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DoD News Briefing: Aviation Stand Down

Presenter: Aviation Stand Down
September 17, 1997 1:15 PM EDT

Q: Can you tell us why you decided, Mr. Secretary, to issue stand down order for the services.

A: Well, it's not unusual when we've had a series of accidents since we've had a cluster effect in a very short period of time we want to make sure that we're taking what ever opportunity we can to look at the training mission. This will not interfere with any operational activities that we currently have and will allow those who are engaged in training and those who are working servicing these aircraft to take that 24-hour period to make sure that we enhance our safety as best we can.

I would point out that we have had perhaps the lowest level of mishaps that we have had in recent years. We hope to improve upon that record. 1996, Fiscal '96 was the safest we've had in recent years. We hope to equal if not surpass that if we can by the conclusion of fiscal '97.

But safety is our top priority and the men and women who are out there flying and risking their lives for our country everyday, it's a top priority for them as well. So this 24-hour stand down, as such, will give each of the services the flexibility within the next week to pick that time where they can accommodate the ability to have the stand down.

Q: But Mr. Secretary, since it seems not to be a common thread to connect any of these five accidents what do you hope to accomplish by this stand down.

A: To emphasize the need to promote safety. Again, I think that the American people are probably concerned about the rash of them coming in such a short period of time. And again, we have the best safety record in 1996, and we want to make sure we equal or better that. But it will give us an opportunity to look at the training missions and also look at some of the aircraft and just to reemphasize the safety issue so that we can satisfy, not only the men and women who are serving us, but their families and loved ones, that we are making our utmost effort to ensure the safety of their service.

Q: Why do you think there have so many accidents? Any explanation? Any thoughts?

A: Well each one is different. We have yet to really discover what took place off the Coast of Namibia. Whether there was in fact an air-to-air collision. Some of the circumstantial evidence would seem to indicate that. But we, don't have conclusive evidence of that yet. So we don't know exactly how that came about.

With respect to the other aircraft, it could be pilot error. We don't know exactly what took place last night, for example, with the Air Guard off the coast of New Jersey.

So each one represents something quite different. Or could represent something quite different. The F-117, was very obvious to everyone watching that, there seemed to be a malfunction of some sort that caused that plane to go out of control. Once again, I would commend the pilot who stayed with that aircraft until the very end, until he was able to eject, only at the final seconds, in order to try to minimize any damage.

So each one is different. But what we will do during that stand down period is simply taking a look at training, the quality of the aircraft and maintenance, just to emphasize safety as our most important objective.

Q: Mr. Secretary what is your feeling about the use of military aircraft in air shows. Do you think that's shouldn't be (inaudible)?

A: Well I think the American people want to see the kind of aircraft that we have in our inventories. It's been standard over to years during the course of our shows to remind the people how much they've invested in their military and what capabilities we have in all of these air shows. And none of the aircraft involved, the F-117's, for example, perform any sort of acrobatic missions, do not go into any kind of demonstrations of their capability. It's a simple fly-by to allow the American people to see what they have been investing in. So I think that will continue. I know there are some who are concerned about F-117's. Others might be concerned about B-1B's. Others would be concerned about B-2's. These are aircraft that are expensive. The American people have paid for them. We would like to have the opportunity to show them periodically to demonstrate what they have invested in.

Q: Mr. Secretary, is there any evidence after Sunday's crash that there is some inherent structural problem with the F-117's.

A: Not to my knowledge. It is way premature to make any assessment in terms of what went wrong. We have a team, now, trying to make that assessment. But I don't think anyone should rush to a judgment that there is structurally wrong. This is the aircraft that, after all, that did perform heroically during Desert Storm. It is one of our most sophisticated systems and it could be a simple mechanical failure. But I would project anything beyond that.

Q: Thank you Mr. Secretary.

Q: (Inaudible)...did he have any comments on the stand-down?

A: I think he welcomes it. He likes my judgment to recommend it.

Q: Did the Pentagon win one on landmines?

A: I think the American people won one on landmines. This is an issue the President is deeply involved with. He was concerned about it. And as he pointed out during the course of the press conference that I just returned from that we have been in the forefront of leading the effort to eliminate those systems which are harming innocent people. We have been the ones to develop systems which self-destruct in a matter of a few hours. A matter of four hours, 48 hours, fifteen days maximum. So, we have been in the forefront.

We have eliminated a million and half a half landmines. We will eliminate another million and a half landmines by 1999. We will increase our expenditure, for example, of helping people to demine their territories, by another 25 percent. Next year, we will spend about 68 million dollars more than all the other countries combined. We have spent over one hundred and fifty millions since 1993, I believe it was the year it began, just in demining efforts and teaching others how to demine.

The plane that went down off the coast of Namibia had dropped off a special forces team to help that country demine. So, we are ought to be very proud of what we have been doing and we regret that we could not sign onto what was being proposed in Oslo but there are two fundamental problems with what was being proposed. Not a sufficient exemption for our men and women who are serving in Korea which still is one of the most dangerous flash points in the world. And also not allowing us to have the kind of anti-tank mine that would in fact protect our troops. And so, under those circumstances we couldn't sign on.

`I think the American people will understand that. But their security, their force protection, is our top priority and that we have been in the forefront of developing systems that do not harm innocent people: women, children, farmers. We have developed the systems that don't harm them. It's the other countries who ought to be following our initiative rather than the United States being blamed.

We are in the forefront of progress and we hope that we can make more progress with them in the coming weeks and months. We will be talking with members on congress. I know I have talked with several during the course of last evening. And the President announced at his press conference that former Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff David Jones, is going to serve as an advisor to the President and myself to see if the new initiative being proposed today will in fact be implemented and that General Jones, of course, has been in the forefront as leading the effort to eliminate landmines. So, he is going to be a very important factor in all of this.

Q: Is there any indication of any hostility in connection with the crash of the UN helicopter in Bosnia?

A: None that we are aware of at this time.

Press: Thank you Mr. Secretary.

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