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DoD News Briefing - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
May 30, 2000 1:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, May 30, 2000 - 1:30 p.m. EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome. (Continuing conversations among the members of the press corps.) Very boisterous, undisciplined group today, I can see.

Q: You look rested after flying back from London on one of those luxurious Air Force jets. (Laughter.)

Mr. Bacon: I flew back on a British Airways 747 that was packed to the gills, back in steerage.

Okay. Let me start by bringing up you to date on the first Military Family Forum, which Secretary Cohen and Mrs. Cohen will host tomorrow. This will begin at 9:00 in the departmental auditorium on the fifth floor. It's open to the press at the beginning, but it'll be closed after the opening ceremonies.

There will be an introduction by Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness Bernie Rostker and then remarks by Secretary and Mrs. Cohen. And then there will be a series of discussions that will take place during the day.

There are about 100 representatives of military families from all the services here, spouses as well as members of the military, to discuss quality-of-life issues. The idea here is to look forward to ways to build on what Secretary Cohen has concentrated on over the last three and a half years, and that is to improve quality of life through increased pay, better housing allowances, looking at ways to improve medical care, et cetera. The idea is to come up with a list of ideas for moving forward; also, to stress some of the best practices, good practices that we have developed or the various commands and services have developed to deal with some of the problems, to make sure that information is shared widely among members of the services.

At the end of the day, at 4:30, we'll have a briefing here, which will be done by Bernie Rostker, Mrs. Cohen and one of the participants in the forum, a woman named Kelli Kerwin, who is the wife of a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, California. And so that will be here at 4:30, in the briefing room at 4:30.

And with that, I will take your questions. Charlie?

Q: Ken, what's the Pentagon's response to the GAO report that the Air Force simply has hundreds and hundreds too many civilian aircraft, especially luxury aircraft that fly generals about the world?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I don't know whether you've had a chance to read the report, which is out in draft, but that is not what the report says. The report makes no comment on whether we have the proper number of aircraft for support, providing support to commanders during wartime. What the report does do is focus on the process the Joint Staff uses for determining how many aircraft are necessary. I know that process is of primary interest to all journalists, so I will spend a little time telling you exactly what the report says.

It concludes by saying that the current process used to determine requirements for operational support aircraft is inadequate because it is not clearly linked to wartime requirements as DOD policy requires. It says, "Lack of clear linkage to wartime requirements raises questions about whether the support aircraft fleet is appropriately sized to meet short-term mobility needs in wartime." It doesn't say whether the operational support aircraft fleet is too big or too small. It says, given the Joint Staff's current process for determining the size of the fleet, it's impossible to know whether it is appropriately sized.

Now, the Joint Staff -- or the Department of Defense agrees that we could have clearer standards or a better process for determining the size of the fleet, and we will work to develop clearer standards.

Second, the report says that the analysis of the proper size of the fleet should be done annually rather than on a less-frequent basis. And we will consider whether it makes sense to do it annually, or we may decide, after looking at the question, that the requirements don't change enough from year to year to warrant an annual review, and therefore we would stick with one that takes place every two or three years.

We are talking here about a fleet of aircraft -- we're authorized to 391; we have 364 today -- that is supposed to provide mobility to commanders and other military leaders, in time of war. This is a fleet that is set up to take commanders quickly to remote locations that may not be covered by commercial air traffic, particularly in wartime.

Obviously, to have such a fleet available for use instantly, we have to maintain the fleet in peacetime, as well. And so the fleet is used -- so the pilots are trained, so that the planes are maintained -- in peacetime to meet a number of military transportation needs, both for people and for cargo. These are called OSA, operational support aircraft.

It is not the 89th Air Wing, which is based at Andrews Air Force Base, and that includes Air Force One and Air Force Two and planes that are used to carry Cabinet members around. That's a separate groups of planes. This is a much different group.

About half the planes in the Operational Support Aircraft fleet are propeller-driven planes. And the rest tend to be small jets, although there are some larger planes, as well.

But I commend this clear report to you because it lays all this out in considerable detail and gives a very, I would say, lengthy description of the processes we currently use and makes recommendations for improving those processes in the future.

