DoD News Briefing - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
Bacon: Good afternoon. Two brief announcements:
The first: Secretary Cohen, through me, would like to congratulate, commend his two former colleagues Senator Sam Nunn and Senator Dick Lugar for their nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize yesterday for the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which has been so successful in helping the former Soviet Union reduce its nuclear force.
Second, I'd like to revisit some remarks I made last week about recruiting and retention. When I said that -- at first, that all four services were headed toward making their recruiting and retention goals this year, and then I said I wasn't certain about the Air Force. The Air Force has now informed me that they are confident they will make their recruiting goals this year. And this is based on two things: one, the number of people who have already entered into basic training this year, and two, the number of contracts that they've written under the delayed entry program.
They are confident that they have enough contracts under their belt so that between now and the end of the current fiscal year, which is September 30th, that they will have met their recruiting goals for the year. So that means all four services will meet their recruiting goals this year, a very good development.
Q: What about retention, Ken?
Bacon: Well, retention is actually running above expectations, I think, in all --
Q: All services?
Bacon: -- all services, I believe. Now, that clearly has an impact on recruiting, because to the extent that retention is higher than anticipated, the number of people the services have to recruit can be reduced.
Q: But Air Force retention I don't believe is high, and they will not meet their end strength, will they?
Bacon: I -- well, let me check on that. My impression is that their recruiting was significant -- the last month for which we have figures is July. Air Force recruiting was 115 percent of their goal, so they were 15 percent over in July. I don't have their figures on retention. But I believe their retention is improving. We'll check on that.
Q: I guess two questions. Number one, are you relieved that the Japanese defense minister is in one piece? And number two, could you give us a report on their meeting today, their talks?
Bacon: Yeah. Well, first, we are glad he's in good health. The secretary had met with Defense Minister Torashima twice in two days. Yesterday he and Secretary Albright met with Foreign Minister Kono and Defense Minister Torashima in New York at the Two Plus Two meetings. And then today the secretary met again with the Japanese defense minister here. And he will meet again with him in Japan, I think on the 22nd of September.
Basically they continued their discussions from yesterday. They focused on the strategic dialogue between the two nations. They reviewed the situation in Southeast Asia -- in Asia generally. And, in fact, the defense minister received a briefing from the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] later on the East Asian security situation. So they had basically a wide- ranging discussion on U.S.-Japanese relations.
Q: Any discussion or progress on the Okinawa situation? And do you expect that that might be settled on the upcoming trip?
Bacon: I don't think it'll be fully resolved in the upcoming trip. As you know, we're prepared to move the Futenma Air Base to a location that meets our tactical and strategic needs, our military needs. And we're working with the Japanese government to find the right place.
Q: Isn't that -- the ball in their court, kind of, on that? Hasn't the United States agreed to put it off shore, the helicopter platform --
Bacon: We've agreed to -- we've agreed to do what make sense militarily for us and makes sense to the Japanese.
And the question is arriving at a common agreement on a solution, and that hasn't been done yet.
Q: Well, what have we specifically agreed to do on Futenma?
Bacon: What have we agreed to do? We don't have an agreement with the Japanese on what's going to happen with Futenma.
Q: What have you proposed?
Bacon: We've made a number of proposals, and they have made some proposals back, but it's not settled yet. I mean right now what we're looking at is an airport in Nago City, as I understand it, but there is no final determination on when it will be moved or where it will be moved to. That's what we have to work out with the Japanese.
Q: Can you explain what the Air Force is doing on the swap-out of an AEF [Aerospace Expeditionary Force] in the Gulf, and specifically, whether this represents an increase in the Air Force's presence in the Gulf?
Bacon: AEFs go to the Gulf approximately every 90 days, so every three months there's a replacement of one with another. During the replacement period, there's an overlap of several days. And currently we are replacing one AEF with another, so for several days there are more planes there than normal; it's temporary and of short- term duration.
Q: There's no intended increase in Air Force airpower in the Gulf other than the normal switch-out? And is it a scheduled swap-out or is it early?
Bacon: My understanding is it's a scheduled swap-out. And -- I mean, we have a force of between 20,000 and 25,000 people there at any given time. We've got a carrier battlegroup, the George Washington, is there. We have an AEF there. That's standard. We also have, at any given time, an Intrinsic Action rotation from the Army doing maneuvers in Kuwait, using the pre-positioned equipment, some of the pre-positioned equipment we have in the Gulf. So this is fairly standard.
