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November 18, 2010
Notes from the Pentagon

Prompt global strike
Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is offering qualified support for the New START arms treaty in an effort to counter critics who say the treaty will restrict one of the Pentagon's most promising new strategic weapons: Long-range missiles topped with conventional warheads that can hit targets anywhere on Earth in 60 minutes or less.

"The New START treaty will enable us to move forward with our modernization effort and will not put any noteworthy constraints on development of our prompt global strike capability," Gen. Cartwright told Inside the Ring in a statement.

The four-star general's qualified endorsement did not define what "noteworthy constraints" are, but the treaty limits on prompt global strike are one of the main reasons many Senate Republicans this week balked at going ahead with debate on ratification of New START during the current lame-duck session.

Their worries were bolstered by a recent Congressional Research Service report that stated, "Congress is likely to question how the New START Treaty ... would affect U.S. plans" for the conventional global-strike mission.

"Warheads deployed on boost-glide systems would not be affected by the treaty because these are new types of strategic offensive arms," the report said. "But those deployed in existing types of reentry vehicles on existing types of ballistic missiles, like the Navys [conventional-warhead Trident] program, would count against the treaty limits."

The Oct. 25 report by Amy F. Wolf states that Congress approved $406.8 million for prompt global strike missiles since October 2009.

Ms. Wolf said in an interview that Gen. Cartwright, when he was commander of U.S. Strategic Command, was a key backer of the new attack capability, which is needed for strikes on huddled terrorists in far away locations, deeply buried bunkers and movable targets that can't be reached by bombers or submarine-launched missiles.

Gen. Cartwright initially favored conversion of two out of 12 nuclear missiles on every Trident-carrying submarine to carry high-explosive warheads, something that could be done fairly quickly. Congress, however, blocked the Navy two years ago from making the conversions over fears the Russians or Chinese would mistake the conventional missiles for a U.S. nuclear attack.

During START negotiations, Moscow's negotiators demanded that conventional long-range missiles be included in the limit of 1,550 weapons each side could deploy.

But START's Article 5 states that "when a Party believes that a new kind of strategic offensive arm is emerging, that Party shall have the right to raise the question of such a strategic offensive arm for consideration in the Bilateral Consultative Commission."

Obama administration officials have said that shifting the question of prompt global strike missiles to the commission avoided formal treaty limits on the system because the commission's talks are nonbinding.

But treaty critics say giving the Russians a say on our weapons development is a bad idea.

"As I understand the treaty, a conventional ICBM or SLBM would be counted under the 700 launcher limit," said Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy under President George W. Bush. "So for every [prompt global strike] we deployed, we would have to take one nuclear launcher down. Seems like a limit to me."

Ms. Wolf, however, said the limit is more complicated. The one-for-one warhead exchange covers conventional Tridents, but not "boost glide" and "hypersonic" weapons, which are not covered because they are not ballistic missiles.

The CRS report stated that the Russians viewed prompt global strike missiles as undermining strategic stability. U.S. negotiators countered that the Pentagon does not plan to target them on Russia, nor would the U.S. deploy enough such weapons to threaten Moscow's strategic deterrent.

Those promises are what U.S. officials say has concerned treaty critics in the Senate. Additionally, START's preamble mentions that both parties are "mindful of the impact of conventionally armed ICBMs and SLBMs on strategic stability."

Despite the limits, a State Department fact sheet said the treaty "does not contain any constraints on current or planned U.S. conventional prompt global strike capability," an assurance about constraints ("any current or planned") much more emphatic than Gen. Cartwright's ("any noteworthy").

Another problem for the treaty is that the Obama administration has refused requests by senators to give the Senate the official transcript of the negotiating record. Congressional aides said the reason is that the record will likely reveal embarrassing assurances and concessions that were provided to the Russians in order to win Moscow's support.

Mystery plume update
The Pentagon and Federal Aviation Administration remain convinced that the mystery plume captured on video off the coast of Los Angeles was a jet condensation trail (or "contrail").

FAA spokeswoman Laura J. Brown told Inside the Ring that the agency's radar records and the lack of exact coordinates of plume prevented pinpointing the specific aircraft flight thought to have made the contrail.

However, extensive analysis and publicly available FAA data led the website to conclude the contrail was UPS Flight 902 from Honolulu to Los Angeles, Ms. Brown said.

"We looked at all of the radar data out to about 100 miles and could not detect any unidentified fast-moving targets in the time frame the TV station indicated that they shot the footage," she said.

Ms. Brown said FAA did not have the level of detail used by "so we did not come to any definitive conclusions about whether this was one specific flight or another."

What FAA can say conclusively is that "we don't have any radar data to indicate that any other fast-moving targets were operating in that airspace besides the aircraft that we could identify and knew were there."

"We're not the experts on the meteorological conditions that would lead to contrails."

Pentagon spokesman Dave Lapan also said the plume was a jet condensation trail. "We still believe the contrail to have been caused by an aircraft," he said.

Amos and gays
The staff of Gen. James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, is not happy with the way some news organizations quoted the general's views on repealing the military's ban on gays, known as the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Gen. Amos was quoted Nov. 7 during a visit to Marine bases in Southern California as opposing repeal at this time asserting that service members currently are involved in two wars. His comments brought a mild rebuke from Adm. Michael Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, who wants a gag on such statements as Pentagon leaders study the issue.

Maj. Joseph Plenzler, Gen. Amos' spokesman, told special correspondent Rowan Scarborough that news stories on the commandant's remarks omitted the general's full reasoning.

Here is Gen. Amos' full quote:

"There is nothing more intimate than combat and I want to make that point crystal clear. There is nothing more intimate than young men and young women, and when you're talking infantry, we're talking our young men laying out, sleeping alongside of one another, and sharing death and fear and the loss of their brothers. So I don't know what the effect of that would be on unit cohesion."

Maj. Plenzler said stories also omitted the general's remarks in defense of the survey on the issue, which was ordered by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and due in full Dec. 1. The quote:

"I mean that's what we're looking at, unit cohesion, its combat effectiveness. So I've got questions," Gen. Amos said. "And that's part of the reason I'm very, not part of the reason, it is the reason why I'm very supportive of Secretary Gates' efforts to do the survey. The survey is done, the results are in."

Gay debate loss
The gay-rights community is bemoaning the loss of one of its biggest boosters in the House of Representatives.

Two-termer Rep. Patrick J. Murphy, Pennsylvania Democrat, lost his re-election bid (54 percent to 46 percent), after successfully championing repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on open homosexuality. Republicans have stalled repeal legislation in the Senate.

"The House of Representatives and our country lost a bright, capable young leader," said Aubrey Sarvis, who heads the anti-ban Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "SLDN will forever remember and be grateful for Patrick's remarkable leadership in the fight to repeal DADT, and I have no doubt Patrick Murphy will be back to serve this nation again. We appreciate his long and extraordinary service to our country."

While it did not appear to be a big issue in his district, north of Philadelphia, a pro-ban group cited the results as a warning to lawmakers in moderate-to-conservative districts, special correspondent Rowan Scarborough reports.

Elaine Donnelly, who heads the Center for Military Readiness, cited a poll a pro-ban coalition commissioned.

"The scientific survey showed that support for gays in the military makes voters less likely to support a candidate promoting the homosexual agenda for the military," Mrs. Donnelly said. "If President Obama really wants to concentrate on more important matters, such as the economy, he should do the nation a favor and let the losing gays-in-the-military cause go."

Said Aaron Belkin, who directs the pro-gay Palm Center research group, "Murphy's fight for equality may have alienated some traditional values voters in his district and prompted them to turn out at higher rates."

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