Q: Could you tell us -- the story said these were luxury jets. Would you agree with that, that these are luxury jets? And if not, would you describe what sorts of planes these are?

Mr. Bacon: Well, 163 of them are called Beech King Airs, which are two-engine propeller-driven planes. They carry eight passengers. So I am not sure that they would be called luxury planes or not.

There are a number of -- I mean, there are 14 separate types of planes in the OSA fleet. There are 30 McDonnell Douglas C-9s, for instance, which as you know is a variant of a commercial airliner. Probably many of you have flown on those. There are 13 Gulfstream-3s, for instance.

There are 71 Leer Jet 35As. There are three Boeing 727s. There are 32 Short Brothers Sherpas, which are sort of old-looking planes with a high wing on the top, and they are used for transport. There are 17 Fairchild Metroliners that are also two-engine propeller-driven planes. There are some P-3s, or variants of P-3s in this fleet. So I'd say there is a wide variety of airplanes, and they're used actively to transport people around. Let me just give you an example.

In fiscal 1999, the OSA aircraft carried 291,398 space-required passengers on various military transportation trips or missions. So the planes are actively used.

Q: Can you just address this perception created by this -- by the charges leveled by these members of Congress that this is a frivolous and expensive use of planes to ferry generals around who could take cheaper, more efficient commercial transportation?

Mr. Bacon: I think it's important to go back to what we're talking about here. There is a war-time requirement to maintain adequate mobility for military leaders. The DOD directive that deals with this requires us to maintain planes to meet wartime needs. You can't generate that fleet of planes overnight; you have to maintain it on a day-to-day basis. It doesn't do any good to have the planes sitting in mothballs at airports; they have to be functional, they have to have trained crews, and they have to be flown in order for them to be functional and have plane crews.

So the question arises, if we are required to keep these planes -- and nobody has questioned -- the GAO does not question the requirement for the planes. What it questions is whether our process for determining the number of planes is clear enough.

If you have a requirement to maintain these planes and to maintain them in ready condition with trained crews, it doesn't do any good to fly them around empty.

You might as well fly people in them, and that's, in fact, what they do. They flew nearly 300,000 people last year.

Q: If I could just read to you from Senator Harkin's press release today, Harkin, in this release, says, "Once again, the Pentagon has cooked the books. This report shows they manipulated every number in sight in order to keep their private jets. These generals' jets are a taxpayer ripoff." Have the criticisms in the report about whether or not the Pentagon has a clear method of linking these planes to their wartime requirement -- does that amount to cooking the books, as Senator Harkin seems to think?

Mr. Bacon: Well, as I said, the report itself makes this statement: "The lack of clear linkage to wartime requirements raises the questions about whether the support aircraft fleet is a appropriately sized to meet short-term mobility needs in wartime." It says nothing about whether the fleet is too small or too big. Now, in terms of flying around generals, last year, of the 291,000 people who flew, less than 5 percent of the people carried were generals or senior DOD civilians. So the vast bulk of them were lower-ranking people, normal troops going from place to place, et cetera.

So I think that Senator Harkin's statement is not supported by anything I've read in this report, because the report makes no judgment as to whether the fleet is too large or too small, and it makes no judgment about whether the fleet is carrying people in luxury. It doesn't deal with that at all. It says that there is a legitimate military mobility requirement for wartime and in order to meet that requirement, you have to have the planes flying in peace.


Q: Could you just tell us -- if you don't have this answer, maybe you could take this question, but can you tell us whether Senator Harkin, Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Peter DeFazio have themselves traveled on military aircraft in their official capacity over the last several years?

Mr. Bacon: I don't have an answer to that question. I think it would be good to ask them that. I'm sure they would recall, since they have strong feelings about military aircraft, whether they'd flown in them or not.

Q: But in general, are these same planes used to transport members of Congress?

Mr. Bacon: Well, some of them are, yes. Typically, when people think of congressional delegations traveling, many of them travel in planes run by the 89th Air Wing out of Andrews. But if they are meeting short-term transportation needs within the European theater, for instance, they may well fly in one of these planes. Sometimes members of Congress fly in the airplanes maintained to transport our regional commanders; for instance, the commander-in-chief of the Central Command, or the commander-in-chief of the European Command.

