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Press Conference with Secretary Gates From Ft. Greely, Alaska

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
June 01, 2009

Q     (In progress.)  Also, on -- management of some parts of the program, do you have any comment on that?  Were you briefed on that?

 

                SEC. GATES:  I'm not -- I'm not familiar -- I haven't been briefed on -- on any management problems associated with it.  Most of the -- most of the dollars -- part of the problem is people are look at this as a dollar amount, rather than as the programs themselves.  And we have significantly plussed-up the dollars for terminal intercept and the THAAD and SM-3 systems that provide our capability for taking care of our troops in the field and our ships and theater defense.

 

                We have this capability and, as I said, we'll put about a billion dollars in the FY '10 budget for enhancing the capabilities up here.  And we continue the research on boost phase.

 

                The issues really have focused more on the changes that I've made with respect to the boost phase.  And that -- most of the dollars are accounted for by three programs.  And they are programs, in my view, where the procurement programs got way out in front of the technology and of the operational concepts.  We will continue to invest in boost phase technology.  We will continue to work that, and when we have a proven technology then we'll procure it and deploy it.  But I don't see any point in continuing programs in a procurement sense that -- that we're never going to deploy.  And the 2nd airborne laser is a perfect example.

 

                We're keeping the first one, but the operational concept doesn't work because to be of any value, for example against Iran, that 747 would have to orbit inside Iran.  Don't think they're going to allow that.  Same way with North Korea.

 

                So we want to continue that directed energy research, that's why we're keeping the first airborne laser.  Kinetic energy interceptor -- again, it was a five-year program, it was stretching to 14, no work on the third stage, no flight test, no work on the warhead, significant problems.

 

                So those are the kinds of decisions that we're trying to make.  It doesn't mean we think any less of missile defense.  As I told the Congress, I am a very strong supporter of missile defense.  But I think we need to put the money where we can actually get some value out of it. 

 

                Q     You spoke about geometry.  Part of the geometry is having another set of missile silos in the Czech Republic and radar in Poland.  What's happening with that? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, it's still open. 

 

                First of all, because of the statutes that the Congress has passed, we couldn't break ground until, in any event, until both countries ratify both the agreements, for the radars and the interceptors, and ratify the Status of Forces Agreement. 

 

                With the change in government, in the Czech Republic, I think, that's potentially problematic now.  But we are serious about talking with the Russians and participating perhaps -- with the Russians, the Poles, the Czechs and ourselves -- in a program that would allow us to put radars in Russia, to have the interceptors in Poland, perhaps radars also in the Czech Republic, if their government agrees to that. 

 

                So I think that's not a closed chapter at all.  But I think it's still a work in progress. 

 

                Q     Is that necessary to protect the East Coast of the United States? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Actually the protection that it would provide, for the continental United States, is pretty limited. 

 

                (Cross talk.) 

 

                Q     Are your arguments, for your changes in missile defense, making traction on Capitol Hill? 

 

                And if I could ask the senator, he was initially critical of them.  Are you persuaded by what Secretary Gates has argued? 

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, first of all, I don't know.  And we probably won't know until we get to the endgame on the budget.  But I think we have a robust program.  And I'm hopeful that the Congress will be supportive.  The truth of the matter is, what's been interesting to me is that in the past, there have been a number of skeptics, of missile defense, on Capitol Hill.  And I haven't heard much out of those folks lately. 

 

                So one good thing about this discussion is, it's brought a lot of people out in front, in support of missile defense, which I think is a very good thing. 

 

                And I think having a broad, bipartisan support for building a robust missile defense, for the United States, at a minimum, to take care of tactical and theater needs but also against a limited intercontinental ballistic missile threat, I think, is all a very good thing.  And I hope that's the way it works out. 

 

                Q     (Off mike.) 

 

                SENATOR MARK BEGICH (D-AK):  I'll just respond. 

 

                I think we've had very good discussions with the secretary, bipartisan discussions, about missile defense.  Part of it is, as the secretary talked about -- (off mike) -- and there's a sizable amount in this budget to do that. 

 

                But -- (inaudible) -- how we're going to debate it.  This will be a discussion -- (inaudible) -- I think we're having good discussion, let's say that.  And I think, as the secretary said, this is a 2010 budget.  It's the long term that we're interested in, to make sure we have the full complement of what we're going to do for defense for our country.  So we're having good discussion with the secretary at this point.

 

                STAFF:  Thank you very much, everybody.

 

                Q     I just want to ask about how much -- how much has the North Korea nuclear test complicated your attempt to cut the missile defense budget?  I mean, to what extent has this made your life difficult?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I think that their behavior has -- has certainly alarmed people.  I guess I would have to say, and maybe it's a reflection of my past, their behavior hasn't surprised me.  And so I think -- if anything, I think what the North Koreans have done has won more adherents to the importance of our having at least a limited missile defense capability, in the Congress.

 

                Q     You don’t think their weapon program is a threat to us, to the United States?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Not yet, no.

 

                STAFF (?):  Thank you all.

 

                Q     Thank you, sir.

 

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