- The Washington Times - Friday, December 31, 1999

Sub shortage

The Silent Service is speaking out. The Navy's normally quiet fraternity of submariners took one on the chin earlier this year when Navy Secretary Richard Danzig criticized the force for being a "white-male preserve" and suggested women be put on board the tight-quartered vessels.

Now submariners are sounding the alarm against Pentagon plans to cut up seven Los Angeles-class attack submarines one of the most effective military weapons in the U.S. arsenal beginning in 2001.

The Clinton administration decided in 1997 that to save money the submarine force would be cut back from 72 boats to 50 by 2001.

However, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were recently sent a secret report on the Navy's dwindling number of submarines. The report, according to a naval insider, says the nation is at an "unacceptable risk" as the number of attack boats drops near the required 50 mark. The report said the Navy needs a minimum of 55 attack submarines to counter the Russian nuclear threat and also deal with emerging sub forces in China, Iran, India and Pakistan. The desirable fleet strength is 68, says the report by a private consultant.

A senior Navy official in the Pacific said the pace of operations is way above normal because of the submarine shortage. The Pacific-based USS Pasadena, sailed at a 90 percent operations rate this year, covering missions that included North Korea, Japan, Philippines, Singapore and the Persian Gulf.

"The problem is that as our sub force gets smaller we have increasing demand for their use," the official said. "The problem now is what crucial parts of the world do we risk not gathering intelligence on."

To cover the shortage, submarines, specifically in the Pacific, are being driven harder and faster, with less time for repairs and less time for sailors to go on leave.

The submarine force will have major problems carrying out both its peacetime and wartime missions without action on the matter, the official said.

The immediate solution: Keep operating the seven Los Angeles-class submarines slated for destruction. For the longer term, the United States is going to have to start building more submarines, by some estimates as many as three a year. The new Virginia-class attack submarine will be procured at a one-sub rate.

Another option under review is to convert four Trident nuclear missile submarines into cruise-missile shooters.

The attack subs' missions range from killing missile submarines perhaps one of China's future Type 094 boomers now being built to intelligence-gathering, anti-ship warfare, covert action and support for aircraft carrier battle groups.

Recent Pacific submarine activities have included underwater stints near Kosovo, North Korea, Taiwan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan.

Air Force's man

His friends inside the Navy are not the only ones rooting for Adm. Vernon Clark to be the next chief of naval operations. Some Air Force generals are too.

Here's why: Adm. Clark, currently Atlantic Fleet commander, is considered one of the top prospects from the Navy to be the next Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman in two years. But, if he gets the CNO job next summer, the move would likely preclude him from becoming a chairman candidate since he would only have been in his new post about a year.

With Adm. Clark out of the running, the odds improve for Air Force Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, the next commander of U.S. Space Command. Gen. Eberhart had only been in the job a few months as chief of Air Force Air Combat Command when he was suddenly picked to head Space. He instantly went from a job that does not qualify as a chairman candidate to one that does, under the federal law that regulates the selection process.

The Air Force is certain the next chairman will be either an airmen or sailor since an Army general has been selected for the last three, four-year terms. Insiders say Gen. Eberhart is the Air Force's best chance for the title of highest ranking military officer.

Two other possible Air Force competitors are Gen. Joseph Ralston, current Joint Chiefs vice chairman who is slated to become NATO supreme commander; and Gen. Richard Myers, the next JCS vice chairman.

India card

With U.S.-China relations deadlocked, the Pentagon is looking further westward. Adm. Dennis Blair, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, will travel in the next several months to India for talks with Indian military officials. The visit appears intended to signal to Beijing the United States' patience with China is wearing thin.

"We hope to establish basic [military] relations," said one military officer in the region.

The United States has had minimal military-to-military contacts with the world's largest democracy and relations turned sour last year after India conducted underground nuclear tests. Strategically, U.S.-Indian military cooperation would balance China's growing alliance with Russia. India blamed China not Pakistan for its decision last year to conduct a nuclear weapons test.

The Indian military also is modernizing its forces and could prove to be a lucrative market for U.S. defense contractors.

Friend of U.S.?

People's Liberation Army Gen. Xiong Guangkai, Beijing's most important liaison officer with foreign militaries, is set to arrive in Washington Jan. 24. The visit would mark the first real thaw in U.S. military ties with China since NATO's errant bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, earlier this year.

Gen. Xiong once told a former Pentagon official that the United States would not intervene in a conflict between China and Taiwan because it cares more about Los Angeles than Taipei. The remark was reported to the White House as a not-so-subtle threat to use nuclear weapons against the City of Angels.

Short takes

Look for Republican leaders in Congress to finish marking up the 13 annual appropriations bills including defense spending by Memorial Day. Republican leaders, weary of the snail's pace of money-allotting process, have been discussing the accelerated schedule during the holiday recess. Even some Democratic leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, are warming to the idea.

The endgame: send the bills to conference committees by Memorial Day and have floor votes on the finished products before the August recess. This would leave both parties more time to campaign in the pivotal 2000 election.

Navy officers are privately conceding that the twin-engine F-18E/F Hornet the service's future carrier bomber is underpowered. Sources say the engines selected under tight cost constraints simply don't provide the needed acceleration. But Navy officials don't dare admit to the shortfall publicly for fear Pentagon civilians will kill procurement or order a redesign.

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