These planes, the CINC planes, are maintained as part of the OSA, the Operational Support Aircraft fleet. So to the extent that members of Congress fly in those planes, they could well have flown in many of these planes.

Q: And if I could follow up on what Jamie was asking, setting the GAO report totally aside --

Mr. Bacon: Well, let me just move it aside. (Laughter.)

Q: -- when Senator Harkin says that this is a silver-starred perk for the generals and that it is government waste at its worst, is he just wrong about that?

Mr. Bacon: Well, first, I want to go back to the text. The GAO report makes no judgment about that whatsoever.

Q: I thought we set that aside, though. (Laughter.)

Mr. Bacon: But I want to state what -- I want people focused on the GAO report, since that seems to be the source of all these comments.

We have a legitimate military requirement. Nobody questions that requirement. In order to meet that requirement, we have to fly the planes on a regular basis. A tiny percentage of the passengers flown on these planes are generals or admirals. So to say that this is a gold-plated air force for generals and admirals is not supported by the facts.

Q: And in the course of those requirements, is this system abused by anyone in the military, whether they be general officers or not?

Mr. Bacon: Well, it's certainly not designed to be abused. And there are strong -- firm requirements that generals must meet in order to fly in these planes. Now, the simplest one to explain is the one that applies to the so-called CINCs, commanders-in-chiefs, of the regional commands, such as General Ralston in the European Command, or General Zinni in the Central Command, or General Wilhelm in the Southern Command, or Admiral Blair in the Pacific Command.

They are required to fly on military aircraft whenever they fly, because they're in the military chain of command and must be reachable at all times. So they must fly in these planes whenever they do fly.

Q: A question on Fiji, if you have any comments there. I understand the Fijian military have taken over --

Q: (Off mike.)

Mr. Bacon: Just a sec. Let me -- before moving to Fiji, let me see if we're finished with the GAO report.

Q: On the same subject --

Mr. Bacon: Fiji or the GAO report? (Laughter.)

Q: The OSA.

Mr. Bacon: Right.

Q: You answered one question, which is that the CINC fleet, the planes that ferry around the CINCs, come from this group of aircraft.

Mr. Bacon: Right.

Q: But when we look at this list of planes you've given us, about half of these are these prop planes, and I just can't imagine any wartime requirement for people to get on prop planes and go anywhere in a war. So why are half of these things, which would basically be like recreational aircraft, it would seem -- why are they in here?

Mr. Bacon: Well, you're assuming, I gather from your question -- I mean, I don't want to presuppose this, but you're assuming that all the flights are from the United States to someplace else.

Q: No --

Mr. Bacon: There could be many in-theater flights that would be small, short-hop flights. You could imagine in Korea, for instance, where there would be a need for transportation that could be easily met by two-engine propeller planes. Certainly within a Middle Eastern theater, should we have to fight there again, you can imagine a case where there would be a demand for smaller short-hop planes.

Q: But I actually -- my imagination maybe isn't that good, but these prop planes -- they probably don't have special communications. They're just sort of planes that might be nice to go in a junket or something, but I can't really imagine that they would be -- that they're really good things in an actual conflict to be flying around.

Mr. Bacon: I have to assume that since they're required to meet wartime mobility needs, that they are properly outfitted to carry officers and troops in wartime, with appropriate communications.

Q: (Off mike) --

Mr. Bacon: Any more questions on this before we move to Fiji? (Laughter.)

Q: Move to Fiji! (Chuckles.)

Mr. Bacon: Yes, Fiji.

Q: Do you have any comments -- the military has taken over Fiji, and the prime minister and president were forced to resign -- and if anybody from this building is in touch or have any presence in the area?

Mr. Bacon: Presence in the area?

This has been handled by our State Department. It is a diplomatic and State Department issue. And I know that the ambassador has recently asked for some State Department security assistance. But I am not aware that there is U.S. military participation in any way in the response to this event.

Q: And just another question on the report that Osama bin Laden has shifted now from place to place in Afghanistan and he has changed his bodyguards with the Pakistanis and Bangladeshi militants, rather than with the Saudis because he said he doesn't trust the U.S. military and the U.S. government with the Saudi bodyguards.

