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June 14, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

Navy message
Adm. Vern Clark, chief of naval operations, has sent a message to commanders praising the fleet for being the "leading edge of the fight" in the war on terrorism.

His message sent earlier this month gives statistics to support the assertion. He also cautions to watch for combat-readiness problems. "We are in this fight for the long haul and must plan accordingly," the four-star admiral says.

A sample of statistics provided in the message:

  • U.S. Central Command, which runs the war in Afghanistan, has used 78 Navy ships and 60,000 sailors and Marines.

  • Six aircraft carriers, more than half the 11-carrier fleet, have seen action off the Pakistani coast. One, the USS Kitty Hawk, was used in an innovative way as a floating base and launch site for special operations forces.

  • Navy aircraft have flown 12,000 combat sorties and dropped more than 5,000 precision-guided munitions during the war in Afghanistan. Navy vessels launched 82 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

    Adm. Clark also mentions Seabees (Navy engineers), who built the airfields near Kandahar and at Bagram, north of Kabul, used daily by coalition forces.

    "I need you to keep a sharp eye on readiness indicators," says Adm. Clark, who has focused his tenure on shoring up Navy readiness lost during the 1990s. "The increased tempo of wartime operations demands the highest degree of professional dedication to sustain our war-fighting edge."

    Navy laser protection
    Several years after a Navy officer suffered eye damage from a laser, the service has developed eye protection designed to protect against a range of laser attacks.

    The Crew Systems Science and Technology division of the Naval Air Systems Command, known as NAVAIR, at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Southern Maryland said it will be fielding new anti-laser goggles later this year.

    The protection is considered state of the art. It combines several light filters used in eye goggles and helmet visors that will protect the eyes of military personnel from the damaging effects of lasers.

    The goggles were identified as EDU-5/P protective glasses. They use holographic and dielectric technology to filter laser beams and prevent them from reaching the eyes, according to a NAVAIR spokesman.

    The goggles will be distributed to aviators and aircrews in the coming months. They provide protection from various lasers that emit differing wavelengths of light. They can be used day and night, and can be combined with night-vision goggles.

    The current eye protection is limited to single wavelength lasers and is not as effective as the new spectacles.

    "Through this team effort, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps fixed- and rotary-wing and patrol aircrew will have state-of-the-art laser eye protection to protect against the hazards of anti-personnel lasers," said Brandon Johnson, who worked with a team of specialists who developed the spectacles.

    The new goggles are being fielded more than five years after an intelligence officer, Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly, was hit in the eyes by a laser fired from Kapitan Man, a Russian merchant ship. The ship was spying on a U.S. nuclear missile submarine in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, north of Washington state's Puget Sound.

    Two members of an Army helicopter crew also suffered eye damage from a laser fired at them during a mission over Bosnia- Herzenovina. Cmdr. Daly, who was aboard a Canadian military helicopter, suffered burns to the retina of his right eye and has not recovered. The Canadian pilot, Capt. Pat Barnes, also suffered career-ending eye injuries.

    A 1997 Pentagon investigation of the incident offered conflicting conclusions. It found that Cmdr. Daly suffered eye injuries caused by exposure to a laser but stated that there was "no physical evidence tying the eye injury to a laser located on the Russian merchant vessel."

    Members of Congress charged that the Clinton administration covered up facts about the incident to avoid upsetting the Russians.

    Last year, Cmdr. Daly brought a lawsuit against the owner of the ship, the Vladivostok-based Far Eastern Shipping Co., or Fesco, for negligence. The case is scheduled for trial later this year in Seattle.

    Arabic speakers
    At least one military school is urging future officers to learn Arabic as the open-ended war on terrorism continues and focuses on militant Islamists. The urging comes as the military, as well as law enforcement and intelligence agencies, realize they need more Arabic speakers to translate monitored communications, interrogate suspects and conduct military-to-military relations overseas.

    The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Va., has sent letters to cadets inviting them to enroll in Arabic language courses.

    "Our nation has a great need for young leaders with an in-depth understanding of the languages and cultures of the Middle East," said a May letter to cadets from an Arabic lecturer at VMI.

    "You can position yourself to play a key role in the on-going struggle between terror and freedom by choosing to study Arabic at VMI," the letter states. "As you know no other language is so directly vital to our national security. Arabic is the native tongue of more than 400 million people in 21 countries extending from Morocco to the far reaches of the Persian Gulf."

    "It is the second language of the more than one billion Muslims of the world. If you are seeking a career in the armed forces, the Foreign Service or any intelligence services, knowledge of Arabic will open doors to unimaginable opportunity. Likewise, if you are pursuing a career in business, Arabic can be a very valuable tool that distinguishes you from other candidates for a particular exotic, challenging and lucrative position."

    At the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., there is no special encouragement to learn Arabic. But West Point is looking to increase awareness among cadets about varying cultures, says spokeswoman Andrea Hamburger.

    "We are training cadets for service around the world," she said. "It's important that they know how others think — cultural differences — that they have an appreciation of that."

    West Point offers seven foreign languages, including Arabic. Cadets must take one language course for two years. About 8 percent of each class chooses Arabic.

    Rodman to Beijing
    The Pentagon will send Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, to communist China later this month. His assignment: Try to restart military-to-military ties that were curtailed sharply since the April 2001 incident involving a U.S. EP-3 reconnaissance plane and a Chinese F-8 jet fighter.

    Mr. Rodman also will make stops in Japan and South Korea.

    The main topic of discussion for Mr. Rodman is to convince the Chinese to correct previous military exchanges that favored China more than the United States.

    The Pentagon wants concrete assurances from Beijing that there will be more "transparency, consistency and reciprocity" for military exchanges, Pentagon spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis said.

    Past exchanges have included Chinese military visits to sensitive facilities, such as the Joint Warfighting Experimentation Center in southern Virginia.

    U.S. visits have been limited to some staged exercises. China refused to let any U.S. military personnel see elements of China's military buildup, which includes new command and control systems, missiles, bombers and ships.

    "That's where we feel contacts with the PRC [People´s Republic of China] in the past have been lacking," Cmdr. Davis said. "Prior to normalization or full restoration of military exchanges we want to ensure there is equal benefit to the United States and narrowed down to the three areas to be improved. If they agree to fix the problems, we would consider holding [Defense Consultative Talks] and have a more normalized exchange program."

    The Defense Consultative Talks are senior-level meetings of Pentagon and Chinese military officials. None have been held since the April incident, when a Chinese pilot flew his F-8 into the EP-3 reconnaissance plane over the South China Sea. The EP-3 limped into a Chinese military base. The Chinese military imprisoned the 23-member crew for 11 days.

    Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in a speech earlier this week that China's military buildup needs to be watched. China "needs to work with us to show us and its neighbors transparency, to show us what they are doing, thereby building trust and reducing tensions," Mr. Powell said.

    "An arms buildup, like those new missiles opposite Taiwan, only deepens tensions, deepens suspicion," Mr. Powell said. "Whether China chooses peace or coercion to resolve its differences with Taiwan will tell us a great deal about the kind of relationship China seeks not only with its neighbors, but with us."

  • 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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