United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share

Transcript


DoD NEWS BRIEFING, THURSDAY, MARCH 18, 1999

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
March 18, 1999 1:45 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. It's always a pleasure to see you here.

A couple of announcements.

First of all, I'd like to welcome a visiting former journalist from Montenegro, Vinka Yovovic, who is here as part of the USIA sponsored international visitors program. Maybe you should go interview her afterwards about the condition in the Balkans.

Secondly, Secretary Cohen will speak on Monday at 1:30 in Crystal City on a BRAC-related theme -- recognizing a decade of community redevelopment -- in which he'll talk about the development and economic growth that has taken place in communities after bases have been closed under the BRAC process. This obviously is an important topic for many communities because what we found is that the economic growth and economic base of these communities has actually improved and diversified after bases have been closed down after the BRAC process.

Q: (inaudible)

A: He's speaking before the - well, it's a conference that is from -- it's a conference of community officials that he's addressing. It's the Office of the Secretary of Defense Service Community Conference, and the topic is recognizing a decade of community redevelopment. So it's something that this office has organized.

Finally, on March 20th the Navy will commission a new destroyer, the PORTER DDG-78 at Port Canaveral, Florida. And next month -- very exciting-- Secretary Cohen, and I believe, the Minister of Defence of the United Kingdom, George Robertson, will participate together in commissioning a new ship, the WINSTON CHURCHILL, in Maine.

As all of you know, I hope, the WINSTON CHURCHILL is the name of the ship in Bill Harlow's book, "Circle William," so this will be an exciting moment for a number of reasons.

Q: Will he be there?

A: Will Bill Harlow be there? He may be there actually.

Q: He could have a book signing.

A: He could have another book signing, that's right.

It's also a book in which one of the stars is a journalist, so I'm sure that's one of the reasons you're all so interested in the book.

With that I'll take your questions on Bill Harlow or anything else.

Q: Ken, the Kosovars have signed a peace agreement now in Rambouillet, but not the Serbs. Does this put us at the edge of cruise missile air strikes against the Serbs?

A: Right now we do have a yes/no situation. The Serbs are continuing to refuse to negotiate in good faith or to move toward a political agreement, political settlement, that would involve the use of NATO forces to enforce a peace agreement in Kosovo. The talks are still going on, but from all indications they're in their terminal stages, and the next step would probably be a decision to stop the talks.

As we've said many times, NATO is ready to act if the Serbs do not agree to the peace agreement and if the Serbs continue efforts to repress the Kosovar Albanians.

Q: Has there been any further buildup of Yugoslav army forces in the area?

A: The forces are pretty much what they were when we talked on Tuesday. There is some activity against the Kosovar Albanians in the northwest sector of Kosovo, and there's also been skirmishing in the southwest between the Kosovar Albanian known as the UCK forces on the one hand, and Serb army, Yugoslav army, or VJ forces, on the other hand. So there is fighting going on in Kosovo now.

Q:...two brigades over the line, so to speak, two brigades in violation in Kosovo at the present time?

A: I don't have it in those terms. I have it in terms of battle groups. And the problem with the battle group designation is that battle groups vary in size. There's no uniform size of a battle group. But they have now approximately three battle groups securing lines of communication, that is roads, within Kosovo. They have approximately five battle groups operating along the borders, patrolling the borders, trying to secure the borders, and they have approximately eight unauthorized battle groups moving around within Kosovo. So...

Q: How many troops are they in violation...

A: I don't have an answer to that question, Bill.

Q: Are they in violation for sure?

A: Well they're certainly in violation in that they have moved forces out of garrison and into active duty use within Kosovo. This is of the October agreement.

Q: How many U.S. planes and cruise missile-equipped warships are poised to strike if NATO decides to conduct an air campaign?

A: First of all, let me stress that any air action will involve a NATO force. Therefore, there will be forces from about half a dozen countries involved. The forces that have been arrayed are from those countries. Those forces are poised and ready. It's a robust force, and should they get the order to move from Secretary General Solana, they will be ready to do that very quickly.

