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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
October 17, 1997 1:10 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

Let me start right off with some announcements, because I know your time's valuable.

First, Secretary Cohen, on Saturday at 12:30, will deliver remarks at the Women in Military Service for American Memorial Foundation's dedication ceremony. This will occur at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery. There will be several historical notes to this. The first is the dedication of the memorial itself which I believe is the first memorial to the service of women in the American military over the centuries.

Clara Barton who founded the American Red Cross said in 1911, "From the storm-lashed decks of the Mayflower to the present hour, women have stood like a rock for the welfare and the glory of the history of the country," and one might well add "unwritten, unrewarded, and almost unrecognized." So this memorial will help remedy the third factor -- unrecognized.

As part of the recognition, and this is another historical note, a fly-over of aircraft, all flown by women pilots. That fly-over will include an Army UH-1 helicopter, a Navy E-2 Hawkeye, a Marine Corps CH-46 helicopter, a Coast Guard HU-25 Guardian jet, and an Air Force C-141 cargo plane -- all piloted by women. In the Air Force plane, the entire crew is comprised of female pilots or other Air Force personnel.

With that, I'll take your questions...

Let me just say one other thing. Tonight Deputy Secretary Hamre will give a speech, will be the featured speaker at a dinner that's part of the commemoration ceremonies of this new memorial.

Q: The Iraqi Congress Opposition Group is saying from Turkey that Iraq is building up its military in northern Iraq in the no-fly zone, no claim that 200 tanks and about 10,000 troops are concentrated about 30 kilometers southwest of Arbil. Do you have anything on that?

A: I do not, but I can tell you that many reports by the Iraqi National Congress turn out not to be completely accurate. Let me tell you what's going on here.

Normally Iraq has about 100,000 troops in northern Iraq along the Kurdish autonomous zone border. those 100,000 troops include two divisions of Republican Guards. Currently Iraq is conducting its fall exercises, so there are some movements of troops as part of these fall exercises, but we have not seen any unusual movements taking place in northern Iraq in recent days. But I want to point out that there is a fairly significant military force there on a regular basis.

Finally, in terms of the no-fly zone, I've said in the past that there have been occasional violations of the northern no-fly zone. We have not seen anything new in terms of stationing aircraft there. That, to the best of my knowledge, has not happened.

Q: So I take it you haven't any indication of any unusual tank concentration...

A: We do not.

Q: You said they are not stationing airplanes in the northern area, but is it violating the northern no-fly zone since the last briefing?

A: He has been, I believe, in the last couple of days there's been one or two violations.

Q: Fixed wing again?

A: Yes.

Q: Surveillance flights?

A: We believe so.

There has been some fighting among Kurdish groups -- the two Kurdish factions, the PUK and the KDP, in northern Iraq. There have been, we think, some observation flights in connection with that fighting.

Q: Do you have any information about the individuals on board the C-130 evidently from the UAE and Pakistan? They seem to have told local officials that they were involved in a military exercise. Were they involved in any kind of training or anything with the United States? They'd come from Dulles and were heading to England?

A: No, they were not here on a training mission that involved the United States. They were transiting through the United States with State Department permission. We're looking into the circumstances of the flight right now, but they certainly had permission to fly through the United States with that UAE C-130.

Q: So they weren't participating in any kind of military exercise in connection with U.S. forces?

A: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: There are reports that the plane was carrying two Mercedes, weapons, and ammunition. Do you have any sense of what their purpose for transiting the United States was, their origin? I guess their ultimate destination was back in the UAE.

A: I assume that was the case. We're looking into the details of this flight now, and I don't have anything for you on it.

Q: Did the State Department consult the Pentagon when they gave the UAE permission to make this transit?

A: I'm not aware that they did, but I'm not aware that they normally consult with us when they give countries transit rights.

Q: Over the weekend there was a bomb blast in Sri Lanka at a hotel, and at that same time there were some U.S. military in that hotel I understand, Special Forces. Do we believe that they were the target of the bomb blast?

A: I don't know about that. As you know, there's been a lot of violence in Sri Lanka over the last years, actually. I'm not aware that we believe that U.S. forces, that were there for training, were the target of this. There's been quite significant violence in Sri Lanka on a continuing basis.

Q: Were any of those U.S. forces injured?

A: I'm not aware that they were.

Q: Can you give us an update on MIRACL? Have any possible test dates been identified yet?

A: I dodged specific test dates on Tuesday, and with perfect consistency I'm going to dodge again today on the same basis. We haven't been very good at predicting test dates and carrying out the tests, but we believe that the period during which tests can be completed will end on about October 23rd, so any test they hope to conduct will have to be done relatively soon.

Q: What happens if they're not conducted in that timeframe?

A: They're not conducted.

Q: Does that mean they have to scrap the whole...

A: That's my understanding, yes, unless the experts figure out that there's a longer period of time during which to conduct the test. But my understanding is they predict that this satellite will go into eclipse, as they say, on October 23rd, and that tests won't be possible after that.

Q: Is this the only target of opportunity or are there other aging satellites up there that may provide...

