Return to

April 12, 2012
Notes from the Pentagon

The head of the Air Force Space Command recently made cryptic comments about some aspects of one of the military’s most cutting edge and secret weapons, the X-37 space plane.

Air ForceGen. William L. Shelton, who heads the Air Force’s space operations, said during a March 26 breakfast meeting with defense writers that the X-37, currently on orbit, is performing its mission.

“It is doing very well on orbit, and we don’t have an exact re-entry date for it. But it’s had a successful mission, and we are very happy with the performance,” he said.

Asked what the space plane was doing well, the four-star general declined to specify.

Gen. Shelton said there are no plans at the present to increase the number of spacecraft from the current two, and he also defended the secrecy of the program’s budget.

“If you reveal budgets, you reveal sometimes the capabilities, the amount of technology that’s inserted into a program,” he said. “I think in this case, it’s just a good strategic national security decision. Like we do other things of that ilk. Keep that budget to ourselves.”

Pressed for details on the secret craft, Gen. Shelton said only that the system is “game-changing,” often a reference to strategic capabilities that can make a difference between winning and losing in a conflict.

A defense official said the X-37 is a key element of the Pentagon’s new Air Sea Battle Concept to closely link Air Force and Navy capabilities for defeating China’s advanced military systems such as anti-satellite weapons, anti-ship ballistic missiles and cyberwarfare capabilities.

In a future conflict with China, the X-37 is slated to play a key role in knocking out Chinese space sensors that would provide key targeting data for the DF-21D anti-ship missile.

Pentagon officials, however, refuse to say publicly that the X-37 is part of future space warfare systems and insist it is a test bed for research.

Chinese military writers have said the X-37 is part of secret U.S. plans for space warfare against China.

A CIA report on North Korea’s arms proliferation activities reveals that Pyongyang remains a major source of arms to the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa.

“North Korea is among the world’s leading suppliers of ballistic missiles and related technology,” the annual report to Congress says.

“Over the years, [North Korea] has exported ballistic missile-related equipment, components, materials, technical expertise, and/or full missile systems.”

The rogue state’s relationships with Iran and Syria remain strong, and intelligence agencies assess that North Korea is seeking new customers and re-engaging with previous customers, the report says. The report notes North Korean assistance to Syria’s covert nuclear program that began in the late 1990s and says Pyongyang “retains the potential for exporting nuclear materials and technology.”

On North Korea’s missile program, the report says Pyongyang is developing missiles of “increasing range and sophistication.”

The report was sent to Congress in February but received little notice as it was posted on the website of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

North Korea continues to make preparations for what the Pentagon is calling a missile launch of a Taepodong-2 long-range missile.

The report states that North Korea has not launched the Taepodong-2 “space launch vehicle or any other longer range space or missile systems” since July 2009.

On the nuclear program, the report says North Korea’s nuclear test activity in 2006 and 2009 “strengthens our assessment that the North has produced nuclear weapons.” The North Koreans announced in late 2011 that the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center is producing uranium enriched up to 3.5 percent.

On China, the report says Chinese companies have helped nuclear and missile programs in Pakistan and missile programs in Iran.

“Chinese entities - including private and state-owned firms - continue to engage in WMD-related proliferation activities,” the report says.

As a buyer, “China remains one of Russia’s largest customers for nuclear related equipment,” the report says.

Air Force sources say the service’s next chief of staff is expected to be Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, currently commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe.

Gen. Welsh, a Texas native and Air Force Academy graduate, is expected to be named soon and will take over in August.

Gen. Walsh is a fighter pilot by training and flew A-10s and F-16s. He also acquired intelligence experience during an assignment with the CIA as associate director for military affairs.

He will replace Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, who has been chief since August 2008.

A recent report by the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission provides new details of growing factionalism inside the secretive Chinese Communist Party.

The report on the upcoming leadership change from President Hu Jintao to Vice President Xi Jinping this fall says that seven of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the collective dictatorship that rules China, will be replaced.

The new leaders, dubbed Fifth Generation officials, “are largely grouped into two broad factions,” the report says.

They include a loose coalition of the “Princeling Party” and the “Shanghai Clique” built on the power of offspring of revolutionary-era senior party officials and from officials in the wealthy coastal provinces.

“It is based in a patronage network extending from former [Communist Party] General Secretary Jiang Zemin and his close associate, former [People's Republic of China] Vice-President Zeng Qinghong,” the report says. “Both men are formally retired but maintain considerable power behind the scenes.”

This faction favors economic priorities that boost China’s business and professional cadres and also promote policies that help the coastal regions. Mr. Xi is one of its leaders.

Facing off against this faction is a second group identified as the “China Communist Youth League Faction,” or “Tuanpai,” which is closer to current leader Mr. Hu.

“Many of these officials have direct experience working in the [party’s] nationwide youth organization, from which the faction draws its name,” the report says.

“The group also shares experience working in China’s poorer inland provinces and in party affairs work such propaganda, personnel administration, and the ‘united front’ management of labor, ethnic, and religious organizations.”

By contrast to the Princeling-Shanghai faction, the Youth Leaguers seek to promote less-developed interior provinces in China’s interior and what they regard as policies that address the growing social instability.

Key leaders of this faction include Li Keqiang, likely the next state council premier, and Liu Yandong, who has a long history of youth and party affairs. He will become head of the United Front Work Department later this year.

Princeling Bo Xilai, who advocates leftist Chinese communist policies, was formally ousted from the senior ranks of the party Tuesday. His successor as mayor of Chongqing is a member of the Youth faction.

The report sums up the factions as follows: “Neither faction can muscle out the other from the political arena, and each has expertise in governance that the other lacks.”

The report however, makes no mention of China’s powerful military and its role in the factionalism.

The military in China has growing increasingly nationalistic and anti-American, raising new worries for U.S. officials.

The congressional report is further evidence undermining the theories of the U.S. intelligence community’s highest-ranking China analyst Paul Heer.

Mr. Heer, currently National Intelligence Officer for East Asia, wrote in 2000 that China’s leaders are a “house united” and that any analyst who views Chinese policies toward the United States as driven by factionalism are “misguided and even dangerous.”

It could not be learned if Mr. Heer continues to hold that view as the top U.S. intelligence analyst on China.

Return to