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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
September 18, 1997 2:30 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Happy Birthday to the Air Force.

Welcome today. I'd like to note that we have a number of visitors. First, Colonel Dave Childers is here, the new Public Information Officer for the U.S. Military District of Washington. Welcome.

Also we have a group of eight press spokespeople from Lithuania who are here for a week-long public affairs workshop organized by the U.S. Information Agency. Welcome to the Pentagon.

Two announcements about scheduling. Tomorrow at 10:00, Curt Campbell, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs in charge of Asia and Pacific Affairs, will give a briefing on the new U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines which will be completed in New York next week at a meeting involving the Japanese defense and foreign ministers with Secretary Cohen and Secretary Albright. That will be happening Tuesday in New York, but Curt Campbell's briefing will be tomorrow here at 10:00.

Then, at 11:00 tomorrow, Secretary Cohen will host an armed forces full- honor ceremony in recognition of POW/MIA Recognition Day. That's out at the River Entrance. Senator John McCain, a former POW, will be the main speaker tomorrow at 11:00.

With that, I'd like to just take a minute to bring you up to date on the plans for the aviation stand-down.

The Navy and the Marines have given discretion to their commanders to run the stand-downs at the best time to maximize the impact of the stand-downs. Both Navy and Marine officials have said that they hope the stand-down will go beyond mere training flights to include as many operational missions as possible. They want as large a segment of the aviation community in the Navy and the Marine Corps as possible to take place in the safety stand-down.

Let me just read you part of the message that Lieutenant General Dake, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Aviation of the Marine Corps, sent out. He said, "The squadron commanders must assume their leadership role and critically examine their upcoming training events. Ask yourself, 'Where will my aircrew be operating? What missions will they fly? Have I prepared them?' Are you using all the tools at your disposal to include operational risk management" -- in other words, ways to make every mission as safe as possible.

There's similar guidance from Admiral J. Johnson, the Chief of Operations, to the Navy air squadrons. He pointed out that even though the Secretary's letter yesterday referred to training missions, "that all personnel should be active participants in the full stand-down within the designated timeframe."

The Air Force also will make its stand-down as broad as possible. Although it applies to all training missions, they want as many operators to take part in the stand-down as possible. The Air Force has not finished its detailed instructions yet. It's likely to order all training missions to stand down on one day, and operational missions, all operational units should have stand-downs, but that will be at other times during the commander's discretion. But the idea is to cover as many people as possible in the Air Force.

The draft Air Force message says that the stand-down "...represents an opportunity to review training standards. Commanders are urged to thoroughly examine training missions, ensuring that crews are appropriately tasked and that missions are conducted as safely as possible consistent with training requirements."

The Army guidance is currently being drafted. It isn't completed yet, but I assume it will be largely similar to the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Just a brief clarification that this cover fixed wing and helicopters?

A: Yes, it covers all aviation.

Q: Just to clarify, the Navy and Marines will do different squadrons at different times. It won't be all...

A: It will be at the discretion of the commander.

Q: And the Army's going to do the same thing?

A: I don't know because I haven't seen the Army's guidance yet. It's still being drafted. The difference is that the Navy and the Marine Corps are giving discretion to commanders to set the timing within the week period. The week begins at 0700 tomorrow and goes on to the 26th. It begins on the 19th and runs through the 26th.

The Air Force right now, and their draft is tentative, but right now they're planning to have all training missions stand down on one day and that will give commanders time to work in stand-downs for their operators at other times during the week so that they can have the same benefit of the safety reflection.

Q: The operational flights, would that stand-down also be within the week?

A: Yes, they would all take place in the week beginning September 19th. Remember the Secretary's guidance dealt with training flights. The services are all aiming to have all parts of their aviation community, operators and trainers, covered by the stand-down so that they can spend time talking about safety and reviewing their procedures.

Q: Can we assume that flights, for instance, over Iraq and Bosnia, will not be stood down?

A: The operations will not cease over Iraq and Bosnia. The operations we conduct in Korea will not cease. But a crew that flies an operational mission on Tuesday could stand-down on Wednesday for a day of talking about safety. In other words they hope that all the planners, the pilots, the maintenance crews, the rescue crews, everybody involved in aviation, will have a chance to participate in the stand-down.

Q: The last time when you briefed us you told us on the Air Force side, I think 28 major mishaps; that their accident rate you felt was going to be recalculated to 1.5 mishaps per 100,000 hours of flying. With this latest accident involving the two F-16s, does that count as one mishap? Do you have any idea what the new accident rate for the Air Force might be?

