render an entire crowd completely disabled may seem a bit dystopian, but ultimately can save a lot of lives. An ADS can be deployed into a contentious combat zone or even in a domestic upheaval, and essentially remove the need for lethal force.

A New Era of Weapons

Energy weapons are a science fiction idea made reality. Directed energy weapons bring defense systems to land, air and naval forces to defend against ordnance, UAVs and even direct engagements with enemy forces. ADS has a wide range of life saving applications despite its painful method of disabling combatants. 

We are a long way until soldiers are running into the field with E-11s or Ray Guns, but energy weapons are going to be an increasingly important component of many modern forces. 


South Korea: One of the World’s Biggest Arms Exporters

Korean K9 Thunders.


South Korea has seen military expenditure rising for ten consecutive years since 2010. Its military technology has improved, and its weapons have become of comparable quality to those produced in the US. South Korea’s arms exports have exponentially increased in the past years, enabling the country to become one of the world’s biggest arms exporters.

KJ-1 It is highly likely that arms exports will increase in the next 12 months. 

  • South Korea’s arms exports have increased more than sixfold since 2005. They exceeded imports for the first time in 2021.  Korea’s arms exports between 2016 and 2020 were worth $3.8 billions, which made up 2.7% of the world’s arms sale. South Korea is the ninth-largest arms exporter and owns more than half of the market share for self-propelled artillery. Its trade involves armoured vehicles, tanks and fighter jet trainers, cluster bombs and rocket launchers. [source]

  • In the past years home-grown military technology has improved in the country. Many domestic weapons system are now of a comparable quality to those produced in the US. The only difference is that they are cheaper, attracting many costumers in emerging countries. [source]

  • K9 Thunders, a self-propelled howitzer manufactured by a South Korean defence company, has become one of the most traded items of Korean military exports. In December 2021, South Korea concluded a $788 millions contract with Australia to provide K9 thunders. In the same year, a $3.5 billions contract was concluded with United Arab Emirates as well as a $1.7 billions agreement with Egypt. [source]

  • In addition, increasing arms exports make perfect economic sense for South Korean defence companies. Producing larger quantities should lower production costs per unit and should also lower the costs of development. [source]

KJ-2 It is highly likely that security bilateral agreements and technological cooperation will increase in the following 12 months. 

  • According to experts, South Korea emerging role as one of the world’s biggest arms exporters, will also have other benefits for the government. This is because arms deals often come with bilateral security agreements, technology sharing and close alignment of foreign policy. [source]

  • For instance, the $788 millions contract with Australia came with South Korea future construction of manufacturing plants in Geelong. In addition, the $1.7 billions agreement with Egypt was accompanied by the promise to offer Egypt military cooperation, such as training and maintenance. Moreover, in March 2022, the UAE’ s defence minister discussed with his Korean counterpart to expand cooperation in the arms industry and defence collaboration. [source]

KJ-3 It is likely that South Korea’s arms buildup will have negative consequences for peace-building in the Korean Peninsula in the next 12 months. 

  • South Korea saw its military expenditure rising for ten consecutive years from 2010 throughout 2019. Critics question the contribution of South Korea’s massive arms increase to national security especially with regard to North Korea, which is still considered the country’s primary security threat. [source]

  • North Korea’s arsenal falls far behind the one of South Korea, as Seoul’s annual military spending amounts to $50 billions, which is more than North Korea’s entire GDP. Some experts say that the arms disparity between the two countries is what motivates Pyongyang to continue to develop its nuclear weapons and missiles.  [source]

  • North Korea has embarked on an accelerated buildup on weapons. Since the start of the year North Korea has tested hypersonic as well as long-range ballistic missiles. According to South Korea the last test launch was of an intercontinental ballistic missile. [source]



Australia’s Defence Force’s Quest to Innovate and Expand

Australia's Defence Force
An artist’s concept of the nuclear-powered submarine SEAWOLF (SSN-21).


Australia is planning to expand its current defence force by increasing the country’s air, land, sea space and cyber capabilities. In addition, the military cooperation within AUKUS will expand to include the development of hypersonic missiles. 

KJ-1 It is highly likely that defence spending will increase in the next 6 months. 