Now, I will tell you that we obviously watch Iraq very, very closely, but particularly at this time of year, because August, September and October tend to be the times when Saddam Hussein historically has either decided to attack his neighbors or attack his own people.
In 1980, during this period, he launched his war against Iran. In 1990, he attacked Kuwait. In 1994 he began moving some divisions toward Kuwait, and we responded with a fairly rapid and large build-up in the Gulf. In 1996 he attacked Kurds in the North. So, this period of time is one when he has acted in the past. It also is a period of time when he tends to be exercising his military. So they are engaged in a normal training cycle at the end of the summer, early fall, and that training cycle means that there are some movements of troops, and it also can be used to disguise movements that he might make toward either his own people or toward neighboring states. So we watch him closely all the time; we watch him with particular care and closeness during this period of the year.
We have not made any increases in our force sizes in the area. We've maintained, on a daily basis, a very strong, well-trained and active force, both -- from all services. And that's what we're doing now where it's just a standard rotation of the aerospace expeditionary force.
Q: Where are they situated? What country are they in?
Bacon: Well, they divide themselves, generally, between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
Q: What kind of movements are you seeing? You talked about Iraqi troop movements. Are there any build-up or any kind of movement of that would cause --
Bacon: We haven't seen any unusual buildups. The type of thing we see -- last week we saw some aircraft dispersion, but the aircraft were returned to their bases. They could have -- we don't know exactly why these things happen. One explanation is that they're practicing defensive maneuvers. But that's they type of thing we've been seeing.
Q: Could you update us on Operation Northern and Southern Watch? Have there been any hostile acts in recent days?
Bacon: They continue to fly, obviously, and they respond to attacks against them. Actually, there has not been -- there has been some diminution in the level of Iraqi opposition or action against Operation Northern Watch and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Southern Watch in recent days. But these things, you know, they go up and down and it's very hard to make a trend out of something that happens over a couple of days, or even a week or two.
Q: Ken, how formidable is Saddam's force today?
How much has he been able to rebuild over the past nine years, and how is his command-and-control, as far as our intel is concerned?
Bacon: Well, he suffered dramatically as a result of two things. First of all, Desert Storm -- three things -- Desert Storm; the embargo that followed Desert Storm, and -- which has made it very difficult for him to -- not impossible, but it has complicated and slowed down his ability to rebuild, because he can't -- it's difficult for him to buy from other countries; and our continued vigilance under Operation Southern Watch and Northern Watch. So we continue to, as appropriate, in response to attacks against the policing of the no-fly zones, we do attack his anti-aircraft installations.
He does have massive numbers of anti-aircraft guns. He's been somewhat reluctant to fire missiles and doesn't do that often, now, but he does from time to time. I don't have the numbers at my fingertips, but his air force is severely degraded from what it was in 1990. Many of the planes he has don't fly or can't fly because of absence of spare parts and poor maintenance, et cetera. Clearly, he lost a lot of armored equipment that has been difficult to replace; artillery and other things. So I think his force is severely degraded.
Nonetheless, he continues to try to shoot down American and British planes patrolling the no-fly zones. He has offered a reward, a bounty, for shooting down Allied planes, and we take very seriously his attacks against our patrols.
Q: Well, what about ground forces, Republican Guard? I mean, does he have the ability now, as far as we can determine, to wage war on his neighbors again?
Bacon: The main difficulty he would have in waging war against his neighbors is the continued and vigorous presence of Allied forces in the area. We have completely changed our readiness posture in the Gulf from 10 years ago, in that we have forces on patrol all the time; a carrier there 100 percent of the time, a carrier battle group; the Aerospace Expeditionary Forces and Army troops exercising. We have pre-positioned equipment there, significant amounts, a division's worth of pre-positioned armor equipment. So -- in 1990, it took us a long while to build up our forces in the Gulf. Our forces are there, on station, ready all the time now. That is the biggest difference.
Second, a number of our friendly, or Allied, countries in the region have improved their own defenses.
A notable example is Kuwait, which has worked very hard and successfully to improve its military capability. Saudi Arabia and other countries have done the same thing. We work continually with these countries, as do other allied countries, to help them improve their forces.
And I think the third factor is that he did suffer heavy losses during Desert Storm, and the embargo, the United Nations embargo, has made it difficult for him to rebuild his forces.
Q: A couple of question on China. There's a congressional --
Bacon: Then are we through with Iraq?
