GEORGE LITTLE: I have just a brief announcement, and that's to make you all aware, if you don't already know, that today -- excuse me, this month is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. The secretary later today will be issuing a videotape message to the force, and he will also issue a written statement.
With that, I'll throw it over to you.
Q: George, I wonder if you could, sort of, sort out some of the movements, deployments and so forth with regard to North Korea, the Korean Peninsula. For example, could you explain what's happening with the Decatur? Is it just transiting that AOR? Or is it being held to, you know, perform some -- some activities or missions in that area? And also that sea-based radar, what's happening with that?
MR. LITTLE: There is a lot of reporting that I would like to clear up surrounding all of this. And let me start with the sea-based or SBX radar. The SBX is undergoing scheduled sea trials. They are under -- the SBX is underway. They're undergoing semiannual system checks. Decisions about further deployments have not been made to this point.
On the Decatur and the McCain, they have arrived at predetermined positions in the western Pacific, where they will be poised to respond to any missile threats to our allies or our territory.
As you know, our PACOM commander regularly deploys a mix of assets in the region to respond to missile threats, and we're cognizant of the missile threats that are always there for North Korea.
Q: On the point about the Decatur that I wanted to press you on was, as I understand it, it was en route from the Fifth Fleet AOR to its homeport. Is it then being held up for this mission you just described? Or does it just happen to be passing through?
MR. LITTLE: It's arrived at a predetermined location in the western Pacific to perform a missile defense mission. I would note that there was some reporting yesterday that our missile-guided -- our guided missile destroyers would be stationed off the North Korean coast. Let me make it clear that that's incorrect, but these ships are in the western Pacific.
Q: So was that a yes to my question? I mean, is it -- is it just -- it's being -- being remissioned then or -- it's not being -- it's being held within that AOR to perform this mission instead of going home?
MR. LITTLE: It's going to be -- it's going to be at this location in the western Pacific to perform a missile defense mission as assigned by our combatant commander.
Q: And just to follow on that, neither of those are part of Foal Eagle, correct?
MR. LITTLE: That's correct.
Q: Okay. And how far can you say are they off the peninsula? If you don't want to say that they're off the North Korean coast, what, how do we best describe their location, then? Because the Pacific is pretty big, as you know.
MR. LITTLE: Your geography skills are incredible, Justin.
I don't mean to be unspecific, but we don't normally talk about the precise locations of our ships. But I'm trying to give you a general sense of where they are and where they aren't. We regularly conduct missile defense missions, sea-based and land-based, in the Asia-Pacific region. That's for obvious reasons. And we will continue to perform these missions regardless of what tensions may or may not be at a given time.
Q: On the sea-based radar, you said it's a systems check. Is it available to track a missile should there be a launch? Is it part of the missile defense system right now? Or is it just -- is this kind of fixing it?
MR. LITTLE: I'm not going to get into further details on the SBX. My colleagues elsewhere can probably assist you with the technical details on this particular platform, but it is undergoing a semi-annual systems check and is underway for trials. Jenny?
Q: So you said you regularly conduct missile defense missions.
MR. LITTLE: Sure.
Q: Does that mean the Decatur and McCain are on a regular defense missile mission?
MR. LITTLE: I'm simply saying that they are in a missile defense mission right now. Missile defense is an important priority for us in the Asia-Pacific and elsewhere. And we are postured to protect our allies' and our own interests in this region and other regions of the world.
I'm not going to get into the specifics of these missions, except to say that they are part of the constellation of missile defense capabilities that are available to our combatant commander in the Pacific.
Q: Are those the only two guided missile destroyers that are potentially available at the moment? Or are there other ones that we don't know about that might be en route or are in the region?
MR. LITTLE: I'm really going to leave it here. I'm really not going to discuss the mix of our assets, sea- or land-based, in the region, but I did want to clarify some of the reporting that I saw yesterday.
Q: (off mic) Fitzgerald. My understanding is --
MR. LITTLE: Pardon me? The Fitzgerald?
