Replenishing the Arsenal

With war clouds gathering over Iraq, the Pentagon has ordered thousands of kits used to convert traditional bombs into high-tech smart bombs. Manufactured by Boeing, the joint-direct attack munition (or JDAM) kits can transform inexpensive gravity bombs into highly accurate, satellite-guided weapons. The JDAM was the star of the air war in Afghanistan, where some 7,000 were used against Taliban and al-Queda targets.

According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Boeing’s plant in St. Charles, Missouri, is producing 1,500 JDAM kits per month. New spending in the Congressional pipeline will nearly double that number by the middle of 2003. Most observers agree that the Pentagon needs a large stockpile of JDAMs and other precision weapons to attack Iraq’s military machine. At the current pace of production, the Pentagon will have 20,000 new JDAM kits available by mid-2003 — and 30,000 by the end of 2003.

Independence Day?

Even so, Washington doesn’t have the luxury of being preoccupied with Iraq. Taiwan and China are again rattling sabers over the nature of their relationship. In the months since China’s springtime decision to deploy dozens of new missiles across from Taiwan, the island nation of 23 million people has begun to explore the possibility of full-blown independence. Although Beijing has grudgingly tolerated Taiwan’s de facto independence since the 1949, it has repeatedly warned that a formal declaration of independence would be a cause for war.

Trying to head-off that possibility, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian in July promised that Taiwan would not move ahead with independence, “as long as China is willing to abandon its threats to Taiwan.” When Beijing responded with its usual bluster and indignation, Chen announced his support for the referendum, calling on lawmakers and citizens to “seriously consider the importance and urgency of passing legislation on a referendum.” Within days the Chinese military sent another message across the Taiwan Straits. “Taiwanese independence means war,” declared Gen. Liang Guanglie, who directed civil-defense exercises in Shanghai — the first of their kind since 1950.

Of course, that’s not the only message China has been sending across the Taiwan Straits. Rather than accepting the status quo, Beijing has poured billions into new weapons systems. China’s 2002 defense budget was 17.7 percent larger than last year’s, capping a decade that saw a 315-percent increase in military spending. And much of China’s new military hardware is aimed at Taiwan. Today, there are some 400 Chinese missiles trained on Taiwan. By 2005, China’s southeastern coastline will be lined with 600 missiles.  

Some observers worry that Beijing’s missile buildup could enable the Mainland to blackmail the tiny island into capitulation. Even worse, some have warned that a surprise missile strike could cripple the Taiwanese military and decapitate its government, leaving Washington with a difficult choice between accepting Beijing’s fait accompli or retaking the island by force. 

One way to prevent that grim scenario from becoming reality is to remind Taiwan that changing the status quo prematurely is not in anyone’s interests. At the same time, China must be reminded that its aggressive actions make Taiwan’s independence more likely and the world more sympathetic.

Mergers and Acquisitions

October marked a radical transformation of the Pentagon’s command structure, as an entire command was assigned to military operations in direct defense of the continental United States. Headquartered at Peterson AFB, Colo., and headed by Gen. Ralph Eberhart, US Northern Command is arguably the most concrete example of the Pentagon’s determination to prevent the homeland from enduring another September 11.  NorthCom will take over the homeland-security functions of existing combat commands and assist federal agencies in preventing and responding to attacks. The new command will also work closely with the US Coast Guard in coordinating coastal defense and security.

Along with the creation of NorthCom, the president has approved the merger of Space Command and Strategic Command. The merged command will be based at Offut AFB, Neb., home to StratCom. Coincidentally, it was SpaceCom’s departure from Peterson AFB that made room for NorthCom.

The merger is by no means an indication of the newly unified command’s diminished importance. According to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the new command “will be responsible for both early warning of, and defense against, missile attack as well as long-range conventional attacks.” Missile defense is a top priority for the Bush administration.

With its focus on space defense, missile launches and satellite imagery, the mission of SpaceCom should fit nicely with that of StratCom. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, StratCom became the first military command in history to oversee the planning, targeting and deployment of all US strategic forces. Together, the combined command will expand the Pentagon’s field of vision across the earth and deep into the heavens.  

Published monthly in the American Legion Magazine, Under the Radar provides a snapshot of current challenges in international politics, U.S. foreign policy and national security.