The Pentagon is finishing work on its annual report to Congress on China's military power, but with an unusual difference in the process this year: China's military has sent two delegations to the U.S. to help draft it.
The Communist government in Beijing complains annually the report is too harsh but instead of telling them to get lost, senior Pentagon officials last year decided to let Chinese military officials have some input, especially on the contentious issue of China's defense spending.
China has announced double-digit percentage increases in arms spending every year for nearly two decades. Past budgets and the latest spending plan announced earlier this month by Beijing, about $44 billion, do not include additional billions spent on such things as foreign weapons or on China's space program, which is run entirely by the Chinese military. U.S. government and private estimates of Chinese defense spending are much higher. But because of China's secrecy, they vary widely, from about $130 billion a year to as much as $200 billion annually.
Pentagon officials say Chinese complaints about the report are only one problem slowing the process. The other involves frequent objections from dovish State Department and pro-China U.S. intelligence officials intent on playing down the growing threat from China. So far non-Pentagon officials requested about 50 report changes in seeking to water it down. The report was expected March 1, but will not be finished for several weeks.
One example: A pro-China Defense Intelligence Agency analyst succeeded three years ago in deleting from the report new intelligence on a secret range-extension program for China's long-range nuclear missiles. The analysts saw to it that the report left out details, including a map, showing that the threat posed by the missiles had increased dramatically by boosting the range of China's 20 to 30 DF-5A missiles so that their 3-megaton warheads now target 200 million Americans over most of the United States. Before the 2002-2004 upgrade, Chinese nuclear missiles could target only about 50 million Americans in Alaska, Hawaii and the West Coast.
Retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, now a professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, has offered a no-nonsense and surprisingly upbeat assessment of the war in Afghanistan.
Gen. McCaffrey shared his observations with colleagues after an eight-day visit last month to Afghanistan that included meetings with military and civilian officials in the region. His bottom line: After not putting enough resources into the fight against Taliban and al Qaeda, things are going well.
"The Afghan economy is booming at 12 percent growth rate a year. Fourteen billion [dollars] has been spent on aid since 2001. Six TV channels and a hundred free, uncensored publications are available to the people. Literacy is increasing rapidly. The ring road is now two-thirds complete. The 40,000 soldiers of the [Afghan National Army] are growing rapidly in numbers and capability. There are 45,000 NATO and U.S. troops in country. There is a functioning democracy with an elected Parliament, and a serious, dedicated Afghan president in office. Afghanistan can be a strategic victory in the struggle against terrorism. We are now on the right path."
Gen. McCaffrey noted that special operations forces in country, both regular and deep-cover commandos, are the key "strategic tool" in battling al Qaeda and Taliban but "by themselves cannot win the nation's wars."
These "strategic assets," however, are being killed, wounded and injured at very high rates, he said.
The air-ground-sea special operations forces are extremely effective and "can locate and kill or capture terrorist groups operating in a covert manner in both urban and rural terrain while minimizing impact on innocent populations," he said. "These are the most dangerous people on the face of the Earth."
One major problem: drugs, the former U.S. government drug czar said.
"Afghanistan is now a narco-state," Gen. McCaffrey said. "The opium-heroin take is $3.1 billion which is one-third of the [gross national product]."
Currently, British-led anti-drug efforts lack support and there is no single unifying leadership for U.S. or international efforts, he stated.
"If we do not get a serious and sustained effort on counterdrug operations in my view we will fail to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.
The Air Force, U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Northern Command are planning to shut down the huge underground command bunker at Cheyenne Mountain, Colo., where U.S. nuclear war operations would be held and space and missile tracking is done.
A defense official said Congress is being misled about the supposed cost savings for moving the mountain's functions to other less-protected bases.
"The real cost will be billions of dollars, and we will lose the cornerstone of the U.S. nuclear command and control facilities," said the official, who opposes the move.
Instead of placing command and tracking posts in the hardened, survivable Cheyenne Mountain, "we are going to base the deterrence for North America out of an office building."
The official said that it took years to build the current team of U.S. and Canadian military officials at Cheyenne Mountain into "the most integrated, technologically fused, state of the art system in the world."
"It is probably the Eighth Wonder of the World, but in six months it will be ripped asunder and nothing will be left," the official said. "This country will be at a risk level rarely ever seen. But it's like safety: Until something blows up, no one notices and everyone's happy. Then you hear 'how did this happen?' "
The official said an honest cost-benefit analysis was never done on closing the mountain and moving more than 250 North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command specialists to nearby Peterson Air Force Base.
The command center will be moved to a building at Peterson that is under the flight path of all commercial aircraft traffic at Colorado Springs airport and easily within target range of a terrorist with a shoulder-fired missile. The same building experienced two power failures last summer that "brought Northcom to its knees" while the command center at Cheyenne Mountain continued operating under generator power, the official said.
To move the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center, the Space Control Center and the Missile Warning Center will cost $1.2 billion. To avoid drawing the attention of Congress, military leaders devised a plan to keep the mountain "open" but in reality "remote" all their systems to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado and Peterson.
"There will be no cost savings for anyone; in fact this entire process will end up costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars to move and then millions a year to keep up systems both in Cheyenne Mountain and at the remote facilities in three separate sites," the official said.
A spokesman for Northern Command said Cheyenne Mountain will be placed in a standby mode over the next two years as its functions are moved.
"While the cost and security analysis studies are still being conducted, moving Cheyenne Mountain to an alternate command center status makes the country safer," the spokesman said. "The GAO has released a preliminary report on the realignment and confirmed that the decision to move functions from Cheyenne Mountain significantly increases operational effectiveness for command and control in the homeland."
Outgoing Northern Command commander Adm. Tim Keating told reporters in a press briefing in Colorado yesterday that the Cheyenne Mountain transformation proposal is "a sound plan that will save us money."
* Bill Gertz covers the Pentagon. He can be reached at 202/636-3274 or at firstname.lastname@example.org