- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2001

President Bushs decision to not sell Taiwan the Aegis destroyers and Patriot PAC-3 missiles they need to defend themselves against the Chinese missiles arrayed against them was obviously an effort to placate the mainland Chinese. And it failed.
Now, as we sit back and watch the communist Chinese hold their practice invasion of an island near Taiwan, we must continue our reconnaissance flights near China and over the areas where the war games are held. In these flights, we can learn more about Chinese communist capabilities and intent than from any other intelligence source.
After the Chinese forced the grounding of our EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft, the fainthearts raised the question of the need to continue these flights. Many of those advocating ending the flights are simply afraid of offending someone, and anxious to substitute their timidity for policy. Set aside for the moment that our aircraft are operating in international airspace, and have every right to do so. You have to proceed from the fact that the Chinese are an adversary. There is no other word for them. People can argue forever about the how and why of it, but the Chinese are as much an adversary now as the Russians were throughout the history of the Soviet Union. Our national security depends, in no small part, on our ability to gather intelligence on the capability and intent of China.
If intelligence about Chinese abilities and intents is essential, then there are two reasons that the reconnaissance flights are important. First, satellites can and do provide both imagery and listening capability. Whether by photo reconnaissance or radar imaging, satellites can bring us very refined pictures from the relative safety of space. The ability to resolve images i.e., see details down to the size of someones Jeep gives satellites the ability to provide essential data about who is where, how many they are and where they may be headed.
The other part of satellite intelligence, the listening in to someones radio and other electronic traffic, is also quite good, but not as good as the closer-in aircraft. And both imagery and listening capabilities are sporadic. Satellites dont stay over the same place all the time, they orbit the Earth and only pass over a given area every hour or so. Adversaries know the orbits, positions and periods of our satellites all too well. Their own radar and satellites tell them where ours are. And they can hide ground forces from them with relative ease.
But the second reason that we need to continue these flights is that they provide an entirely different type of information than we can get from our high birds. Call it sampling dynamic responses.
To tell what an adversarys capabilities are, you have to see how they respond to different stimuli. If we know how our allies react, its because we train and conduct military exercises with them to develop tactics and share methods. To tell how an adversary will react, you need to play a bit of a cat and mouse game with him.
You can learn an enormous amount about what an adversary will do, and can do, by flying an aircraft near its shores. Which radars get turned on first? How far away can they track you? How much radio traffic is generated, and from where? How long does it take for them to scramble an aircraft to challenge you or take your picture, and where do they come from? What types of aircraft come up on short notice? How many transmissions do you detect before something visible happens? From that, you can tell how many layers of command have to get their 2 cents in before someone actually does something.
In addition, when an adversary is conducting military exercises like the ones about to go on, a nearby aircraft can see and hear things that tell you a huge pack of facts about how it does its business. Details of tactics and order of battle the who, what, where, when and why of combat can be seen up close and personal from a nearby bird. Satellites can take some of this in, but one closeup is worth a thousand far off guesses. And its worth the risks and costs. Reconnaissance flights over their war games give us information that is priceless.
When you gather these data, you can analyze the traffic to see the adversarys methods and means. You can tell a lot about its command structure, how long it takes to react and where the commanders are likely to be located at a given time.
Seeing how an adversary reacts to your non-intrusive sniffing, you learn how good its people are. The Chinese lost a pilot not just because he was a hot-dogger. Every fighter pilot is a hot-dogger, or hes not a real fighter pilot. The Chinese lost a pilot because he was a poor excuse for a hot-dogger. That showed us how limited the Chinese pilots are in skill and training, and tells us a lot about how we can deal with them in peace or, if necessary, in war.
The reconnaissance flights should continue because they can give us information we cant get elsewhere, information that can save American lives, and win battles. Keep 'em flying.

Jed L. Babbin is a former undersecretary of defense in the prior Bush administration.

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