Q: Yeah, Aegis class guided missile destroyer. My understanding was it was off the coast -- off the Korean Peninsula. Is that not the case?
MR. LITTLE: Let me get you some details on the Fitzgerald.
Q: If the North Korean is a seriously provocative threat to the United States, is there any -- do you have any plan to preemptive strike North Korea?
MR. LITTLE: Let me be very clear that the United States position is the -- we want peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. For over 60 years, we've had an alliance with South Korea, and top priority of that alliance is to ensure peace and stability on the peninsula and in the region.
We hope to preserve peace and stability, and we hope that others seek to do the same.
Q: George, the counter-provocation agreement between U.S. Forces Korea and the ROK military -- (inaudible) -- announced with quite a bit of unusual fanfare, I'm a little confused. Is that counter-provocation against the North, or is it to control South Korean overly aggressive escalation, or both?
MR. LITTLE: The new counter-provocation plan formalizes bilateral consultations to coordinate efforts between the United States and the Republic of Korea to respond to DPRK provocations. The plan is led by the Republic of Korea Joint Chiefs of Staff and is supported by our USFK commander, who as you know wears three hats -- the U.S. hat, the Combined Forces Command hat, and the U.N. hat. And this plan improves our combined readiness posture and allows immediate and decisive response to any North Korean provocation.
Q: So just to follow up if I might, would it be fair to assume then that, you know, some of the previous provocations were not met with robust responses by the South. That was politically unpopular. The artillery shelling of the island was kind of a paltry response. When the warship was sank, nothing was done. Does this counter-provocation deal mean that if North Korea does this type of provocation short of war, that they should expect a response?
MR. LITTLE: I'm not going to speculate on what we may or may not do in the context of a future North Korean provocation such as the ones that you describe or talk about the specifics of the plan, which is classified. But we do have options at our disposal to respond effectively to any North Korean provocation. We have plans in place with our South Korean allies, and naturally we hope never have to put any of these plans into place. The goal -- let me reiterate -- is to protect peace and stability on the peninsula.
Q: George, considering the mutual defense treaty that exists between China and North Korea, have there been -- have there been any communications between this building -- any kind of consultation between this building and the Chinese military?
MR. LITTLE: There, to my knowledge, has not been any form of consultation between the Department of Defense and the Chinese military to this point. If that changes, I will certainly let you know.
Q: Can I follow on China? There are some reports out of Russia today that China has started mobilizing military forces around the Korean Peninsula, around -- closer -- moving forces closer to its border with North Korea. Have you heard of any unusual Chinese military movements in the region?
MR. LITTLE: I've seen those reports, but I would refer you to the Chinese military or the Chinese government for comment.
Q: So you don't -- you have or you haven't heard about that kind of stuff?
MR. LITTLE: I've seen press reporting.
Q: (off mic) you haven't seen anything official on it?
MR. LITTLE: I have not seen anything beyond the press reporting that I could talk about, and I would refer you to the government of China.
Q: The U.S. Forces Korea website has been offline for a few hours now. Do you have any idea -- I mean, what's the reason for that? Is it malfunction or a cyber attack or --
MR. LITTLE: My understanding at this point is that it's a simple hardware problem. If that changes, we'll let you know. USFK is obviously in a good position to address that particular issue.
Q: Can we go back to the SBX radar? Because I'm a little confused about -- is -- so it has nothing to do with this other -- the other two ships that are there on these predetermined missile defense? It is no way involved in any kind of North Korea deterrence or --
MR. LITTLE: At this stage, it's undergoing sea trials, period.
Q: But what does that mean?
MR. LITTLE: No decisions have been made about its future deployments.
Q: So -- okay. So -- but when you say sea trials -- because it's not like this is the first time that the SBX has been underway. I mean, it's -- it's -- so what does that mean? Is that like a normal exercise? And it has nothing at all to do with the -- what we've all been talking about with Korea? Or is it incorrect to tie the SBX -- this deployment or this --
MR. LITTLE: I believe it's incorrect to tie the SBX at this point to what's happening on the Korean Peninsula right now.
