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December 12, 2003
Notes from the Pentagon

China-North Korea axis
Top Chinese officials got stiffed by the Bush administration this week. Senior officials rejected out of hand a draft communique on North Korea's nuclear program that was viewed as little more than a clumsy Beijing-Pyongyang ploy to wrest concessions from the United States.

U.S. officials tell us the Chinese appear desperate to get some kind of an agreement at the next round of six-party talks among the United States, China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Russia. The next round of talks were slated for this month. But the failure of the Chinese to get the United States to sign on to their pro-North Korean statement has stalled the prospects of meeting that schedule.

"It was basically the North Korean position," said one U.S. official familiar with the Chinese statement.

Another theory on the Chinese push to get an accord is that two key negotiators, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Fu Ying, director general of the Foreign Ministry Asian affairs department, are moving on to new posts soon. They want credit for an agreement before they go. Mrs. Fu is slated to be the next ambassador to Australia; Mr. Wang will become ambassador to Canada, we're told.

China's government also paid off the North Koreans to get them to sign on to the draft statement. In the past several weeks, China has stepped up deliveries to North Korea of fuel oil and food to the impoverished communist state. As an added incentive, Beijing shipped an entire glass factory to North Korea.

Pyongyang is demanding the United States must carry out a "first-stage action measure" at the next set of talks by removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and lifting all sanctions. In exchange, Pyongyang would halt nuclear work again, as it promised in the 1994 Agreed Framework. So far, the United States has rejected the offer.

The United States is set, in the next round of talks, to demand that North Korea resume adherence to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which Pyongyang abandoned after disclosing its covert uranium-enrichment program in October 2002. The disclosure triggered the current crisis.

Letter home
Parts of a letter from a 1st Armored Division platoon leader to his friends back home the division is assigned to maintain security in Baghdad: "The last two things I wanted to mention was morale and dealing with loss. The level of morale here in Iraq is a mixed bag. Overall, I think it's moderately high considering the environment, working conditions, and stress soldiers are put under everyday. Imagine being a young 19-21 year old lower enlisted soldier with no more than a high school degree being asked to work 100-hour weeks (at least 14 hours a day, seven days a week) in a highly dangerous and terminally thankless job thousands of miles away from home.

"It's tough, but their spirits are holding up well, especially since the two-week R&R leave program has started. Though troubled by the increases in attacks and body count lately, the troops here are undeterred, and if anything, more focused. They want nothing more than to do their job well, and go home safely to their families. It's inspiring to see, and it's unfortunate that the vast majority of the American public will never see, or fully appreciate the bravery they exhibit everyday."

New nuke
Pentagon officials were quietly overjoyed last week when President Bush signed into law the 2004 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act. Tucked away in the spending law is $7.5 million for the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator. It was half the $15 million request.

The money will be spent studying the ultimate precision guided weapon: a high-yield nuclear bomb designed to drill through rock and destroy deep underground bunkers and facilities. If the weapon is built, rogue states like North Korea and Iran can forget about hiding weapons of mass destruction in rock-hardened, blast-proof shelters.

And the penetrating nuke also would put Russia, China and other nuclear states on notice that they will be unable to protect hardened silos or cave missile complexes. Russian underwater submarine caves also could be taken out with the bomb. Pentagon officials would love to chalk a note on the penetrator before firing one into the cave used by Osama bin Laden and company in Afghanistan, when he is eventually located.

Little has been said in public about the new weapon. Linton Brooks, director of the National Nuclear Security Administration, told a Senate hearing earlier this year one idea is to use a B-61 or B-83 nuclear warhead on a new guided aerial bomb with a special nose cone that can burrow through solid rock. "It's not just that you have to be able to penetrate," he said. "We know how to make things that will penetrate. You have to be able to penetrate and still have nuclear weapons, which are actually quite intricate machines, to work right."

Both warheads have 350 kilotons or more of explosive power the equivalent of 350,000 tons of TNT. The Pentagon wants a bomb that can go through 30 feet to 60 feet of solid rock before detonating. The bomb could also be used for what the Pentagon calls "agent defeat" frying deadly biological or germ weapons.

The Army's past
Michael L. Sparks, an Army Reserve officer, and many like-minded veterans, are pressing the Army to move on from the new wheeled Stryker armored vehicle and embrace the past the venerable M-113 personnel carrier.

Mr. Sparks wants the Army to bring thousands of M-113 armored personnel carriers out of storage, modernize them and put them in all combat infantry units; including the light infantry which has no armored vehicles. And he wants this affordable enhancement done quickly to help the troops in Iraq right away.

He contends the tracked M-113 is more reliable, road-safer and provides better protection than any wheeled vehicle can ever offer. He says studies prove compact tracked vehicles are 28 percent more space/weight efficient than placing armored boxes on top of wheeled suspensions/drivetrains.

"Our troops are driving around Iraq in doorless, fabric-sided [Humvees or High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles], fiberglass/thin metal 10-ton FMTV trucks and 21-ton Stryker rubber-tired armored cars and losing men's lives and limbs daily to roadside bombs and accidents," Mr. Sparks said. "Some soldiers are also foolishly driving around Iraq in gasoline-powered captured or government-provided civilian automobiles. Combat psychology studies show if you look and are vulnerable it will embolden the enemy to attack you."

Some senators have been critical of the lack of armor protection for the Humvees, which fall prey to roadside bombs that have killed scores of American soldiers. A program to "up-armor" them will take months, or years. Mr. Sparks, an infantry officer, said: "The Army has thousands of thick-skinned M-113 Gavin light tracked armored fighting vehicles sitting in storage that are 'as is' far better protection than the up-armored rubber-tired Humvees or Strykers will ever be.

"For a fraction of the cost of up-armoring Humvee trucks requiring years of time our men in Iraq do not have, we could fit in a matter of weeks underbelly armor, gun shields for the troops to fire out behind protective cover and rocket propelled grenade-resistant applique armor to M-113 Gavins. This would supply all our men in Iraq protected mobility."

Missile benchmark
Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of President Bush's announcement that the United States would pull out of the stale Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The move paved the way for deployment next year of a ground-based interceptor. When done, the missile shield is supposed to be composed of "layered" defenses to knock out rockets and warheads at various launch and descent phases.

The Senate Republican Policy Committee is using the anniversary to issue an eight-page call to continue funding the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency.

"A single architecture likely will not deter rogue states from ballistic missile development or proliferation," the report says. "Multiple layers of missile defense reinforced by additional allied capability will serve as an anti-proliferation measure. As U.S. vulnerability to ballistic missiles is reduced, so will the incentive for rogue states to produce them."

  • 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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