PENTAGON SHIFTS EAST
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta on Thursday will put the official Pentagon stamp on a new U.S. strategy toward Asia. The strategy will solidify efforts to refocus on countering China's growing arsenal of missiles, submarines, cyberweapons and other forces designed to push U.S. forces out of the region.
A senior U.S. official tells Inside the Ring that the strategy — produced in response to harsh defense budget cuts imposed by the Obama administration and expected deeper cuts from Congress — is focused on bolstering U.S. forces and alliances in Asia while seeking to maintain an effective military presence in the volatile Middle East.
According to the official, the strategy will try to force the military services to better use shrinking resources.
Those weapons and forces cutbacks mean that the United States will no longer be able to fight two regional conflicts at the same time, increasing the risk that when a war breaks out in, say, the Middle East, adversaries will use the opportunity to launch wars in other places such as the Taiwan Strait or the Korean Peninsula.
The strategy will call for fighting one major war while deterring a second with enough forces to dissuade an adversary from seizing the opportunity to strike while U.S. forces are preoccupied elsewhere.
To deal with the sharp decline in resources — people, weapons and money — the Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force will be required to share forces to a much greater extent than in the past, according to the strategy report set for release at the Pentagon.
Regarding China, the strategy is an outgrowth of the Pentagon's Air-Sea Battle Concept that was announced several weeks ago. The concept calls for a major program of air and naval systems that are designed to counter Beijing's "anti-access" and "area-denial" weaponry.
Anti-access weapons, like China's new anti-ship ballistic missile, are designed to keep U.S. naval and air forces far from China's coasts. Area-denial weapons — surface-to-surface missiles and stealth aircraft — seek to prevent forward deployed forces, like those in Japan and Guam, from taking action against China.
The Pentagon is expected to cut $490 billion from defense spending over the next 10 years. An additional $500 billion could be added to that cut as a result of the congressional spending deal reached last year.
U.S. strategic missile defenses and an urgently needed strategic nuclear-modernization program are not expected to be targeted in the spending drawdown.
The strategy is being implemented amid heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf over Iran's continuing refusal to halt its secret nuclear program that the International Atomic Energy Agency has said contains numerous elements related to building nuclear weapons and missile warheads.
Iran this week followed China's example of seeking to deny access to international waters by U.S. aircraft carriers. Tehran said the carrier strike group led by the USS John C. Stennis should not return to the Persian Gulf after its recent transit through the Strait of Hormuz.
China's military last year objected to U.S. aircraft carriers transiting international waters in the Yellow Sea during exercises with South Korean naval forces.
Plans announced recently to deploy 2,500 Marines to a base on the northern tip of Australia, close to the increasingly volatile South China Sea, are part of the U.S. buildup in Asia, along with plans for building up military power on Guam and developing a new long-range Air Force bomber.
Also, some 600 Marines and 200 Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces troops will take part in exercise Iron Fist on Jan. 16 at California's Camp Pendleton.
The three-day exercise will boost interoperability, said Marine Col. Scott Campbell, commander of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
OBAMA TO SHARE SECRETS
President Obama signaled Congress this week that he is prepared to share U.S. missile defense secrets with Russia.
In the president's signing statement issued Saturday in passing into law the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill, Mr. Obama said restrictions aimed at protecting top-secret technical data on U.S. Standard Missile-3 velocity burnout parameters might impinge on his constitutional foreign policy authority.
As first disclosed in this space several weeks ago, U.S. officials are planning to provide Moscow with the SM-3 data, despite reservations from security officials who say that doing so could compromise the effectiveness of the system by allowing Russian weapons technicians to counter the missile. The weapons are considered some of the most effective high-speed interceptors in the U.S. missile defense arsenal.
There are also concerns that Russia could share the secret data with China and rogue states such as Iran and North Korea to help their missile programs defeat U.S. missile defenses.