Q: And then with respect to the Decatur again, just to make sure that we're all on the same page here, this was -- when you say it was a predetermined location, it was -- they were not rerouted in any way? Because I think there was some reporting out there that they were on their way back home. That's not correct?
MR. LITTLE: That's what Bob I think was asking. I'm not going to comment on the specifics here. I'm merely saying that the Decatur is now deployed to a predetermined location in the western Pacific to support missile defense missions.
Q: Because that's not -- I mean, if there's a ship that's heading home, that's not something that is not commentable from the podium. I mean, that's something that we're -- that we're frequently told about, that their deployment is ending and they're heading back home. So why you can't specifically just clear up the reporting out there?
MR. LITTLE: It's not unusual sometimes for us to deploy and redeploy assets. Just because a ship -- whatever ship it may be -- is scheduled to return home, sometimes they're redeployed. That's what we do. We're --
Q: (off mic) tell us if that's the case here or not.
Q: So is that the case, that this -- in fact, they were supposed to be going back home and they were rerouted or they were stopped for a certain amount of time?
MR. LITTLE: Let me come back to you on that, just to make sure I'm clear -- (inaudible) --
Q: On missile defense -- just to clarify -- the McCain and the Decatur, if they were -- they're in the region. They would have to have a capability to protect South Korea from North Korean missile salvos. Is that correct? That would be more land-based U.S. Patriot THAAD missiles in South Korea? Those would -- the ships would more provide for regional missile defense against other locations?
MR. LITTLE: We have a range of assets, a constellation of capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region that can help defend against missile threats from North Korea. And you're absolutely correct; those assets also help protect our own interests, our own troops in the region, and other allies, to include Japan.
So while I wouldn't get into the specifics of these particular missions, you're absolutely correct that we have a full range of land- and sea-based capabilities to help respond to missile threats, including those from North Korea.
Q: And to follow-up, too. The public is most acutely aware of the artillery threats from North Korea; they've got, like, 13,000 within 90 kilometers of Seoul, is the statistic. What capabilities does the United States and Republic of Korea have to counter that very immediate threat? Can you give any feel for that?
MR. LITTLE: You're talking about the North Korean military positions on their side -- their artillery?
Q: (off mic) roughly. I mean, counter -- do we have counter-battery weaponry or firefighter locations? I mean, how would we counter this massive barrage if, in fact, God forbid, it happens?
MR. LITTLE: Well, we don't have any indication that that's imminent. And let me clear about that. I think we spoke to that yesterday as a government.
But make no mistake about it, we have the assets available inside South Korea and elsewhere to help defend against the kinds of situations that you just described. I'm not going to get into the specifics of where our assets are in South Korea or elsewhere, but we stand ready to defend South Korea from external threats wherever they may originate.
Q: It's hard to determine what assets were a part of the military exercises with South Korea and what are actually being moved. Has there been any surge in U.S. military assets due to the latest North Korean threat?
MR. LITTLE: We are keenly aware of the recent provocations by North Korea. And we have forces postured in the region to respond to potential threats from North Korea. And that's what we do on a regular basis.
We're also acutely aware of the recent provocations, and we will take appropriate measures -- and not all of which I will describe from this podium -- to ensure that we have the assets in place to defend South Korea, our own forces in the region, and our allies.
Q: You will take? So you haven't surged any assets to this point?
MR. LITTLE: We have a range of assets that have been deployed and that could be deployed to ensure that we have adequate resources in the region to provide for the defense of South Korea and our own personnel and interests. That's what we do on a regular basis. We respond to different circumstances, different threats, not just in the Asia-Pacific, but elsewhere in the world.
And that's what we do as a United States military. We ensure that we have the diversity of assets available to respond. And that's what we're doing now, and that's what we'll continue to do.
Q: Just to -- just to clarify on that point -- (inaudible) -- an important one, would you characterize our current posture in that region as within the range of our -- of the U.S. posture in past years, in recent years -- is this still within that range? You know, obviously, the threats and the concerns ebb and flow from time to time with North Korea, but are we within -- still within that range? Or we -- (inaudible) -- gone -- gone out of that range?