A: All the focus has been on this one. What makes this an attractive target for the test -- remember the purpose of the test is to evaluate the vulnerability of our own systems. What makes this attractive is that it was a satellite that had sensors on it -- infrared and other sensors on it. It was actually put up to test sensor packages. So it's a good target for testing the laser.

Q: Last briefing you told us that during the Iranian naval exercises that the United States had observed no new capabilities, but I guess Iran yesterday claimed that they had successfully deployed a stealth aircraft. Can you tell us whether or not we should put any stock in that claim?

A: I suppose if it were really stealthy we wouldn't be able to see it, but I'm not aware that they have deployed any new capability including stealthy new drones. The report I saw said it was a drone. We know they do have drones. Many countries have drones. Drones are essentially big model airplanes in the simplest terms. But I'm not aware that there's anything new on the horizon.

Q: Has part of their exercise been any overt yet non-provocative surveillance of U.S. military assets in the region?

A: We were always under surveillance in the area. Under...

Q: I was just wondering if any part of this exercise was aimed at any of our ships in the Gulf...

A: We have not seen anything unusual in terms of their surveillance, but we are under regular surveillance in the area, just as we conduct regular surveillance on ships of other countries.

Q: You said you weren't aware there was anything new on the horizon, meaning in terms of stealth drones. Are you aware whether they've used drones at all to observe, near our ships?

A: They have drones, they use them from time to time. I don't know what their pattern is for surveying our ships with drones.

Their main method of surveillance is these little patrol boats they have zipping around. They also, as I said on Tuesday, they have a P-3 which they fly around looking at our ships.

Q: Do we have any stealth drones?

A: I have to be very stealthy on... We certainly have drones with stealth capabilities. We are...

Q: Deployed or operational?

A: We have worked to make our drones as stealthy as possible. There are a number of ways to make drones stealthy. One is to make them quiet so they can't be heard; another is to make them so they can fly high so it's difficult to see them. You can also endow them with certain stealth characteristics to reduce their radar profile.

Q: Do I take it from your original answer to my question that you're conceding the possibility that there might in fact have been a deployment of some stealthy UAV that went undetected by the United States?

A: No. We're not aware of any new capability on the part of Iran at this stage.

Q: On a subject that's related, there's an article in the Los Angeles Times about Iranian spying on U.S. facilities in Saudi Arabia starting back in 1995. The question I have for you, has the Saudi Arabian counter-intelligence neutralized the efforts of the Iranians or are they still spying on U.S. personnel, soldiers in Saudi?

A: The way you asked that question assumes that this was going on. I don't know. I can't confirm that story.

Q: You can't confirm whether there was actually spying to begin with?

A: Certainly our troops were under surveillance and our troops from time to time are under continuing surveillance. We know that.

Q: Do we know if it's Iranian...

A: I don't believe we have a good fix on who is performing the surveillance. Sometimes we know, but other times we don't.

Q: Do you have a readout on the Secretary's meeting this morning with the Pakistanis, or what kind of issues he'll be discussing with the Lithuanians?

A: I don't have a readout on the Pakistani meeting, but we can get you one on that.

With the Lithuanian Defense Minister Stenkavikis, he will talk, obviously, about NATO enlargement and the steps necessary to win an invitation into NATO. He'll stress that the door remains open. He'll talk about some shared peacekeeping interests we have. For instance, Lithuanian troops work in, I think they're part of the Nordic/Polish brigade in our sector in Bosnia. The Lithuanians have been very active participants in Partnership for Peace exercises, and we'll talk about those exercises and specifically some exercises in the Baltics, whether there should be Russian participation or observation included in those exercises. We will talk about Lithuania's plans to form a peacekeeping battalion with the Poles. And we'll talk about some of the plans Lithuania has to reform and improve its own military. Those, I think, will be the primary topics of discussion.

Q: Where do we stand on the nomination for a new Air Force Secretary? Has that been formally nominated now, or is that just an intent to nominate?

A: Of course the nomination is done by the White House, and I don't believe that there has been a nomination forwarded to the Hill yet. I would expect action on that relatively soon, from what I understand.

Q: Do you have any comment on South Korea's decision to buy French missiles instead of Stinger missiles from the United States?

A: Say that again. Do I have any comment on South Korea's...

Q: They decided to buy French missiles instead of the Stinger missiles from the U.S.

A: French missiles?

Q: Yes.

A: I hadn't heard that. Our view about arms purchases by South Korea are pretty clear. First, we applaud their efforts, in fact encourage their efforts to upgrade and modernize their military. We think that a primary factor should be interoperability with the U.S. equipment over there, particularly to make interoperability in a way that reduces the chances that their missiles would inadvertently jeopardize U.S. planes or helicopters. Obviously, we want them to spend their money as effectively as possible so that their defenses can be as strong as possible for a given dollar of expenditure. I don't know the details of this report. I haven't seen it so I can't comment in any specifics about what they may or may not be doing with their missiles.

Q: But generally speaking, the concern about the possible lack of interoperability with say, for instance, Russian weapons, does that same concern apply to purchase of weapons from NATO allies?