A: No, I don't. The accident rate that I mentioned, the 1.5, was for last year. It was 1.4 -- this is for all services, not just the Air Force--it was 1.4 on July 1st. The speculation was that it would come in at 1.5 for the year.

My understanding is that they have not completed the scoring of the Air National Guard accident and it's--obviously one plane is a total loss, the one that went into the water -- the plane that made it back to the airport in Atlantic City hasn't been classified yet as to whether the damage is over a million or less. That will decide whether it's a Class A accident or not.

Just let me, in terms of... I know this is complex because we have two standards of measurement. But focusing on the simplest standard which is numbers of airplanes lost, so far this year 54 airplanes -- military aircraft -- have been lost in accidents. We have a little less than two weeks left in the fiscal year. In all of last year, 67 planes were lost in accidents.

Now the other way to look is at the accident rate, and that is the number of Class A accidents per 100,000 hours of flying. Those are the numbers I mentioned before, the 1.50. But in terms of just gross numbers of planes, it's 54 so far this year, including the latest crash of the Air National Guard F-16s, the one that went into the water, and 67 in all of last year.

Q: Does the Pentagon think that these are connected up with some greater issue of readiness, end of the year fiscal issues such as lack of training funds or lack of...

A: We do not. There appears to be absolutely no common thread to the recent cluster of accidents. We are going to look with an open mind at every single accident. We don't just look at what the pilots did at a particular time or how the mission was planned, we go back and we look at everything. We look at the maintenance, we look at the records, we take as broad a look as we can. It's conceivable that we could find a common thread, but I don't think anybody expects to do that right now, and I think it's very important to stress that. We do not expect to find a common thread among these accidents.

It is a cruelty of statistics that we have clusters from time to time. We had a cluster last year. I'm not sure anybody can explain this, but it does seem to happen from time to time.

As I've said many times, every accident is one accident too many, but we're working very hard to make aviation as safe as possible. We've made great progress over the last ten years. We'll continue to work on it. Obviously, the lower your accident rate gets, the harder it is to make additional progress the next year, but that's our goal.

Q: When the plans for the cake cutting ceremony for the Air Force were announced, it was Secretary Cohen going to take the lead, yet the President came today. Did the Secretary ask him to come to help boost the Air Force's morale? Was there a certain reason why the President came to this specific...

A: The Secretary was very glad that the President chose to come. As you know, the President went to the CIA to celebrate its 50th Anniversary earlier in the week. I think the President as a student of government, student of modern government in particular, is very aware of the anniversaries that are coming about of the Department of Defense, the Air Force, the CIA, etc., and decided on his own to come, so we were glad to have him.

Q: The four-way talks in New York today on, the preliminary talks on Korean peace, suddenly adjourned. Did they break down? Do you know what happened?

A: I have nothing for you on that. I don't know. Those are State Department talks. They're participating in those talks, and I just don't know.

Q: ...people involved in it?

A: I don't have anything for you on that. We'll try to find out, but I think it's probably more appropriate to give that question to the State Department.

Q: There's some question on the general topic of China. The Senate Intelligence Committee today met, heard a number of expert witnesses. One of the witnesses testified that there were no talks, the Chinese would not talk about missiles, would not talk about chemical weapons with the United States; simply closed out the subject when our diplomats try to talk about these things. And that as far as they know, one of the witnesses said the Chinese are still helping the Iranians on some nuclear projects, especially prospecting for uranium, raw materials.

I would ask Ken, specifically, about those matters, and the coming certification of China on nuclear exports. Does the Defense Department think it wise at this point that China should be certified with regard to its nuclear exporting?

A: We are still looking at the certification issue and I think it's premature to make a comment on it. That is not a question that is answered by the Defense Department. It's an issue left up to the State Department. But I think it's... we have had extensive discussions with China on a number of these issues over the last couple of years, and China has actually moved into the international community on some of these issues. It's signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, for instance; it's signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. It is moving in to the world community of arms control and restraint. So every time China moves into one of these conventions or signs a treaty, it gives us more leverage in dealing with China, and it's a sign that China is aware of the problems that can be caused by proliferation.

That doesn't mean we'll always agree on what proper export controls are, etc., but we have been working with China and having fairly extensive conversations with them on export controls, on controls of their own materials within China, and those talks will continue.

Those are among the standards that are looked at in determining certification. As I say, we're continuing to make those examinations and decisions haven't been made.

Q: Is the Defense Department having better luck than reported here in this hearing in talking to the Chinese about missiles and gas?

