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May 9, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

Taiwan F-16s
The Bush administration is divided over plans to sell Taiwan advanced F-16 jets, with the State Department opposing the sale and the U.S. military favoring the transfers.

Defense officials say the U.S. Pacific Command, which is in charge of U.S. forces in Asia and would lead any U.S. defense of Taiwan from Chinese attack, wants the White House to approve the sale and do so sooner rather than later because of the growing imbalance of military forces in the area.

Taiwan's air force currently flies about 150 F-16A/B model jet fighters that were purchased in 1992. Taiwan in May 2006 told the U.S. government that it wants to buy 66 F-16C/D models to counter a growing Chinese missile and aircraft threat across the Taiwan Strait. China has some 1,000 missiles within range of Taiwan and also has Russian-made Su-27 jets armed with advanced missiles in the area.

But State Department officials want the sale postponed in order to avoid upsetting China prior to the Olympic Games, saying that Beijing already is angry at the protests that have dogged the worldwide Olympic torch relay over its military crackdown on Tibet. These officials want to delay the F-16 sales until after the games or later. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and calls U.S. arms sales an interference in its internal affairs.

The Pentagon's latest annual report to Congress on the Chinese military, made public in March, stated that China continues to deploy its most advanced weapons, including missiles and aircraft, opposite Taiwan. The report said the Chinese military expansion is shifting the cross-Strait military balance in Beijing's favor.

Taiwan's legislature last year approved a long-awaited defense spending budget of $8.9 billion for 12 P-3 anti-submarine patrol craft, six Patriot anti-missile system upgrades and sea-launched surface-to-air missiles.

However, the State Department is blocking or slowing Taiwanese plans to purchase eight submarines, Patriot missiles and Apache attack helicopters.

The arms sales slowdown is backed by the White House National Security Council staff, which has been quietly behind the gradual shift over the last several years away from support for Taiwan in favor of backing Beijing on most policy issues.

A Pacific Command spokesman declined to comment.

"This administration if fully prepared to live up to its obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan military capabilities to defend itself," said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe. "We will work with the new leadership in Taiwan, once in place, to ascertain their defense needs. It is premature to talk about any specific new defense sales for Taiwan until the new defense team on Taiwan is in place."

A State Department spokesman could not be reached for comment.

So long CIFA
The Pentagon is getting rid of the last dedicated counterintelligence unit in government devoted exclusively to identifying strategic foreign spying threats, a little-known unit called the Counterintelligence Field Activities, or CIFA.

Anti-counterspy intelligence officials at CIA had long disliked CIFA, which, while not perfect, was making strides in figuring out the threat posed by such services as the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security and China's Ministry of State Security.

Last month, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates ordered James Clapper, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, to fold CIFA into the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The reorganization will create a new center within DIA called the Defense CI and Humint Center (DCHC), headed by a DIA official.

Critics in the intelligence community said the reorganization runs counter to the recommendation of the panel set up after the intelligence failure on Iraq's weapons program. The commission called for giving CIFA an operational role to go after spies and terrorist supporters.

"CIFA may not have been ready for that role, but what they were doing was providing the brains behind what little operational counterintelligence capability we have," said one official. "They were helping us to be not just reactive, as the FBI is, but figuring out how to defeat the Iranians."

The reorganization was quietly pushed by elements of the CIA's operation directorate, which viewed CIFA as an encroachment on its turf.

DIA spokesman Don Black said a transition team is now implementing the reorganization within DIA and the new center could be up and running by this summer.

Pentagon spokesman Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick Ryder said the reorganization will "strengthen the department's and the nation's capabilities in both of these important disciplines," both counterspying and human intelligence gathering.

China surveillance
Defense officials said China has deployed a new wide-area ocean surveillance system that includes an underwater sonar network of sensors, and ground- and sea-based long-range radar that will make it more difficult for U.S. submarines to protect the fleet and to track China's growing force of new attack and missile submarines.

A former U.S. government defense specialist on China said on the condition of anonymity that there are indications China is operating a rudimentary underwater Sound Surveillance System, or SOSUS. The sonar network includes fixed sensors that can pinpoint U.S. submarines operating in some areas of the western Pacific.

The U.S. Navy operates a similar system at strategic underwater choke points around the world.

The Chinese SOSUS has been detected underwater in the Bohai Sea, off the northern Chinese coast, north of the Yellow Sea, a major Chinese navy operating area. Additionally, China also has set up at least five long- and medium-range radar sites along its coast that have over-the-horizon capability, the former official said.

The sonar and radar are part of China's key strategic wartime goal of knocking out the five or more aircraft carrier strike groups that would be rushed to the region near Taiwan in any future conflict. Those carrier battle groups are defended by submarines.

"If they are after carriers, we protect carriers with subs and if they know where they are, they can find the carriers," said the former defense official, who confirmed that the Chinese are developing various ground, sea and space sensors designed to "target the American fleet."

The Chinese sonar and radar also complicates the Navy's mission of tracking China's submarine fleet, which includes large numbers of newer and quieter attack and ballistic missile boats with JL-2 nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States.

"If the Chinese can do SOSUS that would be a tremendous leg up for their submarines," the defense official said. "Because the best way to hunt a sub is with a sub."

China's SOSUS array "will make it more difficult to follow and prosecute their [missile submarines] with all their missiles aimed at the U.S.," the former official said. The radar-sonar network provides the Chinese military with "constant air and sea coverage of the western Pacific for the first time, so they can keep a 24-7 trail on American naval assets for the first time."

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

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