Mr. Bacon: I can't comment on the types of people Osama bin Laden trusts or distrusts.


Q: Can we move to the other -- wait a minute. Mike, go ahead.

Q: Well, I was going to just ask about missile defense. Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that there was a still-classified or unreleased report about the value of sea-based missile defense. I was wondering if you could put that into some context for us? Can you tell us anything about what that report is and how it fits in with the administration's plans for missile defense?

Mr. Bacon: Sure. Without commenting on any particular report, let me say that we have always realized that there is a possibility that there could be a sea-based supplement to, or element in, a national missile defense system. We haven't decided that there will be, but it's always been a possibility.

However, right now we are concentrating primarily, in fact almost exclusively, on developing a land-based system. There are three reasons for that:

The first is we want to design a system, and deploy it, as quickly as possible to meet a threat, which we believe will be facing us in about 2005.

The only way to develop a system and deploy it quickly is through a land-based system because much more work needs to be done on the elements of a possible sea-based system or supplement to a land-based -- sea-based supplement to a land-based system.

So the first is, we want to deploy to meet a threat. Second, we want to deploy a system that protects all 50 states from a variety of rogue nations, not just North Korea, but rogue nations in other parts of the world as well. And the best way to do that with certainty is with a land-based system. And the third is that Congress has mandated that we deploy a system as quickly as technologically possible. And the quickest way to meet that requirement is through a land-based system.

So there are a series of studies -- there is one major study going on within the building now on the capabilities that could be added to a national missile defense through a sea-based system. Our feeling is that a sea-based system requires more development and would take more time and possibly cost more money than a land-based system. But we are examining that. We have a requirement from Congress to produce a report. We have asked Congress for a delay in meeting that deadline because the issues are extremely complex and they require extensive analysis. I believe we are funding about $7 million in analytical studies in order to look at the pros and cons of a sea- based system and what it would require to make a sea-based system work or to give us a sea-based element to a land-based system.

Q: Ken, George W. Bush keeps saying that he advocates a wider missile defense that would provide protection not just for the 50 states, but also for allies of the United States. In the system that the Pentagon is envisioning now, would it encompass any protection for allies in any way?

Mr. Bacon: The system is being designed primarily to protect the 50 states. Obviously, it has some residual ability to protect a wider footprint than that under certain circumstances, but it's being designed to protect the United States.

We are in the process of discussing national missile defense with our allies all around the world, and some of them have expressed concern about threats they may face, and we are willing to discuss with them ways to meet those concerns.

In certain cases, for instance Japan, we are discussing a theater missile defense system with them, and they are quite keen on moving forward with a theater missile defense system that would be adequate to meet their defensive needs.

There are other countries that could be protected by theater missile defense systems. So this is something that we are discussing with our allies. We have made it very clear from the beginning that we're prepared to meet with them and to discuss their needs and ways to meet those needs, and those discussions are ongoing.


Q: Has there been any response from the Bush campaign to the SECDEF's invitation to come to the Pentagon and get a full briefing on NMD?

Mr. Bacon: The only response we've seen is in the press, and that was they said they didn't need such a briefing. So the secretary considers the issue finished in that they have rejected the invitation.

Q: Can you tell us ways that failure to pass the supplemental on Colombia has impacted any DOD assistance to them or any of your operations that are directed towards the anti-drug program?

Mr. Bacon: Yes. It clearly has had an impact on our ability to support counter-drug operations in Colombia and to support President Pastrana's Plan Colombia. That is a $7 billion plan to fight drug production and to strengthen the Colombian economy, to maintain its democratic course while improving its prosperity.

That $7 billion plan envisions $4 billion coming from Colombia and $3 billion coming from elsewhere. Of that $3 billion, the U.S. -- the Clinton administration has proposed providing $1.6 billion. That's what's being held up by the Senate. The House passed it. It has strong support from Speaker of the House Hastert, but it has not passed the Senate. Most of that money, the $1.6 billion, is a supplemental for this year, the current fiscal year. Some of it would be spent in year 2001.