Q: No, if I could ask just one more thing --
Q: -- along the same lines, you talk about the embargo having an impact. Can you give us an update on the illegal smuggling activity, the oil smuggling activity?
Bacon: I don't have those figures. I'll get them for you. I just haven't looked at the smuggling recently. I mean, typically, the smuggling goes up as oil prices go up. Oil prices are high. I would anticipate that smuggling has gone up, because it's more profitable.
Q: It's been up for a while --
Bacon: It tends to follow oil prices. And when oil prices are low, smuggling drops off. When oil prices are high, it increases, because there's a greater profit margin for all the cast of characters involved in smuggling. And that includes the payments that are made to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces.
Q: There's a congressional staff report out that says that China's modernizing its military and developing joint war-fighting faster than the Pentagon estimates. Would you agree with that assessment, or do you have a different view?
Bacon: Well, I haven't -- I can't comment on that, because I haven't read the report. And I guess I can -- I've read your account of the report, but I haven't read the report itself.
We've said many times that China is on a steady and sustained military upgrade program. It doesn't appear to be a particularly rapid program. When Deng Xiaoping set the four modernizations, military was one of the four modernizations. It happens to be the last modernization that China got to.
Their officially reported defense budget is $12 billion. We think that significantly understates what they're spending. But by even the most generous accounts, they're spending only a fraction of what we're spending on an annual basis on defense, to support a military that is much larger and a military that is much more primitively equipped than our military.
So they have a very significant way to go by Western standards. But beyond that, I think it's hard to -- I can't comment on a report that I haven't read.
Q: I guess the reason I would ask is because with the QDR [Quadrennial Defense Review] coming up, I think this is going to be one of the topics that will have to be addressed, the pace of how fast China will be developing systems and how much of a threat that would pose for the U.S., and how the U.S. forces would be structured. Do you have any view on how the growth of China's military should be factored into the QDR, the upcoming QDR?
Bacon: Well, I will not be here for the next QDR, no matter who is elected president, and the QDR will largely take place after the next secretary of Defense arrives here. Secretary Cohen has arranged it so that it will be a document that will not be handed over to the next secretary of Defense but created by the next secretary of Defense so he can use it as an opportunity to set his or her own priorities.
All I can tell you is that China has a modernization program under way. Probably the most -- one of the most obvious and dramatic parts is their efforts to build up their short-range ballistic missile force across the Taiwan Strait, and they're adding missiles now at about 50 or so a year. Admiral Blair has commented on that, and that's been widely reported.
They are far away from having air superiority over the Taiwan Straits, which they would need if they were to contemplate military action. We believe that they should, and we hope they will, settle any disputes with Taiwan peacefully under the one-China policy. But they have a relatively slow modernization program for their tactical air force, and they have what appears to be a plan to modernize their fleet air defenses, but there again, it's not a dramatic program.
In terms of strategic buildup, they don't seem to have aspirations for a large strategic force. Their strategic force is really quite small. They do have plans to enlarge it, but they don't seem to be break-neck plans at this stage. So we continue to -- we obviously watch China very carefully, and obviously, we are trying to deal with China militarily and diplomatically to keep good, predictable and steady relations with them.
Q: And one last question on the exchange program. A couple of weeks ago, a group of Chinese military officers visited the Joint Forces Command and were briefed on, I think, joint warfighting training. Some members of Congress have questioned whether that briefing crossed the legal guidelines restricting exchanges with the People's Liberation Army. Do you have a view on whether those briefings were legal under the so-called Smith-DeLay Guidelines?
Bacon: Well, I haven't read the Smith-DeLay Guidelines, but I have read the briefing, and I'd have to say, by my lights, it's pretty dull stuff. Here's a copy of it right here. I believe you've seen it, but if anybody else wants to see it, they can, and it's sort of a typical PowerPoint briefing that has charts like this in it. It has an organization chart in it for the Joint Forces Command, which doesn't strike me as particularly revealing -- this type of chart that says it's run by a four-star officer.
And it is, I think, a pretty plain vanilla-type briefing; the type of briefing that any of us might receive if we went down to the Joint Forces Command and they were explaining to us what their organizational principles were and their training goals. So I do not believe that this was an inappropriate briefing.
Q: Well, the law does state specifically that joint warfighting is limited from discussions with the PLA, so that's really the issue that these members are raising.
Bacon: I think that it would be difficult to say that a chart like this is revealing sensitive information. I do not believe that this was an improper briefing in any way and, obviously, the Defense Department doesn't either.
