Media Availability with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates En Route From Scott AFB, Ill.
SEC. GATES: I think the purpose of the trip really was to start from a fundamental principle of mine about leadership, and that is that when you make a tough or controversial decision, that it's critically important, and a gesture of respect, to go out and explain the play behind that decision to the people who are most affected by it. And so part of this was to explain. Part of it was a gesture of respect and confidence in them. And then I think part of that is also the chance just to give them the opportunity to ask questions.
I don't know what kind of priming if any was done, but there was no dearth of questions on any of the three sessions. But I felt like it really accomplished the objective of getting out there and seeing and being seen and having the opportunity to go through all this.
Clearly the decision to not continue cuts in the Air Force personnel went down very well in all three places. And I think there's a better understanding, and it also gave me an opportunity, both in the speech and in the Q&A, a better opportunity for me to spell out my views on the needs to balance the support for those who are in the war with the -- (inaudible) – forward with modernization programs.
I think, in some ways, that view is a caricature that I was all about the last war and I didn't care about the future and I didn't think there were any future threat and so on and so forth. That's obviously an extraordinary stretch.
But what I also made clear is in one sense the speech made clear that if we were to take care of these current problems -- (inaudible). So I guess that's -- (inaudible).
Q Geoff said that -- I think it was at Peterson -- that you were asked about the role of nuclear weapons in the modern environment. You made some comment about concern about terrorists getting a weapon from a state supplier and what the consequences of that would be.
SEC. GATES: I think there's no -- it's hard for me to imagine terrorists acquiring nuclear materials from other than a state. You know, we worried a lot about problems after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We now have 17 years' experience under our belt. I think the programs that we have worked in cooperation with the Russians, under Nunn-Lugar and so on, have been successful. They're not done, but keeping that up and helping them with the security of their facilities -- (inaudible).
But, no, he -- every senior leader, when you ask somebody, "What keeps you awake at night?" it's the thought of terrorists getting -- (inaudible) weapon of mass destruction -- (inaudible).
SEC. GATES: I think it certainly plays a part in deterring the states that might be a source for it. I'm not sure that it plays a role in dealing with the terrorists. They seem so eager to die for their cause.
Q What about beyond deterrence? If it were to happen, what would be the consequences?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think – I mean – the way we've always framed it is that the consequences for a state to unleash a weapon of mass destruction on the United States would be catastrophic. And, you know, we've been through this in the lead-up to the first Gulf War, and we never were explicit about it. We just basically said the consequences would be catastrophic. And it's best to leave it ambiguous.
Q (Inaudible.) During the investigation, did they uncover any other accidents or find any other accidents (inaudible) through the entire Air Force nuclear enterprise?
SEC. GATES: Not that I recall. No.
One other general point that I would make -- well, first, I should say I had hoped to spend a little more time with General Schwartz, but a desire to get us back and not end up in BWI or Philadelphia, led me to cut it short. But I congratulated him, talked to him a bit about both the opportunities and the challenges in front.
Talking to the senior commanders in the car and what little time I had with any of them, I think one of the assets that the new leadership of the Air Force will have going forward is I think a lot of these folks' pride has been offended. And several of them said to me, "We're better than this." And I think there is a real determination to show that and get on top of these problems very fast.
And that's why I'm encouraged that the Air Force already has a number of initiatives underway, and I encourage them to continue those, and then we'll lay them beside the Schlesinger recommendations, the Donald report, and the views of the new leadership and decide whether they go far enough, and where they do fine, and if not then we’ll just build on them. We’re not going to wait for 45 or 60 days to begin addressing these issues.
Q (Inaudible.) in terms of nuclear oversight that there are – Are there other places within the Defense establishment to look, like Strategic Command, or do you feel that Admiral Donald’s Report (inaudible) the problem?
SEC. GATES: You know, Admiral Donald’s report was focused quite specifically by my direction on the Air Force and on the two incidents that happened in the Air Force and what lessons we could draw from that. And one of the reasons for the second phase of the Schlesinger report -- (inaudible) -- is, in fact, to look across the entire Department of Defense to make sure that we don't have any lapses elsewhere.
STAFF: Guys, we have limited time, so let's mix it up. If you guys want to get in, get in.
Q (Inaudible.) What sort of feeling did you get from talking (inaudible)? What did they tell you, or did you have any interaction beyond the question and answer with some of them?
SEC. GATES: I really didn't -- we were on such a short time schedule, there really was no time for dialogue with the audiences.