The force is approximately 350 to 400 aircraft now, NATO aircraft. That's a little lower than the figure we've used before because our carrier has left. That was part of the force at one time. The U.S. would provide approximately half or a little more of those aircraft.

Q: Have you moved, ordered in the extra F-15s you were...

A: We have not made any movements. The force we have right now is perfectly capable of launching the early phases of an air action should that be required, and there will be ample time to bring in additional forces to plus up what we already have there.

Q: The Joint Chiefs this morning -- several of them expressed some anxieties and concerns about a military operation in Kosovo. They talked about it being extremely dangerous, about being prepared to take losses and losing aircraft. It's always the case, but particularly in the instance of military action against Serbia, how concerned are you, and should the American public be prepared to see aircraft losses and loss of life?

A: Any air combat operation involves danger. Our pilots are facing danger virtually every day over Iraq now. And we work very hard to be able to fly safely in dangerous environments.

Having said that, Yugoslavia does have a very well developed air defense system. It has a lot of Soviet equipment including SA-6 missiles, SA-3 surface-to-air missiles, they have some SA-2 missiles; they have a series of shoulder-fired missiles, and they have probably over 2,000 anti-aircraft guns.

This system is extensively linked. They have well-trained air defense corps and they have been rehearsing and training fairly aggressively in the last several weeks. And it is a system to be taken very seriously.

It certainly would pose risks to allied planes, and we're aware of those risks.

Q: Relatively speaking -- can you comment -- are the Serb forces and their air defense system, for example, qualitatively better than Iraq's?

A: I think the Iraqis have had a lot more practice recently.

I can't, I'm not qualified to answer that question. This is a robust, highly integrated, well-equipped air defense system operated by well-trained people. It is a much more significant system than our pilots faced in Bosnia in 1995.

Q: Can I take you back on one other point? When you were talking about battle groups in the region, I didn't understand. Three battle groups securing the road within Kosovo. The five battle groups along the borders, are those inside Kosovo or are those in Serbia?

A: These are all troops in Kosovo.

Q: So in Kosovo...

A: In the province of Kosovo.

Q:...along the border.

A: They're within Kosovo guarding the borders between Kosovo and Albania, between Kosovo and Macedonia. They don't have to guard the border between Kosovo and Serbia or Montenegro, but they do primarily guard the borders between Kosovo and Albania and Kosovo and Macedonia.

Q: And so this is cumulative, three plus five plus eight.

A: Yes. There are eight unauthorized battle groups roaming around within Kosovo.

Q: And those are roaming around? Those are not the ones you're referring to, the five on the border?

A: There are 16 in all.

Q: Oh, there are 16. So the Serbs are in current violation of the October...

A: We went through that. Yes, they are. In two respects. One, they have moved troops out of garrison and into active duty deployments, from garrison to deployment. And two, they are moving against the Kosovar Albanians. There is fighting going on. They are repressing the Kosovar Albanians.

Remember, in October we, the agreement that Richard Holbrooke, that Ambassador Holbrooke secured, called for an end of fighting in pursuance with U.N. Security Council resolutions, and they are now in violation of that resolution.

Q: Let me ask you further, on the verifiers. There is a report that the verifiers could come out as early as this weekend. Would there be any extraction force intervention to help the verifiers get out? Or what's the situation there?

A: Well, it all depends on the circumstances under which the verifiers leave.

If the verifiers leave quickly and peacefully, the extraction force would not be needed. If they encounter opposition or harassment, then NATO would have to make a decision whether to deploy the extraction force, which is now in Macedonia, as you know.

Q: The air defense system that you described on paper sounds very similar to Iraq's air defenses, integrated, similar types of systems. Are there other factors such as the terrain in Kosovo that would make it more dangerous to attack targets in Yugoslavia than in Iraq, for instance, where it's basically desert?

