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May 4, 2001

Notes from the Pentagon

China´s bigger navy
China is moving ahead with plans to buy two more guided-missile destroyers from Russia, according to U.S. intelligence officials. Negotiations for the additional Sovremenny-class ships were detected two weeks ago, the officials told us.

China already has two of the high-technology destroyers, which are equipped with supersonic SSN-22 Sunburn anti-ship cruise missiles. The intelligence officials said that Russia will build two more Sovremennys for the Chinese navy and that the ships will be delivered in the next two years.

The construction is set to begin soon at a shipyard in St. Petersburg -- where the first two ships were built.

U.S. Navy intelligence officials have said the addition of the Sovremennys and their missiles represents a major leap in Chinese naval firepower.

The ships were ordered after the March 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis, when Chinese forces fired missiles north and south of Taiwan. President Clinton then dispatched two aircraft carrier battle groups to the area to show Beijing that Taiwan had an ally in the United States.

The additional ships -- the most advanced in the Chinese Navy -- are an anticipated response to the Bush administration´s recent approval of new arms sales to Taiwan.

The administration, for its part, said the Sovremennys, along with other purchases of Su-27 and Su-30 fighters and Kilo submarines, prompted the approval of four U.S. Kidd-class destroyers and diesel submarines to Taiwan. Both weapons systems will be equipped with Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

Waddle´s defense
What would have happened in a Pear Harbor courtroom if the Navy had court-martialed Cmdr. Scott Waddle? We´ll never know for sure, but his civilian defense attorney, Charles Gittins, told us he planned to expose large gaps in Navy regulations and submarine operating procedures.

Mr. Gittins said he planned to focus on the civilian VIPs onboard the attack submarine USS Greeneville on Feb. 9 and the fact Cmdr. Waddle was ordered to sea just to put on a show for them.

"Scott was ordered to go to sea in violation of Navy directives requiring distinguished visitors to be accommodated during normal training only," the lawyer said.

A seaman technician told investigators he had tracked the Japanese fishing boat Ehime Maru, but did not tell the skipper because he was intimidated by civilians crammed on the periscope stand. Minutes later, Cmdr. Waddle ordered the planned emergency surfacing. The steel hull sliced into the unsuspecting fishing boat. Nine of the 35 Japanese passengers and crew members were killed.

"Our defense of Waddle would have been a straight-up legal defense, seeking to demonstrate intervening acts of greater negligence," Mr. Gittins said. "Those are, the negligence or intentional failure of the fire-control technician to report a 4,000-yard, closing surface contact and the negligent and deficient design of the Ehime Maru that provided for no reserve bouyancy so that the vessel sank like a rock."

Investigators criticized Cmdr. Waddle´s periscope scan, calling it too brief and too shallow to spot the oncoming boat.

"There are no governing regs for the duration of a periscope search or for when or how much a sub commander should raise the vessel in heavy seas to facilitate a periscope search," Mr. Gittins said. "(The preliminary investigator) acknowledged that these are things that are judgment calls based upon a commander´s experience, training and knowledge and the circumstances as he understands them. That precludes conviction for dereliction of duty."

"I envisioned a great merits defense at a court-martial and an opportunity to make law and the potential that the Navy could not find five court-martial members (a military jury) who would convict Scott Waddle under these circumstances."

With a court-martial decision pending last month, Mr. Gittins spoke to the office of Adm. Thomas Fargo, Pacific Fleet commander. "I made it clear that if he was sent to court-martial, Scott would do what was necessary to defend himself and they should not expect a court-martial case to be resolved with a plea bargain," Mr. Gittins said.

Adm. Fargo eventually decided Cmdr. Waddle´s punishment would be administrative. Cmdr. Waddle plans to retire before Oct. 1 after 20 years of service and is now job hunting on the West Coast.

Haikou, R.O.C.
The 24 crew members of the U.S. Navy EP-3E surveillance air raft almost didn´t get released when a charter Continental Airlines jet arrived to pick them up.

The Continental pilot in charge of the pickup, Capt. Tom Pinardo, accidentally wrote down the destination of the flight as "Haikou, R.O.C." -- the designation used by Taiwan.

Capt. Guy Greider, another pilot on the rescue flight, wrote about the political glitch in an e-mail. Before the jet could leave, "we had a problem," he stated. "A U.S. military general who was on the scene to assist the transfer came storming up the stairs and demanded to speak with the captain. . . . The general said the entire mission was now in jeopardy."

The pilot had put the R.O.C. designation on a document called a general declaration required of all international flights.

"The initials ROC stand for Republic of China which is Taiwan!" Mr. Greider wrote. "The Chinese were very upset over this." China considers democratic Taiwan a breakaway province.

The pilots fixed the problem with a pen. He crossed out ROC and replaced it with "P.R.O.C." and "that seemed to satisfy them," Mr. Greider said of the People´s Liberation Army troops.

Continental spokesman Dave Messing confirmed the account.

Beret battle
The Army has given the Rangers an exclusive color of berets (tan). The Pentagon is forbidding soldiers from wearing Chinese-made berets. The controversy over the Army´s universal black beret is over, right? Wrong.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican and a House Armed Services Committee member, and other lawmakers yesterday announced they will introduce legislation that would prohibit the Army from issuing berets of any color to general Army personnel.

"Berets should be reserved for members of the special units who earn them -- the Rangers´ black berets, the Special Forces Green Berets and the airborne´s maroon berets," Mr. Bartlett said.

Also backing the bill are Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican; Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., North Carolina Republican; and Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. , Ohio Democrat. Congressional aides say the bill faces an uphill fight for passage, since Congress traditionally gives the services the prerogative to make changes in attire.

The Pentagon announced Tuesday night that it would not allow Army soldiers to wear any of the 618,000 berets it ordered from a British company that operates a low-wage factory in communist China.

A spokeswoman for the Defense Logistics Agency, which handled the contract, said the agency will accept all 618,000 berets, although some are still in production. No decision has been made on how to dispose of the $4 million in wool berets, she said.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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