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Jan. 14, 2016
Notes from the Pentagon

China may enter war against Islamic State
China’s military may send troops to join the global conflict against Islamic State terrorists, according to defense officials.

Beijing is said to be concerned about the growing number of Chinese-origin terrorists who have joined the Islamic State, also known as ISIL and ISIS.

“The real question is whose side will they be on,” said one defense official familiar with internal discussion of the Chinese military role.

Rather than cooperating with the U.S.-led military coalition now operating against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq and other locations, the Chinese military is more likely to join forces with Russia’s military, currently engaged in a large-scale bombing campaign in Syria.

Russian airstrikes in recent months have targeted Islamic State targets but also have included other rebels in Syria opposing the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad.

China is said to be concerned that the Islamic State is moving into western China, specifically Xinjiang province, where Muslim Uighurs in the past have joined Islamist terrorist groups like Islamic State rival al Qaeda.

Islamic State militants issued a video from Syria in July calling on China’s Uighurs to take up arms and join the Islamic State in territory the group controls in Syria and Iraq. It was the first time the Islamic State publicly appealed to Uighurs.

China has used its counterterrorism rules to crush not only Islamist terrorists but also dissident Uighurs and others who are seeking independence from Beijing.

China’s communist government announced new counterterrorism regulations in December that permit overseas activities. On Wednesday, Beijing released a government paper calling for closer defense and military cooperation in the Arab world against terrorism.

President Obama, in his last State of the Union speech Tuesday, again called for closing the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, terrorist prison.

According to U.S. defense officials, the Pentagon wants to build a new prison near the federal high-security prison outside Colorado Springs under a controversial plan to bring more than 50 Islamic terrorists from Cuba to the United States.

The Pentagon has begun emptying the military prison as part of a White House push to close the Guantanamo Bay facility before Mr. Obama’s term ends. But Mr. Obama is facing several serious legal, political and financial hurdles.

First, federal law prohibits closing the facility and building a new one on the U.S. mainland under provisions added by Congress to both the defense authorization and appropriations acts signed by the president last year. Mr. Obama has said the Gitmo provisions of the law don’t apply to him since they infringe his powers as commander in chief.

However, analysts in government say the legal barriers to ignoring the congressional provisions are too high.

Financially, the costs of setting up a new facility are estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Closing Guantanamo and building a new U.S. military prison would cost about $600 million, The Wall Street Journal reported last month. The president reportedly ordered the Pentagon to explore cheaper options.

A defense official said a new prison in Florence, Colorado, is a favored option because of its remote location and because it could draw on resources from the nearby Supermax facility. As military detainees, the Guantanamo prisoners cannot be placed directly within the population at the high-security federal prison.

Three sets of Guantanamo terrorists have been released by the Pentagon since last week. Two were sent Ghana on Jan. 6; two others were sent to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on Friday and Monday. Officials familiar with detainee plans said the goal is to release 44 of the remaining 103 detainees and send the remainder, 59 terrorists considered hard-core extremists, to a new wing of Florence.

The detainee group the Pentagon wants to bring to the United States would include Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Two other locations studied by the Pentagon are the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and a military prison in Charleston, South Carolina.

Those sent to Colorado would join notorious terrorists now housed in Florence, including mail bomber Ted Kaczynski; Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols;Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airliner with explosive underpants in 2009; Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an airliner with a shoe bomb in 2001; Zacarias Moussaoui, considered the 20th hijacker in the 2001 terrorist attacks; and Ramzi Yousef, convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

China’s program of jointly building jet fighters with Pakistan is running into design and other technical problems, according to Asian military sources. Islamabad turned to China for jets after the United States blocked the sale of additional F-16 jet fighters to Pakistan in 1989. They are now co-producing a third-generation fighter called the JF-17.

Pakistan has been flying JF-17s since 2007 and now has a fleet of around 60 jets, the first of an expected 250 fighters that will replace obsolete Mirage and F-7 Russian-design jets. According to the sources, the JF-17 is troubled with a number of design, operational and maintenance problems and limitations.

