Tuesday, March 12, 1996, 1:30 p.m.
[Also participating in today's briefing: Colonel Doug Kennett, USAF, Director for Defense Information]
Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon. I have no announcements so I'm ready to take your questions. Charlie?
Q: Mike, has NIMITZ left yet for Taiwan, and has the GW gone to through the Suez or they preparing to do it now?
A: Charlie, I'm going to stay away from play by plays on the ship movements but I will give you kind of, once again, the overall perspective of what is going to happen. You know of course, the INDEPENDENCE battle group is presently operating near Taiwan, and that battle group includes the cruiser BUNKER HILL, which is actually as of late last week and still as of today, is south of Taiwan. INDEPENDENCE itself is operating with O'BRIEN as the ship was late last week as well as the destroyer HEWITT and the frigate McCLUSKY. So, those ships are on scene.
Now, what we have said is that, by the end of next week, the NIMITZ battle group, which has been operating in the Persian Gulf area, will be moving into the western Pacific and that battle group is composed of the aircraft carrier NIMITZ as well as the cruiser PORT ROYAL, the destroyers CALLAGHAN and OLDENDORF, the frigate FORD, the submarine PORTSMOUTH, and then there are the underway replenishment ships WILLIAMETTE and SHASTA.
Before NIMITZ departs the area of operations of the Central Command commander, and you probably have maps that we passed out here about a month ago that shows what that area is, before NIMITZ departs that area, the aircraft carrier GEORGE WASHINGTON, which is presently operating in the central Mediterranean but is heading in an eastward direction, will have passed into the Central Command area of operation. And again, I'm not going to tell you exact dates when that's going to occur, but this is a carefully orchestrated move on the part of a lot of units.
Q: Mike, you already said that it would be in the Pacific by the end of next week. Would you say NIMITZ would be there by next week?
A: Next week.
Q: Will -- can you tell us, will the NIMITZ, do you expect the NIMITZ will depart by this weekend or within a matter of days?
A: Again, I don't want to pinpoint, but it will be after or as the GEORGE WASHINGTON is moving into the Central Command area of responsibility. The NIMITZ will be departing that area.
Q: Well, the only way it could do it is come down to the Suez Canal and into the Red Sea if it's moving eastward in the Med.
A: The GEORGE WASHINGTON, that's correct.
Q: I beg your pardon.
A: That's right. The NIMITZ will be departing at the other side of the Central Command area of responsibility, which is in the Indian Ocean.
Q: We can assume that there will not be many delay of the GW's move, that it will move quickly through the Suez Canal and into there?
A: That's correct.
Q: Captain Doubleday, some U.S. officials have said that these ships are intended to send a clear signal. I'm a little fuzzy of what that signal is. Could you clarify exactly the signal that these ships...
A: The signal that these ships are sending is one of precaution and reassurance: precaution because we want to make sure that there is no miscalculation on the part of Beijing as to our very firm interest in that region of the world; reassuring because we want our friends in the area to know that we have a large stake in the stability and the peace in that region.
Q: Well, are you saying then that the signaling is a willingness of the United States to come to the defense of Taiwan if attacked?
A: They are signaling again the fact that we want to make sure that there is no miscalculation on the part of the Chinese as to our interest in that area and we want to reassure our friends in the region that we will maintain an interest in both the peace and the stability in that region.
Q: Well again, will the United States use those ships to come to the defense of Taiwan if China attacks Taiwan?
A: Say that one more time.
Q: Will the United States use those ships to defend Taiwan if China attacks Taiwan?
A: Charlie, I am not going to get into hypotheticals. I think you've heard every senior administration official address that issue and that we would view with very grave concern any attempt on the part of the Chinese to settle the issue of one China with Taiwan by any other than peaceful means. But I also want to point out, Charlie, that there has been absolutely no indication that the Chinese have any intention of doing anything other than settling their differences by peaceful means.
Q: Then why are two carrier groups needed?
A: Well, again, I think you have seen many administration officials say that we want to make sure that the Chinese don't miscalculate our interest in that region and our intentions. So, we are going to signal by the move of these ships our interest, and hopefully that will communicate, in a way that words cannot, exactly how strong our interests are.
Q: Mike, you may have covered this before I came in, and if so, I apologize. The makeup of the INDEPENDENCE carrier battle group. And also what does China have? What does she have on the water, underneath, and in the air? Have you covered that?
A: I have not covered that nor will I cover that. What I can do though is tell you what the United States has. I'll go through the INDY one I have gone through earlier. I will run-down on all of the ships. But the INDY battle group has been operating in the international waters basically between Okinawa and Taiwan for, oh, almost a week now.
INDEPENDENCE is operating with the destroyer O'BRIEN. The cruiser in that battle group which is USS BUNKER HILL is actually positioned south of Taiwan and the destroyer HEWITT and the frigate McCLUSKY have also joined the INDEPENDENCE battle group in that area.
Q: Can you tell us anything just in a general nature about what -- whether or not these live fire exercises announced by China, in fact, began today and on what kind of scale?
A: The only thing I can do at this point for you, Jamie, is to confirm that indeed it appears that the exercises have commenced. I can't go any further than that at this point.
Q: Can you even say whether they were approximately the scale which China announced, or were they affected at all by bad weather or any indications?