  • Australia’s defence spending has increased in the past years. In fact, it has risen from A$30 billion in 2015 to A$50 billion in this year’s budget. According to Australia government plans, the defence budget will reach A$70 billions by 2030. [source]
  • According to Prime Minister Morrison, the government’s investments in Australia’s national security are aimed at increasing the country’s air, land, sea, space and cyber capabilities. [source]
  • The Government of Australia has announced that it plans to expand its defence personnel by nearly 30% by 2040. Therefore, the total number of the permanent Australia Defence Force personnel will increase by 80.000. The plan seeks to increase the defence workforce in every state and territory, with the majority of the expansion taking place in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia. The estimated costs of this expansion are approximately A$28 billion. [source]
  • The new defence personnel will help to fill gaps in the current force. This increase will help Australia’s upcoming nuclear submarines construction. In addition, will also allow the army to expand its intelligence and electronic warfare capabilities. [source]

KJ-2 It is likely that military cooperation within AUKUS will increase in the upcoming 6 months. 

  • Australia, UK and US in 2021 created a new defence alliance called AUKUS. The main reason is to contrast China’s growing military assertiveness in the Pacific. This trilateral defence pact envisages a wide range of diplomatic and technological collaboration, from cybersecurity to artificial intelligence. [source]
  • However, the core of this agreement is to help Australia acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered (but not nuclear-armed) submarines. These submarines are faster and harder to detect than conventionally powered ones. They can stay submerged for months and shoot missiles at longer distance. Australia will become the seventh nation to have nuclear-powered submarines, after the US, UK, France, China, India and Russia. [source]
  • On April 2022, the three countries agreed to expand their collaboration as to include hypersonic missiles, a system that is so fast that it cannot be intercepted by current missile defence systems. [source]

KJ-3 It is likely that defence cooperation with Japan and India will increase in the following 6 months.

  • Australia and Japan signed the Reciprocal Access Agreement on 6 January 2022. This strategic cooperation between the two countries will strengthen their military capabilities as well as bilateral cooperation. In addition, the agreement focuses on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well as joint military training exercises in the region. [source]
  • In March 2022, India and Australia formally announced a series of deals worth $190 millions to tighten their alliance. For instance, these package include a $25.2 million programme on space cooperation and a $4.3 million to support work on liquified natural gas supply between India, Australia and Bangladesh. Moreover, $17.9 million will be invested to enhance the two countries collaboration on critical minerals, which are vital for the production of high technology. [source]

Iranian missile strike in Irbil


In an attack like Operation Martyr Soleimani in January 2020, Iran claimed responsibility for an attack on U.S consulate buildings in Irbil, Iraq. (Source) The attack, which occurred March 13th, is said to be a retaliatory action against Israel. Two Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) members were killed in an airstrike in Syria the week prior. (Source)

Key Judgment 1: It is highly likely that this strike will intensify animosity between Iran, the U.S, and Israel – prompting increased tensions in the region in the next 6 months. 

Footage of the strike in Irbil. (Source)
  • The United States, having a laxed role in Iraq, will most likely respond with a continuation of heavy sanctions. 

  • This attack was reportedly in response to the Israeli strikes on alleged IRGC drone and munition factories in Syria. (Source)  

  • Israeli memory is long and their missiles are accurate. This attack will most likely prompt retaliatory strikes by the Israelis on other IRGC facilities. Israeli doctrine has shown that even in response to small attacks larger retaliatory strikes are a routine part of doctrine and are thought to dissuade further attacks. (Source)

Key Judgment 2: It is likely that this attack will have repercussions for the Iranian nuclear deal, and further close them off from European nations as well. 

  • Iran’s nuclear capabilities are at the heart of contention between Western nations. Talks to resuscitate the 2015 deal were paused prior to the strike in Irbil.

  • Congresswoman Elaine Luria reflected this: “If reports are accurate, the Biden Administration must withdraw its negotiations with Iran. We cannot re-enter a failed JCPOA [the Iranian nuclear agreement formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] to further empower Iran and threaten global security.” (Source)

  • This outcry is also reverberated by other Western nations, and leaves Iran shunned by nations with sway in their nuclear deal. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Iran and Russia, both being sanctioned and shunned, may grow closer in relation, cooperation and cause in defying the west. 

Key Judgment 3: It is realistically probable that Iraq will align with other regional actors and nations to dissuade further attacks on Iraqi sovereignty. 

  • Iraq has condemned the attacks in Irbil and is working with officials from the Kurdistan region to investigate the attack. (Source)  Below is a tweet from the Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. 
Iran Strike In Irbil
  • The Saudi government has also condemned the attacks, expressing solidarity and supporting measures for “[Iraq] to protect its security and stability.” (Source) In working closely with Iraq, Saudi Arabia can further exhibit regional control and dominance over their Shia adversary, Iran. 

  • Iraq is geographically positioned between Iran and their main adversaries, meaning Iranian influence in the region is not new. This attack, overall, is a continuation of a soft conflict between Iran and Israel in the region.

