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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 airman
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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