A: I know that we have had talks with them from time to time. I did not see the comments that were made at the hearing, so I can't comment on those comments specifically, but I know that this government, including representatives of the Defense Department, have spoken to China about such topics as missiles and chemical weapons in the past, and we will continue to talk with them about those issues.

Q: Have you learned any more about the C-141 crash?

A: No. Basically, the work on that continues, but we are not any closer to sorting out what happened. Let me explain why.

There's a very well defined format for Air Force disaster investigations, and that is you constitute a Board of Inquiry, a Board to study what happened, and send that board over there, and they do a top to bottom review. That board, I believe, is just getting underway. It's going to be headed by a colonel and it's Colonel Robert A. Saunders, and he is leading a 15 member team which is due in Namibia tomorrow, and he will conduct the safety investigation and the investigation of what happened. He has had extensive experience flying the C-141. He's the Director of the Wing Staff at the 62nd Airlift Wing at McChord Air Force Base.

Now this is a somewhat more complicated investigation than a normal one because of the circumstantial evidence that there may have been a collision between the German plane and the American C-141. The Germans have also appointed their own safety board, according to their own standards for conducting this type of investigation. Although these boards will operate separately, they will coordinate through a coordinating committee and we expect that we will share our information freely and openly in an effort to reach conclusions about what happened as quickly as possible.

So we have not actually started the intensive work of reconstructing tapes, interviewing people, putting together a new, more detailed time line about what happened on the Namibia side or the Angolan side of this, but that will begin tomorrow.

Q: It seems like you still should be able to figure out by looking at the satellite imagery which one of these planes was, perhaps what its normal course was supposed to be. Are you any closer to that?

A: John, we are not. And, as I said, it doesn't really pay to salami-slice the conclusions in a situation like this. We have a well-established procedure for trying to get a grip on all the information, work through it systematically, and reach a conclusion. And rather than speculate about what happened beyond...

Q: That's not really speculation. That's empirical. You know when one is not where it's supposed to be.

A: This is what the board will sort out, and we will work hand in hand with the Germans to find out exactly what happened. When we have the conclusions, we'll report them.

Q: (Inaudible) deep diving submersibles trying to locate the boxes...

A: There is not yet any such decision. There are two P-3s in the area -- U.S. Navy P-3s -- but there has not yet been a request for or a decision made to deploy submersibles to find this. That's not to say it won't happen, but it hasn't happened yet.

Q: Do you have any more information about the seismic event in Russia?

A: I'm afraid I have no new information on that, but we'll check and see if there is more.

Q: A few moments ago I learned from Athens that the Greek Foreign Minister, Theodore Pangalas in a press conference, disclosed that NATO proposed new and additional confidence-building measures over the Aegean since (inaudible). DoD officials were involved on this new initiative of the Alliance, namely Under Secretary Lodal. Do you know what it's all about?

A: No, I don't. I don't know anything about that. I think you had best speak to NATO about that, since it's a NATO plan, a NATO initiative.

Q: ...the DoD official's involvement, namely, Mr. Lodal, that's why...

A: Mr. Lodal is very interested in stability in the Aegean, but I can't go into any details about those discussions because I just don't know.

Q: Another question, Turkish planes continuously are violating Greece over the Aegean, and even crossing Greek islands. The Department of State is not taking a position on the basis that there is no independent source. This I would like to know, if DoD is in a position to monitor airspace over the Aegean, and provide the data of those violations and infringements to the State Department?

A: There is a NATO system that monitors air traffic in the Aegean. There again, NATO would be best able to comment on that traffic.

Q: They don't want to get in touch because this is a NATO device, and they have served the questions to the DoD, and that's why I'm asking if DoD is in a position, independently, to do that?

A: As I say, it's a NATO system, and I think you should talk to NATO officials either in Brussels or at Allied Forces South in Naples. We'll be glad to give you the name of a person you can contact there.

Q: Could you please confirm information that the DoD initiated a meeting between the Greek Joint Chief of Staff, Air Force General Johanis, and his Turkish counterpart, General Karade, during their visit in Washington D.C. in the last few days.

A: I can't confirm that. I can tell you that the Chiefs of Defense of the NATO allied countries have been traveling around with General Shalikashvili. He's organized a meeting for them. As you know, it's a pre-retirement meeting and it's been an opportunity for him to bring his friends and colleagues together and to show them some of the U.S. defense capabilities. So they've been out at Nellis Air Force Base, and they've been on the carrier EISENHOWER. They've also been at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California, and they've spent some time in Washington. They had a dinner together this week. But I can't talk to you at all about specific discussions that have taken place at those private meetings.

Press: Thank you.