DoD News Briefing - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
Bacon: Good afternoon.
Let me just bring you up to date on the latest response to the wildfires in the West. We had a very extensive bluetop yesterday, and there is no new deployment to add to that. I can tell you, though, that about 500 soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, have deployed, they did deploy today, on their way to Idaho. And in several days we'll have 500 Marines deploying from Twenty-nine Palms, California, also to Idaho.
The soldiers from Fort Hood are going to go to Burgdorf Junction, Idaho, which is about two hours north of Boise. And the Marines from Twenty-nine Palms are going to go to Clear Creek, Idaho, to help fight fires.
They will join approximately 3(00) to 400 National Guard and Reserve people who are already committed to the fire brigades. Many of these are in aviation units running the eight C-130s, the specially outfitted flying fire trucks that drop water or flame retardant on the fires. And they've been actually at work for some time and have flown a number of missions in the last several days.
Q: Are they Reserve or Guard, or both?
Bacon: There are two planes from California that are with the 146th Air Wing, Air National Guard, and two planes from Colorado with the 302nd Air Wing of the Air Force Reserve.
In addition, there were two planes from Wyoming, from the Air National Guard, that's the 153rd Air Wing, and two planes from North Carolina that are part of the 145th Air Wing of the Air National Guard. They have all -- these planes have gone into the -- the two planes from Wyoming and North Carolina have gone to Hill Air Force Base in Utah, and the first ones, the ones from California and Colorado, are flying out of California.
Q: I've got a clarification. You said Twenty-nine Palms are released at Camp Pendleton.
Bacon: That's right; Twenty-nine Palms is what I have.
Q: Okay, thank you.
Q: How common or uncommon is the use of soldiers for fire fighting?
Bacon: It is, fortunately, uncommon because they're only deployed when the fires become so extreme that they overtax the capability of civilian firefighters. We are clearly a backup force and called in to help supplement and relieve civilian fire fighters. These fires have been so demanding and widespread that they've maxed out the capability of the civilian fire fighters, so the Army and the Guard are coming in to help. I would have to say that air support is relatively common with helicopters and C-130s. These are specially outfitted C-130s, these flying fire trucks. They carry big bags of water or fire retardant inside and then spew it out as they fly over.
The dedication of guardsmen is somewhat common because that can, of course, be done at the governor's discretion.
Q: (Off mike) -- annually?
Bacon: No. No. I think the last time there was a major deployment of active duty forces was in 1996, I believe.
Q: Change of subject?
Q: Why are you using active duty forces instead of calling in, say, National Guard from -- (inaudible) -- states?
Bacon: We got a request from the National Interagency Fire Center to send in active duty forces, and we responded to that request because the fires are so sweeping. The active duty forces will be in sort of a backup -- they're called mop-up. The trained civilian firefighters are on the front lines, and the troops will be farther back, sort of putting out smoldering embers and containing fires that aren't quite on the front lines.
Q: Less dangerous.
Bacon: Somewhat less dangerous, but they haven't had the training. They do get some training, but they haven't had -- young Bryan Whitman over here, who was trained as a firefighter once when he was in the military and actually fought fires, he can give you a first-hand account of that. But --
Q: That was World War I, was it? (Laughter.)
Bacon: The short answer is, it's not common for active duty troops to be sent to do this, but it does happen from time to time when the fires are extreme.
Q: Has the SecDef received the report on NMD yet? And when does he plan to report to the president? And when are we going to get a briefing on what happened and why the kill vehicle couldn't separate?
Bacon: He has not received his briefing yet. He will receive it probably in the next week or so. I don't know precisely when he plans to pass his recommendation on to the president. And I anticipate that we will be able to brief you next week or the week after on the reason why Integrated Flight Test 5 failed.
Q: In the briefing to us, do you plan on in any way letting us know what the SecDef has recommended, or will he keep that --
Bacon: No, we don't plan to tell you. I think he'll treat that as a private recommendation to the president.
Q: Does he plan to do it before he goes on holiday, I guess it would be the third week?
Bacon: His current plans are to do that; yes.
Q: Ken, it's been about 10 years since the end of the Gulf War. I wonder if you have any interesting statistical analysis of how successful you have been in the intervening years; how many thousands of missions you have flown since the end of that war and sort of what you've accomplished?