Q Were you able to --
SEC. GATES: I could just tell -- I mean, the questions were thoughtful. They were serious. And those who questioned ranged from an airman to a major general. So it was really the full range, and they were good questions. And they were -- I would say they were very professional. There were a lot of questions about money and resources, that sort of thing.
Q (Inaudible.) It’s been more than a month since you announced this ISR task force (inaudible). Did anyone in the Air Force raise this issue (inaudible) Air Force should be doing more (inaudible)?
SEC. GATES: Yeah, we talked about that some. And the question really was -- probably the only question totally focused on that was, I think, at Peterson, where the question was asked, "How much do you think we need of this stuff?" And I said I didn't know the answer to that. That it's a matter for the commanders in the field and the providers of those capabilities to work together.
I did say that the extraordinary fusion of intelligence and operations has ended up creating an insatiable appetite for the information provided by these systems, and that that's why the demand has skyrocketed along with the sophistication of the operations. So that's one of the reasons why the demand really has grown so much. It's because of the way the stuff is being used and these capabilities are being used.
Q You said previously that getting some of these capabilities into theater was like “pulling teeth.”
SEC. GATES: Well, I was really talking, first of all, about all of the department. It wasn't just the Air Force. I made that comment at Maxwell, but it was trying to get people to think out of the box. For example, if we have "x" number of platforms we keep here in the United States for training purposes, have we rethought the way we train to see if one or two of the platforms could be sent into theater? So it was sort of rethinking the way we do business to see if there is a way to get more assets forward.
Q (Inaudible) with the progress in the ISR task force in making (inaudible)? You specifically set short deadlines for that. Have you met with the (inaudible)?
SEC. GATES: I had a second briefing day before yesterday.
SEC. GATES: Well, I think they have identified some of the areas where there are shortfalls, for example, in ground stations, and linguists; so figuring out -- so it's not just an airframes problem. It's aircrews. It's a processing challenge. And I think they made some headway in identifying some additional capabilities here in the U.S. and elsewhere.
SEC. GATES: Well, I don't want to get into it right now. But we can send forward to the theater, and I think they'll soon be going into the theater to see if they can help them work with the commanders out there to get more out of what they already have.
For example, one of the questions that we addressed and that I mentioned at Scott was if you've got a platform that's flying 20 hours a day, what keeps you from flying at 22 hours a day and giving yourself 10 percent more capability? And so looking, kind of going back from that, how do you squeeze more out of what you have?
STAFF: But you also add that ISR task force is being run by a former MacKenzie guy, so it's looking for a lot of efficiency.
SEC. GATES: Yeah, it's a process and efficiency kind of thing.
Q (Inaudible.) I understand that one of the things that you talked about was the political transition (inaudible). I was wondering if you could elaborate on what the issues are and how you see them (inaudible).
SEC. GATES: Well, I've asked the Defense Policy Board to look at this for me and to see what we can prepare in order to ensure a smooth transition. There are a couple of things that I've done. One is I've asked them to look at transition issues in two respects.
First of all, Mike Donley has been heading an outfit -- just from a purely administrative standpoint, how do you do the transition? So that's more a nuts-and-bolts kind of thing for the Department of Defense. But I’m really asking the DPB to look at issues, you know, the new secretary of Defense is going to have to know about and be ready to deal with on day one.
It's obviously Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, but -- (inaudible) -- Iran, North Korea, the FY '10 budget, ISR, this Air Force issue, and then what are some of the longer-range issues that may not be a crisis on day one, but he or she is going to have to start addressing pretty quickly. I haven’t gotten into that. They're actually doing that this month. They're doing all of this this month. So I'll get their recommendations.
One of the things that we talked about, I talked about with the board and that we’re -- that actually was touched on in the op-ed in the paper yesterday by Flournoy and Armitage was how can we -- is there anything we can do to work with the Congress in terms of accelerating the confirmation process so that we don't have empty seats at the Department of Defense at a time we're fighting two wars?
I've asked a lot of the folks at the Pentagon to be prepared to stay on, should they be asked, until a successor is confirmed, again, so we don't have a lot of empty seats on the civilian side of the government in the middle of a war. Now, that's obviously up to the new president, but I hope that they'll have at least a choice of having some continuity while the confirmation process goes forward so that a new secretary doesn't arrive and find that on the civilian side of the government he’s all alone. And so they're kind of working all of those different aspects of the issues because this is the first transition in wartime in 40 years. And I just want to make sure that we don't drop the baton in wartime.
STAFF: Let’s take one more. Tom you got one. Jamie, you’re OK?
Q My only question is, are you willing to be one of those who agrees to stay on to serve our nation in this time of need?
STAFF: I will do whatever is necessary for the good of the nation. (Laughter.)
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