Most of the money goes to finance State Department programs, but there is a portion of it that funds Defense Department programs. One particular gap that's been created by this lack of funding is our ability to train and transport counterdrug battalions. We have been working very aggressively with the Colombian military to train two counterdrug battalions. These are people who have been vetted for human rights abuses to make sure that we don't train people who have been accused in the past of human rights abuses. We've worked very closely with the embassy to get two battalions of about 900 people each. The first battalion is fully trained, has been trained by the U.S. military. But it can't do anything but foot patrols because they don't have the mobility that would be provided by the supplemental, the $1.6 billion -- well, the part that's in this year is about $900 million, I believe. Without the helicopters that would be provided by the State Department, they don't have the ability to move outside of their current area.

A second counterdrug battalion is assembled and vetted and ready for training, but the training hasn't begun yet because we don't have the money to begin the training. So that is one way in which the counterdrug operation has been set back by the lack of action.

Q: Has your support for operations in the Caribbean that are also part of the counterdrug effort, been cut back?

Mr. Bacon: There is some money that would pay for setting up these forward operating bases, that would give more airports from which we can work to provide intelligence, surveillance, et cetera that's very important to providing information to the countries in the region. My understanding is that some of that money has been held up for lack of action on the supplemental.

Q: And the supplemental does not include the Kosovo money? Is that a separate supplemental?

Mr. Bacon: No, it does include Kosovo money. And that raises another very gnawing problem.

I'll get to you in a sec.

That problem is that the Army will run out of money toward the end of June, unless the Kosovo supplemental is passed. And if it does that, in order to continue financing the operations in Kosovo, maintaining our operations there, it will have to start cutting back on training and other operations around the world. And it could have a very deleterious impact on readiness if they have to suck money out of operations and maintenance funds, in the U.S. or elsewhere, in order to fund the Kosovo operations.

Q: So it will not mean that you will have to withdraw troops from Kosovo; it means that you will have to find support from -- internally in the Army?

Mr. Bacon: The Army would have to find ways to siphon money out of other operations in order to support the operation in Kosovo. The easiest way to do that is to cut back on training operations and certain maintenance operations. It is easy to do, but it is very damaging to the Army and produces the types of readiness problems that Congress decries and we decry, as well.

We spend a lot of time and effort trying to keep our forces ready across the whole spectrum, both those in the United States, those deployed in bases in Germany and those forward-deployed in places like Bosnia and Kosovo. And it would be a setback to our efforts to maintain a ready and mobile force if we had to cut into our O&M funding for the Army. And that would be -- the primary impact would be on the Army.

Yes, sir?

Q: I've heard critics say about Plan Colombia that even if these two battalions did have their helicopter lift in place, that they would be transported into a very large area, where the guerrillas have been operating among the peasants for many, many, many years, and the cards would be stacked against these two battalions. And then, the critics further say, what happens if they lose? Where does that leave the United States? What's the game plan, in that eventuality?

Mr. Bacon: President Pastrana has made a courageous and bold attempt to improve the fortunes of his country, both economically and democratically, but also to try to contain the power of the narco-traffickers and to make peace with the guerrillas. We support what he's trying to do. It is a daunting challenge. It won't be easy. But our choice, basically, is to sit on the sidelines and do nothing, and say, "You're on your own," or to try to support what everybody agrees is the right course of action, even though we know it'll be difficult to carry out.

So yes, the counterdrug battalions will face challenges. We know that. They know it, too. That's one of the reasons we've worked so hard on trying to train them and equip them in ways that they can do their job better than they were able to do it two or three years ago. And that's one of the reasons why we want to provide helicopters to help them carry a -- to cover a much broader area.

While we are not allowed to continue our support for Plan Colombia because of the lack of congressional approval, cocaine and heroin production are soaring in Colombia. And that means that exports to the United States are also soaring from Colombia. It's a real problem. And we would like to be able to work aggressively with the Colombian government to stop that in any way we can, and lack of clearance by the Senate makes it difficult to do that.

Yes, Bill?

Q: Ken, are you able to respond to questions regarding the matter of Mr. Cohen's -- Secretary Cohen's letter to you about the Linda Tripp disclosure case? Can you take questions, or are you constrained by your lawyers?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I'm certainly able to respond, but I choose not to. I think the -- I think that what happened is very clear. Secretary Cohen's letter was very clear.