MR. LITTLE: Well, I don't quite know how to define your range versus my range versus Courtney's range versus Bob's range. But what I can tell you is that our response and the mix of assets we have applied to our responses is prudent, logical and measured.
We are in the midst right now of -- of very important annual exercises that we regularly conduct with the South Koreans, and these exercises are about alliance assurance. They're, first and foremost, about showing the South Koreans and showing our other allies in the region, including the Japanese, that we are ready to defend them in the wake of threats.
Q: I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the -- the -- more about the North Korea reactor. Is that a kind of -- does this building see that as a provocation that requires some sort of response? Or does it depend on not just the words that they say, but what -- what -- what comes out of that action?
MR. LITTLE: Well, this is relatively late-breaking news, Julian, this recent announcement that it will restart its nuclear facilities. I would note that the announcement clearly contradicts North Korea's own commitments and violates North Korea's international obligations.
There really is a choice, I think, for North Korea. It can abide by its international obligations, which we hope it does, or it can pursue a different path. And we think that the right path is one of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
Let me be clear: North Korea must abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons and abide by its international commitments. The United States seeks the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization through authentic and credible negotiations. And I think that the United States and our international partners share that goal.
Q: George, we talked about some of the heavy bomber flights and some of the ship deployments in response to the North Korean sort of actions, but there hasn't been any -- any discussions as far as unmanned assets, particularly the Global Hawks based in Guam being used over the peninsula. Is there a particular reason why those -- those assets haven't been used yet? And if so, why?
MR. LITTLE: Typically, our ISR missions around the world are classified. So I wouldn't comment one way or the other on whether or not ISR assets have been deployed in the Asia-Pacific.
Q: (off mic) on the F-22 deployments, while those Raptors were deployed, was the Raptor fleet operating under any other flight restrictions that had been in place for months before?
MR. LITTLE: For the specifics on that, I'll have to come back to you. I'm not aware of any flight restrictions they were flying under, but if that changes, I'll let you know.
Q: Are they still on display, by the way?
MR. LITTLE: Yes.
Q: Not flying?
MR. LITTLE: They're not flying.
Q: Can you preview the secretary's speech tomorrow at NDU (National Defense University) and talk a little bit --
MR. LITTLE: I don't want to preempt the secretary of defense.
Q: But why did -- why did he decide to hold his first major policy speech there?
MR. LITTLE: Well, this is a very important speech. I think the secretary looks forward to going to NDU. It is a very important DOD facility. This is a secretary who likes to speak to his own workforce, particularly men and women in uniform. And I think that's one of several reasons why he chose NDU.
As for the content of the speech, I'll leave that to him. He's still using the blue pen to mark it up a little bit.
Q: George, speaking of Sexual Assault Month -- apologies if I missed it -- but what was the outcome of those two reviews the secretary asked for regarding the Aviano sexual assault prosecutions?
MR. LITTLE: It's a good question, Craig. Let me make clear that Secretary Hagel is deeply committed to efforts to prevent sexual assault in all forms in the United States military and to holding those accountable who perpetrate this crime.
The two reviews that he ordered are winding their way to completion. They're not yet at the point of completion. On the so-called Article 60 review, he has been briefed on recommendations by the general counsel and will consider those recommendations in the coming days. And when I have something to share on his final decisions, I'll let you know.
On the review that he ordered Secretary Donley to conduct, that's also winding its way to completion but is not yet complete.
Q: The Air Force -- they handed it over a couple of weeks ago -- (inaudible) -- is that where it stands? I mean, the Air Force has completed – Donley completed his end of things --
MR. LITTLE: That's my understanding.
Q: Can we step back on -- a little bit of the bigger picture on North Korea? Because I'm confused. You continue to talk about these deployments in terms of being routine, prudent, logical, measured, and you also -- the administration talks on the one hand about the routineness of it all and on the other hand talks about provocation. So which is it? Are we in a -- is this all routine? Or are we in a period of North Korean provocation that we are compelled to respond to? I'm -- I see both messages coming out of here, and I don't know which one is which.
