- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2000

Chinese missile test

U.S. defense and intelligence officials privately confirmed to us Thursday that China is preparing for a second flight test of its newest missile, the truck-mounted DF-31 intercontinental ballistic missile.

"They're making preparations for a future test," one official told us. However, the timing of any flight test is uncertain and will be based as always in the communist dictatorship on a "political decision" by top leaders, the official said.

A test is expected in the not-too-distant future based on satellite photographs showing preparations under way at the Wuzhai missile and space test facility in central China.

The Chinese last test-fired a DF-31 on Aug. 2, 1999. The road-mobile ICBM is believed by the CIA to incorporate stolen U.S. nuclear warhead design technology obtained by Beijing's spies.

N. Korean barrage

Lt. Gen. Charles R. Heflebower, the top air commander in South Korea, was in Washington this week and took time out to talk to us about defending against a North Korean invasion.

The Air Force three-star general said the North's air force and air-defense system is already adapting based on lessons learned from NATO's 78-day air war over Serbia.

"North Korea adapts to change," said the F-16 fighter pilot. "They looked at the air campaign in Kosovo and Bosnia and we can only assume they learned lessons." He said virtually all North Korean army and air force assets are now underground.

If the North does invade again (its army streamed over the 38th parallel 50 years ago, igniting the Korea War) it has the capacity to unleash 300,000 to 500,000 rounds of artillery per hour. The rain of shelling would reach the capital of Seoul as well as U.S. Army positions nearby.

But Gen. Heflebower is confident the invasion could be turned back before the enemy reached Seoul.

His four fighter squadrons are at high readiness priority, yet his 10,000 airmen, just like the rest of the Air Force, are feeling the spare parts pinch.

"Our readiness rate is pretty good. It's not as high as I like to see it," he said.

Gen. Heflebower was guardedly optimistic about North Korean intentions, noting a recent hiatus in provocative behavior.

Still, he cautions, "Clearly the strategic objective of the North Korean regime is to continue the North Korean regime… . The North Koreans are postured … offensively."

The general told an Air Force symposium on the Korean War that one way to judge the differences in a vibrant, capitalistic South and a hard-line communists North is to take a plane ride near the demilitarized zone.

He recently scanned the horizon from the cockpit of an F-16 Falcon. He saw bright lights, and a sky lodge, below. "Up north," he said, "there was not one light. It was all dark."

Nuclear threats

The Defense Intelligence Agency has for the first time disclosed its estimate of who could be the next nuclear-armed rogue states: Iran and Iraq. In written answers to questions posed by the Senate Armed Services Committee early last year but released to us this week, the DIA was asked to specify the rogue states likely to get the bomb.

"The Middle East will become the region of greatest concern in terms of nuclear weapons over the next 10 to 20 years," the DIA said. "If international nonproliferation efforts are not successful, we judge Tehran and Baghdad will be able to begin stockpiling nuclear weapons in the next two decades; much sooner if either are successful in purchasing fissile material, or even complete weapons."

Reserve stigma

The Defense Science Board has rallied around a drive by retired officers to change a law that requires all incoming officers to be classified as reserve officers instead of getting a "regular" commission.

The retired military men argue the 1991 law is a factor in poor retention rates for first-term officers who, at the five-year mark, decide whether to give the military the benefit of their experiences and skills or get out.

Retired Army Gen. Edward L. Rowny, an arms-control adviser to Presidents Reagan and Bush, is one of those who says the "reserve" classification alienates young officers.

Now, a task force of the Pentagon's Defense Science Board, an influential group of retired senior officers and former policy-makers, agrees.

"The commissioning system itself is another factor that may affect retention. This system should be modified as quickly as possible …," a recent task force's recommendation states. "This provision may be adding to the pressure to leave active service immediately on completion of obligated tours. Different commissions work against the sense of commitment and devotion to a calling that are central to commissioned officer service and have characterized America's career officer corps throughout its history. All active duty officers should be commissioned as regular officers regardless of the source of their commission."

Gen. Rowny is also aided by some high-powered colleagues In 1997, he co-authored a letter to Congress advocating change from retired Gens. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Andrew J. Goodpaster and Gordon R. Sullivan, the former Army chief of staff.

"The new system resulting from this legislation destroys what has been a dynamic incentive a badge of honor an appointment as a regular officer for the graduates of service academies and for distinguished military graduates of ROTC units," the four wrote. "This powerful incentive, at the time of initial commissioning, has been a great influence toward a lifetime dedicated to the military service of our country."

The House eventually voted to repeal the law, but to date the Senate Armed Services Committee, which created it, won't budge.

Pushed by former Sen. Sam Nunn, Georgia Democrat, Congress in 1991 changed the law that had restricted regular commissions to academy grads and the cream of the ROTC crop. The new law, effective in 1996, gave all new officers the reserve classification.

Advocates say the new system helps ensure that all officers are treated fairly in promotions and assignments. It also provides an incentive to excel to gain a regular commission in the ninth to 13th year of service.

Gen. Rowny says the law is a disaster, but says the current Joint Chiefs of Staff won't back changing it.

"We have a great deal of anecdotal information of people saying they did not want to go on under these terms," he said.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at [email protected] Rowan Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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