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May 11, 2001

Notes from the Pentagon

DF-31 test readied
China is preparing another flight test of its new long-range missile, intelligence officials tell us. Preparations for the latest test of the new road-mobile DF-31 were detected by a U.S. spy satellite in the past two weeks at the Wuzhai Space and Missile Center in central China.

The test preparations are another sign the Chinese are rapidly moving ahead with development of the DF-31. It´s only the world´s second road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile the being deployed by Russia.

China conducted two flight tests of the DF-31 last year. Both were successful. The last flight test was carried out Nov. 4 -- during the first visit to China by Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in what defense analysts said was a calculated political signal.

The DF-31 is believed by U.S. intelligence agencies to be the first Chinese strategic weapon to incorporate stolen U.S. nuclear and missile technology, which was obtained through espionage and illegal technology export.

China or Asia?
The Bush administration is divided over how to disclose the new defense strategy to be announced by the Pentagon in the next several days.

Pentagon policy-makers want to state clearly that the threat to the United States in the coming years will be China. Soft-liners in the State Department and White House National Security Council staff want to follow Clinton administration policy and avoid mentioning China. These officials instead want the more-vague reference to "Asia-Pacific region." The debate has not been resolved.

Officials are struggling over how to declassify the document without revealing too much about how U.S. strategy and forces will shift focus from Russia to China.

Gore holdover targeted
Bush administration officials tell us Vice President Al Gore´s military assistant is now working quietly in the Pentagon to block Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld´s new efforts to bolster U.S. military space policy.

Brig. Gen. Michael Hamel is currently the Air Force´s chief space planner and as a key Gore adviser helped orchestrate the killing -- through line-item veto in 1997 -- of several key Republican space initiatives, including the military´s space plans, we are told.

"Hamel is opposed to the current direction in space espoused by the Bush administration," one official told us.

The one-star general has contacted George Washington University space analyst John M. Logsdon. Mr. Logsdon is working with Leon Feurth, Mr. Gore´s national security adviser, who also is now at the university, to conduct a series of space studies that will seek to "undermine the recent Rumsfeld Space Commission," the official said. Mr. Logsdon wrote an article in an academic journal recently, calling for a halt in efforts to use space for military power.

We are told Mr. Rumsfeld is unaware of this covert political action operation within his own department.

Unique panel
There are more than 20 Pentagon study groups carrying out President Bush´s order for a "top to bottom" review of strategy, weapons and force structure. Most have operated under a strict rule of excluding senior active duty officers from their deliberations.

An exception is the transformation panel headed by retired Air Force Gen. James McCarthy. Maybe it´s the fact that Gen. McCarthy is joined by so many other veteran combatants, such as retired Adm. Stan Arthur and retired Marine Corps Gen. Carl Mundy.

Anyway, Gen. McCarthy has allowed each service to have a designated senior officer sit in on the transformation panel deliberations and briefings. It has also allowed each branch to deliver extensive briefings on why their cherished weapons programs should not be recommended for cancellation.

Senior officials told The Washington Times the panel decided not to recommend cancellations of any major aircraft program. Some Pentagon insiders say the outcome is not surprising, given the panel´s mix of "gray beard" retired officers, some of whom work in the defense industry, and young service advocates.

Each Pentagon panel seemed to have its own definition of what Mr. Bush meant when he said he wanted a "leap" in weapons technology. That multi-interpretation allowed panels to recommend continued development of big-ticket weapons while advocating "leaps" in other areas such as communications and intelligence gathering.

"I really don´t think many people really know what he means by a 'leap´ in technology," said one department insider. "It´s not written down anywhere."

Senate rules
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld went to Capitol Hill last week for a private meeting with Republican senators who shape defense spending each year: Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi, Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens of Alaska and Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner of Virginia.

Staffs are mum about what was said inside Mr. Lott´s office. But there have been murmurings for weeks that the three are not happy with Mr. Rumsfeld´s closely held "top to bottom" review, his complaints about what he views as excessive congressional oversight, and his reluctance to put Senate staffers in senior budget and policy posts at the Pentagon.

Mr. Warner tells reporters there are no problems. Senate sources say tensions have eased in recent days as news leaked out that Pentagon review panels are not advocating massive cancellations of weapons near and dear to many lawmakers and constituents.

Greek hospitality
The Navy´s criminal investigation arm sent out a message recently on force protection and told of two sailors being assaulted by a gang of eight Greeks after visiting a bar in Souda Bay, Greece, home to a U.S. naval base.

"The victims had left a night club and were walking towards the central taxi stand in Chania when the unidentified group walking down the opposite side of the street crossed to the victims´ side of the street and blocked their path," said the message from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). "The sailors attempted to go around but were blocked by one suspect and pushed back after a verbal exchange. The suspects fled after pushing one of the sailors through a plate glass door of a local shop. He required 33 stitches."

A Navy spokeswoman at the Pentagon told us the April 19 incident did not reflect a pattern of anti-Americanism. "It´s a liberty incident as opposed to anything else," she said. "It happens all over, wherever we have sailors."

Bartlett´s beret bill
Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican, introduced a bill, with 16 co-sponsors, to restrict the Army´s ability to make the black beret standard issue for virtually all soldiers.

Mr. Bartlett initially had talked of sponsoring a bill to ban the Army from issuing berets except to elite units. The final product bans the handouts until the Army certifies to Congress that it has eliminated massive ammo shortages.

A Bartlett spokeswoman said the bill has the same effect as a ban since the Army´s ammo shortfall is measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

"What would you rather have, bullets or berets," said spokeswoman Lisa Wright.

Some lawmakers are upset the Army is spending $30 million on 4.7 million black berets at a time when officers are being told to skip the firing range due to a lack of 9 mm ammunition. The Army last week reversed policy and said no soldier would wear China-made berets.

The bill´s 17 sponsors include Republicans Duncan Hunter of California, Wayne T. Gilchrest of Maryland, J.D. Hayworth of Arizona and Dana Rohrabacher of California.

  • 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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