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November 22, 2002
Notes from the Pentagon

EP-3 intercept
Two Chinese jet fighters came dangerously close to a U.S. EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft last week during an encounter reminiscent of the aerial collision that touched off a U.S.-China crisis.

Two F-7 jets tracked the EP-3 as it flew in international airspace off the northern coast of China, U.S. intelligence officials tell us.

"They came within 250 feet," said one official.

The encounter was close, said some officials, but less threatening than Chinese aerial engagements in the past, which have come within a few feet of U.S. reconnaissance aircraft.

On April 1, 2001, a Chinese F-8 jet collided with a U.S. EP-3 over the South China Sea, causing the Chinese jet to crash and nearly causing the deaths of 23 Americans on the EP-3. The U.S. plane made an emergency landing at a Chinese air base, where they were held prisoner for 11 days before being released.

U.S. intelligence agencies have increased electronic intelligence gathering from China in order to pick up new information on recent Communist Party leadership changes.

The aerial intercept also coincided with renewed Chinese fighter sorties near Taiwan. For the first time in months, Chinese military forces began flying new Su-30 fighter bombers close to the demarcation line that runs down the center of the Taiwan Strait.

At least 12 sorties were detected by U.S. intelligence. The flights were viewed by U.S. officials as provocative and coincided with the major Communist Party congress in Beijing that ended last week.

VIP ejected
The military routinely puts VIPs in the back seats of supersonic jet fighters. It's good public relations. But what happened over the Nevada desert last week was anything but typical.

An F-14D Tomcat took off from Fallon Naval Air Station with a VIP in the back seat a naval officer from the cruiser Anzio who was on what the military calls a "FAM Hop," or familiarization ride.

In flight, when the pilot pulled a "negative 1g," the gravity force moved the officer nearly off his seat. He reached down to reposition himself and accidentally pulled the ejection lever. The cockpit canopy flew off and out went the VIP.

"Imagine the reaction of the poor pilot lieutenant when he lost his VIP," said our source.

A Navy official at the Pentagon confirmed the incident. He said the ejection system automatically opened the VIP's parachute. He landed safely in the Nevada desert and waited for his rescue.

"He'll have a great story to tell sailors back on the Anzio," the source said.

China missile upgrades
Chinese military forces opposite Taiwan continue to add short-range missiles to the 350 missiles currently within striking distance of the island at a rate of about 50 missiles a year.

Another new development recently identified by the Defense Intelligence Agency was the Chinese military's efforts to upgrade air-defense missile sites opposite Taiwan.

The Chinese military recently was spotted reconfiguring military bases where in the past only HQ-2 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles were deployed.

The upgrades will make it possible for China to deploy the HQ-2 a Chinese variant of the Russian SA-2 missile as well as new Chinese CSS-6 and CSS-7 surface-to-surface missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles at the bases.

Unfriendly French act
The Bush administration succeeded in getting a tough U.N. resolution on Iraq despite the best efforts of the French government to water it down. Paris sought to remove tough language calling for military action against Iraq for obstructing efforts to disarm Baghdad of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

"I think the French muddied the waters of what would have been an absolutely clear message to Iraq, and for whatever reasons they intervened and made it a less clear message," a defense official tells us. "And the irony is that the only hope of getting Saddam [Hussein] to change is to have a really clear message. So it wasn't a friendly act to muddy the message."

Officials said French (as well as Russian and Chinese) resistance to the tough U.S. posture toward Iraq is based on hopes of gaining favorable concessions for oil development in any post-Saddam Iraq.

Daschle's fan club
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's assessment that the U.S. military and intelligence agencies "haven't made real progress" in the war on terrorism is not sitting well with the frontlines.

"We can't find bin Laden, we haven't made real progress in finding key elements of al Qaeda. They continue to be as great a threat today as they were 1 years ago. So by what measure can we claim to be successful so far?" the South Dakota Democrat recently said.

We asked a few soldiers in Afghanistan to reply and all assured us that, while progress seems slow at times, they are methodically finding hard-core Taliban and al Qaeda followers.

Said one soldier, "Next time you see Tommy-boy, tell him I hate myself. I'm filled with self-loathing. I'm a failure."

The two American pilots charged in the "friendly fire" deaths of four Canadian soldiers have asked the Air Force to open to the press and public their upcoming pretrial hearing.

"We respectfully demand that spectators, including our wives and families, military members and members of the public, be provided access to witness the hearing in person," wrote Majs. Harry Schmidt and William Umbach.

The two F-16 pilots were flying a patrol over Afghanistan in April, when they spotted ground fire, thought it was the enemy and dropped a bomb. It turned out that the sparks were coming from Canadian soldiers conducting live-fire training.

An Air Force investigating officer has charged the two with manslaughter. The hearing at Barksdale (La.) Air Force Base in January will determine whether the two will face a court martial, administration punishment or no discipline at all.

The pilots' written request also stated, "To the extent that classified information may be admitted at the Article 32 hearing in our case, we respectfully request that the purported classified information be submitted for classification review and possible declassification in order that our hearing may be conducted in an open and public manner to the maximum extent possible."

  • 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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