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March 19, 2020
Notes from the Pentagon

China threatens electronic strikes on Navy
China has called for using electromagnetic attacks on U.S. warships transiting the South China Sea, according to a state-run Chinese outlet.

The Communist Party-affiliated organ Global Times, quoting a military expert, said the use of nonlethal electromagnetic and laser weapons should be used by the People’s Liberation Army to expel American warships from the disputed sea.

The report followed China’s potentially dangerous use of a laser against a Navy P-8A maritime patrol aircraft near Guam last month, and an earlier lasing two years ago of C-130 aircraft near China’s military base in Djibouti on the coast of Africa.

The article was published Tuesday, the same day the Pacific Fleet announced on Twitter that the aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt, and the USS America, an amphibious assault carrier and leader of an expeditionary strike group, were conducting exercises in the South China Sea.

The training exercise for both strike groups included flight maneuvers, air defense tests and surface-support mission exercises, the fleet said in a report on the exercises. At one point, Marines carried out a simulated visit, board, search and seizure exercise on the guided missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, according to the report. Top articles

“Training with multiple platforms really enhances the overall combat capability of the force,” said Capt. Kurt Sellerberg, commanding officer of the Bunker Hill. “Cruisers and destroyers, being multi-mission platforms, can complement and support strike operations with the Marine Air Wing (MAW) from the America [Expeditionary Strike Group].”

The large-scale military maneuvers are a direct challenge to China’s claims to control 90% of the South China Sea, despite an international court ruling several years ago rejecting those claims. The Global Times report said the carrier operations marked the third time in the past week that U.S. warships have “trespassed” into the sea.

The Pentagon has said repeatedly that it regards the sea as international waters and frequently conducts freedom of navigation operations through the sea.

Other recent warship operations included the passage of the guided missile destroyer USS McCampbell on March 10 to waters near the Paracel Islands in the northern part of the sea and maneuvers by the America and a littoral combat ship, the USS Gabrielle Giffords, on March 13.

Song Zhongping, a Chinese military commentator formerly with PLA missile forces, said the Chinese military has the option of using electromagnetic and other advanced weapons to counter the U.S. warship passages. Firing conventional weapons could trigger a conflict while using ramming techniques, as tried in 2018 against a U.S. warship, also is not a good method, he noted.

Mr. Song said that using electromagnetic weapons, including lasers, could temporarily paralyze U.S. warships’ weapons control systems “without visible conflict but can send a strong warning.” Electromagnetic arms emit pulses of energy that can jam electronics.

Mr. Song said the Feb. 17 laser incident involving a Navy P-8A was carried out after the aircraft conducted repeated close-in reconnaissance of a Chinese warship.

“This is a good example and could be applied more,” Mr. Song, with PLA-linked Phoenix television, was quoted as saying about the lasering.

The threatening report is viewed by some analysts as an indication that China may be preparing to conduct some type of provocative action in the South China Sea.

The new Space Force has deployed the military’s first offensive space weapon, a jamming device for disrupting satellite communications. The Counter Communications System Block 10.2, shown in photos as a large parabolic disk, was deployed with the Air Force 4th Space Control Squadron at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado last week.

The electronic system was first introduced in 2004 as a ground-based, mobile space electronic warfare system. The weapon “reversibly denies adversary satellite communications,” the statement said. It was developed in partnership with the defense contractor L3Harris.

The system is now in what the military calls “initial operating capability” (IOC), providing “quick-reaction capability with direct operational support to the warfighter,” the Space Force said. It was the first time the Space Force disclosed the existence of any of its weaponry.

Some critics of the force have said creating a new military branch without first deploying weapons is a mistake because a lack of arms could undermine the ability to deter conflict in space.

The Pentagon abandoned its anti-satellite missile, the ASM-135, in the 1980s under pressure from liberals in Congress opposed to fueling a space arms race. As a result, the United States today lags behind China and Russia in space weaponry.

In 2008, a Navy used a modified SM-3 anti-missile interceptor to shoot down a falling National Reconnaissance satellite, demonstrating some anti-satellite missile capability. The secret X-37 orbital test vehicle is also suspected of being prepared for offensive and defensive space warfare.

By contrast, both China and Russia have an array of space weapons, including different types of anti-satellite missiles, ground-based laser dazzlers and electronic jammers, and maneuvering killer robot satellites.

Air Force Col. Stephen Purdy, programs director for the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, said the jammer is an important weapon.

Future upgrades and enhancements are part of plans for “adapting to the evolving battlefield while delivering capabilities to the warfighter faster and better than our opponents,” Col. Purdy said.

Lt. Col. Steve Brogan, also with the center, said the deployment is significant. “Achieving IOC for this upgrade puts the ‘force’ in Space Force and is critical to space as a warfighting domain,” he said.

The commander of the Strategic Command said this week that U.S. nuclear forces are ready for conflict despite nationwide disruptions caused by the effort to stem the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“First and foremost, what I would want to assure everyone on the line here, as well as the American people and our allies, is our strategic nuclear forces remain ready to execute the nation’s strategic deterrence mission,” Adm. Charles A. Richard, leader of the Omaha, Nebraska-based nuclear forces command, told reporters in a conference call Tuesday. “And to date, to this point, we have had no impact to our ability to accomplish our mission.”

The Stratcom chief is in charge of 440 Minuteman III land-based strategic missiles deployed at four bases in the north-central U.S. He also oversees 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, each armed with 24 Trident II missiles. The third nuclear triad leg under the admiral’s forces are 66 nuclear-capable bombers — 46 B-52s and 20 B-2s.

Adm. Richard said the pandemic “has our full attention” in making sure strategic forces are ready for conflict and working to avoid an outbreak among the troops handling the forces.

The four-star admiral said the potential for a pandemic “is not novel to us.”

“We had plans in place that we have updated and are executing,” he said.

So far, the command has no confirmed cases of COVID-19 and a very small number of people in quarantine.

“In general, across all elements of the triad, we’re thinking through very carefully how we make sure we maintain maximum mission capability,” he said.

The command was designed to operate in isolation for long periods. Field commanders are preparing to deal with disease outbreaks at various installations and are modifying operations, Adm. Richard said.

Asked about the missile forces of Iran and North Korea, Adm. Richard said that “to date we have not seen anything beyond what I would describe as normal or day-to-day operations by anyone.”

Tours at headquarters have been halted, and troops are following social distancing measures to prevent a spread of the virus, he said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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