A: A fundamental difference is the weather. The weather in Kosovo is much less inviting for air-to-surface warfare than it is in Iraq. You may have seen on TV today, it's snowing, it's foggy in parts of Kosovo, and that type of weather will probably continue for awhile during the spring season. So weather is a big factor in Kosovo, and indeed, that was one of the factors that General Ryan and General Reimer highlighted on the Hill today when they testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Q: Would that indicate then that if the United States were going to be taking part in these attacks they might rely more on weapons that are guided for instance by global positioning satellites rather than laser-guided weapons that are...

A: I don't think I want to get into what types of weapons would or would not be used in this case.

As you know, we have now in the area five cruise missile capable ships and submarines. The British also have an additional cruise-missile-capable submarine in the area. We have an extensive array of our most sophisticated aircraft, and that will be augmented by the most sophisticated aircraft in the European arsenal. So there is now quite a robust air force ready to answer NATO's call should that come.

Q: What's the name of the British submarine, do you know?

A: I don't know the name of it.

Q: In the fall I believe NATO approved a phased air campaign. Is that what would happen here if it came to that?

A: Yes, it's the same air campaign that was approved last fall. And...

Q: How soon could airstrikes begin?

A: Relatively quickly.

Q: Within 48 hours of the signal being given? Or less?

A: I presume that before anything happens, people would come out, the verifiers would come out, non-governmental organization workers in Kosovo would come out, and people in our embassy in Belgrade and other diplomats in the area would come out. That would take some time.

Q: Is there any movement in that, on that issue right now among the verifiers and NGOs?

A: I don't believe that any orders have been given but you should probably check with the State Department on that because they're the people who would be making that decision.

Q:...there are six aren't there?

A: Sorry?

Q: You said there were five cruise missile ships. I think there are six, aren't there? A cruiser, three destroyers, and two subs?

Q: Including the THORN.

A: Oh, including the THORN there would be six. Yes, including the THORN there would be six U.S., and then there's an additional British one. Thank you.

Q: Have you seen any report -- when you talk about it would take some time to get everybody out and you put a time frame around that -- of any additional cratering of roads, mining of roads out of Kosovo?

A: I've not seen additional reports. We do know that there has been mining of roads and bridges. There are -- the road situation in Kosovo is not exactly like the Beltway. I think there are only 14 roads into -- maybe that's good. (Laughter) There are only 14 roads into Kosovo, as I understand it, and there are a relatively small number of roads. These are roads into Kosovo from surrounding areas -- Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, etc. And the road network within Kosovo is by our standards quite primitive. So it's not always an easy place to move around.

Q: Does the mining of roads include the mining of a tunnel, road tunnel?

A: I don't have specific details, but there have been reports of mines being placed on bridges and other areas.

Q: Would there be additional approval required for after the first phase, any phases beyond the first phase of the air campaign?

A: There would be additional approval required, I believe, after the first phase, but we anticipate that that won't be a problem.

Q: Approval by the NAC or...

A: It would have to be done by the NAC, yeah.

Q: Just speaking strictly from a military standpoint, not talking about the political situation and diplomacy, but just militarily speaking, is NATO ready to act right now if it had to?

A: NATO is ready to act. If NATO is called upon to act it will be ready to act when it's given the order to do so.

Q: Have targets already been selected?

A: I think that's a fair assessment, yes.

Q: If you have to have additional consultations even for the very first phase, what's the status now? Do you have to consult with the new members of NATO or are they left out of this consulting process?

A: I anticipate that there will be no problem. The Secretary General will encounter no problem making a decision to move forward and being able to do that. I think the consultations are ongoing. I think everybody understands what the situation is. They understand that; everybody but Slobodan Milosevic seems to understand what the situation is. And NATO is prepared to act; it's ready to act, and if Secretary General Solana gives the order it will be able to act very swiftly.

Q: Ken, if the Serbs, as some have predicted, launch a massive campaign in Kosovo against the Kosovar Albanians, NATO would already be mandated to intercede, is that correct? And could air action then be in Kosovo directed against the Serbs? And how would that complicate the verifier extraction?

