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April 6, 2023
Notes from the Pentagon

Gen. Mark Milley blames Congress in part for mounting tensions with China

By Bill Gertz
Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared in a recent interview to blame Congress, in part, for high-pitched rhetoric that he said is contributing to mounting bilateral tensions between Washington and Beijing.

“I think there’s a lot of rhetoric in China, and a lot of rhetoric elsewhere, to include the United States, that could create the perception that war is right around the corner or we’re on the brink of war with China,” Gen. Milley told the online newsletter Defense One.

As a result, the four-star general and President Biden’s chief military adviser said he has told lawmakers concerned about China to cool the rhetorical temperature. At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last week, Gen. Milley said the People’s Republic of China is seeking to become a regional “hegemon” in the next 10 years and to be more powerful than the United States by 2049.

“The PRC’s actions are moving it down the path towards potential confrontation with its neighbors and the United States,” he said. “But again, war with China is neither inevitable nor imminent.”

Gen. Milley noted in the Defense One interview that Congress has voiced concerns about China’s large-scale nuclear weapons buildup, Beijing’s anger at U.S. efforts to prevent American computer chips from enhancing the Chinese military and fears of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan and budding alliance with Russia. Telling lawmakers that war with China will not happen soon and is not inevitable is part of an effort to calm war fears, he said.

War could happen, he said, as a result of an incident or a “trigger event” that produces an uncontrolled military escalation to conflict, Gen. Milley said.

“So, it’s not impossible. But I don’t think at this point I would put it in the likely category,” he said. “And I think that the rhetoric itself can overheat the environment.”

War fears escalated following China’s dispatch of what the Pentagon has called an electronic intelligence collection platform attached to a high-altitude balloon that flew over the continental U.S. and reportedly monitored sensitive military sites before being shot down by U.S. fighter jets off the coast of South Carolina.

Chinese President Xi Jinping complained explicitly last month that the United States was seeking to suppress China.

“Western countries led by the U.S. have implemented comprehensive containment, encirclement and suppression against us, bringing unprecedented severe challenges to our country’s development,” Mr. Xi told a government meeting.

Days later, his foreign minister, Qin Gang, said the U.S.-China conflict was increasingly likely unless Washington changes course.

“If the U.S. side does not put on the brakes and continues down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can stop the derailment and rollover into confrontation and conflict,” he said.

Gen. Milley also noted concerns that China‘s military is getting ready to attack Taiwan by 2027, but he added he doubts the Chinese military has the ability to conduct an amphibious assault to capture and hold the island democracy.

“It would be a very difficult island to capture,” he said. “For the Chinese to conduct an amphibious and airborne operation to seize that island — to actually seize it — that’s a really difficult operation. But Xi put the challenge out there, and we’ll see where it goes.”

Gen. Milley came under fire from congressional Republicans in 2021 after acknowledging that he had informed Chinese Gen. Li Zuocheng that the U.S. was not planning an attack on China in the confusing final days of the Trump administration and that he would inform the Chinese in advance of any attack.

Pentagon officials said Gen. Milley called the general based on intelligence indicating Beijing mistakenly thought U.S. forces were preparing for an attack. Senior Trump administration officials with access to intelligence, however, said they were unaware of any intelligence suggesting the Chinese had feared U.S. plans for an attack.

Army Lt. Col. Dave Butler, a spokesman for Gen. Milley, told Inside the Ring: “Gen. Milley’s comments were not aimed at Congress directly. Instead he was talking about anyone who states that war with China is inevitable.”

New satellites to track hypersonic missiles
The new Space Development Agency, a support agency for the new Space Force, launched a group of new military satellites on Sunday that the Pentagon says will eventually aid in tracking ultra-high-speed enemy hypersonic missiles.

Ten satellites were launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster from Vandenberg Space Force Base as part of what the agency calls “Tranche 0” of its “proliferated warfighter space architecture,” or PWSA. The orbiters are used as transport, and so-called tracking layer satellites will provide very fast communications links.

The satellites will “support the warfighter with a resilient network of integrated capabilities, including tracking of advanced missile threats, from low-Earth orbit,” the agency said.

Military commanders have told Congress that the U.S. military’s multibillion-dollar missile defense sensors are currently unable to defend against maneuverable hypersonic missiles that travel at speeds faster than Mach 5. Both China and Russia have deployed hypersonic missiles, and the Pentagon has been struggling to close the gap.

The launch of the 10 satellites is the first of what the Pentagon envisions will be a network of hundreds of small spacecraft. Eighteen more satellites are set for launch in June as part of the initial network. The satellite networks will include infrared sensors capable of spotting and tracking missiles in flight and high-speed communications systems that relay tracking data to missile defenses on the ground, air and sea.

SDA Director Derek Tournear called the 10-satellite launch a major accomplishment for the agency. He told a conference this week that the satellites are vulnerable to attack by counterspace weapons, but the large numbers make disabling the network as a whole very difficult.

“You can shoot down the satellites so they can’t talk to the ships,” he told the Navy League meeting. “So now we’ll put up hundreds and hundreds of satellites. Now … our satellites are more affordable than the missiles that you need to shoot them down. So we’ve kind of taken that off the table. We made it to where … it’s really difficult to shoot those satellites down just by virtue of proliferation.”

The next major group of satellites, called Tranche 1, will begin launching in late 2024 and will include 126 transport layer satellites, 35 tracking satellites and 12 tactical demonstration satellites.

Lawmaker hits Pentagon for drag shows on bases
Rep. Matt Gaetz questioned both Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently over apparent Pentagon funding of drag queen shows on military bases.

Asked how much taxpayer money is being used to pay for cross-dressing shows on military bases, Mr. Austin told the Florida Republican lawmaker that “drag queen story hours is not something the [Defense Department] funds.”

Mr. Gaetz, however, pointed to slides at a House Armed Services Committee hearing last week indicating that one show was planned for the U.S. Air Force’s Ramstein base in Germany.

“That one got canceled, but that’s the DOD insignia,” Mr. Gaetz said. “That’s a drag queen story hour for children. Then also at Malmstrom Air Force Base outside of Great Falls, Montana, you had a drag queen story hour for kids.”

Other shows oriented toward children were held at Joint Base Langley Eustis, Virginia, and at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

“Who funded these things, Mr. Secretary?” Mr. Gaetz asked.

“Listen, drag shows are not something that the Department of Defense supports or funds,” Mr. Austin said.

Gen. Milley asked the congressman for copies of the drag queen show notices and said “I’d like to take a look … and find out what actually is going on there, because that’s the first I’m hearing about that kind of stuff.”

“I’d like to take a look at those, because I don’t agree with those,” he said. “I think those shouldn’t be happening.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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