The Complex

U.S. Sends New Sub-Killing Planes to the Pacific, Totally Swears It Has Nothing to Do With China

Tensions between the United States, Japan and China took a new turn Monday night when Vice President Joe Biden asked China to rescind the air defense identification zone it established Nov. 23 over contested islands in the East China Sea. Things could soon get even more interesting, however: the Navy's new P-8A Poseidon planes are arriving in Japan this week, offering the ability to destroy submarines, interdict ships and conduct surveillance on open seas.

The U.S. military insists the deployment of the P-8s has nothing to do with current friction between China, which has increased since the Asian giant created an area off its coast that it says other militaries must seek permission to use. In fact, the Pentagon first announced the deployment of the planes to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa in October as part of a broader realignment that will also eventually include the deployment of more MV-22 Ospreys and F-35B Joint Strike Fighters from the Marine Corps and R-Q4 Global Hawk surveillance drones operated by the Air Force.

China responded by forming the air defense identification zone, or ADIZ. U.S. and Japanese officials reiterated Monday their militaries will not respect it, setting the stage for a possible altercation with the Chinese. The United States already has demonstrated as much, sending two unarmed B-52 bombers from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam on Nov. 27 over the contested islands in the East China Sea, which the Chinese call the Diaoyus and the Japanese call the Senkakus.

On Monday, Vice President Biden asked China to take back its threat against unannounced aircraft in the ADIZ, saying failure to do so could lead to a dangerous altercation with Japan and its allies, including the United States. That occurred just hours after the Navy announced that the first of its new Poseidon planes had arrived in Japan. They will replace the aging P-3 Orion aircraft the Navy's 7th Fleet has used for years in the region, Navy officials said.

Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday that the P-8s will arrive in Japan in coming weeks. A Navy official told Foreign Policy the last of the planes could leave from Jacksonville, Fla., for Japan by Friday. They're armed with aerial torpedoes that target enemy submarines from the sky. A variant of the plane also will be fielded by India's Navy.

The P-8 is built by Boeing and was first received by the Navy in 2010. The service now has about 12 and expects to ultimately field 117. Rear Adm. Matt Carter, commander of the Navy's patrol and reconnaissance group, said in a news release last week that it's essential at a time when the number of submarines in the world is rapidly expanding.

"Other countries are either building or purchasing advanced, quiet, and extremely hard to find submarines and we need to be able to match that technology to be able to detect them," Carter said.

China has been expanding its own air arsenal. The U.S.-China and Security Review Commission warned the House Armed Services Committee in November about the Hongzha-6K, its new long-range bomber. It's an upgraded model of the twin-engine plane the Chinese have used for decades, but it has some significant bells and whistles - including the likely ability to carry cruise missiles armed with nuclear warheads.

UPDATE, 4:05 p.m.: This blog entry elicited the following reaction from Chris Harmer, a retired naval aviator and analyst with the Institute for the Study of War:


Photo courtesy Boeing

The Complex

Meet the Pentagon's Most Powerful Female Official Ever

Christine Fox, a former defense official and Hollywood inspiration, will be the new Deputy Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon, making her, at least temporarily, the highest-ranking woman ever in the Defense Department. She replaces the outgoing Ash Carter, who retires Wednesday as the Pentagon's equivalent of a Chief Operating Officer.

Fox, the former director of the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, or CAPE, office, led Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's Strategic Choices and Management Review, the top-to-bottom assessment of Pentagon spending and resources that framed the decisions to be made in the age of cutbacks and sequester. 

Fox's appointment is temporary until an individual for the permanent job can be identified, vetted and confirmed, a senior defense official said. That's a process that could still take many weeks - or months.

"I think we're getting close," a senior defense official told Foreign Policy, referring to the final choice for a permanent candidate.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Fox a "brilliant defense thinker and proven manager" in a statement released Tuesday morning. "She will be able to help me shape our priorities from day one because she knows the intricacies of the department's budget, programs and global operations better than anyone," Hagel said.

Fox is not thought to be in the running for the permanent position, defense officials said. But given the ability of the Senate to confirm White House nominees, she could be in the position for at least several months.

Fox will not require Senate confirmation. Under what's known as the Federal Vacancy Reform Act, the President can designate a senior employee to serve in a senior job if that the individual has served in a senior role in the Department for at least 90 days within the last year.

Fox's appointment means she will become the first woman to serve as Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense - and the highest-ranking woman at the Pentagon ever. She is also a bit of a celebrity, at least for the Pentagon: she was the inspiration for the Kelly McGillis character "Charlie" in the Tom Cruise movie about Navy fly boys, Top Gun.

Still on the short list for the permanent position is Bob Work, the Navy's former No. 2 civilian, now at the Center for a New American Security. Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale is well liked and could also get the nod, although some officials describe him as wanting to retire after being in the job since early 2009.

Fox will have her work cut out for her. While some see her as a perfect fit who can hit the ground running, she is also viewed as someone who is too Navy-oriented (she used to run the Center for Naval Analyses, now CNA) and her work as director of CAPE may not be seen as preparing her for "the whole enchilada" of running the Department.

Carter -- who became former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's "alter ego" -- was heavily involved in running the day-to-day operations of the Department. That has begun to change under Hagel, who has yet to possess the institutional knowledge required for the job but has signaled that he wants to be a more hands-on Pentagon chief. That left Carter, considered to know the building well and someone who had established strong managerial chops, somewhat frustrated about his role. Carter had been considered for the Pentagon's top job but was passed over when Hagel got the nod, and it seemed only a matter of time before he would leave.

Fox had worked closely with Carter while she was a CAPE, but she had come in under Hagel's direction to lead the strategic review.  While she has analytic and budgetary credentials, she will need to get up to speed as a manager with such a broad portfolio, experts said. And, some have criticized Fox for presenting budgetary choices that were politically palatable but who was less inclined to push for less damaging options.

Fox has kept a low-profile until after leaving CAPE and the Pentagon. But in September, she penned an op-ed in Defense News titled "Stop Pretending Forced Cuts Won't Be Harmful." In it, she argued: "There needs to be a serious national dialogue on what a sensible, sustainable and strategically sound defense budget looks like," adding: "But let's drop the illusion that by efficiency nip and managerial tuck the US military can absorb cuts of this size and of this immediacy without significant consequences for America's interests and influence in the world."

Still, given her knowledge of the building and the budget process, she was considered a no-brainer, especially in a pinch, as the Obama administration scrambles to fill jobs during a presidency that has stumbled in its second term. But Fox's appointment could be useful to Hagel.

"Over the last five years, Christine has played a key role in helping shape solutions to the core challenges facing the Department of Defense," a senior defense official at the Pentagon said in a statement. "Secretary Hagel quickly came to trust Christine's judgment and deep analytical expertise through her leadership of the Strategic Choices and Management Review. Simply put, no one knows the issues as well as Christine and in this new role she will hit the ground running like no one else can."

There had been some thought to giving the temporary job to a service secretary -- say, the Army's John McHugh -- as a stopgap measure. But installing Fox means the senior leadership team at the Pentagon can stay in their jobs.