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February 16, 2001

Notes from the Pentagon

China cruise missile
China's military conducted a test of a new cruise missile last month, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

The missile test was monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies. Officials said the missile does not have a Pentagon designation yet.

China currently operates several anti-ship cruise missiles, including its most advanced C-801, which was sold to Iran. The Chinese also have imported supersonic SSN-22 Sunburn anti-ship cruise missiles for deployment on its two Russian-made Sovremenny guided-missile destroyers.

Adm. Robert Natter, commander of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, mentioned China's growing anti-ship cruise-missile threat during a meeting with reporters this week. He suggested that China may be developing an advanced version of the Sunburn.

In discussing future Navy force structure and capabilities now under review, the four-star admiral asked whether the Navy wants to be able to confidently counter such threats.

"The Sovremennys in China come to mind," he said. "They've got a pretty good surface-to-surface missile on that ship. Can we counter it? Yes. Can we counter a supersonic grandson of that missile? I'm a little more worried about that."

Military voters
The director of the Defense Department's Federal Voting Assistance Program is letting Congress know that, if there were problems in overseas military balloting in the 2000 election, don't blame her office.

In a three-page letter to Rep. Steve Buyer, Indiana Republican, Director Pauline K. Brunelli says her office unleashed "extraordinary efforts" to educate service members on how to vote legally and promptly.

"We are meeting with state and local election officials and convening meetings with military coalition and overseas citizens organizations for remedies to ballot transit time to include the use of technology," Ms. Brunelli says in the Jan. 30 letter.

The tumultuous, 36-day Florida recount, where late-counted overseas ballots provided the winning margin for President's Bush's 537-vote victory, showcased glitches in military absentee voting.

Democratic Party lawyers exposed those weaknesses by challenging hundreds of votes on grounds they lacked Florida's requirement for a postmark. The Pentagon acknowledged that some envelopes did not get stamped. In other cases, ballots mailed aboard ship were late arriving in the United States.

Ms. Brunelli's letter contends her office took steps beforehand to prevent such snafus. Among them:

  • Taping a video of Gen. Henry H. Shelton, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, "explaining the importance of military participation in our election process."

  • Conducting 62 workshops for voting-assistance officers. "These workshops provided guidance and training to the men and women responsible for assisting military and overseas citizens in understanding and complying with the individual state's requirements for requesting absentee ballots."

  • Sending a package of proposed legislative changes to each state to "simplify this process and make the absentee voting process more consistent among the states." The department is asking states to do away with "unnecessary restrictions" such as notarized or witnessed ballots while urging them to allow Internet voting.

    Ms. Brunelli wrote that, to date, 45 states have accepted her office's on-line design of the federal application for a state ballot.

    "Providing this form on our Web site made it immediately available to military and overseas citizens who otherwise may have been inconvenienced in obtaining a copy of the card stock form," she says.

    Predator 1, Iraq 0
    How many Iraqi jet fighters does it take to shoot down an unmanned aerial vehicle? Answer: More than two.

    Intelligence officials tell us two Iraqi jets recently scrambled in an unsuccessful attempt to intercept and shoot down a U.S. Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) over the skies of Iraq.

    The Predator is a propeller-driven pilotless aircraft that can send back video and photo reconnaissance pictures. During the recent encounter, we are told, the Iraqi jets wanted to blast the drone with an air-to-air missile but failed. "They were unable to acquire the UAV" with the onboard targeting gear, one official said.

    Cash-strapped Army
    The money crunch continues to hit the U.S. Army hard. We received this dispatch from Germany recently highlighting how shortages of funds were cutting sharply into training time and housing repairs.

    "Over here in Germany, home of the US Army 1st Armored and 1st Infantry Divisions, we are really feeling the effects of the last administration," one officer wrote.

    "My brigade of over 2,000 soldiers does not have any money right now to send our troops to essential military readiness schools; we are short parts and tank upgrades; I am 50 percent or below in some soldier quotas."

    This message was sent from a corps commander last month:

    "Just keep in mind that [U.S. Army, Europe commander] Gen. [Montgomery] Meigs has only one pot of money right now because we are so strapped, and that is the Base Support Fund. If you request an allocation to fix some operational program, you might get approved for that request, but just know that that money will come from the Base Support Fund: that means you are taking from your soldiers and their families."

    At one base in Budingen, Germany, soldiers' housing was found to have mold growing on the walls and rampant cockroach infestation. Single soldiers are living in houses with no heat and with crumbling walls. "We cannot seem to keep up," said one officer.

    The Joint Chiefs of Staff want Congress to approve $7 billion in emergency funding to tackle some of these problems. But so far, President Bush, who ran on a slogan of "help is on the way" to the armed forces, has refused to submit a formal request. But Pentagon officials say the president eventually will send over the paperwork once Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld pulls enough staff together to scrutinize each item.

    Coed submarines
    The Pentagon women's advisory committee has been pressing the Navy for years to reconfigure the under-construction Virginia-class attack submarine to accommodate women.

    The Navy has repeatedly said no. But that's not to say it did not take a careful look at mixed-sex boats.

    We're told that during the early design phase, the Navy created a special private berthing area where women could be housed, complete with their own "head" óNavy parlance for a bathroom. But once the room was drawn in, designers had to take space away from other areas. They found out the sub lacked sufficient room for storage, so the experiment was scrapped.

    "There just wasn't enough storage space," one Navy source says.

    If anyone has seen video footage of a Los Angeles-class attack sub going to sea, they know just how crowded things are. Food and other supplies are stacked in every available space. Crewmen sleep in the torpedo room. Sailors eat shoulder-to-shoulder in the mess.

    The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) in a report last year urged the Navy to redesign the Virginia.

    "Current experience indicates it is unreasonable to presume that women will not be assigned to submarines sometime in the next 40 years," which is the estimated service life of Virginia-class submarines, the committee said. "Redesign now before this submarine class begins full production will avoid even more costly reconfiguration in the future."

    But the Navy said in a memo that reconfiguring the sub, scheduled to enter service in 2004, "would have two negative effects: further degrade habitability for both genders and require removal of operational equipment reducing war-fighting effectiveness."


  • A Pentagon insider's assessment of 68-year-old Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld: "He has a lot of energy. He's very smart and very crafty. He has a tight inner-circle."

  • Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican and a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, departs today for Russia along with a congressional delegation. The group is to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday and is scheduled to travel to Kaliningrad. A major topic of discussion will be menacing Russian strategic war games and the deployment of tactical nuclear weapons to Kaliningrad, a Baltic enclave, Mr. Weldon tells us. "It's very troubling to me," Mr. Weldon said of the exercises and nuclear arms.

  • 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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