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DoD News Briefing, Saturday, March 27, 1999

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
March 28, 1999

Mr. Bacon: ...I am happy to report that the pilot has been rescued and is safe at an allied base. He and the Combat Search and Rescue Team that picked him up are all safe. I do not now have a report on his condition. That's something that we will have later, but not tonight.

Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to give you very much detail about this incident. We do not know, for instance, what caused this plane to crash. That's one of the things we'll learn as we interview the pilot and we talk to the people who flew a mission with him. But I can stress three points.

The first is this operation will continue. Nothing that happened today over Yugoslavia has dampened our resolve to see this operation through to its military ends.

Second, we will continue to expand the target set as NATO Secretary General Solana said today, to focus more on the forces within Kosovo -- both the Yugoslav army forces and the special police forces operating in Kosovo now.

Third, I'd like to stress both the bravery of the pilot and the heroism of the team that rescued him this evening. They performed in a way that should make all Americans proud.

With that, I'll take a few questions.

Q. Ken, you say that you won't give at this point the reason or the way the plane was downed, but we've had indications from many that in fact it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

The wingmen flying with him, do they say there was any kind of apparent missile that brought the plane down, or...

A. Ivan, this plane was reported missing at about 3:00 o'clock our time this afternoon. From that time, until the moment we learned the pilot was safe and out of Yugoslav airspace, we've concentrated on nothing but rescuing that pilot.

We will talk to the pilot, we will talk to the other people in the package in due time. But I think it's premature now to make any judgment about why this plane crashed.

Q. Can you tell me how long he was on the ground?

A. I'm afraid I cannot give you any details like that. I won't, precisely because we've said from the very beginning that this is a perilous environment. The Serbs have a robust air defense system, and I don't say that to prejudge why this plane came down. We do not know why it came down. But there may well be other times when we have to rescue pilots, and the less said about our techniques for rescuing pilots, the better for the safety of the pilots.

Q. Can you say which nation the rescuer came from?

A. I certainly cannot. They were Americans. They were Americans, and it was a joint team of several services, but I can't tell you where they launched from or where they recovered to.

Q. What about the Serb reports that two F-4s were shot down, and the German pilots captured, are you aware of that?

A. We have no other confirmation of missing aircraft.

Q. How quickly did the search and rescue team go into operation?

A. Dana, that's precisely the type of detail I'm not going to get into, and we will not talk about search and rescues. You know these are highly trained people who can work in all environments. They can work very quickly. But it's this type of detail that we're not going to give.

Q. Can you characterize the level of air defense resistance? Were there SAM launches tonight, for example?

A. I can't answer that question.

Q. You said you were concentrating on nothing else but the rescue of this pilot. Did it affect other missions that were scheduled tonight? Did they go off as planned or not?

A. Missions have been going on all day and they're ongoing now.

Q. No matter how the plane went down, this is an incredible propaganda coup for the Serbs. What does this say about the Stealth fighter?

A. First, I'd point out that the Serbs have lost five planes and none of those pictures have appeared on Serb TV that I'm aware of, and they certainly have not handed the pictures out to CNN and the other American networks.

The point to make here is that we will continue this mission. We are undeterred by this. We knew that we were flying into a risky environment, and we will continue to fly in a way that minimizes the risk to our pilots while increasing our ability to perform our mission. The mission is to diminish Milosevic's ability to continue his murderous ways in Kosovo. Those ways are continuing today. There are signs that they've been intensifying, and we will intensify our efforts to stop that.

Q. Are you concerned about the loss of stealth technology as a result of this crash?

A. From the pictures I saw on the television tonight, I'm not sure there's going to be much left. This is highly sophisticated technology, obviously, and it's not easy to reproduce.

Q. If it was shot down, is there some concern about the performance of the Stealth Fighter?

A. First of all we have no way of knowing yet whether it was shot down. Second, this plane has performed -- has flown hundreds and hundreds of missions over Iraq through very dense air defenses. It's flown very well through the very dense air defenses in Yugoslavia. And it will continue to be a main-line plane in this operation.

Q. At the very least, you said what time the plane went down. Can you say what time the rescue was complete or the rescue cleared Yugoslav airspace?

A. No.

Q. When will we get more details about the pilot or...

A. Probably not before tomorrow.

Q. You say you won't talk about his condition...

A. I don't know his condition at this stage.

Q. You said the murderous ways of President Milosevic's forces are intensifying in Kosovo. Is there a level of frustration in this building that there appears relatively little you can do from the air to prevent that?

A. I think we understood the dimensions of this challenge from the day we launched it -- in fact from well before that. We understand that while air power is very effective, it cannot do everything. But what it can do is seriously degrade the military infrastructure and diminish the forces of the Yugoslav army and of the Special Police. We have been concentrating on hitting Special Police targets including headquarters, operating depots, supply areas, and also Yugoslav army targets in the same categories, and we will turn increasingly to dealing with forces in the field and the infrastructure necessary to support them.

Q. Is the pilot completely uninjured?

A. I can't comment on his condition. I can't say that he's completely uninjured. We'll just have to wait for details on that.

Q. Can you tell us anything about the mission -- the destination of this F-117 when it went down?

A. It was performing a mission under OPERATION ALLIED FORCE to bomb targets in Yugoslavia. That's all I can tell you.

Q. You can't say whether or not the expanded air campaign has begun or not. What NATO talked about today was broadening the targets. Had that already begun? Might the Stealth have been taking part in that?

A. As I pointed out, the short answer is the approval came after this mission was planned -- after today's missions were planned, and we'll begin seeing the expansion in the days ahead. But as I pointed out yesterday, the percentage of targets, of VJ and MUP targets and special police targets in Kosovo, has been expanding every day as the mission has been going on and that will continue.

Thank you very much.

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