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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Secretary of Defense William J. Perry

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry
March 18, 1996

Saturday, March 16, 1996

[This media activity takes place during Secretary Perry's visit to the


Dr. Perry: Last Saturday, just a week ago, almost this very hour, with the approval of the President, I signed the orders directing the deployment of the INDEPENDENCE battle group from Okinawa to patrolling just east of Taiwan. At the same time, I signed an order moving the deployment of the NIMITZ battle group from the Gulf of Arabia to join up with the INDEPENDENCE off of Taiwan.

But, because, we continue to have concerns in the Middle East, I also approved the order to have the GEORGE WASHINGTON carrier battle group move to the Mediterranean to relieve the NIMITZ in the Gulf of Arabia. And they will be there until this battle group -- the CARL VINSON

-- goes there to relieve them later this spring.

I tell you this story to illustrate that in this dangerous world in which we live, the importance of being able to project U.S. military force all around the world and especially the importance of the carrier battle groups representing that. But the power which we project is not just the capability of these magnificent ships, but also it is the quality of the people on the ships. That's what this exercise that we are conducting here today is all about. It is keeping our military personnel at the peak of readiness, the peak of their capabilities, so that when they are called to deploy, they do represent the finest military force in the world today.

We have that force, we intend to keep that capability, and the exercise which you are witnessing today is absolutely critical to being able to maintain this fighting capability, this high readiness.

Now, after those introductory comments, I'm prepared to take your questions.

Q: [Question about spending $80 million to improve flight control system for the F-14]

A: Let me comment first of all on the F-14; that I have reviewed, very recently, the comprehensive safety program and safety record of Naval aviation.

The first and the most important thing that I want to tell you from that review, is that the last three years -- `94, `95, and `96 -- have been the three safest years in the history of Navy aviation. So we are doing something right. But that is no basis for being complacent. We care, and care a lot, about every accident. And we investigate them exhaustively, as we are doing with the last three F-14 accidents.

One of the reasons why we maintain such a fine safety record, is that we have such a thorough record of investigating accidents. And learning from that -- and correcting as necessary -- both our procedures, training, and -- when appropriate -- the equipment.

One particular change that we will be making in the F-14, is introducing a digital flight control system to the F-14s. The purpose of the digital flight control system, will be to -- one of the purposes, I should say of the digital flight control system will be to prevent the pilot from making an unsafe or unauthorized maneuver. And so it does not put quite so much a burden on the pilot to remember what he cannot do, or should not do, under certain conditions.

We think that will be an improvement in the ongoing safety of the F-14s. I just would remind you that the operation -- the flight operation of an F-14 or an F-18 is exceedingly difficult and when in the middle of -- in particular -- in the middle of a combat operation or simulated combat operation, the crew is very, very heavily engaged. That's one of the reasons we want to bring as many computer-based digital assists to help in that attack.

I was just looking, talking to a pilot of the F-18 and many of those features have already been incorporated in the F-18. It is even more critical to have in the F-18, because that F-18C that we are just looking at, today, has only one crew member.

So it is -- we are introducing the digital flight control system. We will get the funds for that -- it is about $80 million -- by reprogramming money in Fiscal `96. The Navy has identified all of those funds. We have to get approval from Congress for the reprogramming. I do not anticipate any difficulty getting that approval.

Q: [Question concerning tensions between People's Republic of China and Taiwan]

A: What is not going on today, in my opinion, is a build-up to an attack on Taiwan. There has been a lot of speculation, a lot of hype about that in the media. I want to say very clearly, I do not believe that the Chinese have any intention of attacking Taiwan. And that what we are seeing is a military exercise. Now, it is a military exercise in which, quite clearly, besides training their own troops, they are trying to intimidate Taiwan.

I find that deplorable. I have told my colleagues that I deal with in China that I find it deplorable. But I do not confuse that with an assessment that this may be a prelude to an attack. I do not believe that. For one reason I don't believe that, is because the Chinese do not have the capability to launch an invasion of Taiwan. Taiwan is 100 miles away. It is well fortified, well defended, and the Chinese, while they have a formidable army, do not have much amphibious capability. They do not have the power projection capability -- some of which you are seeing demonstrated in the exercise that we are having here today.