Officials from the State Department and Missile Defense Agency have discussed the idea of providing the SM-3 data to the Russians as part of the so-far fruitless missile-defense talks with Moscow, headed in part of by Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, who defense officials say is a critic of U.S. missile defenses.
Their thinking is that if the Russians know the technical data, it will help allay Moscow's fears that the planned missile defenses in Europe would be used against Russian ICBMs. Officials said current SM-3s are not fast enough to catch long-range Russian missiles, but a future variant may have some anti-ICBM capabilities.
Ms. Tauscher has repeatedly denied that her talks with the Russians are secret. However, the administration has provided almost no briefings about the talks to Congress, which prompted critics of the talks to include language in the new defense spending law limiting data-sharing.
Section 1227 of the defense law prohibits spending any funds that would be used to give Russian officials access to sensitive missile-defense technology, as part of a cooperation agreement without first sending Congress a report identifying the specific secrets, how they would be used and steps to protect the data from compromise.
The president also must certify to Congress that Russia will not share the secrets with other states and that it will not help Russia "to develop countermeasures" to U.S. defenses.
The certification also must show whether Russia is providing equal access to its missile defense technologies, which are mainly nuclear-tipped anti-missile interceptors.
Mr. Obama said in the signing statement that he would treat the legal restrictions as "non-binding."
"While my administration intends to keep the Congress fully informed of the status of U.S. efforts to cooperate with the Russian Federation on ballistic missile defense, my administration will also interpret and implement section 1244 in a manner that does not interfere with the president's constitutional authority to conduct foreign affairs and avoids the undue disclosure of sensitive diplomatic communications," Mr. Obama said, incorrectly identifying the section of the law containing the restrictions.
CHINESE SLBM TEST?
Internet reports indicate that China's military may have conducted a secret flight test of the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile, one of at least three new long-range Chinese strategic missiles.
Richard Fisher, a China military-affairs specialist, told Inside the Ring that online military bulletin boards in China were lit over the New Year's period with reports that China conducted six JL-2 launches from waters near the major northern military port of Dalian, where China has at least two ballistic-missile submarines at the Northern Fleet base at Xiaopingdao.
"I can't confirm these reports, but they are plausible, especially if you assume that two submarines were used: two Type 094 SSBNs or one Type 094 and one test submarine, either the single Golf-class non-nuclear-powered SLBM test sub, or its possible replacement launched in September 2010," Mr. Fisher said.
Another scenario is that a single missile submarine fired all six of the JL-2s because each submarine can be outfitted with 12 of the missiles, a variant of the DF-31 land-mobile ICBM.
On the reported multiple launches, Mr. Fisher said China's military "would clearly want to demonstrate that, after years of protracted development, they can launch submarine-based ballistic missiles at a near wartime frequency."
"If these reports are true, then the 094 submarine is ready for the PLA version of deterrence patrols, which could commence this year," he said, referring to China's People's Liberation Army.
"This number of successful tests would also indicate that the PLA has, at long last, resolved whatever issues were preventing this missile from achieving 'operational' status."
Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said: "We have been monitoring JL-2 developments for some years. It has had challenges — resulting in delays in completing the system."
Capt. Kirby said the Pentagon's annual report on China's military noted that China needs to conduct additional tests for the new JL-2, but "once complete and deployed, the JL-2/Jin combo would constitute China's first real sea-based deterrent." The Jin-class submarine is also known as the Type 094 missile submarine.
Roger Cliff, a China military specialist with the Project 2049 Institute, wrote in Defense News recently that China is likely to conduct a major military test on Wednesday, perhaps its new DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile. That day is the "one-one-one" anniversary of a Chinese anti-satellite missile tests in 2007 and the first flight of a J-20 stealth jet last year.
Some type of saber-rattling test also would be timed to upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Taiwan, a key target of the Chinese military, which conducted missile tests north and south of the island in 1996 in an attempt to intimidate voters prior to an election that year.
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