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Jan. 23, 2020
Notes from the Pentagon

'Woke' U.S. naval intelligence has blind spot for China threat
U.S. intelligence agencies for years have battled allegations of liberal bias that resulted in poor assessments of the emergence of a threatening China. A recent article indicates the critics may be correct.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. James D. Boyle, an active duty intelligence officer, has lent credence to concerns that the Navy, in particular, continues to harbor outdated and benign views of what the Trump administration has labeled the nation’s most significant national security threat.

In 2013, then-Pacific Command commander Adm. Samuel Locklear stated that his biggest problem was climate change — not threats posed by China and North Korea. In another example, Michael J. Morell, the former deputy CIA director, in 2000 criticized Inside the Ring after this column reported that CIA analysts were being apologists for China.

“It is ironic that the article is trying to do exactly what it accuses us of doing — politicizing our analysis,” Mr. Morell wrote in a memorandum. Yet in 2016, the former CIA analyst surprised many of his colleagues by writing a newspaper op-ed revealing his partisan bias, openly supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton in her bid for the presidency.

Cmdr. Boyle penned an opinion article last week that challenged the hard-line views of many private and government analysts who regard China as a major threat. The officer instead urged a return to the decades-old policy of unfettered engagement — a policy widely viewed as a failure.

Engagement advocates in both Republican and Democratic administrations since the 1980s argued that appeasing and trading with China would transform a nuclear-armed communist dictatorship into a normal, stakeholding nation.

Instead, President Xi Jinping has turned China into a coercive power on the path to becoming a totalitarian state bent on achieving global supremacy and establishing a new world order with Chinese Communist Party characteristics.

Cmdr. Boyle dismisses most of those threats from China as “alarmist.”

“Ultimately, we must engage and balance, just as we’ve done for decades — until the latest China scare took hold,” he wrote in the Navy Times.

The article identified Cmdr. Boyle is an active duty intelligence officer studying Asian affairs at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Affairs, a bastion of elite foreign policy views.

The Navy officer stated that China has no coercive power over any Southeast Asian state, when coercion is exactly what Beijing has been employing in seeking to claim the entire South China Sea as Chinese territory.

Asked about the failure of engagement, Cmdr. Boyle told Inside the Ring that engaging China has produced “mixed but overall positive results.” He noted Chinese support for United Nations peacekeeping, U.N. resolutions and successful economic growth.

“Engagement with China has yielded some significant benefits,” he stated in an email. “I find your insult about my outlook being backward and outdated rather asinine, considering that my views are largely consistent with the authors and signatories of the Washington Post op-ed ‘China is Not an Enemy.’”

Cmdr. Boyle then asserted that the four pro-China authors of the op-ed, including former State Department official Susan Thornton, one of the foremost apologists for the Chinese Communist Party-ruled system, represent the leading U.S. thinkers on China. Observers noted that the officer’s article was similar in tone to many Chinese propaganda articles frequently published by the Communist Party-affiliated Global Times newspaper.

Despite the highly charged political atmosphere in Washington, both Republicans and Democrats are increasingly recognizing that past U.S. policy toward China has failed to bring about a moderate state in Beijing.

The shift in view has been brought on by concerns about China’s massive theft of U.S. technology that shows no signs of abating, despite provisions in the partial trade deal signed this month that call on Beijing to rein in its intellectual property theft.

Cmdr. Boyle concedes that political reform in China “has not come close to what we might have hoped for” and that U.S. military advantages in relation to China have eroded. He also favors protecting Taiwan’s democracy.

China engagement reached its zenith in the Clinton administration, resulting in one of the policy’s most serious disasters.

Under Mr. Clinton, nuclear cooperation between Washington and Beijing was exploited by the Chinese for espionage and by the late 1990s, the CIA concluded that China obtained secrets on every single deployed nuclear warhead in the U.S. arsenal, and at least one that was not deployed: the radiation-killing neutron bomb.

China then shared the nuclear warhead know-how with Pakistan, which then spread it to Iran, North Korea, Syria and Libya. The Syrian and Libyan nuclear programs no longer appear threatening, but North Korea has emerged as a nuclear power with long-range missiles and Iran is on the path to doing the same.

A Navy source said Cmdr. Boyle’s views of China are not widespread and that most intelligence officials hold much more realistic views of the threat.

The Norfolk-based Carrier Strike Group 4 is conducting electronic warfare and other naval exercises off the southern U.S. coast this month that will disrupt Global Positioning System navigation for pilots over wide areas. The Federal Aviation Administration announced the GPS disruption in a notice to airmen last week.

The disruptions are part of training for naval carrier strike groups and amphibious warships to operate in hostile electronic warfare environments.

Both China and Russia are known to be developing electromagnetic pulse and other electronic weapons capable of disrupting military electronics over a wide area. China also has missiles capable of attacking orbiting GPS satellites.

The FAA notice showed an illustration of rings of electronic disruption in circles ranging from 180 nautical miles to 400 nautical miles from a point off the coast of northern Florida and southern Georgia — near the Kings Bay, Georgia, nuclear submarine base.

The rings show the GPS could be disrupted from as far north as southern Virginia to below the tip of Florida.

GPS disruptions were scheduled last week, and tests will be held Thursday and Friday.

“Carrier Strike Group 4 conducts academic, synthetic and live training, which includes GPS testing, during exercises to create a realistic training environment so that our ships and crews can effectively operate across all domains in a contested environment,” said Cmdr. Charles Drey, a Navy public affairs officer with the group.

“As with all exercises, we closely coordinate with the FAA for safety, as well as exercise support, and we have received FAA concurrence during the planned operational time frames.”

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) conducted a test of a new hypersonic rocket called the X-60A last month, a sign that the service is moving ahead with plans to compete with China and Russia for ultra-high-speed maneuvering missiles.

The Jan. 14 ground test of the missile was carried out at the Cecil Spaceport in Jacksonville, Florida, according to an Air Force public statement. The air-launched X-60A test was described as a key milestone in the development effort.

The weapon will be used for hypersonic flight research.

Hypersonic missiles are designed to fly at speeds greater than Mach 5 (3,800 miles per hour) with the unique ability to maneuver.

The missiles are being developed to defeat increasingly advanced missile defense systems, most of which are based on attacking enemy missiles that use predictable, nonmaneuvering flight paths.

Russian and Chinese hypersonic missiles reportedly travel at speeds of 7,000 mph or greater and have the ability to maneuver.

“The goal of the X-60A program is to provide affordable and routine access to relevant hypersonic flight conditions for technology maturation,” the Air Force report said.

Testing involved the use of “cold flow” and “hot fire” testing with a liquid-fueled rocket engine and the use of flightlike hardware tested under simulated flying conditions. The test also involved full-duration engine burns, and the use of thrust vector controls and system throttling.

“This test series was a critical step in reducing risk and gathering necessary system integration data in preparation for our upcoming flight tests,” said Barry Hellman, the laboratory’s X-60A program manager.

“When we go to flight later this year, we hope to demonstrate the capability of the X-60A to provide affordable access to hypersonic flight conditions, which will position AFRL to deliver an innovative test capability for the Air Force and other DoD organizations,” he said.

Hypersonic technologies to be tested include air-breathing propulsion, advanced materials and hypersonic vehicle subsystems. Future flight tests will be held at the spaceport in Jacksonville.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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