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Feb. 16, 2012
Notes from the Pentagon

The Pentagon’s plan to shift the focus of U.S. military forces to Asia after disengagement in Iraq and Afghanistan got mixed support in the defense budget request released this week.

One significant indicator of budget support for the Air Sea Battle Concept unveiled in November is a plan to deploy Navy Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) to Singapore.

The new LCSs are among the Navy’s most advanced warships, designed to fight close to shores against what the military calls anti-access and asymmetric threats in those waters.

Deploying up to three of the new warships in Singapore is yet another message to China that the United States and its allies will not allow Beijing to seize control over the entire, resource-rich South China Sea.

China has privately called the sea its “driveway” and is moving its advanced naval forces, including ships, aircraft and submarines, into the region.

The Pentagon announced in November that it would deploy 2,500 Marines to a base on the northern tip of Australia, close to the South China Sea.

Another indicator of support for Air Sea Battle is the Pentagon’s decision to keep 11 aircraft carrier strike groups after considering going down to 10.

The budget also preserves funds for U.S. bombers and cruise-missile upgrades on submarines.

Despite those efforts, the Navy is retiring nine warships used in carrier strike groups and amphibious operations. The Pentagon budget also would kill plans to build 16 more warships by 2017.

Additionally, the budget slashed spending on mobility aircraft needed for power projection as part of Air Sea Battle.

President Obama and his top aides this week avoided all public discussion of the dangers posed by China’s growing economic and military power during the visit this week of Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who recently took the lead on U.S.-China policy from the State Department and other agencies, said during a meeting with Mr. Xi on Tuesday, “We believe that a rising China is a positive development, not only for China but also for the United States and the world.”

Mr. Biden didn’t say why, but, in remarks before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, he suggested there had been “progress” on currency and trade concerns, such as rampant intellectual property theft.

China’s propaganda theme for the Xi visit was that the United States needs to “build trust” with the world’s most populous, communist-ruled state.

No mention was made by Mr. Obama, Mr. Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton or Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta of China’s continuing problematic activities that have raised concerns within the defense and intelligence communities.

Among the specific issues are continuing arms proliferation by China to rogue regimes such as Iran, Syria and North Korea and support for Syria’s regime that has engaged in a bloody crackdown that has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians.

China’s military buildup continues apace and was not mentioned in public by any senior administration official. The worries include China’s anti-satellite missile systems that can cripple U.S. war-fighting capabilities and China’s large-scale strategic nuclear buildup, a subject China refuses to discuss in formal or informal talks.

By far the most worrisome problem is China’s relentless cyberassaults on U.S. computer networks, both in the government and the private sector. The subject was raised by Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the defense budget Tuesday.

Asked about China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) cyberattacks on business and national security infrastructure, Gen. Dempsey said:

“I believe someone in China is hacking into our systems and stealing technology and intellectual property, which at this point is a crime. I can’t attribute it directly to the PLA.”

Gen. Dempsey said cyberintrusions to the PLA would be a crime, but he stopped short of calling the intrusions a “hostile act.” A Chinese cyberattack on U.S. “critical infrastructure” would warrant a U.S. cyberresponse, he said.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, South Carolina Republican, told the general that he was having lunch with Mr. Xi after the hearing and wanted to know whether the chairman had anything to say to him.

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” Gen. Dempsey replied.

The Obama administration’s total defense budget request of $613 billion carefully couched the slashes in spending to make it appear that the cuts represented a modest reduction of about 1 percent, or about $5.2 billion.

However, Republican congressional aides said the spending request masks the fact that, compared with the base budget request submitted a year ago, the budget is $45.3 billion less.

Aides said the budget is carefully drafted to avoid making the cuts look severe during the presidential election year, a tactic that resonated with most mainstream news media outlets playing the budget story as requesting only relatively small cuts.

The budget will increase year to year between fiscal 2013 and 2017, but actual funding will decline yearly by 0.3 percent. Also, the cuts are front-loaded so that more than half will be made in the next five years, totaling $259.4 billion of the $487 billion mandated by the Budget Control Act.

A third of the cuts over five years will come from slashing $76 billion from weapons modernization programs, 24 percent will be taken from an anticipated $61 billion in what the Pentagon calls bureaucratic “efficiencies” and $53 billion is expected from cutting force structure.

Force cuts include eliminating at least eight Army brigade combat teams, six Marine Corps combat battalions and four tactical air squadrons, seven Air Force tactical air squadrons and mobility aircraft, and seven Navy cruisers and two amphibious ships.

About 12 percent of the cuts, or $30 billion, will be taken out of military compensation, and another $12.5 billion will come from reducing troop strength by 125,000 people.

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