Bacon: Well, in terms of looking at accomplishments, I guess the first answer has to be that Kuwait is free, it's rebuilt, it has a thriving economy, its citizens travel all over the world. Iraq is contained, it has a broken economy, it is an isolated state. And I think that's the fundamental difference between Iraq and Kuwait, and probably the fundamental accomplishment over the last 10 years.
We, obviously, through the U.N. and with our allies have worked very hard to get inspection teams into Iraq and monitor its program of weapons of mass destruction. Unfortunately, Iraq has denied that. In the meantime, we do monitor the no-fly zones, which basically deny Iraq access to 60 percent of its airspace, and we've been doing that fairly constantly since 1992. And I think that that has led to containing Iraq from attacking neighboring countries, as well as from attacking its own people on a regular basis, either in the north or in the south.
So I think that the primary outcome is that Iraq remains isolated and contained and Kuwait is free.
Q: Do you have any dollar figure on what it has cost since the end of the Gulf War to maintain the no-fly zones? Is it about $2 billion a year?
Bacon: The -- I believe the cost is slightly less than that, but it is certainly over a billion dollars a year of maintaining the no-fly zones.
In addition, we have the biggest change in deployments since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. We have now started to deploy on a regular basis a fairly major force in the Gulf. We have today probably about 24,000 troops in the Gulf. These would include Army troops exercising in Kuwait.
They would include Air Force members stationed around the Gulf and Navy troops at the 5th Fleet in Bahrain, headquartered in Bahrain, at NavCent.
We have in Southern Watch flown more than 200,000 sorties since August of 1992, when we started enforcing the no-fly zones. And in Southern Watch, we have flown -- Southern Watch began in 1997 -- I'm sorry; Northern Watch began in 1997, and we've flown more than 16,000 sorties in Northern Watch -- so more than 200,000 in Southern Watch and more than 16,000 in Northern Watch.
Q: Change of subject?
Q: Actually, I have --
Q: Just on that, is there any anticipation that the Iraqis tomorrow will try to have some sort of show of force, some -- you know, commemorating their glorious invasion?
Bacon: Would the -- do I anticipate the Iraqis will have a show of force to remind the world of their defeat? Is that what you're asking me?
Q: Well, it wouldn't be something that I would necessarily rule out --
Bacon: I know Saddam Hussein is hard to figure, but this seems like a no-brainer.
I can't answer that question. We have to be ready for everything, and I think that the record of our troops in the Gulf has shown that they are extremely well trained and very ready, very well equipped. They've carried out a demanding mission, during which they're under fire at least several times a week and sometimes every day of every week, typically from anti-aircraft guns, but occasionally from missiles as well.
We think that the Operation Southern Watch and Northern Watch have been able to debilitate Saddam Hussein's air defense quite a lot. For one thing, we think that he's largely afraid to use his top-of-the-line air-defense systems, for fear of losing them to our patrolling airplanes.
I don't anticipate that there will be a show of force tomorrow, but in Iraq anything's possible.
Q: And just to follow up on Jamie's statistical questions, any idea how many tons of ordnance we've expended since either the beginning or the end of the Gulf War?
Bacon: I can't answer that question. We've probably -- the question would be, have we used more or less than he's fired at us? He fires quite a lot of AAA and missiles at us.
Q: Of course, some people would argue that Saddam Hussein is still very much in power 10 years later; that he may in fact even be more wealthy today because he is skimming money off of smuggled oil. His population is not as prosperous, certainly, but he is. And the whole U.N. apparatus that the United States has helped to spearhead, to set up, is eroding, undeniably, and you're losing traction on that. So how is it that we have really won when he is still there, still in power, still an irritant, and perhaps richer than he was the day he launched the war?
Bacon: Well, I think in several ways. First, I would question what joy one can derive from being a strong man in a weak country, as Saddam Hussein is. But beyond that, I think we are containing him every day from the depredations that made him a pariah in the Middle East in 1990 when he invaded Kuwait 10 years ago tomorrow. And he is no longer a threat to his neighbors and is not seen as a threat to his neighbors. That's largely because of the containment that we have carried out. He has not been able to rebuild his military, in part because of our containment, but also in large part because of the United Nations embargo on Iraq, which has prevented him from buying the military equipment he would like to buy.