I issued a statement in response. It's available to anybody who wants it, as is Secretary Cohen's letter, as is the report. And I have nothing to add to what I said, and I don't believe Secretary Cohen has anything to add to what he said.

Q: Have you expressed contrition to Secretary Cohen?

Mr. Bacon: Secretary Cohen and I have had conversations about this. I have publicly said that I regret not having checked this with the lawyers. But I've also publicly said that I think in the end, when this is reviewed, that my activity will be proven lawful.

Q: And would you consider an apology to Linda Tripp?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I have already issued the apologies that I have to issue. I don't think that I performed unlawfully. I think this is a very clear situation based on what Secretary Cohen said and what I've said, and I really have nothing to add.


Q: Ken, the department is now, I think, almost four months late on a report that Congress asked for last year on long-range requirements for shipbuilding. Senator Snowe and Kennedy have sent a letter to Secretary Cohen some weeks ago asking about that report, and they asked him about it in person when he was on the Hill. Do you know what the hold-up is on that report, and when it --

Mr. Bacon: I'm afraid I don't. I'll check into it. I don't know.

Q: Just two quick ones on missile defenses, going back to the sea-based system. I believe that the United States and Japan are jointly working on a program to improve the interceptors. I think that was the biggest problem. Is there any progress to report on that joint project?

Mr. Bacon: Not what I'm aware of. There could well be. I just haven't checked on that.

Q: The diplomatic costs of missile defenses is one of the considerations in NMD. Would a sea-based system, whatever its other merits or flaws, would a sea-based system likely cause less diplomatic heartburn for Russia and China?

Mr. Bacon: I don't think so. I can't see that it would. I think it would raise exactly the same issues about the ABM Treaty.

One point that's important to keep in mind about a sea-based system is that when people discuss a sea-based system, they discuss it entirely in terms of North Korea, but our threat is just not North Korea. We see threats from other nations, such as Iran and Iraq. A sea-based system would not work for other places. So if we're going to build one system that protects us from the spectrum of threats we see today from rogue nations, again we have to go first with a land- based system because that's the surest way to protect all 50 states.

Q: Thank you.

Mr. Bacon: Just to go back, your question on the shipbuilding study was the long-range study that --

Q: Right.

Mr. Bacon: Yes. On that study, we did go back to Congress and ask for more time, saying that it was a very, very complex issue forecasting ahead 25 years as to what threats we would face and the best types of ships to deploy in response to those threats.

It takes us awhile to do our shipbuilding studies on a year to year basis, just looking out over the future defense plan of five or six years. This is four times a future defense plan, so we have asked for more time to work it out. And I have actually talked to Secretary Danzig about that in the last couple of months; that's the explanation he gave to me. I don't know whether Secretary Cohen has responded yet to Senator Snowe, but I'll check into that.

Q: And one more quick. A report was leaked to the Washington Post last week, Vision 2020 for Asia it was. I believe, this building has issued around 1:30 today. Do you have any comments on the report for nations like China and others discussed in that report or --

Mr. Bacon: I think you may be referring to Joint Vision 2020, which is the Joint Staff report that I don't believe is out yet in printed form, but it should be on the Internet today. It really looks at the type of war-fighting capabilities that are necessary to develop over the next 25 years. It's not so much geographic specific as it capability specific.

I think the biggest change here from the current Joint Vision 2010, which came out a couple of years ago, is that it focuses much more on interoperability with allies than the previous report did. Some of that, of course, reflects the lessons we learned in Kosovo.

Q: But, Ken, if anybody in this building, policy-makers, are really concerned that U.S. also had threat from China in the future, military threat, like you're talking about threat from North Korea and others, do you feel that there could be a threat from China also to the United States in the future?

Mr. Bacon: Well, the job of our planners is to look at the whole world and look at areas where U.S. security interests could be threatened. We have a very vigorous program of engagement with China that is designed to try to work together in areas where we agree, and be very clear in areas where we disagree, and I think that that program is basically working.

Q: Thank you.

This transcript was prepared by the Federal News Service, Inc., Washington DC. Federal News Service is a private company. For other defense related transcripts not available through this site, contact Federal News Service at (202) 347-1400.

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