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November 28, 2013
Notes from the Pentagon

Tensions high during Joe Biden's Beijing visit
New tensions between China and the United States are threatening to upset Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s visit to Beijing next week.

Administration officials briefing reporters Wednesday sought to play down the growing strains over China’s recent declaration of an air-defense identification zone over the East China Sea.

The Pentagon has called the zone destabilizing and vowed to ignore it. On Tuesday the Pacific Command snubbed China’s new air-control rules by flying two B-52 bombers through the zone without informing the Chinese in advance.

“You know, the vice president of the United States is not traveling to Beijing to deliver a demarche, let alone on a single issue,” one official said of the maritime dispute that threatens to escalate into a shooting incident, against either aircraft or ships.

Mr. Biden is expected to get an earful from Chinese President Xi Jinping during the visit over the United States’ vocal opposition to the air-defense zone that the Pentagon has said is increasing the risk of conflict by altering the status quo on maritime disputes.

One administration official boasted to reporters that Mr. Biden has a close personal relationship with the Chinese leader, who is emerging as more of a communist ideologue than several of his predecessors. Mr. Biden “knows President Xi as well or better than probably any American and possibly, virtually any leader,” the official said.

Mr. Biden will use the visit to discuss “an emerging pattern of behavior by China that is unsettling to China’s own neighbors and raising questions about how China operates in international space, and how China deals with areas of disagreement with his neighbors,” the official said.

“Clearly, the visit to China creates an opportunity for the vice president to discuss directly with policymakers in Beijing this issue, to convey our concerns directly and to seek clarity regarding the Chinese intentions in making this move at this time,” he added.

The harshest expression of concern one official could muster to describe the latest dispute was to say strains on relations caused by China are “not a good thing.”

The officials also would not say if the vice president will demand that China roll back the air-defense identification zone that conflicts with Japan’s control over the disputed Senkaku islands.

The U.S. comments reflect the conciliatory policies of the administration toward China that Washington has tried to view as its close partner. China, meanwhile, in recent years has stepped up an assertively anti-U.S. posture in many of its public statements and actions.

In Beijing on Wednesday, a Defense Ministry spokesman appeared to ignore the fact that Chinese jets failed to intercept the B-52s that flew unescorted from Guam through the East China Sea on a training mission.

The spokesman, Geng Yansheng, made no mention of interceptors and instead said, “Chinese troops carried out a full course of surveillance and timely identification and ascertained the type of the U.S. side’s aircraft” as they flew within 120 miles of the Senkakus, which China calls the Diaoyu.

At the Foreign Ministry, a spokesman suggested China’s military is prepared to shoot down intruding aircraft in the future.

“We will respond accordingly depending on the different circumstances and the threat levels that we may face,” spokesman Qin Gang said Wednesday.

One reporter asked if the failure to respond to the intruding aircraft revealed China is a “paper tiger,” or weakling, Mr. Qin said:

“The term ‘paper tiger’ has a special connotation. You might want to check it out and see who Chairman Mao Zedong was referring to when he mentioned ‘paper tiger.’”

The communist founder of China called all “reactionaries” by that term and once said the Soviet Union was a paper tiger for appeasing the United States.

China’s development of space warfare capabilities is continuing. The U.S. government recently translated a technical paper published earlier this month that reveals Beijing’s research on “space countermeasures,” the military term for kinetic anti-satellite missiles, electronic jamming and laser attacks that can destroy, cripple or electronically blind satellites in orbit.

“Space warfare will become an important combat measure in future wars, and how strong or weak space electronic countermeasures capabilities are will be a key factor in seizing electromagnetic superiority and information superiority, and from there seizing the initiative in war,” the Nov. 18 report said.

The goal of space weapons is to control “the high ground” in a future high-tech war, states the report, “Research on Space Countermeasures System,” which appeared in the military-journal, Aerospace Electronic Warfare.

Space countermeasures being developed by the Chinese military include “soft-kill” weapons like electronic jamming and network attack that can be reversed. Space warfare also will employ cyberattacks on networks that would allow Chinese space warriors to “generate deceptive jamming signals carrying viruses, logic bombs, and other information weapons.”

Hard-kill attacks would destroy space systems. They include kinetic energy anti-satellite missiles, and directed energy anti-satellite beam weapons.

Air Force Gen. William Shelton, commander of the Air Force Space Command, discussed the threat from space weapons in a video released by the Pentagon on Wednesday.

Gen. Shelton, without mentioning China, said the United States is aware of nations that are building space warfare capabilities to take away U.S. strategic advantages in space.

The weapons include “anything from jamming of GPS signals, to satellite communications, to lasers that would dazzle our electro-optical sensors, all the way up through somebody doing something as silly as putting a nuclear weapon up in space and detonating it,” Gen. Shelton said.

A nuclear detonation in space would cause widespread physical damage over large areas and also would produce an electromagnetic pulse that would disrupt satellite electronics and potentially electronics on the ground.

A report by the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission said China is developing an array of space weaponry with the goal of destroying or disrupting “all enemy space vehicles above Chinese territory.”

The weaponry includes systems that can attack satellites with ground-launched missiles or anti-satellite satellites; lasers and electronic jammers for GPS satellites; orbiting missiles; plasma attacks on low-orbiting satellites and directed energy or beam weapons.

U.S. drone strikes have turned the technique of terror weapons against terrorists, according to current and former intelligence officials.

Michael G. Vickers, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said during a recent defense conference in California that missile-firing unmanned aerial vehicles remain “our most effective instrument” in the war on terrorism. They also produced the “most precise” attacks in the history of modern warfare, he said.

A former intelligence official familiar with drone warfare programs told Inside the Ring how a drone strike was carried out in Afghanistan.

The attack was viewed in real time from images produced by infrared camera-equipped surveillance drones. The video showed bright circles of lights — a group of terrorists or insurgents — gathered around another center light — a campfire.

Upon hearing the low-pitched sound of the drone’s propeller-driven engine, the terrorists scrambled away from the fire and were met with several large explosions as the drone’s Hellfire missiles exploded on the site.

Later, a second strike was conducted after a line of lights was spotted moving along a nearby mountain trail. The group of surviving terrorists eventually gathered at a rendezvous point.

A short time later, more explosions ripped through the meeting place, killing all but one of the terrorists.

“They let the last guy go so he could tell others about the devastating attacks,” the former official said.

Terrorists adopt counter-drone steps
For terrorists who are targets of U.S. drone strikes, countermeasures are being developed to try and nullify the impact of the missile strikes, according to U.S. officials.

Jihadists in Pakistan and Afghanistan are urging those targeted by the strikes to watch for spies who are part of the targeting process of locating and identifying key leaders and reporting their locations.

Other countermeasures call for locating training camps for terrorists involved in operations in forests, mountains or other inaccessible areas. Commanders are urged to work in cities or larger population centers.

“If a drone is flying over the center, avoid at all cost gathering people in one room for the purpose of praying, dining, or sleeping,” one jihadist said in a recent online post. “This will present an easy target for the drone.”

Most of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will celebrate Thanksgiving with a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

“Other than that, it will be operations as usual,” said Lt. Col. David Simons, spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force.

Col. Simons tells Inside the Ring that some troops will have access to a satellite broadcast of the NFL game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the ISAF commander, had no message for the troops, but the general will be serving food at some Afghan outposts.

  • Bill Gertz can be reached at @BillGertz.

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