A: The only thing that I will say on that is that at the start of the exercise -- not surprising -- the scale of the exercise was limited.
Q: Forgive my naiveté. But why won't you share with us what we could potentially be up against what China has in the water?
A: Well, at this point, Ivan, I think it would be premature to say what the scope of the exercise is going to be because the exercise hasn't occurred yet.
Q: But we know what's out there. We know what's been offshore there for a week or so. Do they have many submarines? What kind of air cover or, you know, what kind of missiles are they firing? I mean, just a -- we don't have to do it here. But can you arrange maybe a general --
A: Ivan, I think we ought to wait until the exercise has taken place and then we'll see if we can't get you a little run-down. Yes, Mark?
Q: Is it true that the U.S. wanted to move up the Air Force's deployment to Jordan which is now scheduled for mid-April, wanted to move it up earlier and that, in fact, they could not get diplomatic clearance from Jordan?
A: Well, I know that there has been some discussion and there was some discussion about having the air expeditionary force move earlier, but ultimately the decision was made to use the carrier assets instead so that AEF deployment is presently on track as we announced it last week.
Q: But, did we ask Jordan to --
A: I can't get into that.
Q: Can you comment on whether the --
A: Let me just get.
Q: Yes. The Taiwanese officials say that NIMITZ will sail through the Taiwan Straits approximately on the day of the elections which is March the 23rd. Could you confirm that?
A: No, I won't confirm the course that the ship is going to take. I will say though that in the past there have been carriers that have gone through there. In fact, NIMITZ was one of them, but I'm not trying to plot out the course that NIMITZ is going to take this time.
Q: You didn't list the submarine with the INDEPENDENCE battle group.
A: That's correct. I listed a submarine with the NIMITZ battle group, but I did not list one with the INDEPENDENCE battle group.
Q: Can you comment on the Washington Times report this morning about the Pentagon's evaluation of the Chinese military's capability in the next few years?
A: No, I saw that report. But, I'm not in a position to offer anything further.
Q: Is there a clear date which the GEORGE WASHINGTON will transit the Suez Canal which is a public matter?
A: There may be, but I think normally those declarations are made very close to the time that the transit occurs. So I'm not going to announce it in advance.
Q: Aside from the three missiles that were launched on Friday, have there been any other missile tests conducted in the Straits of Taiwan?
A: No, there has not.
Q: Can you tell us whether or not these exercises have disrupted, or to what extent they've disrupted, shipping or air traffic in the region?
A: To my knowledge, the impact on shipping and air traffic in the region has been minor. That is to say some commercial shipping has had to be rerouted because of the areas that have been designated for the live firing and for the missile exercises. But for the most part, the commercial shipping and the commercial aircraft movements have gone on unabated.
Q: You said the BUNKER HILL is south of Taiwan. Have the United States any ships in the Straits of Taiwan?
A: No, we have none in the Strait.
Q: Three missiles, Mike, were they Silkworms or something else and what was the evaluation of -- did they all fire?
A: My understanding is they -- all of them were --
Colonel Kennett: M-9s.
A: -- M-9s.
Q: Medium range?
A: The range is about 600 kilometers.
Q: Congressman [Senator] Frank Murkowski said yesterday that he was told by U.S. intelligence officials that one of these missiles entered a Taiwanese air space. Can you tell us now if that's correct?
A: No, I can't at this point. Yes?
Q: Did you discuss the sending of the NIMITZ to the Taiwan area to the -- Did you tell the Chinese about this? Did you give them any prior notice?
A: To my knowledge, there was no prior notification to the Chinese other than the fact that the units are going to be operating in that region of the world. There's really -- really nothing that should affect their exercises.
Q: But did you tell the Taiwanese?
A: The Taiwanese? I don't know that we communicated that to the Taiwanese either.
Q: Does the United States have any military personnel at all on Taiwan itself?
A: I'd have to take that question. I am not aware of any, but I frankly, I don't know the answer to that. Let's see if we can get you an answer.
Q: Can you tell us or could you take the question of when Taiwan is suppose to take delivery of U.S. F-15s [F-16s]?
A: I'll have to take that one too. I don't know the answer to that.
Q: I was wondering if you might be willing to take a simple one. In today's Washington Times report, as referred to earlier, there was a statement made that China had 12 long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States. Could you just tell us if that's an accurate U.S. estimate of China's capabilities?
A: Let me see if we can get you something on that one too. I believe that it's not correct.
Q: Did those missiles --
A: Just one second. Ivan.
Q: The TRA, Taiwan Relations Act of `79 which apparently is the current document. I'm a little cloudy. State at least implied that if there is any aid to Taiwan it will be in the form of weapons, hardware, tactics, intelligence, but not U.S. personnel. Am I correct in that or incorrect in that? Because if we have two carrier battle groups over there, it seems logical if there's any kind of activity, it would involve U.S. personnel.
A: Again, Ivan, I think it's inappropriate to discuss scenarios or to discuss in any kind of detail contingencies that might have to be put into play later. What we have said is that we would view with very grave concern any kind of action on the part of the Chinese which ran contrary to their stated goal of settling the one China issue with Taiwan by peaceful means.
Q: Did those three missiles that were fired last week the M-9 missiles, did they land in the designated target areas in international waters?
A: Yes, they did.
Press: Thank you.