Return to

September 23, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

New strategic missile
The Air Force is reviewing plans to modernize the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile force, now made up of 500 single-warhead Minuteman IIIs, including plans for a new ICBM.
A report on the effort includes options for extending the life of the aging Minuteman III force through 2020, and building a new missile system as a replacement, said Air Force Gen. Lance Lord, commander of Air Force Space Command who took part in a study of the options for the ground-based ICBM force.

A ceremony was held Monday to mark the deactivation of the last of 50 Peacekeeper 10-warhead ICBMs in Wyoming.

Gen. Lord said in an interview that plans call for extending the life of the Minuteman IIIs through the next decade.

The single-warhead missiles, first deployed in 1970, are being upgraded with new propulsion systems, new guidance packages, heating and ventilation work on silos, shielded communications, and better command and control systems.

But the Pentagon will need a new system to replace the Minuteman IIIs beginning about 2018.

"We'll look at what's the best way to get to a replacement system over the years ahead," Gen. Lord said. "We're looking at perhaps a spiral approach to that, ... a follow on [missile] and what's the best basing mode."

Gen. Lord said the nuclear deterrence mission has not changed. "We're with a 500 [missile] day-to-day high-alert force that is our deterrent capability that this nation depends on every day," Gen. Lord said. "We're proud to do that, until told otherwise."

Additionally, Space Command is looking at converting some existing Minuteman IIIs into conventional ICBMs, equipped with high-explosive, precision-guided warheads. The missile has a range of more than 6,000 miles with its nuclear warhead and would have greater range with a smaller conventional warhead.

"What we looked at is a conventional ICBM that has the inherent capability of a [nuclear] ICBM, with its accuracy, speed and range," Gen. Lord said. "Those military characteristics are attractive for a particular set of targets."

Space Command is working with the U.S. Strategic Command, which has requested a study of the conversion.

The big house
The 500-inmate compound at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, once a mix of temporary buildings holding some of the world's most dangerous criminals, is looking more like a modern American prison three years since its creation.

The Pentagon brought federal prison specialists to help design and build more permanent structures. Officials contend they are more humane, safer for military police guards and better for interrogations.

Now open is "Camp 5," a combined prison and interrogation center. It comes with closed-circuit televisions and automatic doors, which greatly increase safety for military police who have been subjected to brutal attacks by detainees.

Coming in 2006 is "Camp 6," the equivalent of a maximum-security prison. The 200-bed complex will hold the most dangerous al Qaeda and Taliban operatives who can expect to spend years at Guantanamo.

Also opened is "Camp 4," a communal-living compound for prisoners who live by Guantanamo's rules.

"We're going to have detainees for some time to come," Matthew C. Waxman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, tells us. "The war on terrorism is going to be a long war." The U.S. taxpayer has poured $100 million in construction funds into Guantanamo detention facilities. It cost nearly that much to run the camps each year. Mr. Waxman said the Pentagon has identified about a dozen ex-Guantanamo detainees who were released, only to turn up again on the Afghanistan battlefield to fight Americans. He conceded they had fooled their U.S. screeners.

"Many of the people at Guantanamo, the detainees, have received sophisticated training in counterinterrogation techniques," he said. "Many of them have fabricated cover stories."

Freedom of religion
The Naval Academy is holding firm to its policy of having a noontime prayer or moment of silence for midshipmen.

At some point, the American Civil Liberties Union is expected to file a lawsuit to stop the practice. Here is an academy statement, in part, justifying the prayer:

"The mission of the Naval Academy centers on developing midshipmen morally, mentally and physically to provide combat leaders of character for our Navy and Marine Corps." When entering the Naval Academy, all midshipmen take an oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States," which is an oath similar to that taken by Navy and Marine Corps officers. America and our Constitution were founded on the principle of freedom of religion and our task is to ensure all midshipmen understand this principle and are free to worship as they desire.

"The Naval Academy observes and encourages freedom of religion. The Naval Academy teaches and practices the important principles of tolerance instead of intolerance, inclusion instead of exclusion, and the rights of others instead of the imposition of beliefs on others. ... One part of this process involves offering the Brigade of Midshipmen a nonsectarian prayer, a moment of silence, or devotional thoughts during announcements before most weekday noontime meals at the Academy."

Made in China
A senior House staffer back from a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan said the Taliban and al Qaeda enemy are increasingly turning to Chinese-made arms to fight U.S. troops.

Of particularly concern are new AK-47 rifles and land mines. The source said the weapons are bought on the black market, some with proceeds from opium and heroin sales.

Enemy cats
Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, spent a 30-year-plus career in special operations, often planning missions against Islamist militants. In a recent meeting with a small group of reporters, he assessed the importance of the ongoing war on Islamist terrorists:

"I personally believe this is a very important undertaking that we're under and it's very important to the future security of our nation that we be successful in this. I think people are being very shortsighted that don't understand it. I have devoted a great [deal] of my life in fighting these cats and this is real."

  • 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

  • Inside the Ring Archives
    1999 Columns
    2000 Columns
    2001 Columns

    2002 Columns
    2003 Columns
    2004 Columns
    2005 Columns
    Return to