MR. LITTLE: Well, I'm not in the business of messaging, I'm in the business of facts. And the facts are that we have recently conducted military exercises with our South Korean allies. The North Koreans -- even before those exercises started -- had undertaken provocative steps, and they've conducted underground nuclear tests, they've conducted missile tests outside their international obligations. So they have a track record now over the past few months of provocative behavior. We are in the business of ensuring our South Korean allies that we will help defend them in the face of threats.
So I don't think it's a contradiction. I think that North Koreans have engaged in certain actions and have said things that are provocative. We are looking for the temperature to be taken down on the Korean Peninsula.
Q: The missile defense deployments that you've spoken about, do you believe that the North Koreans are headed toward more missile launches, in particular your concerns about their road mobile systems at this point? And do you think it's that? Do you think it's long range? What do you think -- what has led you to undertake these missile defense moves?
MR. LITTLE: We are concerned about the growing capabilities of North Korea and its continued investment in missile technologies that violate its international commitments. It is our responsibility -- the Department of Defense -- to ensure that we have a range of assets of our own to help respond in the face of those threats.
Not going to comment on intelligence matters, Barbara, about what we think the North Koreans may or may not do in the future, but we can't rule out the possibility, obviously, that they may conduct some kind of test or engage in some kind of provocative behavior that would cause problems. We hope that doesn't happen, but if history's any guide, it could. So we merely need to be ready to respond, and that's our goal.
A couple more questions?
Q: George, can I ask you to speak more to the new junior enlisted meetings that the secretary is having?
MR. LITTLE: Uh-huh.
Q: What specific information is he getting from them that he's not getting from his senior enlisted advisers? And what is he doing to sort of put that into context?
MR. LITTLE: This secretary of defense is interested from hearing from a full range of personnel across the department, from senior level officials on the civilian military side to junior enlisted to senior enlisted, to folks who are deployed in Afghanistan, to others who are here, and, of course, the DOD civilians who have been affected in particular by furloughs and so forth.
The secretary's lunch last Thursday was, I think, extremely informative for him. He heard from junior enlisted troops from all services, and they shared their insights into why they got into the military and what the military has brought them, some of the challenges they have faced personally and professionally.
He, I think, heard from some servicemembers in the junior enlisted ranks who had some very compelling and quite difficult personal stories, who chose the military as a career because it helped them get out of some other deeply problematic personal situations. Others chose the military because they thought it would be a good career.
I think he values that insight. And he took notes and pledged to get back to them. And that's something that he looks forward to continuing to do, not just with junior enlisted members, but he's someone who listens carefully, takes everyone's opinion into account. I've heard that personally. He's not looking just for the advice of people like me who sit in the senior ranks of the Pentagon, but he's looking to hear from troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
So he looks forward to similar settings in the future and, in particular, to holding regular discussions with junior enlisted.
Q: (off mic) I've read the Pentagon's position paper, but I wonder if you could give some more context on the Fort Hood Purple Heart issue. Why is the Pentagon pushing back on this so hard? And following Major Hasan's trial, would the Pentagon be open then to looking again at this issue and perhaps awarding the Purple Heart?
MR. LITTLE: I understand that this has been an issue of some debate. I'm -- in the midst of a pending trial, not going to get into that debate. The department's position has been clear and hasn't changed thus far. But on specifics, I'd refer you to the Army.
Q: But what is their position? What is the rationale for -- for opposing this legislation?
MR. LITTLE: Opposing the legislation?
Q: The bill that's been proposed --
MR. LITTLE: Right, well, I'm not going to --
Q: -- to award the Purple Hearts.
MR. LITTLE: -- comment on legislative proposals. I'm simply saying, Chris, that our position at this date has not changed.
Q: But just to follow up on that, okay, the -- the position paper not only makes the case that this has to do with the trial, but says that awarding Purple Hearts in this case would affect the Purple Heart itself and the people who have received it before.
