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February 14, 2003
Notes from the Pentagon

China gets jets
Russia delivered the latest batch of advanced SU-30MKK fighter bombers to China within the past month and additional jets are on the way, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Russia's arms exports used to be public. But under pressure from Beijing, Moscow agreed to keep secret its major weapons systems transfers to China.

Intelligence officials tell us there are indications the Russians are planning to transfer a new and highly effective air-to-ground missile known as the AS-17x as part of the Su-30MKK deal.

The Su-30MKKs are one of the most visible elements of China's military buildup that is quickly tipping the military balance in the Taiwan Strait in favor of the mainland.

Other recent Russian weapons sent or on the way to China include Su-27s, A-50 airborne warning and control aircraft, Mi-17 helicopters, AA-12 air-to-air missiles, Sovremenny guided-missile destroyers, SA-10 and SA-15 surface-to-air missiles. China also has been given the licensing rights to produce a Russian flamethrower.

No sweat
The Air Force is warning troops that when they deploy jointly with other services they may have to perform physical training, or PT, as a way to transcend different cultures.

The Air Force has long been considered the most looked-after service. Its troops always seem to get the best digs, food and recreational amenities. A recent headquarters message to personnel seemed to recognize the disparity.

"AF people deploying to a joint environment can make the most of the experience if they learn the cultural differences of the other service," said the message. "For example, units with an Army or Marine Corps officer in charge may require group PT, a necessary part of their profession; all services must respect each others' cultural differences."

The message adds, "The key to having a successful deployment and experience working with other branches of service is to learn their cultural differences so you can appreciate why they think and act differently. In turn, as an airman, you need to know as much about yourself and why you operate the way you do."

Commander relieved
The commander of the USS Kitty Hawk battle group was relieved of duty yesterday for having an affair with a female officer, the U.S. 7th Fleet announced.

Rear Adm. Steven Kunkle, commander of Carrier Group Five, was removed from his post because of "a loss of confidence," according to a statement by the fleet from Yokosuka, Japan.

Adm. Kunkle was ordered to Japan after a nonjudicial proceeding found he "had engaged in an improper relationship with a female naval officer," the statement said.

A Navy spokesman said the woman in question was not under Adm. Kunkle's command.

The Kitty Hawk was ordered to the Persian Gulf last week to bolster three other carrier battle groups preparing for military action against Iraq.

Media call-up
In addition to activating thousands of reservists in preparation for war with Iraq, the Pentagon this week sent notices to news organizations that it is ready to put nearly 500 reporters and photographers with military units headed for the Middle East.

The media "embed opportunities," as the Pentagon calls them, will place reporters with Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps units.

DIA says Speicher alive
Defense Intelligence Agency Director Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby told Congress this week that missing Navy pilot Capt. Michael Scott Speicher is believed to be alive and held prisoner in Baghdad.

During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats, Adm. Jacoby was asked by the committee chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican, about the pilot, who was reclassified for a second time in October to "missing/captured" based on intelligence that Iraq has been holding an American pilot since the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

"We have a number of leads ...," Adm. Jacoby said, noting there is no conclusive information on Capt. Speicher's fate.

"Our assessment is we are pursuing it as if Captain Scott Speicher is alive and being held by the Iraqis," he said. "We continue with our assessment that the Iraqis know of his fate and that they are not forthcoming with the information that they have available."

Saudi center
We continue to find interesting excerpts in an internal Air Force report on one of its crown jewels: the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Saudi Arabia's Prince Sultan Air Base, or "P-SAB" as the initiated call it.

For example, the report says the Air Force has yet to master linking staff of U.S. Central Command, Air Force — or Centaf — with Joint Task Force-Southwest Asia.

Tying the two "in preparation for a [major theater war] still remains one of [Centaf´s] greatest challenges. Time, distance and different daily missions creates many disconnects requiring constant effort to keep the two operations lashed up," the report said.

The report says the Air Force decided in 2001 to assign personnel to the CAOC for longer periods to improve experience levels, but "it doesn't appear that anything has resulted from this direction and rated manning has continued to decline. ... We believe [Air Force] rotation policies, especially a 90-day changeover cycle all at once, does not work for CAOC continuity of operations, especially with untrained people."

The report adds, "We're willing to switch out CAOC leadership in war with people with no training and who don't even know any operators. For our premier USAF Weapon System we do not man our force smartly. Our people want professional leadership in the CAOC. They told us so."

Three amigos
The Army's potential future leaders are the ones running the ground show in the Persian Gulf. They are:

•Lt. Gen. John P. Abizaid. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld plucked Gen. Abizaid from a senior Pentagon job for a unique position: second deputy commander of U.S. Central Command. Gen. Abizaid is now in a command post in Qatar that would direct an invasion of Iraq.

A Desert Storm veteran and West Point graduate, Gen. Abizaid is one of Mr. Rumsfeld's favorite generals.

"He's better than any Army general in any possible category," said an Army insider.

Another called him a "strategist and gifted field commander."

•Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan. As commander of Central Command's Army forces, Gen. McKiernan will direct land operations. Also a Gulf war combatant, he is now stationed at Camp Doha, Kuwait, directing training in anticipation of an assault.

Some Pentagon insiders have mentioned him as a potential successor to Gen. John M. Keane, the Army vice chief, who is slated this summer to become Army chief of staff.

•Maj. Gen. R. Steven Whitcomb. Gen. Whitcomb last month moved from commanding the Army Armor Center at Fort Knox, Ky., to Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., as chief of staff to Gen. Tommy Franks, the overall war commander.

He was a battalion commander, 1st Armored Division, in the Gulf war.

Said retired Gen. Ronald Griffith, former Army vice chief of staff, "I have enough confidence in all three that the Army will be extremely well-served if these guys rose to more senior-level positions."

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

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