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July 30, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Congress recently savaged the budget for the Air Force's space-based radar system. Some congressional sources say the reason is rooted partly in a dispute over the next Army secretary.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has irked senior senators by bypassing acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee and picking a corporate figure for the secretary post.

He delivered that disappointing news to senators just as the Appropriations committees from the House and Senate were sitting down to forge the $416 billion defense budget for fiscal 2005.

Mr. Rumsfeld wanted the Senate's help to restore $252 million in cuts from the space-based radar made by the House. But senators apparently put up no fight, acceding to the House's position in the final bill, leaving just $75 million for the program.

"It certainly looked to me like a message was sent," a congressional official said.

EP-3 intercept
A Chinese jet conducted an aerial intercept of a U.S. EP-3 aircraft over the South China Sea last week, as the aircraft sought to monitor Chinese military activities.

The Chinese F-8 interceptor came within 500 feet of the U.S. surveillance plane, according to defense officials.

"There's been an intercept every couple of weeks for the last year," one official said, noting that the Chinese fly close to the Japan-based U.S. aircraft "every fourth or fifth flight."

"They haven't demonstrated any of the craziness of the past," the official said, referring to the Chinese pilot who crashed into an EP-3 in 2001, killing himself and nearly killing the U.S. crew.

The latest intercept involved an EP-3 that was on a monitoring mission with two objectives: listen in on the large-scale Chinese military exercises on Dongshan Island near Taiwan and watch for three Chinese missile tests Beijing is expected to conduct in the coming months. China has told neighboring Russia that it plans to flight-test a long-range DF-31, a medium-range DF-21 and a JL-2, a submarine-launched version of the DF-31.

Asked recently about the upcoming missile tests, Air Force Gen. Lance W. Lord, chief of the Colorado-based Air Force Space Command, said, "If they test, we'll see them."

The April 1, 2001, midair collision of an F-8 and EP-3, also over the South China Sea, led to the Bush administration's first crisis a confrontation with Beijing over the 23 crew members who made an emergency landing at a military base on Hainan Island. The Americans were imprisoned upon landing.

The Chinese then stripped all electronic gear from the aircraft, and U.S. officials tell us it has since been used as part of a major "denial-and-deception program" to prevent further monitoring of Chinese communications.

Menges honored
Constantine Menges, former official on the National Security Council during the Reagan administration, who died July 11, was honored by President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in letters.

Mr. Menges' funeral brought out a host of conservatives and eulogies from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and former U.S. Ambassador Curt Windsor. They praised Mr. Menges for his untiring work in promoting democracy and opposing tyranny. Several high-ranking Bush administration officials also attended. Mr. Bush sent a letter of condolence to Mr. Menges' widow, Nancy. The president said he and first lady Laura Bush were saddened by Mr. Menges' passing.

Mr. Powell wrote: "Constantine was a champion of freedom and a passionate defender of ideas. Those who read his prolific work and who knew his life story as a refugee from Nazism understood his steadfast opposition to all totalitarian systems and appreciated his tireless work on behalf of all its victims." Describing Mr. Menges as a "freedom fighter," Mr. Powell said it was true to Mr. Menges' character that "after the Berlin Wall fell, he seamlessly set out on a new academic mission: to help those former communist countries transform themselves into free-market democracies, the only system he knew that maximized human prosperity and happiness."

Water in the bank
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is good at metaphors. Capturing Osama bin Laden is akin to catching a chicken in the barnyard. Tapping reserve forces is like turning on the spigot of a deep barrel of water.

This week, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, outdid even the imaginative Mr. Rumsfeld.

"We opened the floodgates," Gen. Schoomaker told reporters. "As part of letting more water in the reservoir, we had them in the bank, so we used them to keep the train system going. And what we're doing now is working the headwaters to replenish the debt."

Contractors returning from the Farnborough International Air Show in England this year are bemoaning the lack of attendance by top Pentagon officials. Only a few showed up, giving big aerospace firms few customers with whom to schmooze.

The Air Force, however, thinks it did its part. It sent aircraft and more than 150 flight crews and support personnel from the United States and Europe. Still, those numbers are less than the 2002 contingent. The Air Force blames the trend on commitments in the global war on terror, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Popular military
The Gallup Poll's latest "Tuesday Briefing" shows that the military remains the top institution in the eyes of the American public.

A poll of 1,002 adults in late May showed that 75 percent of Americans expressed a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the 1.4 million active-duty armed forces.

Of 15 institutions tested, the military was ranked at the top while health-maintenance organizations were at the bottom, winning the confidence of 18 percent of respondents.

In the upper third are the presidency, organized religion and the Supreme Court.

Shaved heads
The Air Force is trying to keep up with the times by issuing a list of permitted uniform and appearance features.

Women may now wear small, black spherical earrings; men can "cleanly" shave their heads.

Personnel also may wear a black, nondescript pager or cell phone on their belts. And there is no longer a requirement to wear a tie tab with a short-sleeve shirt or blouse while traveling on commercial airliners. Backpacks can be worn over both shoulders.

Rummy's message
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sent this message to the troops to explain why the United States is in Iraq. It said, in part:

"By your skill and courage, you have put a brutal dictator in the dock to be tried by the Iraqi people and restored freedom to 25 million people. By helping to repair infrastructure, rebuild schools, encourage democratic institutions and delivering educational and medical supplies, you have shown America's true character and given Iraq a chance at a new start.

"But most importantly, your fight and ultimate victory against the forces of terror and extremism in Iraq and the Middle East will have made America safer and more secure.

"You are accomplishing something noble and historic and future generations of Americans will remember and thank you for it."

  • 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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