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March 24, 2006
Notes from the Pentagon

Missile defense
The United States is close to completing a deal that will result in the creation of a third ground-based missile interceptor site in Europe. The candidate nations for the site that will hold 10 high-speed missile interceptors are Poland, the Czech Republic and Britain, a senior defense official tells us.

Negotiations for the site have been under way for some time and more than $100 million is already authorized for the site, which is part of the global U.S. missile defense system now oriented toward Asia.

The system of interceptors and sensors now has eight ground-based interceptors located at two U.S. sites Fort Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. The European interceptor base will provide defenses against an Iranian missile attack on Europe, or possibly against the United States, if Tehran builds intercontinental missiles in the future.

Russia is expected to oppose the European interceptor base, viewing it as a threat to Moscow's missile force, although defense officials said the 10 interceptors would be no match for Russia's thousands of warheads.

Missile Defense Agency Director Lt. Gen. Henry Obering said during a speech at the fourth annual missile defense conference on Monday that the current limited missile defenses can thwart an attack from North Korea and that up to 12 interceptors will be added this year. "I am confident that if we had to use the system, the system would work," he said.

Conventional ICBMs
The United States could use a force of intercontinental ballistic missiles with conventional warheads because nuclear weapons may not deter terrorists and rogue states, the general in charge of the U.S. Strategic Command says.

Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright told a Pentagon-sponsored missile defense conference on Monday that "it's very difficult for a nuclear weapon to be a credible deterrent against an extremist."

In addition to the "tyranny of distance" that makes it hard for military forces to get to an area of the world very quickly, there is also the problem of the inadequate speed of current conventional systems. Today's bombers need an hour to travel 500 miles, and ships take longer.

An ICBM, however, can cover 6,000 miles in minutes and the technology for adding precision guided, non-nuclear warheads is available now, Gen. Cartwright said. And the warhead does not need to be high-explosive. Just the kinetic impact of a long-range inert warhead can cause tremendous damage because of the high speed. The warheads are accurate enough to land within 12 feet of the target.

The conventional ICBMs are needed for the Pentagon's new "global strike" mission to attack terrorists, or those working on weapons of mass destruction, in addition to any nation states that the United State may confront in the 21st century, like China.

"Do we want a capability that is non-nuclear? That's the heart of the debate," Gen. Cartwright said.

Guitarist missileer
One of stars at the fourth annual missile defense conference held this week was Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, the famed guitarist for the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan.

Mr. Baxter moonlights as a consultant to the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency and a number of other federal and state agencies. His specialty is "thinking out of the box," something sorely needed for the U.S. defense and intelligence bureaucracy.

Mr. Baxter describes himself as the "missile defense mascot" and was the moderator at a panel of news reporters at the conference to discuss press coverage of missile defenses.

"To me, missile defense is an imperative because of the incredible amount of blood and treasure that many of America's adversaries are investing in developing offensive ballistic capabilities," Mr. Baxter told us.

Tuesday night he played guitar during a reception sponsored by the Boeing Corp., playing a variety of guitars to highlight the history of the instrument. At one point, he was joined on stage at the Pavilion Room of the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center building by Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency.

Mr. Baxter's favorite ax: A vintage D'Angelico jazz guitar that is considered the Stradivarius of guitars.

Salty language
The attorney for Navy Lt. Bryan Black, who is being court-martialed for using foul words in the presence of a female midshipman, has filed the final legal arguments in his bid to get the Naval Academy superintendent removed as the case's overseer.

Lawyer Charles Gittins filed papers with the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, asking it to disqualify Vice Adm. Rodney Rempt as what the military calls the "convening authority."

Mr. Gittins argues that Adm. Rempt is biased and is using the Black case as part of his drive to rid the campus of sexual harassment.

"Stung by official public criticism of his personal performance as the superintendent ... the superintendent made a decision to make an example of petitioner he intended to conduct a public officer [nonjudicial punishment] hearing in order to reinforce and ramrod his apparently ineffective 'zero tolerance' policy regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault at the Naval Academy," Mr. Gittins said.

The attorney argued that it is highly unusual to hold such proceedings in public, which clearly signaled the admiral planned to convict him.

A Marine Corps officer who conducted an investigation of Lt. Black's behavior recommended he receive counseling and a non-punitive letter of caution. But Adm. Rempt overruled him and moved for nonjudicial punishment. Mr. Gittins said he rejected that option once he learned it would be staged in public and that midshipmen would be invited to watch.

The academy has declined to discuss the case. In a reply brief, the prosecution said, Lt. Black "fails to provide either evidence of any such statements or evidence of any sort that would show the [Adm. Rempt] has anything other than an official interest in [the] case."

Bowen's travels
Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the Bush administration's special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, has been trotting the globe lately.

He made another trip from his Crystal City headquarters to Baghdad in preparation for a new report to Congress next month. He then tried to fit in some vacation time in Paris. But public officials were so eager to hear his views that he spent time briefing the French on reconstruction progress and setbacks.

His briefings led to speculation in Paris that French companies may one day bid on contracts in Iraq. Iraq, for example, has no land-line telephone communications. Everything is done via cell and satellite phones. It will need a firm one day to rewire the country.

Mr. Bowen goes to Iraq one month out of three, and will return in May.

  • 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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