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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
March 20, 1997 3:30 PM EDT
National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California]

Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon.

I was going to say, "Today, I have seen the future of warfare," but I should say, "Today, we all have seen the future of warfare."

George Patton trained in this area before World War II. And, now, the Army is combining the tactics of General Patton with the technology of David Packard and Bill Gates to give the commanders the tools for victory. They're going to be able to locate the enemy, day or night, and strike it with swift and decisive force.

The Army's ability to use information to dominate future battles will give the United States a new key to victory, I believe, for years, if not generations to come.

Rommel said that the modern Army commander must be able to turn the whole structure of his thinking inside out. Change of this magnitude doesn't occur easily. The Army is working very hard to change the concept into reality.

Soldiers and software designers have been working side by side for months to write programs that make off-the-shelf technology work on the battlefield. This new technology has to be accompanied by the type of rigorous training that we have witnessed here today.

The commanders who won DESERT STORM trained at Fort Irwin, where the opposing force always tried to make the scrimmage much tougher than the game. I've said many times before that our military superiority depends on good people, good training, and modern equipment -- I've seen all three at the National Training Center here today.

I'm open to your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what do you think is the implication of what you observed here for the entire military of the next century?

A: I think what you're seeing here is a revolution in military warfare. We've had the age-old expression that knowledge is power, and absolute knowledge is absolute power. What we're witnessing now is the transformation of the level of information through as broad and as absolute as one can conceive of it today. So, the actual domination of the information world will put us in a position to maintain superiority over any other force for the foreseeable future.

This is an experimental training program, as such. The lessons that we learn from this type of experiment can be broadened to all services across the spectrum. We have a combined military in any event -- the integration of the Air Force, the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, all of this will be combined ultimately, and we'll use this technology in the combined force.


So, I think we talk about the future, the future is the United States as far as this capability is concerned. I'm not aware of any other country that has this capability, or even has this opportunity to examine in this kind of experimental basis the kind of technology that will give us this edge.

So, we look to the future. The future is as Toeffler says, "Unless you tame technology, you will encounter future shock." We're not only taming technology, we are turning technology into not future shock, but future security. That's taking place through this type of experimental program.

Q: Mr. Secretary, are you at all concerned that you may have too much information here to work with? Is there the likelihood, danger, of micromanaging what goes on in the field because you've got all of this information coming in?

A: I think whenever you start the initial phases of a program like this, it may appear to be too much information, but it's the managing of information that will allow the warfighters of the future to be able to react quickly to integrate that information. It may look like information overload at this point, but we're at the very beginning of this phase. Within a very short period of time, I'm confident that we'll be able to manage this information in a very satisfactory way to give the warfighters the capability of looking at any spot -- at any time, night or day, to pick out enemy forces, friendly forces, combined forces -- and make determinations which will give us victory on any given battlefield.

Q: There were a number of technologies involved here today. What's your view of which ones seem to be performing best and which ones might need more work?

A: That's beyond my capability in a six-hour period of time to make that kind of assessment. That's exactly why we have the contractors who are here, the professionals, the evaluators, testers, professionals to make the kind of judgment in terms of what the system is working, what needs to be improved. We're finding, obviously, that you will find failures from time to time, and that's why this is such a unique experiment. By having the companies who manufacture the systems and the software; to be able to pull that software off the shelf, find out if there is a glitch, an error, something that needs to be corrected, to do it in a very short period of time. They will then make an assessment in terms of which systems are the ones that need to be perfected and which ones need to be simply let go. That's something that's beyond my capability.

Q: Do you come away from here a believer to the point that you'll make sure that it's totally funded in your FY99 budget, even if you have to give up some other things, or the jury's still out as to what its worth to the Army and the rest of the military?

A: I think with any type of futuristic system, you have to say we are proceeding with great optimism, and a lot will depend upon how much progress we make in the coming years. I would say to anyone who comes here and sees the potential for the integration of this type of information, will come away very enthusiastic, saying, "This is the future." There's no turning back.

A quote from Jim Croce talked about, "you can't stuff time in a bottle," you can't stuff technology in a bottle, either. So, the technology is here, it will be out there, and we should be the ones to take advantage of it and we are doing that. I think we're doing it on an accelerated basis. We're seeing an exponential growth in capability of understanding how this technology can be used in a warfighting scenario. I think there's no turning back from that. We will place emphasis on research, development, and look to the future. That's why we're trying to project, as best we can, to look over the horizon to the year 2010 -- 2015 is stretching it perhaps a bit -- but certainly by looking at 2010, what we saw today, I think, is simply an example of what's to come. All that's past is a prologue, all that's present is simply prologue as well. We are stepping very rapidly into the future.

Q: [inaudible]

A: I'm a very strong supporter of technology.

Q: Could you give us your view on the Lake nomination? What does it say about the nomination process in the Senate?

A: I'm disappointed, obviously. I know Tony Lake. I think he would have done a fine job. It says that it's a very difficult process that one has to go through today for confirmation proceedings. I think he was entitled to a fair consideration, and to have the hearings set over a reasonable period of time. I think any time you have lengthy, drawn out hearings on any nominee, the chances of that nominee surviving are more difficult. So, I think for all nominees, whatever the position might be -- I saw that during John Tower's nomination, as well. The name was out there in the public for a long period of time, long delays on hearings, information coming from raw FBI files, and you can see that very few people can survive that kind of scrutiny.

