Return to

November 10, 2011
Notes from the Pentagon

The Pentagon announced Wednesday the creation of a new office to deal with China’s growing military power in Asia, and defense officials said the office represents a harsh policy rebuke to pro-China analysts who for the past 20 years sought to minimize Beijing’s forces.

The Air Sea Battle concept grew out of concerns beginning in 2005 that the Navy and Air Force were not equipped and organized to deal with China’s new weapons - anti-satellite missiles, cyberwarfare attacks and anti-aircraft-carrier missiles, among other capabilities.

According to defense officials, one of the key players in turning around the military’s view of China’s future forces was Michael Pillsbury.

Mr. Pillsbury, a former Reagan administration defense policymaker working in the middle of the previous decade for Office of Net Assessment Director Andrew Marshall, helped change the way military services conduct war games against future Chinese forces.

Prior to that time, U.S. military war-gaming, required annually under U.S. law, had been dominated by retired Navy Rear Adm. Eric McVedon. The retired admiral was an influential CIA consultant who was dubbed by critics “Eric the Red” because he often biased war games to minimize Chinese “red team” forces in ways that would assure a U.S. “blue team” victory.

Under many of the McVedon-oriented scenarios, China could not attack Guam and would intimidate Japan into blocking the use of U.S. forces in Okinawa. Marines also were left out of the scenarios as unneeded ground forces.

If U.S. forces easily won conflicts against China, the reasoning went, then the threat was minimized. The skewed war games were then used to justify liberal U.S. China hands’ paradigm that argued if China is treated as a threat, it would become one.

Mr. Pillsbury’s landmark Office of Net Assessment study, “How to Play China as a Red Team,” changed all that.

Under new rules for war games that grew out of the study, all U.S. military war-gaming was required to structure all future Chinese forces based on two criteria: Chinese military writings and past Chinese military operations, such as the surprise attack in Korea in 1950 and the 1979 strike against Vietnam.

In recent years, Chinese military writings have shown valuable indicators for what China plans to do if a conflict breaks out with the United States. They include how to ambush U.S. aircraft carriers’ key intervention forces for defending Taiwan and how China would use submarines to close off the South China Sea’s two choke points.

Also getting credit for the new Air-Sea-Battle Concept is Adm. Robert Willard, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, who bucked Navy traditionalists who had sought to play down China's military, and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, who led his service in developing the new concept.

The Obama administration insisted that the new battle concept be couched publicly so as not to offend China by requiring officials to say it is not directed at a single country.

However, defense officials said the only nation with the forces addressed by the concept is China.

“This is a partial lifting of the veil of what is to be done about the rise of China's military power,” was how one military officer described it.

According to defense officials, Mr. Pillsbury’s April 2008 study said misguided or inauthentic red-team games could undermine planning. It quoted the head of Naval War College war-gaming as saying it is “quite possible for rank amateurs, dilettantes and con artists to produce large, expensive and apparently successful but worthless or misleading games for unsuspecting sponsors.”a Authentic play against a realistic foe will increase warfighting options, identify U.S. weaknesses before a conflict, improve strategy and refocus intelligence collection, officials said.

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said that the recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s nuclear program shows that Tehran is close to building a bomb and that, unless tougher U.S. action is taken, Israel is likely to attack.

Mr. Rogers, Michigan Republican, told Inside the Ring that his committee does not plan to look into the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that said Iran halted all nuclear arms work in 2003, although he was surprised by the estimate.

The committee will continue to press intelligence analysts by exercising quality control over their analysis, he said, noting concern that intelligence analysts hedge their assessments.

On Iran’s nuclear program, he said new information was gathered since the 2007 NIE.

“What was more troubling was the administration trying to downplay the IAEA report, saying, ‘Nothing new here; nothing to see; move along,’ ” Mr. Rogers said.

The IAEA report is a huge opportunity to tighten international pressure on Iran, and Mr. Rogers says he favors sanctioning Iran’s central bank, blocking Iran’s ability to import refined fuel and putting more pressure on Russia and China to support tougher sanctions.

“And if we don’t, if we continue down the road we’re on, I just think we’re going to default to an Israeli military option, and I just don’t think that’s the right direction,” he said.

“Iran is aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons, and now it’s time for the United States to take some leadership role in this … .”

Mr. Rogers also criticized President Obama and the White House for playing down the latest IAEA findings.

Michael Birmingham, spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said: “The IAEA report is entirely consistent with and largely corroborates the judgments in the 2007 Iran NIE that Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003 and that Iranian entities are continuing to develop a range of technical capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if they made a decision to move ahead.”

The IAEA report issued Tuesday said Iran continued covert nuclear weapons development after 2003.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has complained about night-time raids by U.S. special-operations forces that have resulted in some civilian deaths.

But he has the power to stop each mission, according to a briefing provided by senior special-operations commanders to a team investigating the Aug. 6 crash of a CH-47 Chinook that killed 38, including 17 Navy SEALs.

The Special Operations Forces (SOF) command works with an “Operational Coordination Group” made up of the Afghan police, army and national director of security. The command briefs the group on targets and how it plans to attack them, according to The Washington Times Rowan Scarborough.

Asked if the Afghan group has the power to block a mission, the briefer answered, “Technically, they do. They don’t exercise it, but technically they do have authority.”

The briefing was contained in a mass of documents on the CH-47 shoot-down released by U.S. Central Command. The command has since removed the papers from its website, saying too much operational information was released.

“We will have a baseball card on them,” the briefer said. “It will have the derogatory information that we have about the individuals, where they fit in that particular network that we talked about, where they are on the battlefield.”

If approved by the top intelligence and operational commanders, a strike force is assembled. In the meantime, the task force dispatches all sorts of surveillance aircraft over the target to provide real-time video.

“If you don’t have any overhead [surveillance], it does tend to leave you a little bit blind,” the briefer said.

Remarkably, in 80 percent of SOF missions, the target surrenders without a shot fired.

Return to