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September 27, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

A-12 strike
The Navy sent letters this week to General Dynamics and Boeing threatening a punitive measure to recoup $3 billion it says is due on a canceled A-12 attack jet deal.

The two companies received letters Wednesday saying the Navy will withhold payments on weapons contracts unless the companies repay $3 billion the Navy gave them for the jets.

The letter prompted a meeting between Navy and company lawyers yesterday aimed at settling an 11-year-old lawsuit in which the Pentagon won the latest ruling. The companies have proposed a settlement that would repay the Navy by absorbing costs on current projects, providing free logistics support and giving the Pentagon VIP jets.

General Dynamic and McDonnell Douglas Corp., now owned by Boeing, agreed in 1988 to build the first eight A-12 fighter bombers for the U.S. Navy for about $4.4 billion. Three years later, Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney canceled the deal because the companies had fallen behind schedule.

"We are aware of the letter," General Dynamics said last night. "We are all seeking a way to conclude this disagreement, which has been ongoing for 11 years. But the fact remains that this case is on appeal, and collection action is unwarranted. We expect a decision on the appeal next spring."

Bowditch fight
China's government accused the U.S. Navy yesterday of violating its claimed 200-mile economic zone in waters off northern China.

A government spokeswoman also suggested that the Navy oceanographic ship, the USNS Bowditch, collided with a Chinese boat. Defense officials said there was no collision.

Bush administration officials are trying to play down the incident, which comes just weeks before Chinese President Jiang Zemin's scheduled visit to the United States. Officials are worried the incident might spin up anti-U.S. sentiment in China, similar to the period after the crisis over the April 1, 2001, collision between a U.S. EP-3E reconnaissance plane and a Chinese F-8 fighter.

"We regard such activities as a violation of the principles of international law and of the interests and jurisdiction of China's special economic zones," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue told reporters in Beijing.

We first reported the U.S.-China territorial dispute in this space last week. The Bowditch, a Navy ocean survey ship, was operating about 60 miles off the Chinese coast in the Yellow Sea. Beijing lodged an official diplomatic protest note over the presence of the ship, which was harassed by Chinese maritime patrol aircraft.

The ship is conducting surveys of the ocean, but it also is showing the flag in an exercise designed to assert the Navy's freedom to navigate inside China's economic zone.

A tabloid in Hong Kong first reported that there had been a collision between the Bowditch and a Chinese fishing boat. "There was no collision," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Davis, noting that the Chinese spokeswoman's failure to debunk the collision report might have left the impression that the report was true.

The Bowditch left the area within the past several days and is in Sasebo, Japan.

Taiwan submarines
The government of Taiwan is moving ahead — slowly — with plans to buy eight diesel submarines through the United States.

Taipei recently sent the Pentagon an initial payment of $400,000 to fund studies of the type of submarines to be built.

The submarine designs being looked at include a redesigned, 1950s-era diesel submarine based on the USS Barbell-class of boats, and the Spanish Galerna-class submarine, which is similar to the French Agosta-class submarine.

"The Spanish government is very interested in this project," one official told us.

Defense officials said the Taiwanese have been moving slowly in procuring the submarines, which are said to be needed to counter a growing Chinese naval buildup, which includes new Russian guided-missile destroyers, near the Taiwan Strait. Another possible candidate for the submarine design is the German Type 209. However, officials told us the 209 is unlikely to be picked because of the German government's fear of political retribution from communist China.

The Taiwanese plan to make a series of payments of several million dollars in the coming months as part of the procurement process that will culminate with a $500 million down payment for the first boat.

Meanwhile, defense sources said the Bush administration is waiting until after the upcoming visit of Chinese President Jiang Zemin before shipping Taiwan the advanced air-to-air missiles Taipei has purchased.

The missiles were kept from the Taiwan air force to maintain a military balance, but that policy ended after China's air force test-fired a new Russian-made air-to-air missile that upset the balance.

Missile test soon
China is preparing to conduct a flight test of its new Dong Feng-31 intercontinental ballistic missile, according to intelligence officials. The preparations were detected by a U.S. spy satellite at the Wuzhai missile test center in central China.

China is working hard on the DF-31, the first truck-mounted ICBM in the world since Russia's SS-25. A flight test in January of a DF-31 failed, officials said.

On Aug. 28, China also flight-tested a Dong Feng-4 ICBM. That missile test coincided with the visit to China by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. China also recently tested a new short-range missile — part of the buildup of advanced missiles opposite Taiwan, where about 350 to 400 missile threaten the island.

Legal bills
The Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Springfield, Ill., has started a legal defense fund for the two Air National Guard pilots facing possible criminal charges for mistakenly bombing Canadian troops in Afghanistan on April 17.

"These guys are up against a political machine and must have the best defense affordable," said a VFW fund-raising letter. "If you, or any of your friends ever came close to getting it in a sling, you know what these guys are facing and they are going through."

The two pilots, Maj. Harry Schmidt, whose F-16 dropped the bomb, and Maj. William Umbach, his lead pilot, face manslaughter and assault charges filed earlier this month by the Air Force. The charges against the two active members of the Illinois Air National Guard have riled a number of former pilots, who say the two are being made scapegoats to please an important ally, Canada, at a time when the U.S. needs international support for a war against Iraq.

Maj. Schmidt is defended by noted local attorney Charles Gittins, a former Marine Corps flight officer. "Chuck Gittins is an excellent attorney and a good guy, but he is not cheap," says the VFW letter.

Maginnis moving
Robert Maginnis, one of this town's most vocal proponents of traditional military values, toppling Saddam Hussein and winning the war on drugs, resigned from the Family Research Council this week.

Mr. Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, tells us the FRC is dropping the military and anti-drug policies from its agenda.

Mr. Maginnis, who battled Clinton administration's drive in 1993 for open homosexuality in the military and helped expose the combat-readiness problems of the late 1990s, says he is looking to land at another conservative think tank.

"I'm clearly hoping to stay very much involved, and I'm making rounds in the city looking for folks who are interested in these issues from a conservative perspective," he says.

He adds he will continue to be a frequent contributor on cable television talk fests.

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

  • 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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