And, therefore, I want to be clear then, that our deployment of two carrier battle groups there is not because we are expecting a military conflict. I am not going to forecast that right now. We will watch the situation very carefully and make that decision based on what we think is the appropriate need.

Q: [Question concerning U.S.-Mexico cooperation to police narcotics trafficking]

A: We have had underway now, for several months, discussions between the U.S. Department of Defense and the Mexican Department of Defense on various ways of cooperating, some of which would include cooperating in reducing narco-trafficking. But that's by no means the only or even the most important part of what our cooperation would be. I want to be very clear that in Mexico, just as in the United States, the problem of controlling narco-trafficking is not a responsibility of the military. In the United States, it is the responsibility of the law enforcement agencies and the role of the military is a supportive role. We can provide reconnaissance or surveillance information. We can provide support in training. We can provide some equipment, such as the ground radars in tracking airplanes.

We have offered that same kind of support to the Mexican Government. Ultimately, this will be their decision -- the decision of the Mexican Government -- as to the extent to which they want to take advantage of the kind of support that we are offering.

Q: [Inaudible]

A: We have simply offered this support and, to my knowledge, they have not made the decision yet on the extent to which they want to make use of that support, that's still an ongoing discussion.

Q: [Inaudible]

A: When I visited Mexico, a few months ago, I offered cooperation in many different areas, including cooperation and support on narco- trafficking. We did not discuss at that time specific programs, and we did not make any agreements or arrangements for doing that. I just wanted to let them know that the same kind of support that U.S. military is offering to our law enforcement agencies, we will be willing to make available to them -- and they have had that under consideration.

Q: [Question concerning whether F-14 aircraft is under powered]

A: When I was the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, we were having very substantial engine problems both with the F-14 with the TF-30 engine, and with the F-16 and the F-15 with F-100 engines. They were so serious. We were at the time -- this was back in the 70s -- considering developing new engines for them; which would have been an enormously difficult undertaking. We decided instead that we could make upgrades and improvements in them. And did that in the late 70s and have been improving them since that time.

The engines in the later models of the F-14 are entirely adequate for the purpose. The engines in the F-14As have been improved so that they are also effective. They are not the engine we would have put in the airplane from the beginning if we had had a more powerful engine design then, but the F-14A engine is up to its task and it is still represented -- the

F-14A, with its current engine -- still represents certainly one of the most effective fighters in the world today.

Q: [Question concerning content of message to People's Republic of China]

A: Well, let me say first of all, we always have a military presence in the western Pacific. We are a western Pacific power. The purpose of our projecting power in that area is not simply tied to a particular exercise, or a particular mission; the presence of U.S. military forces in the western Pacific has preserved the security and stability of that area for decades now. All of the nations in the region appreciate that. And we are -- the message that we are sending then is that the United States has a national interest in the security and stability of the western Pacific region. We have a powerful military force there to help us carry out our national interests. And we have complete freedom to move that military force within international waters to make that point.

Q: [Question concerning U.S.-Mexico cooperation]

A: We have a whole set of cooperative programs either underway or under plan with Mexico today. They include a program of exchange of officers -- which program is increasing this year and will be increased again next year -- which allows Mexican officers to come to our military schools in the United States for training. And also U.S. officers, on exchange basis, going to Mexico for training. This is one of the most effective and important ways of having two militaries learn to work together and communicate with each other.

We have proposed, we have suggested to them that we can conduct joint exercises -- naval exercises, ground exercises -- and they have that under consideration now and I believe that there will be certainly joint naval exercises conducted in the next year or so. We have offered also to cooperate in the areas of weapon systems development and production. All of these things are being considered and will be discussed when the Mexican defense minister visits the United States, and he will visit me next month. We will also have a meeting next month of the U.S.-Mexican bilateral working group, which is designed to specifically formulate programs of cooperation in defense.


Thank you very much.

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