Yes, he has skimmed off a lot of money. He's built new palaces for his own benefit, but apparently not for the benefit of the people of Iraq. He delayed for a long while participating in the oil-for-food program, which has actually been one of the hopeful and helpful measures that the U.N. has brought to Iraq, allowing it to import more food in return for the oil it sells.
So he may personally feel that his standard of living is fine. I don't know how he would feel that. He's, in a sense, a captive in his own country; he can't leave. He seems to move around regularly in order to avoid assassination or other attacks from forces that wish him ill. He, as I say, is an emperor in a weak country, a weak, dispirited country.
Q: Ken, the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps say they've met their recruiting quotas already for this fiscal year, and the Army says it plans to meet its target by -- I guess it's September. Are you and the building surprised at this? And to what do you owe this change, this turnaround?
Bacon: Well, first of all, let me announce that the military is still hiring. If a good, bright, talented young man or woman wants to serve the nation in the military, we are ready to take him or her in, and I don't want any confusion about that.
Second, I hope you're right. But the fiscal year won't end until September 30th and we are now in the first day of August. What I can tell you is that all the services exceeded their recruiting goals for June. We don't have the July figures yet. We hope to have them soon. But the services generally believe that they exceeded their recruiting goals for July, but we're not 100 percent sure of that yet, and we won't until the figures are tabulated.
One thing is clear, and that is the services are doing a better job of filling their ranks this year than they were a year ago. I think there are two reasons for that. The first reason is that all the services are moving to increase retention; that is to reduce attrition, either from people getting out of the service when their terms expire or people who may have gotten out in basic training or other times before their initial enlistment expires.
The services are working harder with people to keep them in the service and train them to do their jobs well.
Two, every service has put more energy into recruiting. Now, the Marines have not had a recruiting shortfall. They're the one service that has not had a recruiting shortfall. The other three services have had them. They have increased the number of recruiters on the job, they have increased the enlistment bonuses that people get when coming into the service. They have made their education plans more generous. All of this means that service in the United States military is a better opportunity for people going into the military today. They get better educational benefits, they get better enlistment bonuses, and they get very good training, very good discipline, very good preparation for the future, whether they stay in the military or get out.
These two obviously are related, retention and recruiting. To the extent that retention goes up, the demand for more recruits falls. The Navy has been particularly successful at increasing retention and, therefore, reducing the number of new people they have to recruit every year to bring in.
I hope you're right, that the services will meet their recruiting goals for the year, but I think it's premature to say that now. What we can say is that they are all doing a better job. I think there is one final element to this that goes into recruiting, which is that the services are working harder at doing a better job with their advertising, spending their advertising dollars more effectively and more efficiently than before.
This was actually an initiative that Secretary Cohen started early in his tenure here, when he went up to New York and reviewed all the ads that were directed at new recruits, and he has taken an active role in working with consultants and others to find more effective ways to use advertising dollars. I think that's beginning to pay off. The Air Force is just about to start advertising, for the first time in years. And I've seen the ads; they're quite impressive ads.
Q: The Clinton administration and this Defense Department are taking something of a beating at the Republican Convention for what Republicans say is weakening the military, underfunding the military, overextending the military, and that, if elected, they would restore the military to the days of the Reagan and Bush administrations.
How do you respond to that sort of criticism?
Bacon: I don't know quite what they mean by that, whether they'll build the military back up in size to 2.1 million people, to a Cold War force size, or whether they'll leave it at the current size.
I think the best way to answer that question is to look at what the United States military has done and is doing. In the last four years, the military has fought one of the most successful air wars in history. It's carried out large peacekeeping -- participated in large allied peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo. It's maintained regular air patrols over Iraq in the face of hostile fire on an almost daily basis. They've done this with consummate skill and professionalism and success. I don't think there's a citizen who isn't proud of the way our military has performed in these operations and is performing every day.
Secondly, the military is carrying out, on a regular basis, its normal engagement policy, a policy with 100,000 -- nearly 100,000 troops forward-deployed in Europe and nearly 100,000 troops forward-deployed in the Asia Pacific region. I think that these forward deployments have brought peace and stability to the world and provided a foundation for prosperity, particularly in Asia and in Europe.