A: Without getting into details, certainly one of the actions we would take very seriously would be any increased attack against the Kosovar Albanians, and I think we've made that very clear to President Milosevic.

Q: But, Ken, the point is given the time it would take to get people like diplomats out, could you respond quickly? Could you respond immediately, tomorrow for example?

A: I think that everybody should build into planning a time to get people out.

Q: Could you respond while your verifiers are still on the ground in Kosovo?

A: I think everybody should -- I'll just repeat what I just said -- I think everybody should assume that we will do everything we can to get the verifiers and the diplomats out.

Q: Given the danger you said this whole operation presents to attacking aircraft, would it be a fair assessment that cruise missiles would play heavily in the first phase of the operation?

A: I don't want to get into any operational detail, but I think you can assume that they would play a role, yes.

Q: What happens if Serbia just sort of sits there? They don't do anything, they just keep their forces in Kosovo, they continue to engage in low threshold military actions, and they don't sign, and they just sit there? Then what happens?

A: We already have a very serious situation in Kosovo. Remember last fall what triggered action by NATO and the international community including the contact group and the OSCE and the U.N. Security Council was a looming humanitarian crisis in Kosovo. And the nub of that crisis were huge numbers of internally displaced people within Kosovo. Hundreds of thousands of people who had moved away from their homes.

We still have large numbers of displaced people within Kosovo, probably about 230,000 according to the latest U.N. figures. And that could be rising. If there is an increase, it could rise very quickly, if there is an increase in activity by the Serb army, the VJ.

So there are a number of issues that have to be taken into account here, and one certainly is the humanitarian conditions within Kosovo. Another, of course, is the amount of repression being exerted by the Yugoslavs within Kosovo. And another would be the progress or lack of progress in the peace talks.

Q: Can I ask a missile defense question?

A: Sure.

Q: Can you just, forgive me if you've already been asked this, but can you lay out the practical effect on the Pentagon program of the legislation currently...

A: The practical effect on the program, as I understand it, is that it will be able to continue as currently scheduled. That is that we will make, we will evaluate where we stand in June of, or in mid-2000 and make a decision whether to deploy or not.

We have a series of intercept tests scheduled. There has not been an intercept test of the system yet, but the first intercept test is scheduled for June or July of this year. There will be another intercept test in October if the current schedule holds. There will be a third one in early 2000. We will continue with those tests. The Boeing company, which is the lead system integrator, will continue in its work to bring together the radars and command and control, the sensors, the missiles themselves, all the parts of the system to make sure they interact and work together. And we will evaluate where we stand in mid-2000 and make a decision on whether to deploy or not.

What the Senate bill says -- and it was passed by a vote of 97-3 so there was very strong bipartisan support for this -- it says that we will deploy a missile defense bill [sic] as soon as technologically feasible, and that's what we will be looking at in 2000.

Q: Does that mean that financial questions will no longer be a factor then? Technology is the only factor.

A: I think we essentially eliminated the financial questions when Secretary Cohen announced that we were adding $6.6 billion to the program and bringing the total amount of money allocated up to $10.5 billion. We have now the money built into the future year defense plan to develop and build and deploy the system as I understand it.

So I think the financial questions have been taken care of out to 2004, 2005. That's no -- we provided for that money assuming that we stay on schedule and within the cost estimates.

Q: You don't think you can actually field the thing for $10.5 billion do you?

A: This is a limited air defense system. It's designed to deal with a limited attack. We have a number of questions still to answer. One is where it will be deployed and at how many sites. Those are still questions that have to be answered. We'll be doing a lot of work on the environmental impact statements in both North Dakota and Alaska this year and next as we try to reach a decision on what the exact geometry of the program will be.

Right now, as you know, I don't think the program would be operational in 2005, deployed in 2005 and operational.

Q: Can I get the status of the General Dynamics review in the Pentagon?

A: The status of the General Dynamics review is ongoing.

Q: Has the Secretary been briefed..

A: He has not. He won't be briefed today. I don't know whether he'll be briefed this week. It sort of depends on what happens in other areas.

