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March 21, 2013
Notes from the Pentagon

New Bear bomber flights
Two Russian strategic nuclear bombers carried out a fourth high-profile training flight last week, flying near South Korea, where large-scale war games are under way, and near Japan and the U.S. military bases on Okinawa.

It was the fourth time since June 2012 that Russian bombers have run up against U.S. and allied air defense zones in the Pacific.

Defense officials told Inside the Ring that two Tu-95 Bear-H nuclear-capable bombers, Russia’s main nuclear cruise-missile delivery vehicle, were detected Friday in the Pacific Command theater of operations coming from a base in Russia’s Far East.

A Japanese Embassy spokesman confirmed that two Tu-95s were intercepted by Japanese fighter jets on March 15. He did not elaborate.

Pacific Command spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Col. DeDe Halfhill declined to provide details of the flights or say whether any U.S. interceptor jets were sent aloft to follow the bombers. She instead referred questions to the Russian, Japanese and South Korean governments, even though she acknowledged that the incident took place within the command’s area of responsibility.

It could not be learned whether South Korean interceptor jets were scrambled to trail the bombers.

The latest Russian strategic bomber flights near Okinawa, where U.S. Marines are deployed, followed a Feb. 12 incursion around Guam, July 4 bomber flights near the California coast, and practice bomber sorties near Alaska in June.

The failure of the Pacific Command to discuss the incident appears to be part of a new Pentagon policy of refusing to answer reporters’ questions about troubling developments that might undermine the Obama administration’s conciliatory policies toward both Russia and China. For example, Friday’s flights took place just over a month after two other Tu-95s flew around the U.S. Pacific island of Guam — a major hub for the U.S. military buildup in the region.

Earlier, a Pentagon spokeswoman referred a reporter to China’s communist government when asked about the country’s expanding nuclear forces, despite the Pentagon having a legal requirement to provide public information about those forces in its annual report to Congress on the Chinese military.

The Feb. 12 bomber flights were the first time the Russians had conducted such long-range strategic operations near Guam in more than 20 years. Yet, a military official described the bomber incursions as “routine.”

Guam was used by two U.S. B-52 strategic bombers for flights over South Korea on March 8 and March 15 as part of ongoing military exercises that Pentagon officials said demonstrated U.S. “extended deterrence” nuclear protection, in the face of growing nuclear threats from North Korea.

The earlier Russian bomber incident near California was also dismissed by military spokesmen as routine after two Bear H bombers on July 4 flew the closest to the U.S. West Coast that any Russian bomber had flown since the days of the Soviet Union.

Obama hit on missile defense
A senior member of the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday wrote to President Obama, expressing concerns about the administration’s concessions to Russia on missile defense and revealing Moscow’s violations of current arms treaties.

“I am deeply concerned about your sudden shift in the U.S. missile defense strategy,” Rep. Mike Rogers, Alabama Republican and chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, stated in his letter to the president.

Mr. Rogers said the Pentagon’s decision to cancel deployment in Europe of the SM-3 IIB advanced missile-defense interceptor, which was opposed by Moscow, sends a signal of U.S. weakness.a The cancellation, announced Friday, is “unambiguously another concession” to the Russians on missile defense, similar to the 2009 decision to abandon deployment in Europe of more powerful ground-based interceptors that Russia also opposed.

Mr. Rogers said the decision on the SM-3 IIB came weeks before the administration’s defense budget submission to Congress and also prior to the upcoming visit to Moscow by National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon, who is said to be seeking to gauge Moscow’s willingness to engage in a new round of strategic arms cuts.

“Russia has been violently opposed to our missile defenses, specifically the Phase IV development of the SM-3 block IIB missile, almost since you announced it,” Mr. Rogers said in his letter.

“Indeed, Russia’s Chief of its General Staff Col. Gen. [Nikolai] Makarov, threatened to attack U.S. missile defenses in Europe. And now, your administration has terminated the SM-3 IIB, just as the Russians demanded.”

Mr. Rogers added that new arms talks are being sought despite “ongoing and significant concerns about Russian arms control compliance.” He did not elaborate. Mr. Rogers said he believes presidential advisers are urging Mr. Obama to announce a new push for deeper strategic nuclear cuts on the upcoming fourth anniversary of his April 5, 2009, speech in the Czech Republic capital Prague where he called for eliminating all nuclear weapons.

McMaster on war
Army Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster, a combat veteran of two Iraq wars and current commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, provided some candid assessments of U.S. military doctrine during a speech in Washington on Wednesday.

Gen. McMaster is the closest thing in the Army to a policy rock star and is regarded as an outspoken and innovative strategic thinker.

Some of the comments by the two-star general during a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies sounded indirectly critical of past U.S. military efforts in Iraq and current efforts in Afghanistan.

Gen. McMaster criticized what he termed the “raiding mentality” among some military strategists who argue that bombing or special operations forces will win wars fast and cheap, calling it “a fundamental unrealistic expectation.”

Another “wrong lesson” of the past 12 years of warfare is the exaggerated benefit of using proxy military or security forces, Gen. McMaster said.

In Iraq, the U.S. military built up Iraqi police and security forces and later found that the Iraqis were “largely captured by Shia Islamist militias that were to some degree under the direction of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran,” Gen. McMaster said.

Some U.S.-trained Iraqis were involved in ethnic-cleansing campaigns against opponents, while other Iraqi forces defected and joined al Qaeda, he said. In Afghanistan, some U.S.-trained Afghan security forces were taken over by local criminal networks, Gen. McMaster said.

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