They include a weak wing design that resulted in the sudden in-flight breakup in November 2011 of the wing of a JF-17. An investigation concluded that the wing design was bad since it could support the weight of wing-mounted missiles and launchers. The wing problem was fixed, but current loads are limited to 1,000 pounds.

Also, based on the wing design problem, the jet’s maneuverability was downgraded, limiting flight characteristics.

Other problems include faulty computer software that freezes pilot command systems. The software has resulted in pilots being unable to launch missiles and bombs.

The jet also suffers from multiple engine problems because of its Russian RD-93 engine. The engine’s frequent breakdowns have resulted in lengthy delays for repairs.

Also, JF-17s are unable to conduct air-to-air refueling, severely limiting range. A retrofit of aerial refueling gear is being installed with the first two jets capable of in-flight refueling to be ready by the end of the year.

JF-17s also lack targeting pods, crucial for precision-strike capabilities for air-to-ground bombs and missiles. China and Turkey are currently studying adding the pods.

Also, JF-17s are unable to fly at night and can operate only in daylight or dusk operations, another severe limitation. The JF-17 also lacks airborne self-defense jammers, making the aircraft vulnerable to electronic warfare aircraft, and its radar lacks range in its look-down, shoot-down mode.

Cockpit displays also are outdated. They lack the helmet “heads up” display, and the friend-or-foe identification system has not met promised specifications.

According to one military source, “the current status of the JF-17 aircraft being jointly marketed by China and Pakistan does not in any way qualify to be a state-of-the-art aircraft and, more so, China has not inducted a single JF-17 in its inventory.”

Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center, agreed that the jet has problems.

“Nobody will contest that the Chengdu JF-17/FC-1 is a work in progress and that it will evolve significantly over its service life,” said Mr. Fisher, a China military expert.

Among potential customers for the JF-17 are Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Venezuela, Argentina, Azerbaijan and Zambia.

Mr. Fisher said the Asian military assessment is interesting, but in the current global fighter market, the jet “offers the best performing fighter aircraft for the price” — around $25 million to $35 million per jet, or up to 33 percent less expensive than a new U.S. F-16.

“But its Chinese air-to-air and ground-attack weapons make it almost as capable as much more expensive Western and Russian aircraft,” he said.

Following Pyongyang’s surprise underground nuclear test last week, a senior North Korean general bragged that the Kim Jong-un regime is now armed with an arsenal of missiles capable of carrying small nuclear warheads.

Gen. No Kwang-chol, the vice defense minister, disclosed the capability in a speech celebrating Pyongyang’s test of what state-run media asserted was a thermonuclear or hydrogen bomb. “As we have clearly shown before the world this time around, at present, we are equipped with even hydrogen bombs for loading miniaturized and standardized ballistic rockets that have been flawlessly perfected and fully equipped with ultra-cutting-edge strike means capable of carrying various nuclear warheads on the ground and sea and in the air without limit,” Gen. No said.

The general said the bomb test was “a thrilling victory” for supreme leader Kim Jong-un, also hailing “the underwater test fire of strategic submarine-launched ballistic missiles” that U.S. officials say was conducted Dec. 21 from a submerged submarine.

Gen. No went on to call for destroying the United States. “The U.S. imperialists, puppet gang of traitors and ragtag imperialists are petrified at the vibration of the hydrogen bomb of [self-reliance] Korea, which shook the entire earth,” he said. “Let us completely remove the American empire, which is the most flagrant strangler of justice and peace, and the biggest source of danger of nuclear war, from this earth.”

Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, told reporters in March that North Korean statements about having small nuclear warheads are difficult to assess.

“I don’t see any tests yet that associated with this miniaturized claim,” he said. “But as a combatant commander, as commander of your Strategic Command, it’s a threat that we cannot ignore as a country.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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