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December 2, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

Budget time
Talk of big cuts in weapon systems in the fiscal 2007 Pentagon budget does not seem to be materializing.

Defense sources tell us the Air Force's F-22 fighter has survived, as have the Navy's next-generation destroyer and aircraft carrier.

What might happen is a small cut in the planned purchase of 180 F-22s and a carrier design change to save money. The Air Force also is talking about using only one engine builder, instead of two, for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Army likely will rearrange the contracts for its $100 billion Future Combat System.

"There are no big ugly kills at this point," a senior Pentagon official said.

A defense industry executive said: "I don't think the cuts are nearly what the press is trying to make it out to be."

The caveat: Later this month, the White House's Office of Management and Budget will settle on a top budget number for 2007 defense spending. If the number is lower than the Pentagon expects, there could be more significant cuts. The budget goes to Congress early next year and takes effect Oct. 1.

IED update
Countering homemade bombs and other explosives in Iraq remains the top priority of U.S. and allied forces.

The devices have been used with deadly effect to kill and maim U.S. forces. To deal with the problem, the Pentagon has set up an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Task Force to figure out ways to defeat roadside and other bombs. The budget is more than $1 billion.

"IEDs are the most lethal threat we face here," one senior officer in Baghdad said. "This is very much a battle we're fighting every day."

According to military officials in Baghdad, the terrorists are using at least three types of triggers for IEDs, including infrared-signaled garage-door openers, infrared automobile car-lock openers and hard-wired bombs. All are set off when vehicles move through a target area.

To counter the threat, the military has been using broadband radio-signal jammers. But the jammers create other problems; namely, they also disrupt communications used by military forces.

Navy Capt. Chris Field, commander of the Pacific Fleet's electronic attack wing, said in a speech Oct. 24 that EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare jets are being used in Iraq to disrupt IED signals, along with other terrorist communications.

Learning lessons
British historian Nigel West said yesterday that the U.S. military in Iraq could learn a lot from British military counterintelligence operations in Northern Ireland against the terrorist campaign of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

British intelligence scored impressive successes that led to the defeat of the IRA's terrorist campaign through the use of a combination of technology and human intelligence operations, said Mr. West, a counterintelligence specialist.

As a result, about 85 percent of IRA terrorist bombings and killings were stopped in advance, and 40 percent of the group's leaders were identified or jailed.

"This is a rate of attrition that no terrorist organization can take," Mr. West said in a breakfast speech before the American Bar Association. "It is effective. It takes a long time to develop the kind of skills that are required. But the truth is the West has acquired so much technology and knowledge against Soviet targets, it is perfectly possible to beat and penetrate the terrorist target."

One key lesson for Iraq, Mr. West said, is for U.S. troops to limit the time they set up vehicle checkpoints to no longer than 20 minutes. The Brits learned that IRA terrorists could locate a military checkpoint in 10 minutes and then take 10 to 15 minutes to get their weapons and explosives and launch an attack. The rule is to set up a checkpoint, based on intelligence that terrorists may be passing through, and then move to another site quickly.

Gay troops
The homosexuals-in-the-military debate seemed settled law, until Lawrence v. Texas came along.

In the 1990s, homosexual rights groups filed a series of lawsuits across the country on the behalf of former service members discharged under the Pentagon's ban on open homosexuality. Four federal appeals courts all sided with the Pentagon, saying Congress and the White House have constitutional powers to regulate the armed forces the way they see fit. The Supreme Court refused to hear the cases. Thus: settled law.

But then the high court, in Lawrence v. Texas, ruled that states cannot make illegal consensual homosexual sodomy. Homosexual rights groups have filed suit again challenging the military ban, this time citing the Texas decision. The Uniform Code of Military Justice outlaws sodomy. Military specialists say the ban is not based on sodomy, but on the tenet that homosexuality is prejudicial to good order and discipline.

Nonetheless, federal appeals courts might get to rule on the issue again, giving the Supreme Court a second chance to consider hearing the issue in light of its landmark 6-3 Lawrence ruling.

Robert Bork, a former federal judge who thinks the Supreme Court is badly misinterpreting the Constitution on a host of cultural issues, says he would not be surprised if the court which he called "that crowd" took the case.

"They clearly view the public as atavistic," Mr. Bork said this week at a luncheon sponsored by the Hoover Institution.

Peter Berkowitz, a Hoover senior fellow and professor of law at George Mason University, said a "bellwether" to the court's thinking might come in a case scheduled for oral arguments next week.

It involves the 1995 Solomon Amendment, which gives the federal government power to cut off federal money to schools that deny access to military recruiters.

The Bush administration is enforcing the law, prompting a coalition of law schools called FAIR and the American Civil Liberties Union to file a lawsuit on free-speech grounds. Some schools have restricted recruiter access because of the homosexual ban, which the institutions say violates their anti-discrimination rules.

A court willing to side with the schools might be a court willing to overturn a military regulation in time of war, Mr. Berkowitz said.

Rummy's staying
Reading the Washington tea leaves on who's in and who's out is treacherous. But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is looking more and more like an eight-year secretary.

He was left out of the postelection Cabinet shake-up. The White House let him pick the Pentagon's future leadership, including Marine Gen. Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs chairman. He's overseeing the four-year force-sizing exercise known as the Quadrennial Defense Review.

And then there is this recent exchange with radio-show host Sean Hannity:

Mr. Hannity: "Well, if [President Bush] wants you to serve, would you like to stay until the end of the term? How's that?"

Mr. Rumsfeld: "I have no other plans."

At the Naval Academy on Wednesday, Mr. Bush referred to Mr. Rumsfeld this way: "I'm traveling today with a man who's done a fine job as secretary of defense, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld."

  • 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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