So in those two fundamental respects, I think the military has performed admirably, and it's shown itself to be well led, well trained, and well equipped.
On specifics, you can always argue on numbers. Are the numbers enough? And some people will always say, "No," and some people will say, "They're too much."
Just looking back over the last four years, one of the things that Secretary Cohen and this administration has been able to do is to increase procurement spending by more than 40 percent, from $43 billion to a little over $60 billion for the next year -- a major increase in the ability to modernize the military. And this money will be used to bring on a new generation of tactical aircraft for the Air Force and for the Navy and the Marines. It will be used to make the Army lighter and more lethal. And it will be used to bring on a national missile defense system if the president decides to go that route.
I think also we had got a $112 billion increase in defense spending over the five-year plan several years ago. We've had a 4.8 percent pay increase, the largest in a generation, pay table reform for men and women in the military, which has given many people in mid-ranks a higher pay. I think that, going back to Ivan's question, this higher pay, improvement in retirement, have all contributed to a more attractive climate for serving in the military and a better recruiting angle than we had before. The pay is now going up about 3.5, 3.7 percent a year, more than the rate of inflation, and that's built into the five-year plan. So pay is improving.
We're looking at ways to improve the quality of life beyond pay and retirement. One is medical care, and that's a box that has yet to be checked, but it's something that the secretary and the chairman are working on, and I would hope that we'd have something to say about medical care relatively soon. But that's a work in progress. So I think in the way the military has performed, I think the way it's been funded and I think the way it's been led, our military is exactly what this country deserves, professional, successful and leaders.
Q: Do you think that the military is as strong and capable today as it was 7-1/2 years ago?
Bacon: Well, the military is about the same size, a little smaller, and I would say it is more capable. I think that we have incorporated new technology. I think that the way we fought the air war over Yugoslavia and Kosovo last year showed how well we can operate in tough, challenging conditions. I think that the patrols over the no-fly zones, over Iraq every day, show how well we perform in conditions under fire. I'd say this is an extremely lethal, fast-moving, modern military. And I think it's well prepared to perform the tasks that the nation demands of it, and I think that's exactly what the military's been doing.
Q: Can you compare to the day that President Clinton took office?
Bacon: I'd say it's a stronger, more supple military. I think that there have been important improvements in technology, important increases in investment, important improvements in quality of life.
Q: Have cutbacks gone far enough? I think it was at six percent of GDP in the peak of the Reagan buildup; it's at about three percent now. Has that gone too far? Has that entered the military's ability to keep up? Are you looking to sort of make up for lost time with increases in funding for technology, and so on?
Bacon: Our spending now is a little less than $300 billion a year. As I say, there are always ways to spend more money or to spend it faster; there are always demands to modernize. Part of the challenge of running the military is to be looking not only at what's happening today, but what you have to be doing in 20 or 25 years.
I think we've achieved a very good balance, but that balance has required a lot of hard work. It's required more commitment of money, and that's the $112 billion over the five years. It's required sharp increases in pay and benefits, and I think those have been appropriate, particularly in light of the recruiting problems that we were having a year ago, and the quality of life problems that have been alleviated. And I think that we've worked -- Secretary Cohen and President Clinton have worked very hard to increase investment, I said by 40 percent, from $43 billion to $60 billion a year. That also has been justified and will help us be as strong and dominant in the 21st century as we are now.
Q: And what about being overextended, which is one of the central criticisms with the downsizing down to a force of 1.4 million; and the deployments have increased, the number of deployments, the length of deployments, the reliance on Reserve units, and so on. There are a lot of uniformed military people, certainly, who would claim that they're stretched too thin.
Bacon: Well, I think that we have been doing a much better job of managing the deployments. Military life is very active; it's not a life of sitting in barracks. And I think people understand that when they join the military. We find that the reenlistment rates are highest among the troops who are the busiest -- troops on patrol in Bosnia and Kosovo, for instance.
I think we find that because soldiers are trained to do the jobs of soldiers, and they are happiest when they're doing those jobs.
If you look at our deployments today -- under 5,000 people in Bosnia and about 5,000 people, under 6,000 people, in Kosovo -- it adds up to about 11,000 people, 10 (thousand) or 11,000 people, deployed in the Balkans out of an army that's, what, 480,000, 485,000 people. It's a relatively small percentage.