Q: Other subject?
Q: Some weeks ago, Secretary Cohen sent a letter to the Armed Services Committees expressing concern about proposals to have TriCare be made a second payer for military retirees' health care, particularly those over 65, and was very concerned about the cost of those proposals. It now appears that the conferees are going to adopt a proposal is projected to cost $42 billion over 10 years. Is that the sort of thing that the secretary would view as such a serious matter that he would recommend the president not sign the authorization bill?
Bacon: I have not discussed that matter with him, so I can't speak for him on that.
Q: One more.
Q: The Senate is debating an amendment to the China trade bill which would punish China for its weapons proliferation activities. And a number of speakers, both Democrats and Republicans, have said that China has not fulfilled its promises to curb its nuclear missile exports. Does the Pentagon have a view on whether China has fulfilled its promises? I know that the secretary made an issue of the cruise missiles with China in '98, I believe.
Bacon: We are concerned about China's technical and other support to other countries. China, however, has made significant progress in controlling proliferant activities, particularly over the last 20 or 30 years. It used to not subscribe to any anti-proliferation agreements; now it has made some anti-proliferation promises and we believe that it is keeping those promises within the letter of the law.
It's an issue that we discuss with China on a regular basis. And I think the issue that has to be addressed here is whether we have more leverage over China in drawing it into the community of nations interested in controlling proliferation, by working with China, or we gain more influence by not working with China. The view of Secretary Cohen, and of this administration, is that to the extent that we can build stronger relations with China, based on a clear understanding of what's in our national interests, that we will be better able to work with or influence China on topics such as proliferation. We have made some progress; we would like to make more progress, and we discuss this issue with China almost every time -- I would say virtually every time a high-level official meets with a Chinese counterpart, and that includes the president.
Q: But what kind of progress? What would be considered progress?
Bacon: Well, I would consider, one, China's promise not to export certain anti-ship cruise missiles to Iran; that's an example.
I would consider China's promise not to sell MTCR- -- missile technology control regime -- class ground-to-ground missiles, whole missiles, to other countries as a sign of progress. These are limited. They don't go as far as we'd like. But they are improvements over China's past behavior. So I think we've made a start. We'd like to go further, and I think we've been very clear about that.
Q: So to follow up on that, Iran anti-ship cruise missiles -- they had sold them a previous generation of them, correct?
Bacon: We're talking about the C-801/C-802 anti-ship cruise missiles.
Q: So they do have Chinese -- but they're old ones, right?
Bacon: Yes. I can't remember when this agreement was made. It was sometime in the last four years.
Q: And they've held to that most recent --
Bacon: We believe so, yes.
Q: Thank you.
Bacon: You're welcome.
Oh, wait. Let me clarify one thing. I was asked about retention challenges in the Air Force. It -- Air Force retention is not on target, and they probably will fall below their end strengths. Although recruiting is now taking place at above the targeted levels, they still have some retention problems.
The other services are generally doing well or better than expected on retention, and they think that they will likely meet or exceed their retention goals.
Q: Any ballpark --
Q: Any ballpark figure on the Air Force? How much will they fall below?
Bacon: No, not -- I mean, the Air Force can tell you. I don't have the figures here.
Q: And just to clarify one thing, you used the term 115 percent earlier on the retention.
Bacon: Yeah, that was recruiting.
Q: Oh, recruiting. I beg your pardon. Was that for the year, through July --
Bacon: No, that was for the month of July.
Q: For the month of July --
Bacon: That was for the month of July. Let me tell you that -- let me just give you these figures. Unfortunately, the latest month for which we have figures is July. We should have the August figures in the next week or so.
But as of -- I misread these figures, actually. As of July -- in the month of July, the Air Force was 154 percent above its recruiting goal. But for the year as a whole, as of July, they were only at 94 percent of their recruiting goal. So obviously, they have to continue to do what they did in July, which is to come in significantly above their recruiting targets, in order to meet their recruiting goal for the year. And they are confident that they will be able to do that.
The 115 percent figure I gave you was for all the services -- Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines -- and they were 150 (sic) percent -- all the services combined were 115 percent of their recruiting goal for July.
And as of the end of July, the -- all the services were at 99 percent of their annual goal. So they believe that they have enough contracts on hand -- enlistment contracts on hand to bring their recruiting up to at least 100 percent of their goal by the end of the year.
Q: Thank you.
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