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February 9, 2001

Notes from the Pentagon

SA-18s to North Korea
Russia is selling advanced surface-to-air missiles to North Korea, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

The North Koreans are negotiating to buy Moscow's most advanced shoulder-fired missile, the SA-18, we are told. Pyongyang wants as many as 3,000 SA-18s to plug vulnerabilities in its air defenses.

The North Korean military knows South Korea and the United States will rely on attacks by overwhelming numbers of warplanes against North Korea should conflict break out.

North Korea's strategy calls for massive forward-deployed artillery, rocket and ballistic missile attacks in the early stage of a military offensive. This is because the North's ability to sustain a conflict is limited to about a week of fighting, before it runs out of weaponry.

The SA-18s would be a new air defense capability. The North's current surface-to-air missile forces consist of fixed SA-2s, SA-3s and SA-5s. It's current shoulder-fired missiles include thousands of older SA-7s.

The SA-18 is similar in design to the U.S. Stinger anti-aircraft missile that homes in on targets using an infrared tracking system. The SA-18, also known in the Pentagon as the "Stinger-ski," has a similar infrared tracker and range of about three miles.

China Inc.
Congress in 1999 passed a law requiring the Clinton administration to identify all businesses in the United States connected to China's military and government. The administration refused, claiming Beijing ordered its military in July 1998 to divest all businesses ranging from hotels to transnational corporations.

U.S. intelligence officials now tell us the FBI has compiled a list of more than 3,000 Chinese government-linked businesses operating in the United States. The FBI's counterspies say at least 300 of the Chinese entities not only fund Beijing's military but are used to provide cover for intelligence officers or intelligence-gathering activities.

The businesses are believed to be involved in China's massive covert and overt program of acquiring technology that has both commercial and military applications.

Bush report card
We contacted a number of officers this week, asking reaction to their new commander in chief's decision not to seek emergency funding to fix readiness woes and to put off big budget increases pending a strategy study.

The reaction was mixed.

"It's not a betrayal. It is thoughtful," said one officer. "The military needs restructuring. Why not do a review then decide? [President] Bush believes in leap-ahead technology. It would be a waste to spend billions on incremental fixes."

But another officer said the Bush approach has become a hot topic in his unit.

"There's not a feeling of betrayal, but rather, a concern that perhaps the president doesn't really know how fragile many of the military's programs are. For example, there isn't a soldier in the Army that hasn't waited with bated breath for Bush to be the new president, so that he would pump money into our eroded infrastructure, for which maintenance was deferred to pay for near-term readiness."

A helicopter pilot said, "I don't know anyone who's really upset with that right now. I think most everyone I know is so happy to be rid of Clinton it really doesn't matter right now. Change doesn't happen overnight, so I think/hope he will get around to some of the changes he promised in due course. Anyway, I am willing to wait and see before I get too upset about anything Mr. Bush is doing right now."

Muffled guns
We're collecting "horror stories" from soldiers who say they cannot obtain ammunition for firing-range practice. The stories come in reaction to The Washington Times story that the Army, according to an internal memo, has a "critical . . . worldwide shortage" of 9 mm ammunition for the Beretta pistol. Fort Hood, Texas, has canceled range firings except for military police and those about to deploy overseas.

"My detachment frequently cannot obtain 9 mm that we need to train and qualify before deploying overseas where a 9 mm pistol is the primary means of personal protection," said one officer.

"There is a committee that meets to decide what ammo needs to be carefully managed. For example, .50-caliber ammo is short because we sent millions of rounds to Colombia. There aren't millions of rounds of .50-caliber just lying around so the stuff they got came out of Army accounts. Because of this, .50-caliber made the list."

Another officer said that a colleague who missed range firings had to purchase 9 mm ammo from Wal-Mart. A 50-cartridge box sells there for about $7. The soldier then had to find range time with another unit.

"I don't know if they screwed up their ammo forecasts so badly or some other reason, but we've got no bullets for our pistols at this time," he said.

Said a House defense aide, "Let's assume the military gets a modest [20 percent] quantity discount from the civilian price for its ammo purchases. If the $295,000 spent on former Defense Secretary [William S.] Cohen's Hollywood junket had been diverted to better use, the Army could have bought about 3 million rounds of 9 mm ammo."


  • The Pentagon is continuing to move U.S. military forces closer to China, should the balloon ever go up in a conflict with Taiwan. The Navy announced it will station three attack submarines at Guam beginning next year to "provide a clear advantage for crisis response and engagement opportunities," said Navy Lt. Dave Werner, a spokesman for the Pacific submarine force. China's government protested the Air Force's storage of air-launched cruise missiles on Guam in August after the transfer was reported in Inside the Ring.

  • Aggressive Russian spying continues. Government national security officials said one Russian agent of the Federal Security Service, Moscow's successor to the KGB, was particularly annoying in his efforts to recruit American officials as spies. The Russian Embassy was notified recently that the SVR officer was quietly put on notice to stop or face expulsion.

  • A General Accounting Office (GAO) report on the Marines' V-22 Osprey is dampening support for the plane-helicopter hybrid on Capitol Hill, defense aides say.

    Some of the more troubling findings are that the Corps has reduced performance goals. The distance needed for land-based takeoffs has been increased from 500 feet to 3,000 feet. And the onboard oxygen supply was reduced from seven stations to only four. Even more troubling, the GAO says the Osprey is too small to carry 24 Marines, as the Corps claims. The limit: 18.

  • Beijing quietly signaled the Bush administration recently that it would not approve of its first choice for U.S. ambassador to China: Jon Huntsman, Utah businessman and former ambassador. The action has troubled some administration officials over the fact that China was given a veto of an ambassadorial appointment.

    David Shambaugh, a pro-China academic well known to readers of this column, seemed to support Beijing's position. He recently asked in an e-mail to the semisecret list known as Chinasec if the United States is "on a dangerous drift in the wrong direction if we appoint a 41-year-old Mormon philanthropist from Texas to represent our nation in China."

    Word now is that Sandy Randt, a friend and Yale classmate of President Bush who once worked in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing as a commercial officer, is a leading contender. Mr. Randt is a businessman who sold Chinese company stocks in Hong Kong.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are syndicated columnists. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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