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December 15, 2011
Notes from the Pentagon

At the recent U.S.-Chinese defense talks in Beijing, the subject of the Pentagon’s new Air Sea Battle Concept, a program to counter China’s growing anti-access and area denial weapons, was not discussed.

Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters in Beijing on Dec. 8 that there was no mention of the secret defense program in Asia during her talks with Chinese military officials, called the Defense Consultative Talks.

“We did discuss the U.S. posture changes, particularly in Australia,” Ms. Flournoy said.

“That was a very straightforward discussion where I had the chance to explain those moves in some detail and to also put them in the context of the intent of our broader policy, which is really to continue to invest in our alliance with Australia, to build the interoperability between our two forces, but also to contribute to the stability of the region and reassuring partners in the region.”

The Obama administration announced that it was sending several thousand Marines to a base on the northern tip of Australia, strategically located near the contentious South China Sea that Beijing has claimed as its “driveway” in Southeast Asia.

The lack of mention of the Air Sea Battle Concept highlights the secretive nature of the plan, which has been under development for several years. It is aimed at better coordinating Air Force and Navy forces in the Pacific. The Marines were added to the concept, and the Army also wants a role, possibly for missile defense and cyberwarfare.

Chinese military officials criticized U.S. arms sales to Taiwan during the talks. Ms. Flournoy said she defended the arms sales as enhancing efforts to bridge differences between Taiwan and the mainland.

Ms. Flournoy, who announced after the trip that she will be stepping down next year, said she thought China’s briefing on a defense white paper during the talks was a good example of transparency by the secretive Chinese military.

The annual white paper, however, is viewed by analysts as a vague statement of China’s defense goals and provides few details of Chinese strategic and military intentions.

Reflecting the sentiments of many Sinophile policymakers in the administration, Ms. Flournoy appeared to spend a great deal of time in her talks trying to play down the major U.S. military buildup in Asia to counter China’s military buildup and insisting to her counterparts that the United States does not view China as an enemy.

During a meeting with reporters in Beijing after the talks, she was asked about China’s new aircraft carrier, which underwent its second round of sea trials recently. She dismissed the development as “anticipated for a while.”

Ms. Flournoy also played down the statement made by Chinese President Hu Jintao during her visit that the Chinese navy should prepare for war.

“I would be very flattered if President Hu’s comments were directed at this visit, but I doubt that’s the case,” she said.

Asked whether the U.S. posture “pivot” toward Asia, announced last month, was discussed, Ms. Flournoy said: “The question did come up, and we assured Gen. Ma [Xiaotian] and his delegation that the U.S. does not seek to contain China - we do not view China as an adversary - that these posture changes were first and foremost about strengthening our alliance with Australia.”

Other U.S. defense officials said the Air Sea Battle Concept is directed squarely at developing force and alliances that will counter China’s growing arsenal of asymmetric warfare arsenal - anti-satellite weapons, anti-ship missiles, cyberwarfare capabilities and other weapons.

Congress this week approved language in the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill that will restrict the Obama administration from sharing sensitive missile data with Russia.

Section 1244 of the conference report, approved by House and Senate members Monday night, bans all sharing of classified U.S. ballistic-missile defense data with Russia unless the administration notifies Congress 60 days in advance.

The legislation reflects congressional concerns that missile-defense talks with Moscow will result in the compromise of velocity data for the Pentagon’s Standard Missile-3 interceptor, known as the SM-3.

Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador-designate to Russia, confirmed to the Senate a report that first appeared in this space that the administration is considering providing Moscow with classified velocity technical data on the SM-3, the heart of the Pentagon’s current missile-defense program. The data would be offered as a way to try to allay Russian fears that U.S. defenses planned for Europe could be used against Russian missiles.

The proposed advance notification to Congress requires a detailed description of the classified ballistic-missile defense information to be shared. The provision also requires an explanation of the national security interest that the administration is disclosing and whether Moscow will reciprocate by giving data on its mostly nuclear-tipped strategic-missile defenses.

The bill also would require a certification that adequate measures would be in place to prevent the data from leaking or being transferred “to third parties.” The legislation also would require an analysis of the risks to U.S. missile-defense capabilities “if the information is shared or transferred to an unauthorized third party.”

The legislation followed an alert by U.S. security officials to Congress that arms-control officials were thinking about sharing classified SM-3 data. They said doing so would compromise the missile by revealing to potential adversaries sensitive technical parameters that could be used to defeat the missile or to develop ballistic missiles that can outfly it. Russia’s past transfer of military technology to China and Iran also is a concern.

The $669.5 billion bill provides $554 billion for defense and $115 billion for overseas operations.

The White House initially opposed detainee provisions of the legislation and threatened to veto it, but on Wednesday, reversed itself, saying the bill will no longer impinge on intelligence-gathering or efforts to stop terrorists. A vote was expected in both houses Wednesday night.

Other provisions would require new reports on North Korea’s military, foreign missile threats, Russia’s nuclear forces and China’s cyberwarfare capabilities.

Six retired military analysts have written a joint letter to editors of the New York Times, protesting a 2008 story about them that won the Pulitzer Prize.

The story strongly implied that the retired officers, who served as commentators on television and radio, had received financial favors from the Pentagon. The Times article also implied that the Pentagon program of providing special briefings to retired military officers - or RMAs as they are called - was illegal and violated rules against propaganda.

The Pentagon inspector general last month released its investigation into the program and concluded for the second time that the briefings violated no rule or instruction. It said there is no evidence that the analysts received financial favors.

The Government Accountability Office also found that the Pentagon briefings in the Donald H. Rumsfeld-era were proper.

“It is a terrible injustice - to the Bush administration, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the military and intelligence agencies we know and love - to smear us as the New York Times did,” the analysts said in their letter.

“If the New York Times had any shame, which perforce it does not, they’d publicly apologize to those of us who participated in the RMA program and were slandered by their fairy tale.”

Among the signers are retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney and former Pentagon official Jed Babbin.

The New York Times has been silent on the matter. Its ombudsman was alerted to the issue but has not addressed it.

There will be a last U.S. military flight out of Iraq, a symbolic gesture that America’s nearly nine-year war to instill a Middle East democracy is over.

“There will be a last flight. There will be a last convoy,” said ArmyMaj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, the top military spokesman in Iraq. “We’re working with various media outlets, and that will I’m sure get some publication and notoriety back in the U.S.”

Gen. Buchanan told reporter Rowan Scarborough that the flight will happen before New Year’s Eve, but he declined to be more specific for security reasons. All U.S. troops must be gone by Dec. 31.

“We’re down from a high of 501 bases as of [Dec. 8],” he said. “We just transferred one more. We now have four bases left.”

About 20,000 truckloads of equipment were waiting to be moved out in September. Today, 100 remain.

At the surge’s height in 2007, 170,000 American troops were stationed in Iraq. Last week, the withdrawal put the level at 7,000.

“We’re on track to be completely done by the end of the year,” Gen. Buchanan said.

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