Friday, June 9, 2000
(Multinational Fighter Program Memorandum of Understanding Signing Ceremony and Press Conference NATO Headquarters Brussels, Belgium. Participants include Julio Castro Caldas, minister of Defense of Portugal, and ministers from Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway)
Master of Ceremonies: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
We are pleased today to welcome the ministers of Defense or their designated representatives of Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the secretary of Defense of the United States.
Today, we are assembled here to witness the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding welcoming Portugal into the F-16 Multinational Fighter Program.
Today, Portugal becomes the sixth nation involved in the ongoing cooperative modernization of the versatile and war-proven F-16 fighter aircraft. This important milestone will benefit all member nations and represents a significant step toward our common goal of NATO interoperability. It is indeed appropriate that this momentous occasion should fall on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the F-16 Multinational Fighter Program.
The ceremony will proceed as follows. The ministers will sign the Memorandum of Understanding. Subsequent to completion of the signing, the secretary of Defense of the United States will make brief remarks followed by the minister of Defense of Portugal. After all prepared remarks are finished, we will have a short question and answer period for the media.
The ministers will now sign the Memorandum of Understanding.
(pause for signing)
Master of Ceremonies: Ladies and gentlemen, the Honorable William Cohen, secretary of Defense of the United States.
Secretary Cohen: The signing ceremony took longer than our press conference will last, but let me begin. As I was preparing for this ceremony, I remembered that a Dutch F-16 shot down the first Yugoslav MiG during Operation Allied Force. I think this illustrates that a multinational program that was begun 25 years ago by the United States, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands is still contributing actively to Europe's defense.
Today, I am glad to welcome Portugal to the F-16 Multinational Fighter Program. This effective multinational program is a model for the type of cooperation that helps NATO become stronger and more unified. Recent changes in U.S. export control rules make it easier to share technology and to create new transatlantic partnerships. I'm also glad that Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal have agreed to explore cooperation in the acquisition and stockpiling of precision guided munitions.
One of the many lessons of Kosovo is that all NATO members must expand and improve the use of precision guided munitions and the PGM consortium is a very important step toward meeting one of the goals of the Defense Capabilities Initiative.
Minister Castro Caldas: Good morning. Today is a very special day for the members of the Multinational Fighter Program. We are celebrating the anniversary of a successful program launched 25 years ago to procure the F-16 which, from the initial version and through continuous enhancements, continues to meet the challenge of modern air warfare, as one of the greatest success stories of working systems development. It is also an important day for Portugal and the Portuguese Air Force as it becomes the sixth member.
This program will give us the cooperative venue to continuously improve and better support our F-16 fleet until the end of its service life. It will also allow us to actively participate with our fellow members in future development, and we are certain that our participation will also bring some value to the common effort.
Lessons learned from recent conflicts, humanitarian, and peace support operations indicate the need for improvements in weapons delivery accuracy and standoff capabilities to reduce collateral damage, protect our aircrews, and increase air power yield. The experience from our contribution to the allied effort in recent operations, especially Operation Allied Force, showed the need to go ahead with the modernization of our combat fleet -- in this case, the F16 -- in order to improve interoperability of the force and commonality with our friends and allies, when possible.
More recently, the Portuguese Air Force participated for the first time in Exercise Red Flag, and the need for the upgrade of our F-16 fleet came up again, loud and clear. As a member of the program, we will be in a better position to address these issues as Peace Atlantis II, the modernization of 16 F-16A and 4 F-16B aircraft, is already on track following programmed procedures similar to those the European partners are already operating in MLU (Midlife Update) aircraft. This forum will also allow us to have contact with planning processes, methodologies, and decision making analysis on research and development that will help us proceed more clearly with our long term planning for a renewal of our fleet and prepare us to better participate in other programs, even at industry level, whenever required and appropriate.
Finally, let me congratulate you for the 25th anniversary of Multinational Fighter Program and thank you all for the opportunity you have given to Portugal to become the sixth member.
Master of Ceremonies: This concludes the prepared remarks of today's ceremony. We now have just a few minutes for our Ministers and Secretary of Defense to answer questions from the media.
Q: Mr. Secretary, what do think about President Putin's planned visit to North Korea? Do you see this as somehow his attempt to gather more support for the Russian missile defense plan?
Cohen: Well, we're not clear that he is traveling to North Korea, but if he is, I'm not sure that he is going to be discussing a missile defense system for North Korea. So, I'm unclear what the agenda would be. We'll have to wait and see what his program is, but he is certainly free and able to travel wherever he decides to go on his way to the summit.
Q: I actually have an on-subject question. What does Portugal get out of joining this program? Do you get an industrial benefit from it? Do you get a price break in the mid-life upgrade? Couldn't you just buy what you need from the rest of the members?
Castro Caldas: We'll try to develop our own knowledge and advanced programs. This is very important to our pilots and also probably to increase the capabilities of our aircraft industry. We are optimistic that we can share knowledge.
Q: This is sort of on-subject. The United States, in the next 10 years, is going to be transitioning to the Joint Strike Fighter. How many of you all are planning to be involved in that and committing to that program as well, if you are so enthusiastic about interoperability? That seems to be where it's heading.
Castro Caldas: For me, the question? Well, we are not so advanced in this area. We are only joining the club today so--
Bjorn Tore Godal (Norwegian Defense minister): Obviously, there is a need to renew our fighter fleet. The F-16 will work nicely up until around 2012-2015. With the Midlife Update and with the upscaling we are now involved in, they're nice planes for years. Obviously, we have to have a view for the future, and there are two basic alternatives. There may be other alternatives that perhaps can't be foreseen, but it is the Joint Strike Fighter and the Eurofighter. We will certainly be discussing that with our industrial and political partners in the years to come, but no decision has been taken.
Hans Haekkerup (Danish Defense minister): We are participating in the early stages of the Joint Strike Fighter program, and the development of the specifications. Of course, it's too early to say whether when the planners finally develop that, if we will buy them or not. But we are participating in the early phases of the program.
Q: When does the PGM working group start work and what other initiatives are we looking at?
Cohen: The group will start work soon. I can't give you the specific date right now, but quite soon. On other initiatives that are consistent with the DCI, all of us have signed onto the requirements that have been identified both prior to Kosovo and during Kosovo. That was contained in the Defense Capabilities Initiative, so this is consistent with that. PGM is part of it, and we're obviously going to look to upgrade the command, control, and communications. Individual countries will look for ways in which they can increase their airlift capability and other types of requirements identified during the summit. These were all part of the initiative and this is an important part of it. The PGMs are critically important, as we saw in Kosovo, to be able to use them during all weather with great accuracy.
Q: Will the members of the PGM working group be given any access to any U.S.-made PGMs that they do not now have access to, or are there any that are not being sold right now that they will be able to buy?
Cohen: This is the purpose -- to acquire the PGMs so that we will have an alliance-wide capacity to act on an interoperable basis.