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February 26, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

China intelligence gaps
The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific says he is concerned about the lack of strategic information available on China's military forces despite U.S. spy agencies identifying Beijing's military as a key collection target.

"There are more gaps than I'd like to discuss here," Adm. Timothy J. Keating, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told reporters in Hong Kong on Feb. 18.

Adm. Keating went on to identify key Chinese military developments that are a concern, including a submarine buildup, "area denial" weapons, such as using long-range ballistic missiles to target aircraft carriers; anti-satellite weapons and cyberwarfare efforts.

The comments on intelligence gaps highlight a long-standing problem of lack of information on China's military and intentions.

For example, in 2001, a 12-member commission of experts from outside the government, headed by retired Army Gen. John H. Tilelli Jr., found that U.S. intelligence on China's military was flawed.

Also, the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment in December 2000 warned that the Pentagon could not predict the outcome of a conflict between China and Taiwan because of intelligence gaps.

The late Peter W. Rodman, an assistant defense secretary, told reporters in 2006 that there were "gaps" in U.S. intelligence on China that caused surprises in the past, such as the new Yuan-class submarine that was unknown to U.S. intelligence until a photo of it was published in 2004.

Chinese Col. Chen Zhou stated in an exchange with Chinese bloggers Feb. 19 that a recent white paper sought to "handle well the relationship between transparency and confidentiality." He stated that "increasing military transparency serves to increase mutual trust among countries. But transparency is relative; it must not affect the interest of national security."

A U.S. defense official said the intelligence gaps on China have persisted for more than a decade. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of intelligence shortfalls. He blamed the gaps in part on limited U.S. human intelligence and electronic spying.

An intelligence spokesman had no immediate comment.

Adm. Keating said China's recently released annual defense white paper failed to address U.S. concerns about the Chinese military buildup.

"We do not think it is as forthcoming as the Chinese think it is," he said. "We want to understand why they feel compelled to develop underwater capabilities to the extent that they are. We'd like to have a better understanding of their notion of area-denial weapon technology. We'd like to know better why they are concentrating in certain areas of space operations. We'd like to understand more fully their cyberwarfare technology and intentions."

The Chinese arms developments are known, but there are areas "where their stated intentions don't appear to us to align with their obvious developments that we see," he said.

"Transparency involves a certain insight or ability to see. We want an ability to understand and not just to see the weapons that they are developing."

Adm. Keating said his command is "very carefully" watching China's buildup of both nuclear-missile and attack submarines as well as diesel submarines, which number about 65 and are increasing their patrols farther from Chinese coasts.

He defended a security failure in 2006 when the aircraft carrier battle group led by the USS Kitty Hawk allowed a Chinese submarine to sail undetected within torpedo range of the ship.

"No danger presented to either," he said. "The carrier was in a very relaxed posture. If there were some heightened state of tension, we would, believe me, we would not let them get that close. But we are watching the submarine technology very carefully. We want them to understand that there are rules of the road, both figurative and literal, and it is very much in their best interest to observe and operate by those rules of the road."

China's military has rebuffed repeated efforts by Pacific Command and the Pentagon to reach a maritime agreement on naval operating rules.

The Chinese Embassy declined comment.

Defense budget work
Pentagon officials are working behind the scenes to finish the latest annual defense budget to be sent to Congress in the next several weeks. Budget officials have been asked by the new administration to fit all programs into a total spending request of about $527 billion.

Budget cuts are expected to include sharp reductions in numbers of tactical military aircraft and perhaps scaling back plans for building three of the Navy's new high-tech $3.3 billion warships known as DDX. Also on the chopping block are numbers of F-22 jets.

Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the chief of staff, told reporters Feb. 17 that the service is unlikely to seek to buy the 381 jets it once said were needed. Gen. Schwartz said he will be discussing plans to buy F-22s with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in the near future.

Asked about comments by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that about 60 F-22s will be bought over three years, Gen. Schwartz said: "I won't dispute Adm. Mullen's characterization, but as I've indicated, I have yet to discuss this with the secretary of defense."

Gen. Schwartz also said that as far as fighter jets go, "the expectation is the F-35 will predominate in the fighter fleet." The F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, will begin coming on line in 2013, he said.

"And certainly it will be our intent and certainly our recommendation that the F-35 production rates are sufficiently high to enjoy both production efficiencies on the one hand which will benefit not only the U.S. customers here including the Navy and the Marine Corps, but also our overseas customers," Gen. Schwartz said. "The rate of acquisition will be at a rate which can assist us with our aging issue."

One program likely to remain is for a planned new long-range bomber, according to a defense official.

Pentagon burrowing
The Pentagon is investigating an assertion from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, that Bush administration political appointees are "burrowing" into career positions at the Pentagon.

"We do not believe any 'burrowing' took place but are conducting an audit of special hiring authorities to ensure nothing occurred under the radar," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.

"However, concern that any Pentagon employee, whether career or a political holdover, would seek to frustrate the execution of the new president's policies is unfounded. We are at war. We have a commander in chief. We all, both military and civilian in the Defense Department, follow the president's directives, guidance and orders as professionals."

The comments were made in response to a Feb. 4 letter from Mrs. Feinstein to Mr. Gates asking for an investigation into burrowing by Bush appointees in the Office of Detainee Affairs.

"I ask that you immediately review the circumstances behind the conversion of these positions and the hiring of any former Bush administration appointees as career or temporary appointments in that office," she said.

A defense official said the request was prompted by reports that Tara Jones, a former aide to a Republican senator, who worked as a contractor in public affairs and became a political appointee in the detainee office, is seeking to secure a nonpolitical career position.

The official said any probe should not be limited to Bush appointees but include burrowing by Clinton administration aides, such as Kaye Whitley, a political appointee who became a highly paid GS-15 in the office for prisoner of war and missing in action issues. "These issues are hardly ever raised about Clinton politicals who obtain career positions," the official said.

  • Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202/636-3274, or at

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