A: I don't know the details of this purchase and I can't comment on the specifics.

Q: Are you concerned about angering or not angering the Russians when you have talks with Lithuania about NATO expansion?

A: Our position on NATO expansion is extremely clear. We are not expanding against anybody. NATO expansion is designed to enlarge the zone of stability and security in Europe. We've made that extremely clear to the Russians. As part of the NATO enlargement we have initiated a security dialogue with the Russians, there's a joint council set up in which the Russians participate. The first meeting was held at the Foreign Ministers level a couple of weeks ago with the meetings at the UN -- Foreign Minister Primakov met with Secretary Albright. So we've been very clear about the purpose of NATO expansion. We've discussed these at length with the Russians, and we've engaged the Russians in a broader security dialogue about Europe. I think that answers the question.

Q: Do you know when finally the trilateral military exercise among the U.S., Israel and Turkey is going to take place? Where, for how long, and under which code name?

A: I don't know how this code name is going to translate into Greek, but the code name is RELIANT MERMAID. How does that translate into Greek?

Q: I can tell you how to Greek, but is a similar one with the Turks going to take place in the same area speak at the same time, I think.

A: This exercise will last about five days. It will involve the U.S., Turkey and Israel. It's an exercise, a relatively small exercise involving search and rescue missions. It will take place in international waters. I don't know the exact dates of the exercise, but it will be relatively soon.

Q: Since Turkey announced yesterday that it's going to conduct two military exercises in November in the same area against the Republic of Cypress, I'm wondering if this trilateral exercise is connected with the Turkish exercise as it was reported in Ankara today. Any connection?

A: I'm not aware that there's any connection. This is a totally separate exercise that I believe was initiated primarily by the Israelis. As I say, it's a search and rescue exercise being conducted to improve our trilateral ability to perform humanitarian missions in the Mediterranean. This will be performed in a part of the Mediterranean that's far away from any disputed areas.

Q: The last one, Mr. Bacon, do you know if from those trilateral military exercises any agreement has been signed among the three countries?

A: I don't know the answer to that. We'll try to find out.

Q: The FBI has just announced a press conference for this afternoon at 4:00 o'clock involving a sting operation apparently based out of Boston, but perhaps a national sting operation, involving the theft of military weapons, including weapons from Lejeune. I believe that rocket launchers and various other fairly heavy weapons are on the list. Are you familiar with this situation?

A: I'm going to let the FBI talk about this because they have the lead. My impression is that what they'll tell you is they're primarily small weapons at stake, but they'll explain this.

Q: Has the DoD been working with the FBI on this?

A: As I said, the FBI will answer your questions. They'll be glad to. They're holding a press conference for that precise reason and they'll be glad to see you there.

Q: You said small weapons, are they large numbers of weapons?

A: The FBI will deal with all further questions.

Q: Generally speaking, though, not this case. Has there been a growing problem with theft of military weapons, or is this something that you've seen more or less of?

A: I'm not aware that there's been a huge problem, but the FBI has been looking at this and they may have different information. They're going to talk about this and you can ask them all these questions this afternoon.

Q: Will there be someone available to answer questions in case they say ask the Pentagon?

A: I have to assume that they're ready to answer all your questions. That's why they're having a press conference.

Q: Not always.

Q: Is the Pentagon ready to ask or demand that our government ask the Russian government to cooperate in a complete accounting of its military weapons? Especially its nuclear weapons that might be missing or available to the black market? This grows out of Mr. Yabakov and Mr. Ledbed's testimony and the Customs sting down in Miami and a few other things.

A: First of all, this is an issue of great importance and seriousness to our government and to the Russian government as well, and we've had a number of discussions with them about the whereabouts and fate of their nuclear weapons.

The government of Russia claims they have good controls over these weapons, and I think you were here when former Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodianov spoke to that specific question.

There was an article in, I think it's in the recent issue of Foreign Affairs by the former Director of Central Intelligence John Deutch, in which he said there have been many reports of lost or missing or stolen or improperly transported Russian nuclear weapons, but that these reports generally, almost overwhelmingly turn out not to be true. Nuclear materials as well as nuclear weapons. But this is an area of continuing discussion between the United States and Russia. As I say, it's something both governments take seriously and we'll continue to pursue this with them.

We do have a program, an extremely successful program called the Nunn/Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program which has been extremely important in reducing and controlling the nuclear threat in Russia, and some of that money has been directed to the security of nuclear weapons.

Q: Some very credible people in Russia have said the Russian statements....

A: I understand that. We take this issue very seriously and we're looking into it.

Q: But that means that playing it safe here is not the best policy? I mean, wouldn't that be the best policy? To ask for them to...

A: I don't know how many ways I can say this. This is an issue of continuing concern to our government and to the Russian government. We have continuing conversations with them about this. We have a well funded government program called the Nunn/Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program that's designed to work on this particular issue. It's something that our intelligence people watch closely. It's something that our military officials watch very closely. And it's something that our diplomats spend a lot of time on.

Press: Thank you.

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