Sunburn in China

By Inside the Ring

Sunburn missile test

The Chinese military is set to conduct a flight test soon of one its newly acquired Russian anti-ship cruise missiles, according to intelligence officials. Preparations for the test firing of the SSN-22 Sunburn missile were detected during the past week and reported to senior officials. The missiles are deployed aboard a Russian-built cruise missile destroyer.

The officials said there is more bad news: China’s second Sovremenny-class cruise missile destroyer is on its way to China from Russia. The first destroyer was sent in February.

Word of the Chinese cruise missile test comes a week after the House passed legislation to punish Russia with economic sanctions for selling the supersonic missiles to China.

The missile test will take place in waters off southern China.

The supersonic missiles were designed specifically by the Russians to sink U.S. warships and their purchase followed the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis when two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups were dispatched to waters near Taiwan in response to Chinese missile test firings that landed north and south of the island.

Defense officials said the first batch of Sunburns — called Moskit, by the Russians — was delivered to China in May. Navy officials have described the weapon as the most significant recent military development for the Chinese navy because of the missile’s ship-killing power.

Iraqi movements

With Middle East tensions extremely high over Israeli-Palestinian violence, the Pentagon is watching closely for more trouble by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. And trouble is brewing.

A U.S. spy satellite recently photographed two Iraqi armored brigades that have moved to positions closer to Kuwait in an ominous indicator of possible action, Pentagon officials said. The tank and armored-vehicle units did not appear to be elite Republican Guards and it is not clear whether the activities violated the so-called “no drive zone” in southern Iraq that prohibits such movements.

Farther north, intelligence agencies detected a division of Republican Guard units moving toward Jordan. The 15,000 troops and tanks were spotted within the past 24 hours, raising fears of an Iraqi “October surprise” timed to coincide with the presidential election campaign and causing disruptions in U.S. markets.

The big fear in the Pentagon is that with the U.S. military focused on the terrorist attack on destroyer USS Cole in Yemen, and the possible outbreak of a new Middle East war between Israel and its neighbors, the Iraqis will take advantage of the opportunity to conduct some type of military operation against Kuwait. “If the balloon goes up, this could get real ugly,” said one military officer close to the issue.

“We are watching it very closely, because of the ambiguity of the situation, to make sure that Saddam is not using any training cycle in order to take advantage of any developments in the Middle East or elsewhere,” Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told reporters about the westward Iraqi troop movements.

“But we have not seen any specific move that would indicate he intends to cause any major controversy.”

Long Gray Line

Lt. Gen. Daniel Christman, superintendent of West Point, is concerned that 12 members of Congress failed to exercise their prerogative this year to nominate potential Army cadets. Moreover, 52 members nominated unqualified applicants.

In a letter in the alumni magazine Assembly, Gen. Christman is calling on the Army community to contact those congressional offices and help them establish a set procedure for identifying and recommending high school students.

“While our pool of applicants remains strong (about 11,000 a year) . securing the right numbers of nominated candidates is a challenge and it grows more severe each year,” he says.

“An alarming fact is that too many members of Congress either fail to nominate a single candidate or fail to nominate a qualified candidate. . Nominations are simply not a high priority with some (members) and we need your help in this area as well.”

West Point accepts more than 1,100 new cadets a year, 75 percent of whom are nominated by members of Congress. It graduated more
than 940 cadets on May 27.

Gen. Christman cites one success story. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., had a record of nominating few residents. After West Point admissions worked with her office, one or two D.C. candidates have gained entrance annually.

“Her staff is active in getting the word out through community organizations and schools. They prepare advertising placards that are placed on D.C. public buses and in the Metro system,” the general writes.

Like other aspects of the armed forces, West Point is battling for its share of inductees. The strong economy and availability of tuition aid is making college more attractive to high school graduates. West Pointers must commit to five years of active duty after graduation at relatively low wages.

Members of Congress can each nominate 10 persons for admission. Each member can have no more than five nominees attending the academy at any time.

The general’s article does not identify the 12 members who did not submit candidates. But it directs readers to the admissions office for names.

Scratch one warship

The severely damaged destroyer USS Cole isn’t the Navy’s only problem. The Navy is set to send to the scrap heap the tank landing ship USS La Moure County because of damage it suffered after running aground off the coast of Chile last month. The 29-year-old ship has extensive hull damage from an amphibious landing exercise carried out with Chilean forces. Its propellers and rudders also were damaged.

The recommendation to strip the ship of all its equipment and send it to the scrap heap is on the desk of Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen will make the final decision.

One military source described the incident as “a humiliation” for the Navy because it is a rare instance that a grounding damages a ship beyond repair.

Asked if the ship will be scrapped rather than repaired, a senior military official said, “That’s certainly the way we’re leaning.”

One option is to transfer some of the parts to the Chilean navy, which has a similar amphibious ship.

The grounding occurred as the ship was preparing to approach the shore and disembark Marines off the coast of Paposo, Chile, at dawn on Sept. 12.

The grounding prompted the Navy to call for a safety “standdown” of one day because of a string of similar mishaps over the past 12 months.

The loss of the ship highlights the readiness problems of the U.S. military, which have become an issue in the presidential election campaign, according to some defense officials.

Since October 1999, Navy ships involved in damaging incidents include a frigate, a destroyer, four amphibious ships and two oilers.


* Some naval aviators have complained the new F-18 E/F Super Hornet is underpowered: too much weight and not enough thrust.

Sources tell us the pickup problem arose recently during training of Super Hornet pilots at the naval air station in New Orleans.

“Blue Team” Super Hornets flew against “Red Team” Hornets mimicking the enemy. The Fighter Attack Squadron 122 (VFA-122) Super Hornet pilots qualified in the fighter-weapons phase of preparing to deploy onboard an aircraft carrier.

Asked how the new strike fighter performed against the older fighters, one VFA-122 member is said to have remarked, “We held our own.”

A Navy spokeswoman told us, “The VFA-122 was very pleased with both the performance of the aircraft and the aircrew.”

* You might notice a lot of “Close the Pay Gap” buttons next week as the Association of the United States Army holds its annual meeting Oct. 16-18.

The association is handing them out to an expected 30,000 attendees. The pitch is to thank Congress for recent pay raises, but also say that more money is needed to align military pay with the civilian sector.

“As a former chief of staff of the Army, I know that the quality of our armed forces starts with recruiting and retaining quality people. Paying them fairly is the least the next administration and the next three Congresses should do,” said retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan, association president.