Operation Unthinkable 

Operation Unthinkable
Winston Churchill with a Tommy Gun during an inspection near Hartlepool, 1940 (source)


Operation Unthinkable – a preemptive attack by the West against Soviet Russia at the conclusion of WWII. Luckily, the strike never occurred. 

The operations were planned as a response to a set of factors at the conclusion of the second world war. Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill, had the plan drafted in utter secrecy, only his top command knowing of its existence. Disappointed in himself at the fate of Poland (a country that fought alongside the allies) being given to the Soviets, Churchill had the Joint Planning Staff draft the plan to invade the Soviet Union, and continue the war against the Soviet Union. Dubbed “Operation Unthinkable” for the madness the plan presented and would bring with it, it was the first plan for a “World War 3” scenario before the second one had ended. 

Approaching the Unthinkable 

There were six insinuating circumstances surrounding the operation that would need to be in place, in the JPS’ eyes, for the operation to take place with any manner of success. 

“We have examined Operation Unthinkable. As instructed, we have taken the following assumptions on which to base our examination:

  1. The undertaking has the full support of public opinion in the British Empire and the United States and consequently, the morale of British and American troops continues high.
  2. Great Britain and the United States have full assistance from the Polish armed forces and can count upon the use of German manpower and what remains of German industrial capacity.
  3. No credit is taken for assistance from the forces of the other Western Powers, although any bases in their territory, or other facilities which may be required, are made available
  4. Russia allies herself with Japan.
  5. The date for the opening of hostilities is 1st July, 1945.
  6. Redeployment and release schemes continue till 1st July and then stop.” (Source)

The report explicitly states that the operation is an attempt to “ impose upon Russia the will of the United States and British Empire.” (Source) The JPS further entertains the idea of a total war with Russia, bolstered by the remnants of Nazi Germany’s armed forces as well as Polish troops. The term “total war” is thrown around in the report, and it would be true. (Source)

Pushing the Soviets out of Eastern Europe and back to their 1939 borders would not stop the war, and the JPS realized that. They concluded the only war to truly win a war over the Soviets would be to obliterate the entirety of their armed forces in a swift, Barbarossa style attack on all known Soviet positions. (Source) If this failed, the only option from there would be to push into Moscow, the Volga, and the Caucuses, and hold them until the Soviet Union had enough of occupation and was forced to capitulate. (Source)

Operation Unthinkable
Friends 2nd Lt. William Robertson (U.S. Army) and Lt. Alexander Silvashko (Red Army), and possible future foes in 1945. (via William E. Poulson – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) 

The Unthinkable Avoided

The JPS understood that Hitler and first, Napoleon, could not tame Russia. What made them different? Well, not much. They knew that they could not force Russia not complete capitulation without another prolonged World War. Their strategy was not to take over Russia, but rather to force it into submission through sheer dominance. 

The report includes the facts that due to given circumstances, the Soviet armed forces and that of the allies, in ground-level capability, are roughly the same. Bolstered by lend-lease agreements, high numbers, and cunning offensive commanders, the Soviet Red Army was still in a fighting capacity at the end of the war. (Source) While only ⅓ of their units were properly equipped, they had all nearly seen frontline combat. (Source) And although inferior in the eyes of the Allies, their command and supply structure was able to defeat Germany on the Eastern front. 

Using all of this information, the JPS concluded the following:

“Assuming, however, that it is decided to risk military action on a limited basis, accepting the dangers set out above, we have examined what action we could take in order to inflict such a blow upon the Russians as would cause them to accept our terms, even though they would not have been decisively defeated and, from the military point of view, would still be capable of continuing the struggle.” (Source)


It is hard to think of the world today, if “Operation Unthinkable” occurred. If it was successful, there could have been a “free” Eastern Europe, and the Iron Curtain could have just been drawn at the Soviet border. The Soviets would be decimated militarily, and social unrest would run rampant in the war-torn country, now fighting two invasions back to back. A reset of world order could have occurred 50 years early, and the Berlin Wall could have fallen before it was ever even built.

If it failed, who truly can gauge the losses on either side? The United States could have used nuclear weapons to destroy Moscow, Leningrad, and Vladivostok, gripping the country in a nuclear winter. The Red Army could have won the initial engagements in Germany and Poland, and could have pushed past the Rhine and into France. 

Churchill weighed these options heavily in his mind. Luckily, he was dissuaded from the plan when he realized that Japan would capitulate to the United States after their nuclear weapons were dropped and that losses in another total-style war would be insurmountable while ensuring the economic and social destruction of both countries. Although the history we know of post-WWII Europe and the Cold War is already grim, it truly is unthinkable to conceptualize a world and world order without it.