I think the Army has done a good job of managing this. It think the Air Force had some deployment problems early on, some stress problems because it was moving from being a force that basically was stationed at bases to a much more expeditionary force, where they had to send groups of pilots and planes to the Gulf for rotations. I think they have managed that better with the new Aerospace Expeditionary Force; they're providing more predictability to their airmen, and I think they're dealing with that.
The Navy and the Marines have been used to six-month deployments, and nothing has really changed there. They're not deploying, I don't think -- I don't believe they're deploying more often now than they were before. They have a six-month deployment, I think, about every two years, so that's pretty much the same.
So there have been some adjustments. I think the adjustments have generally been made well. We are a worldwide power with worldwide responsibilities. We're attempting to carry those out, in connection with our allies, and I think we have achieved a good balance of our participation, along with allied participation, in those obligations.
Q: Yeah, the South Korean parliament has called on the U.S. to renegotiate its Status of Forces Agreement. Is the Defense Department prepared to move forward on that?
Bacon: Well, we have a representative over there now, Fred Smith, who is the head of our Asian Policy Division, a deputy assistant secretary of Defense. He is over there working on the Status of Forces Agreement right now. This has been a long-standing matter between the United States and Korea. We would like to get it wrapped up, but we want to get it wrapped up in a way that protects the interests of our soldiers and protects the interests of the Koreans and, so far, we haven't been able to achieve that balance.
We need an agreement that, as I said, makes it possible for our soldiers to serve with certain legal protections in Korea, and we're willing to sit down with them and negotiate on a mutually agreed way to achieve that.
Q: Our troops in, say, Europe, are much more exposed to local law than they are in Korea?
Bacon: Yeah, a lot of it reflects the maturity of the local law enforcement systems and the protections that soldiers get under local laws.
In both Europe and Japan, there is a fair amount of exposure to local law enforcement systems. These are generally Western-based or -inspired law-enforcement systems in Japan, after the occupation, following World War II, and in Europe as well.
What we're looking for are basically equal protections for our soldiers, no matter where they serve. And that's what we're trying to work out with the South Koreans. I think they understand that. They obviously have their own issues, legal and political issues, to deal with, but so do we.
Q: Now that leading Democrats have said they don't want a military display at their convention and that they think it's inappropriate and that it's just too political, I'm just wondering; any second thoughts in this building about this whole decision with the Republican convention, whether, you know, at the end of the day, it was really a good idea, since you're left with only participating with one political party, in a request that was clearly led by a very -- led by a very Republican lawmaker? Where does this all leave you at the end of the day?
Bacon: Well, we pulled our -- we pulled those exhibitions out of Philadelphia on the first day of their convention.
Q: Does that mean that you think you have changed your mind about --
Bacon: No. They were scheduled to come out on Monday. We always said they'd be there Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and they're coming out now.
Q: I'm sorry. Perhaps my --
Bacon: I'm sorry. It's too dry an answer.
No, I don't think there's any reconsideration. We got a bipartisan request. We responded in a way that we designed to be nonpartisan, and we stressed that the displays were for education and not for partisan political use. And we don't -- I don't have any evidence that they were used in a partisan or political way.
There were some visitors, mostly members of Congress and their staff. Interestingly, a lot of firemen visited the exhibits because there was a firemen's convention in the same area. So a lot of the firemen came over and looked at the equipment.
I'm disappointed that the exhibits weren't able to be opened up to the public, but they weren't.
Generally when we have exhibits, we like them to be open to the public. But I think we responded to a legitimate request. We were ready to respond, and still are ready to respond, if we get a similar request for military support like this at the Democratic Convention.
Q: I'm sorry. Was that always the plan, to pull them out before the convention actually began? And why did you pull them out?
Bacon: Well, it was always the plan to have them there for Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and we didn't change that plan. We stuck to our plan. So the plan always -- the thinking was that once the convention began, the delegates would be too busy doing political work to spend time talking to soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen about the military and the equipment that we use. That was the thinking.
Q: So it wasn't that they didn't open it to the public and so you decided to pull it or --
Bacon: No. It was always our plan. I'm sorry if I misled you. It was always our plan. I just responded too dryly to that question.
Q: Thank you.
Bacon: You're welcome.
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