So, I hope that the process will change in the future. I think there's probably a broad sentiment for that in the Senate. Something has to be done about shortening-up the process and perhaps tightening the process itself.

Q: Did you think Senator Shelby was out to get Mr. Lake?

A: [inaudible] to get Mr. Lake to send any kind of a message. It was not his motivation to send messages. I think he had serious concerns about the quality of information that was coming in through NSC; the lack of some management over that information, being unaware of things. I think there obviously was, perhaps, some philosophical questions in his mind, but I don't believe -- based on the statement that I saw Senator Shelby make -- that that was going to be the basis for his challenge to Tony Lake. Those were issues that were raised, but I don't think they would have been disqualifying on the part of, certainly, in Senator Shelby's mind. I just think the process takes too long. I think that the longer it goes on and again, the focus on the raw FBI files, I've seen that take place, and it's something that most people would not want to go through.

No citizen would look forward to having raw data, which I have equated from time to time as raw sewage, that is collected, that goes into this process where people who are unidentified, they remain anonymous, they're not under oath, they're not subject to cross-examination, so, whatever statement a person wants to give, it goes in the "file" -- unexamined, unchallenged, unscrutinized. It's simply in the file. That kind of information is not something that we ought to be setting precedents for as far as making it public or having wide dissemination. The process ought to be that that information is collected, it should be looked at under very careful guidelines and scrutiny. Certainly, the chairman and vice chairman of the committee ought to have access to that, but in terms of wide dissemination of that information, I think that it's a prescription for damaging the character of anyone who would go through that process.

Q: What kind of time limit would you favor?

A: I think it should be a relatively short timeframe. I think when we're talking about a nominee being considered over a period of three months, it's too long. I think one should be vetted -- once the name is submitted for formal consideration -- within a month, six weeks. That kind of a timeframe would be adequate in my judgment. I think the people that have to go through three or four months, that's probably asking too much.

Q: We have been assuring Russian leaders, who consistently express their opposition to NATO's enlargement, that this newer, larger Western alliance will not pose an offensive threat to Moscow. To support this thesis, we've been citing the drawdown of American forces in Europe [inaudible]. But the technology that we've been observing here at Fort Irwin will significantly enhance the offensive capability of the United States Army, and arguably make a smaller force more potent.

How do you expect the Russians to respond?

A: We hope that a smaller force will be more lethal in its capabilities, and our new systems will be more lethal. The real question will be how are they stationed or where are they stationed, where are our forces? We made a representation, for example, when Mr. Gorbachev said that a united Germany could not possibly be part of NATO. We said a united Germany is going to be part of NATO and we can structure our forces in a way that will not present an offensive threat to you. The same thing is true with respect to an enlarged NATO. We can make, certainly, arrangements whereby our forces -- NATO forces -- would not pose an offensive threat. Surely, when you're talking about the former Soviet Union -- Russia, as it is today -- they still have between 20,000 and 30,000 nuclear weapons in their inventory. We're not about to attack a country that has that kind of a nuclear capability. And, we have, as we've said, no intent, no plans and no reason to even consider stationing nuclear weapons on the new accessions, the new territories, the countries that would enter into NATO.

We're doing our best to show them how NATO has been downsized, how the U.S. forces have been downsized in Europe, how those forces are configured, and an arrangement that we can make with them through a NATO/Russia charter. That is to say, we can have a bilateral relationship between NATO and Russia, which will also integrate their forces in some ways in the future, well into the future, as we consider that. We're going to have a political relationship with that NATO/Russian charter to give them an opportunity to at least present their viewpoints. As Secretary Albright said, they would have a voice but not a veto.

But, we take into account their considerations or their concerns. At some future time we hope to build upon a relationship between SFOR and the Russian troops who are now serving in SFOR to say that we can perhaps build some kind of another arrangement with them as well.

I think what we have to do is point out, as I've tried to do, saying, "Who would have thought five years ago that Russian soldiers would be serving side-by- side with NATO forces in Europe?" So, anything is possible, and we think as long as we have a positive relationship with the Russians that this relationship, this enlargement can take place without any offensive threat, posing an offensive threat. We want to address their legitimate concerns, their legitimate anxieties. We do not want to yield in any way to their illegitimate anxieties or fears that are being generated by, perhaps, some of those who are striving for political advantage in Russia.

Q: Regarding Zaire. We understand that an assessment team is going into Brazzaville. And, I'm wondering, can you tell us about what the mission of that team is and why they are going to Brazzaville and not to Kinshasa?

A: Well, if there's to be an evacuation of American citizens, that would be the easiest route, going out through Brazzaville. So, we're going to make an assessment in terms of what needs to be done -- if there should be an evacuation request coming from our ambassador. So, the team is going there to make some kind of assessment for contingent plans for an evacuation.

Q: Therefore it wouldn't be a permissive environment to out of Kinshasa? I mean, the situation is that bad in Zaire, right now?

A: We're looking at all options. It could be permissive, it could be non-permissive. We have to take in the full range of possibilities. Right now, there's been no such request or assessment made that would be anything less than a permissive environment.

Press: Thank you very much.

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