Q: Is there a sense of timing that you'll have a decision in a week or two or three?

A: I don't have any firm sense that I can give you right now.

Q: There was a report out of Rambouillet that the Serbs may have been given a new deadline of next Wednesday. Have you anything on that?

A: I have not. And the talks aren't -- you're talking about the talks in France, the Paris talks. Yeah.

Q: Back on missile defense for a moment.

Earlier this week there was a successful test of the new improved Patriot with its new hit-to-kill technology. I realize that that's a theater missile defense and we're talking about national missile defense, but does that successful test have an implications for the national missile defense program, again, this hit-to-kill technology?

A: Well, to the extent that they're both hit-to-kill, and we've demonstrated we can make hit-to-kill work, that's encouraging. But I think there are significant differences in terms of range, speed, position of acquiring the target, etc., that discourage me from trying to make an easy comparison right now because I'm not an expert on the stuff. If you want, we'll try to get General Lyles or somebody down here to explain this to you at some point.

Q: Is it correct that THAAD is much more difficult?

A: THAAD is a longer-range, higher-altitude system than the Patriot 3, so it does have a different set of demands and requirements. But there are, I encourage you. I think the Army has some film available of the PAC-3 hit and I encourage you to go down to the Army and look at it.

Q: A recruiting question. The Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner, has suggested as a possible solution to recruiting problems that the terms of enlistment be decreased from four to two years, or at least let that option be made available. Have you thought about that?

A: It's something we're looking at. I believe there is a two year enlistment period now.

Q:...18 months.

A: He proposed, I believe that Senator Warner proposed 18 months. He was keying off the Charles Moscos proposal that says that we would be able to attract more people if we offer them a shorter period of time.

It's something that we will certainly study. As I said, I believe there is a two year enlistment period now, but I also believe that few people take it. Most people tend to enlist for longer periods of time. But it's something that we will study seriously.

Q: Assuming that the talks go as they seem to be, if they fall apart and air strikes go forward and the Serbs are not persuaded by that. They've not been persuaded by much of anything else. Then what? I assume -- you guys plan for everything. I assume somewhere somebody is working on a plan for what happens after air strikes.

A: Well our hope is that they would see the good sense of coming back to the bargaining table and accepting the peace agreement and ending the fighting. This has always been an opportunity for them to take agreement over aggression. So far they've preferred aggression to agreement.

We think that the agreement, that a peace formula is the way to go, is the way to solve this problem. So far the Yugoslav side has not agreed.

But we would hope that if we have to go to air strikes that it would convince them that it makes more sense for them to come back to the bargaining table and to accept a peaceful solution rather than continued warfare in this area.

Q: There were two -- last October there were two plans. One was a strike force and the other was a longer, escalating, more (inaudible) force. Have you said publicly which of those you're focusing on at this point?

A: I think that we will have the ability to perform very robust -- as robust an air operation as required to get the job done.

Press: Thank you.

Q: Can I ask one more on the (inaudible)? I assume (inaudible)? Last time, in 1975 or whenever when we fielded an ABM (inaudible) national missile defense, that cost about $20 billion in today dollars. Of course, it didn't work, so it was shut down after four months. But the idea that you can do it today for half the amount of money and it would actually work is impressive. Do you really think you can deploy...

A: We've put up $10.5 billion that takes us through the next six years. I don't know what the cost profile is beyond that. I'll try to find out. But it is my understanding the $10.5 billion is enough to develop and to begin deploying the system.

This is a limited system. Our technology's a lot better today than it was in the 1970s. But I will get an answer to that question for you.

Q: A quick question about China. Chinese government officials have made several denials that any technology was stolen from the United States. Is this posturing on their part? Do you have anything about that?

A: I think that it's very clear from what the National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, and others have said that we believe that there was espionage, that secrets were transferred, and that this was hurtful to us.

I think it's very standard for countries to deny spying when it occurs.

Thank you.

Additional Links

Stay Connected