By Alan W. Dowd

Unfriendly Harbors
In yet another example of China’s untrustworthiness, Beijing blocked a number of U.S. Navy ships from docking in Hong Kong late last year, prompting strong criticism from the U.S. military.  

The first incident was arguably the most egregious, since it involved two U.S. minesweepers—the USS Patriot and USS Guardian—seeking refuge from a violent storm. According to The Los Angeles Times, the ships rode out the storm, but China’s behavior may have triggered a different kind of storm. 

“If there is one tenet that we observe,” as Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead told the Times, “it’s when somebody is in need you provide assistance and you sort it out later.” Added Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of the Pacific Command, there is “an unwritten law amongst seamen that if someone is in need, regardless of genus, phylum or species, you let them come in; you give them safe harbor.” 

The second incident, which involved a visit by the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and its support ships, was less dangerous but just as egregious in diplomatic terms. In this instance, the port visit had been scheduled far in advance, and hundreds of American families had traveled to Hong Kong to meet up with their loved ones. But thanks to Beijing’s arbitrary and unexplained decision to close its ports, all that was for naught. The Kitty Hawk strike group steamed on to Japan. 

The Times notes that dozens of U.S. Navy ships visit Hong Kong every year.

Shocker at the Border
In response to Iranian interference in Iraq, the U.S. has built a new base on the Iraq-Iran border. Known as Combat Outpost Shocker, the forward operations base is just seven kilometers inside the Iraq border. It became operational late last year and could house up to 200 troops. 

As Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, the new base is an outgrowth of Iran’s continual efforts to send agents and war materiel across the border to destabilize Iraq and target U.S. forces. Citing evidence obtained during interrogations of Iranian agents, Gen. David Patraeus has accused Iran of waging a “proxy war” against the United States. Gen Kevin Bergner adds that elements of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, in league with Hezbollah, are training Iraqi insurgents in the use of mortars, rockets and roadside bombs. 

Combat Outpost Shocker will help coalition forces monitor a heavily trafficked stretch of the border. Soldiers from the U.S. and the former Soviet republic of Georgia comprise the initial deployment at Combat Outpost Shocker. U.S. Border Patrol agents will also be based at the border installation.

Flying on Fumes
The Air Force is in desperate need of resources to replenish its fleet of aircraft, according to a recent report in Government Executive magazine. Air Force officials estimate that the branch is $100 billion short of what’s needed to rebuild its aging arsenal. 

Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne says that on average Air Force planes are 24 years old, and he warns that “at some time in the future, they will simply rust out, age out, fall out of the sky.” In fact, Government Executive notes that the Air Force grounded its F-15s last November after one of the fighter-bombers disintegrated in midair. 

But the problems extend beyond the venerable F-15.  

-Government Executive reports that the service needs a new tanker to replace the KC-135, “the youngest of which is 42 years old.”

-Most of the Air Force’s 140 satellites need to be replaced.

-The Air Force needs 381 F-22 fighter-bombers, but current plans cap production at 183. At $355 million apiece, it’s unlikely that the Air Force will get its wish.

-Likewise, the Air Force plans to replace its F-16s and A-10s with 1,763 new F-35s, again probably far fewer than the Air Force needs. By way of example, in 1990, the Air Force deployed 4,000 tactical fighters; today, it deploys 2,500; in 2025, it will field just 1,800.

To find money for modernization, the Air Force plans to cut personnel by 40,000 over the next two years, which could save $6 billion. Much of this could have been averted had Washington gone forward with a modernization program that was planned to begin in the 1990s, just as the Soviet Union collapsed.

Cash for Character
Mobile-phone magnate Mo Ibrahim has come up with a new/old way to fight corruption and promote good governance in Africa—a big cash prize. How big? Some $5 million spread over ten years, plus $200,000 annually at the end of those ten years.

Joaquim Chissano, ex-president of Mozambique, won the first “Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership.” The prize is awarded to African heads of state who have left office—which itself is a feat, given the propensity of African leaders to hold onto power—and who have governed justly. According to The Economist magazine, the judges, who include former UN chief Kofi Annan, singled out Chissano for ending Mozambique’s civil war, restoring democratic rule and “setting a good example by retiring when his country’s constitution did not

Target Destroyed
In yet another success for America’s evolving system of layered missile defenses, a specially-armed F-16 fighter recently used an air-to-air missile to knock a rocket out of the sky in its boost phase. The test was carried out near White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

According to the Missile Defense Agency, the Net Centric Airborne Defense Element system (NCDE) provides the U.S. with “an initial boost-phase capability.” However, the new system has its limits. Namely, NCDE-armed warplanes—an F-16 or one of its Air Force cousins (manned or unmanned)—would need to be within 100 miles of the launch site. Of course, when it comes to the most imminent missile threats—Iran and North Korea—it’s not hard to imagine U.S. warplanes roaming within a hundred miles of a launch area. Find out more at http://www.mda.mil/.

Another Reason to Secure the Border
After receiving “credible” information that dozens of Afghani and Iraqi terrorists were planning to smuggle themselves into the U.S. via underground tunnels used by drug runners, Fort Huachuca in Arizona, a key signals-intelligence node of the U.S. military, has altered its security measures, The Washington Times recently reported.

According to tips gleaned from drug cartels by the Drug Enforcement Agency, the terrorists planned to steal their way under the border to Laredo, Texas, and attack Fort Huachuca using pre-positioned weapons caches, including grenade launchers, anti-tank weapons, long-range rifles and surface-to-air missiles.

According to Department of Homeland Security documents obtained by the Times, “the DEA…classified the source as credible.” Fort Huachuca officials later confirmed that they had changed “some aspects of our security.”

As a contributing editor to The American Legion, Dowd writes columns and news briefs on national security, foreign affairs and U.S. politics each month for the magazine's "Rapid Fire" section.