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January 25, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

China upgrades Su-30s
The Chinese military is outfitting its Russian-made Su-30 fighter bombers with C-801 anti-ship cruise missiles, U.S. intelligence officials said. The upgrade will give China's air force a major new strike capability against ships, the officials said.

The C-801 is modeled after the French Exocet anti-ship missile. Until recently, the weapon was deployed on Chinese destroyers, submarines and patrol boats, with a version known as the C-802 deployed on shore-based batteries.

Adding the missile to the Su-30 is a new development that was detected by U.S. intelligence agencies in the past several months.

According to the intelligence officials, the upgrade is not going smoothly. The Chinese military is having problems with fuel shortages for the C-801 in the new air-launched model, they said. The air-launched missile uses a turbojet engine, which increases its range over the ship-based solid-fuel model.

China took delivery of 30 Su-30s from Russia last year and has a contract for some 30 additional bombers, along with two additional Sovremenny guided missile destroyers, the officials said.

Beginning in November, China started flying Su-30s over the Taiwan Strait as part of the ongoing tit-for-tat aerial standoff with Taiwan's air force.

Ominous war sign
Intelligence reports are providing further evidence that the standoff between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan is far from over.

Officials tell us the latest indicator of a potential war involves recent discussions between the Indian and Russian governments for the rapid resupply of weapons and equipment for the Indian armed forces.

Officials familiar with the reports said India wants Russia to provide spare parts for its Su-27 fighter-bombers. As part of the discussions, Indian officials have asked the Russians if they could provide the spare parts within two weeks after the requests are made, a much faster turnaround than is seen in the normal process of resupply, the officials said.

In exchange for the expedited shipment of parts, Indian officials are holding out the prospect of large future purchases of Russian arms.

Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes was in Washington last week. He met with representatives of U.S. defense contractors, holding out the prospect that the Indian military's modernization efforts in the past based mostly on Russian weapons could shift in favor of U.S. systems. Mr. Fernandes made no mention of the recent discussions with the Russians on the Su-27 spare parts and potential new weapons purchases.

The intelligence indicators continue to show that both the Pakistani and Indian armies are preparing for a conflict. India's forces are 90 percent deployed in combat positions and Pakistan is building five short-range missile launch sites.

Bush administration officials have said tensions appear to have cooled somewhat after the visit to the region by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Bin Laden mafia
U.S. intelligence officials believe helicopters commandeered by Russian mafia cells entered Afghanistan after September 11 and ferried out al Qaeda members. There is no evidence they played taxi to Osama bin Laden or his top lieutenants.

Some of the flights were detected by U.S. spy assets. But the rules of engagement allowed for shooting down only a helicopter carrying bin Laden, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar or other top terrorists. The Russian mob maintains ties to bin Laden. The al Qaeda leader has hoped that the criminals could obtain a nuclear weapon for him. There is no evidence the terrorist mastermind ever got his hands on the nuclear bomb. But the Russians have supplied communications equipment.

Bomber debate
One of the arguments used by anti-B-2 bomber forces in the Pentagon to keep the assembly line closed is the same argument used by its supporters the war in Afghanistan.

Backers of the B-2 stealth aircraft said the war showed the new relevance of long-range bombers in the worldwide campaign against terrorism. The lack of nearby basing rights meant long-range aircraft dropped the majority of bomb tonnage. And the ever-improving Joint Direct Attack Munition (JADAM) means bombers can achieve both strategic and tactical goals, programming the satellite-guided bomb target by target.

But opponents of restarting the Northrop-Grumman line (among them Pentagon's acquisition chief Pete Aldridge) also point to the war in Afghanistan.

They note that the B-2 flew a total of six missions on the first three days of the war. They note the 70 hours it took each plane to get to Afghanistan, drop bombs, fly to the Diego Garcia support facility in the Indian Ocean for a new crew and then fly back to its home, Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. They also point out that the plane's high-maintenance, radar-absorbing "skins" are problematic.

Of the 21 B-2s at the 509th bomb wing, 55 percent were mission-capable when the bombing began Oct. 7. In November, the rate fell to 49 percent. In Kosovo, where the B-2 made its combat debut, six B-2s executed 45 missions, dropping JADAMs on a variety of targets.

Asked about the bomber debate, Air Force Secretary James Roche said last week, "I can't speak for other people in our building. I can certainly speak for myself. I am not wrestling with more B-2s."

Mr. Roche then seemed to wrestle with the issue. He gave reporters a long explanation of why the Air Force does not need more B-2s, but does need new fighter bombers, such as the top-priority F-22.

"In the case of the bombers," he said, "they are still superb going after a large collection of fixed-point targets ... things that don't move and that you can pre-plan ... In the current conflict, we have had in total less than 20 bombers available and they have dropped something like 80 percent of the munitions, but you don't need as many bombers because you carry so many bombs per bomber and each of them is so accurate, that you don't have the problem of the old days where you had to drop 100 to get a hit."

Writing class
Amid Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's drive to transform the armed forces, he is also tackling a smaller reform: convincing military personnel they need to write with more clarity.

Pentagon sources tell us Mr. Rumsfeld prefers simple, declarative sentences in tightly written policy memos. But he often receives bureaucratic-style memos crammed with the military's favorite vernacular acronyms.

"They want to see things written clearly," said one source, referring to Mr. Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. He described both men as speed readers who devour a large number of reports and memos each day.

A typical senior military officer attends a variety of schools on the way to the top. But few, if any, classes deal with William Strunk Jr.'s classic writer's guide, "The Elements of Style."

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

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