NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
Jet delay adds to China threat
The threat from Chinese advanced weapons, including new stealth fighters and ballistic missiles, dominated concerns expressed by senior military officers at a Senate hearing this week on the military impact of delays and problems with the new fifth-generation F-35 jet.
Two senior officers in charge of U.S. air power voiced increasing worries that U.S. forces will not be prepared for a future conflict with China, during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services airland subcommittee on Tuesday.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Herbert J. Carlisle, deputy chief of staff for operations, said China’s rollout earlier this year of a new J-20 stealth fighter, which has made two or three test flights, is very troubling, along with another joint Russian-Indian stealth jet.
Both aircraft could be sold to Iran and affect a future U.S. intervention there against Tehran’s nuclear program.
“Those are discouraging in that they rolled out in a time that we thought there was maybe a little bit more time, although we weren’t sure of that,” Gen. Carlisle said.
The three-star general’s comments echoed earlier comments by Navy Vice Adm. David J. Dorsett, a senior intelligence official, who said of the J-20 in January that “we have been pretty consistent in underestimating the delivery of Chinese technology and weapons systems.”
U.S. military fighters will remain a pace ahead technologically of both the Chinese and Russian stealth jets. But if there are further F-35 delays, “then that pacing is in jeopardy,” Gen. Carlisle said.
In unusually candid comments on China’s growing military power, Gen. Carlisle said: “You need only look across the Pacific and see what [China] is doing, not just their air force capability, but their surface-to-air [missile] capability, their ballistic missile capability, their anti-ship ballistic missiles,” and new missiles that can reach U.S. bases in Guam and Japan.
“All of those things are incredibly disturbing to us for the future,” Gen. Carlisle said. “And again, … we not only have to be able to defeat those, we have to hold those targets at risk, and that’s where these fifth-generation aircraft come in.”
Asked during the hearing what “keeps you up at night,” Rear Adm. David L. Philman, Navy director of warfare integration, said: “Well, the China scenario is first and foremost, I believe, because they seem to be more advanced and they have the capability out there right now, and their ships at sea and their other anti-access capabilities.”
The Pentagon refers to China’s advanced weapons, including ballistic missiles that hit ships at sea, new submarines, anti-satellite weapons and cyberwarfare capabilities, as “anti-access and area denial” arms.
Adm. Philman said the J-20 rollout is a concern, but with 1,000 test hours on the F-35, the jet is a “far leap ahead from the Chinese fighter that’s flown three times.”
“But they will catch up. They understand. They’re a smart and learning enemy, and if we don’t keep our edge, then we will be behind, or at least lose our advantage,” Adm. Philman said.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent and subcommittee chairman, said the Navy and Marine Corps are projecting a shortage of up to 267 warplanes in the coming years for the 10 aircraft carrier wings and three Marine Corps air wings.
New F-18s are being bought to try to make the shortfall a more manageable risk, he said.
Cartwright out for promotion
Days after a report in this space disclosing a political fight over whether Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be picked as the next chairman, President Obama decided against promoting a four-star who is considered one of his favorite generals.
U.S. officials said the president informed Gen. Cartwright that he would not get the nomination this past weekend.
A spokesman for the general declined to comment.
U.S. officials close to the issue said Gen. Cartwright was not on a Defense Department list of candidates sent to the White House recently.
The expected replacement for outgoing Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who retires in the fall, is Army Chief of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.
Mr. Obama will announce as early as next week the appointment of Gen. Dempsey, an Iraq war veteran who only recently was appointed Army chief, the Associated Press reported.
Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, that service’s chief of staff, is said to be the likely nominee for vice chairman, to replace Gen. Cartwright.
Gen. Cartwright was undone for promotion by an inspector general probe earlier this year that cleared him of improperly handling the case of a female subordinate two years ago.
The general also has been dealing with personal issues related to his separation from wife Sandee Cartwright, who according to defense officials has made damaging allegations to other generals about her husband’s relationships.
New Iran arms data
A report this week by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) states that the nuclear watchdog agency recently obtained new information on the military aspects of Iran’s illegal nuclear program.
The data is related to unanswered questions about Tehran’s work on a nuclear warhead for a missile. The report also reveals for the first time that Iran received foreign support for unspecified places.
The report says past information from member states and its own inquiries showed “the possible existence in Iran of past or current undisclosed nuclear related activities involving military related organizations, including activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”
“Since the last report of the Director General on 25 February 2011, the agency has received further information related to such possible undisclosed nuclear related activities, which is currently being assessed by the agency,” says the internal IAEA report dated May 24. “As previously reported by the Director General, there are indications that certain of these activities may have continued beyond 2004.”
That statement helps explain why the CIA in February revised its annual report to Congress on arms proliferation to leave out language contained in earlier reports echoing a controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that said Iran halted work on nuclear arms in 2003.
The IAEA report for the first time provided details of the agency’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear arms work, including seven areas:
• Neutron generator and related diagnostic experiments involving the explosive compression of uranium deuteride to produce a short burst of neutrons.
• Uranium conversion and metal work aimed at producing uranium metal and making it into components for a nuclear bomb.
• Developing, manufacturing and testing explosive components used to initiate high explosives like those used in triggering a spherical-shaped nuclear warhead pit.
• Exploding bridgewire (EBW) detonator work related to “applications necessitating high simultaneity” like those used to trigger a nuclear weapon blast.
• Multipoint explosive initiation and hemispherical detonation studies that used detonators to set off hemispherical high explosive charges, and included “work which may have benefited from the assistance of foreign expertise” outside Iran.
• High voltage firing equipment used for explosives tests over long distances and possibly underground nuclear tests to determine if high voltage triggering of nuclear detonators can be carried out over long distances.
• Missile re-entry vehicle “redesign activities” for a new warhead that is “assessed as being nuclear in nature.” The design work included modeling on the removal of a conventional, high explosive warhead from the Shahab-3 missile and its replacement with a “spherical nuclear payload.”
An Iranian nuclear official on Wednesday dismissed the latest IAEA report as based on fabrications from “arrogant” countries, code often used by Tehran to describe the United States.
The report concluded that Iran is violating its IAEA agreement with regard to safeguards and is refusing to explain its nuclear activities.