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May 20, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

Army maneuvers
The Army is getting around the ban on mixed-sex support units embedding with combat units by pulling out female soldiers when fighting occurs.

This fire-drill approach to running Forward Support Companies, known as FSCs, is one big reason why House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, California Republican, is moving to have the ban restated in the pending 2006 defense authorization bill.

The committee, in an amendment passed this week, added language that would require the Army to report any changes in combat rules for women, but backed off from an amendment to ban women from FSCs. The full House also must endorse the bill, along with the Senate, for Mr. Hunter's proposal to become law.

The Army used to keep FSCs all-male. With new modular brigades, called units of action, and a shortage of soldiers, the service moved to redesign the way FSCs deploy.

There are 13 FSCs in the 3rd Infantry Division, the first with units of action. In a typical FSC, there are 226 positions, about 90 percent of which are coded male-only.

Defense analysts who have seen the Army's unit of action organization chart say it is just not workable to pull women in and out of FSCs depending on whether the unit they support is conducting combat.

The FSCs are critically important because they provide the unit of action with ammunition, fuel, communications and maintenance support.

Pentagon policy bans women from direct ground combat units, but allows them to fly combat aircraft and serve on most types of warships.

Pacific carrier
Pentagon force structure planners are still working on where to "forward deploy" a second aircraft carrier battle group in the Pacific.

As part of the global military force posture review, the Pentagon has decided it needs a second carrier group closer to hot spots such as the Taiwan Strait and North Korea.

The United States has the USS Kitty Hawk carrier battle group based in Yokosuka, Japan, near Tokyo.

Defense officials say the choices for deploying the second carrier are Honolulu and the western Pacific island of Guam.

Pentagon officials say Hawaii is a choice because it already has a well-developed port and other infrastructure. It also is home to the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Command.

Guam, however, is more strategically located and would allow U.S. power to reach Asia more quickly, a key element of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's goal for military force restructuring.

Defense officials say unsettling conflict scenarios related to China's rapid military buildup primarily Beijing's new warships, submarines and aircraft designed specifically to attack U.S. warships are lending support to deploying the carrier at Guam, where up to eight U.S. attack submarines also are being deployed.

On the other hand, China's development and purchase of precision strike cruise and ballistic missiles have some strategists in the Pentagon saying that a second carrier should be stationed safely at Honolulu.

Missile defense
The Japanese government has agreed to spend some $600 million over five years to help the Pentagon upgrade the Standard Missile-3 interceptor, the heart of the Navy's new sea-based missile defense system.

According to the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, the Japanese funding of the upgrade, expected to begin in 2007, is viewed as a substantial contribution to the Navy missile defense system in the future.

Tokyo has announced its plans to field a sea-based missile defense system on its Aegis battle management-equipped ships in the next six years. It already has bought current SM-3 interceptors, and flight tests of those missiles are scheduled to begin this year near Hawaii.

The new, upgraded missile is known as SM-3 Block II and will increase the size from 13.5 inches in diameter to 21 inches, with bigger motors and warheads. It will have increased range for more lethal capability against enemy ballistic missiles, the officials said.

The new missile "will result in a greatly expanded defended area, and it will be able to counter long-range missiles," one official told us. The Pentagon at first opposed the upgrade, favoring the smaller-diameter missile for its launch tubes.

Japan faces a threat from North Korea and Chinese missiles and is moving ahead with deploying a defensive missile shield. Its sea-based system will be built on four existing Kongo-class guided missile destroyers plus two new warships. The first missile-defense destroyer could be deployed in 2007. Tokyo also plans to purchase U.S. Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile systems for use on land.

A total of 15 U.S. Navy destroyers and three cruisers will be outfitted with sea-based missile defenses between the end of next year and 2009.

Bad message
Lt. Col. Mark E. Winn has urged the superior officer of 2nd Lt. Ilario Pantano to drop murder charges lodged by the Marine Corps. The Marines charged Lt. Pantano in the shooting deaths of two Iraqi insurgents.

But Col. Winn did not give Lt. Pantano a total pass. In his 16-page report after a pretrial hearing he presided over at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Col. Winn recommended administrative punishment in one area. He said Lt. Pantano should not have emptied two M-16 clips as a way to send a message to Iraqi insurgents.

"We are fighting against terrorists, who use techniques like torture and beheadings to strike fear and intimidate the weak," Col. Winn wrote. "We must never allow ourselves to vacate the moral high ground under the guise of 'sending a message to these Iraqis and others' in order to intimidate. As officers in the United States military, it is our sacred obligation to teach our junior men what is moral and just in war, and what is not. Shooting thirty extra rounds of ammunition into two bodies to send a message is not moral and just. And more importantly, it teaches the wrong lessons to our young men."

Sniper demand
The insurgency in Iraq is increasing the demand for U.S. military snipers.

Brian K. Sain, a Texas-based police sniper, is spearheading a private effort to supply the key ingredients to U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Mr. Sain heads, which has raised about $400,000 from the private sector including major corporations and wealthy Hollywood celebrities to help supply equipment to Marine and Army snipers.

Just this week, Mr. Sain received a request from a Marine in Fallujah asking for his group to provide him with a scope and bipod for his standard-issue M-16.

"I have an M-16 A4, I will be the designated marksman IF I can get my own equipment," the Marine stated.

"We're using snipers over there in record numbers," Mr. Sain said in an interview.

The military is finding its troops are experienced in using armored convoys but lack knowledge about using snipers against insurgents, he said. "In a war, you need people that know how to shoot," Mr. Sain said.

A common insurgent tactic is to use a roadside bomb to attack a vehicle convoy and then shoot at soldiers in vehicles.

To deal with the threat, more trained snipers and marksmen are being used to provide cover during the attacks, he said.

The U.S. snipers in Iraq have become so effective against the insurgents that many have bounties placed on them by the terrorists and insurgents.

  • 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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