So that's something very different than just one case. And I'm wondering, what is the rationale behind that? And what specifically does the Pentagon see as differences between this attack and, say, the Purple Hearts that were awarded to people in this building following 9/11?
MR. LITTLE: I understand this debate. I've seen press reports on the position paper that you mentioned. But I think the Army is in the best position to address this matter.
Q: This is a DOD matter, not specific --
MR. LITTLE: I understand. But I -- look, this is a matter that's pending before a court. I'm simply not going to get into it.
Q: Is the position paper DOD or Army? I'm not familiar with it.
MR. LITTLE: I, frankly, haven't read through it myself. I mean, I -- so I can't -- I would check with the Army.
Q: Is it -- is it a DOD or is it an Army --
MR. LITTLE: I -- I would refer you to the Army. The Army really is the best place to go for comment on this particular issue.
One last question. Stephanie?
Q: On furloughs, when do you expect to have more information about who will be exempt?
MR. LITTLE: So we are working through all the analytics on the numbers of civilian employees who we expect, regrettably, to have to furlough in the coming weeks -- including me. And I don't know that we've arrived at a specific number yet, but there are going to be categories of exempt personnel -- civilian personnel in the war zones. There are foreign nationals, for instance, who we employ overseas; because of status-of-forces agreements, we will be obliged to pay them and not furlough them. And there are other categories.
We have not completed the final tally, though. But we expect the vast majority of civilians -- at least at this point -- to be subject to furlough.
Q: But one of those things that you guys always say in this building is that there's so much uncertainty surrounding the budget. And it seems like this would be one area where you could provide some certainty to some of these civilian employees who don't know what their situation (inaudible) within a matter of weeks, we're talking. So you're saying you will tell them, like, right before the notices go out whether they're exempt or not?
MR. LITTLE: Well, first, let me reiterate that we have changed our furlough policy, which, hopefully, gives some relief to our civilian workforce. We've gone from up to 22 days to up to 14 days. And we are obliged to give adequate notice to our civilian employees as to whether or not they're going to be furloughed or not. This is not something that you get a notice one day and a furlough the next.
So we understand that we need to take great care with our civilian workforce. This has been a troubling time for them and for our uniformed employees, too, for other reasons, even though they're exempt from furlough.
So we will take the steps that are required to communicate effectively, and that really falls in large part on me, as the assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs in this department. And we will commit to communicating on a regular basis with our civilian employees on their particular situation and our policies overall.
Q: George, can I ask you one thing about furloughs? Sometime ago, Ash Carter told Congress that he was going to give up the portion of his salary that would have been affected by furloughs in order to sort of stand in solidarity with the rest of the civilian workforce here. Have any other senior officials, including the secretary, announced any plans to do anything similar to follow Dr. Carter's example?
MR. LITTLE: I had a discussion shortly after he took office with the secretary, and he will voluntarily subject part of his salary to furlough levels, even though he's not required.
Q: (off mic)
MR. LITTLE: He has committed to do that. That's right. I'm not going to speak for other senior officials, but I feel compelled to at least let you know that the secretary plans to subject his pay to furlough levels, even though he's not required to, because he is a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed official in this department.
Q: To be very clear, that's -- so now that's 14 -- I just want to be really clear -- 14 days, right? I mean, that's what everyone (off mic)
MR. LITTLE: Well, up to -- up to 14 days. I haven't chatted with him about the --
Q: It's not 22 anymore.
MR. LITTLE: It's not 22, right.
Q: So it's up to 14 days.
MR. LITTLE: I wouldn't -- I'm subject to 14 days. I wouldn't go to 22. I'm -- I like to think of myself as somewhat charitable, but --
Q: How does -- how does Secretary Hagel and [Deputy] Secretary Carter, how do they exactly give that money back to the federal government? What is it that they will have to do, write a check to the Treasury or --
MR. LITTLE: My understanding is -- and I'm not the accountant expert here -- but my understanding is that there is a legal way to actually write a check, if you will, back to the U.S. Treasury.
Yep. All right. Thank you, everyone.