MR. BACON: Okay. Cells phones off. Beepers on vibration. Time for the briefing to begin.
I'd like to welcome you to my first briefing of the new year and begin with a summary of what's going on in Venezuela.
Over the weekend Secretary Cohen signed an order to deploy two ships carrying engineering equipment and personnel to help clear roads destroyed by the flooding in Venezuela. Today the USS Tortuga, which is LSD-46, has departed from Norfolk. It will go to Morehead City, North Carolina, and pick up engineering equipment and take it down to Venezuela.
Tomorrow the U.S.S. Nashville, which is LPD-13, will do the same thing -- leave Norfolk to Morehead City, picking up equipment and personnel. And they will be operating -- Marine engineers and Seabees will be operating in the next week or so in Venezuela. They are clearing a 20-kilometer section of a coastal road that was particularly devastated by the floods. And they will be working hand- in-glove with Venezuelan military engineers who are also clearing and repairing a 20-kilometer section of the road along the coast. The U.S. section is between the towns of Los Caracas and Naiguata.
And when I say that they'll be operating with the Venezuela military, the Venezuelan military will be supplying all the bridging equipment and some of the other equipment -- we will be helping them install it and also providing bulldozers, backhoes, and other earth-moving equipment to clear the road.
I anticipate that there will be, at the height of the operation, approximately 450 Marine and Seabee engineers working on the project. And this should be completed by the end of February, and the ships should be back, the troops should be back in Norfolk in early March.
We have still in Venezuela four helicopters and seven water purification units, providing a total of 7,200 gallons of water an hour to meet the crucial need, which is lack of potable water.
These helicopters and C-130s have performed 701 missions to date, bringing material into Venezuela and also carrying people and material around the area that's still devastated by the floods and the mudslides.
So with that, I'll take your questions on Venezuela or anything else. Yes?
QKen, about when are they expected -- the first ship? When is it expected in Venezuela?
MR. BACON: The USS Tortuga leaves today. It will be on station in Venezuela on the 16th or 17th of January. It will off-load equipment.
And then it will go to Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico and pick up some marine engineers and bring them back to marry up with the equipment.
The USS Nashville, which leaves tomorrow as I said, goes to Morehead City, will leave Morehead City on the 14th, and will be on station in Venezuela on the 18th and 19th, with a group of engineers.
QChange the subject?
MR. BACON: Sure.
QKen, what about these satellite pictures of the North Korean launch site, which appear to show pretty primitive conditions there, including no rails to move missiles? John White called it, I believe, the "mouse that roared." But have you all got any comment on that?
MR. BACON: Well, the mouse has not only roared, it's fired a missile. And we know that; it's undeniable. The missile was fired over Japan. It created quite a stir.
We have always known that North Korea has primitive facilities, that it is far behind us technologically, but that it devotes an enormous amount of money, energy and manpower to developing weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them.
It is, more than anything else, a military state that has constantly favored providing for its military over providing for its people. So it's not surprising that their facilities are primitive by our standards. But it's also not surprising that, given the dedication and money they have devoted to upgrading their military, that they have been able to produce long-range missiles and to fire them from such primitive spots.
So I am not sure that the fact that the launch facility is primitive makes the missiles any less threatening, which is precisely why the United States has worked so hard, first through the Framework Agreement, and secondly through the Perry process, to limit or restrict the North Korean weapons-of-mass-destruction program.
And that work is continuing. I think it's been successful. And I think that we will continue to strive for success to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons and to prevent them from testing new ways to develop the chemical weapons that they already have.
QTo follow on the subject of North Korea: Have -- (inaudible) -- talks been reset on resuming joint searches for remains? The last talks failed, the talks in -- I believe they were in Berlin -- ended in no agreement to resume. Have new talks been set?
MR. BACON: The watchword in dealing with the North Koreans is "patience," and we do have another set of talks with them in Berlin.
I don't know the exact date. I think it is the middle of this month, I believe. I recall reading that there should be a new set of talks, but I'll check on the date.
QAre those the talks on overall improvement in relations on --
MR. BACON: Yes.
QThose are not separate military talks you're talking about on --
MR. BACON: Well, they are talks on the overall improvement. We have always tried to separate our determination to recover remains from other political issues, and we've tried to keep this issue of recovering remains nonpolitical. Obviously, to the extent that the overall climate between our countries improves, we have a better chance of getting more search teams in.
As you know, we've had significant progress. We've not only had several search teams go in and bring out sets of remains, but we've also been allowed to go into their archives and to check their own military records, which we hope will give us new information that we can use in zeroing in on places we may find remains in North Korea.
The efforts to get teams in for recoveries are continuing.
QBack on the subject of missiles, can you tell us about next week's interceptor test of the National Missile Defense system? What's the degree of difficulty compared to the last one in October? And what would be the implications of the success this time, since you've, I think, set a standard of having two successes before a decision was made about whether to deploy?
MR. BACON: Those are all very good questions, and because they're so good, we plan to have a briefing on Friday to answer all such questions by a genuine expert on missiles, which I am not.
QHow about a non-genuine -- (Laughter.)
MR. BACON: It's always better to have a genuine expert, and I am a non-genuine expert, so I'll leave those answers to the genuine expert. But obviously, this is a very demanding program technologically. We've said that from the very beginning. We have had one interceptor success. It does not mean that every test we have will be a success. We hope that every test we have is a success, but I think it would be unrealistic to expect that.
So we will do our best at this second test, which is supposed to take place next week in the Pacific Ocean, and we will have a briefer down here on Friday to walk through the mechanics of this test, the particular challenges it raises, how it differs from the previous tests, and how it fits into the overall test program that will give the -- it's designed to give the president the technological information that he needs to make a decision on deployment of National Missile Defense this summer.
QAre you saying--
QCan I follow up, just real quick on that? Have the Russians raised any objections to this testing program recently?
MR. BACON: I'm not aware that they've raised any objections to the testing program, and certainly not recently. They may have objected in the past and I can't recall, but I think they've made very clear their feelings about the National Missile Defense program, and we have made very clear to them that this is a program designed to deal with a very specific threat, and that threat is the threat against countries like North Korea and Iraq and Iran.
It's a limited missile threat against our country from rogue nations, and we believe that it's important to develop a defense against that threat.
QKen, can you refresh me as to what the results of that last test were, physically speaking? Was the target atomized? Was it turned to essentially --
MR. BACON: Well, it was destroyed. I don't know whether it was atomized. (Laughter.) But we hit the target and it was a success. It was destroyed enough to call it a success.
Let me go back to the earlier question. The next talks between Ambassador Kartman, who is the special envoy for Korean peace talks, and the Vice Foreign Minister, Kim Gye Gwan, will take place on January 22nd in Berlin. Those are the broader talks. And I don't know what the specific schedule is for reapproaching the search-and-recovery issue is.
QI guess my question was, was the target adequately disintegrated to the point that if there had been a warhead on that missile it would have been vacated in its ability?
MR. BACON: Yes. Yes.
MR. BACON: Yes?
QAny comments on the incident at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow as far as security is concerned?
MR. BACON: I have no comments on that. It happened at the U.S. Embassy. I made a deal with Jamie Rubin that he would talk about events at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and I would talk about events at Fort Campbell, and he thought that was a good deal, that he would get to talk about Moscow if I didn't, and I could talk about other military issues. So we're sticking to it.
MR. BACON: Sure.
QDo you have any comment on the New York Times report that the Clinton administration intends to cut the defense budget by $1 billion? They didn't give any details.
MR. BACON: Well, the report -- that report is, in general, incomplete and, therefore, wrong. And let me tell you why. That report dealt with the congressional requirement for a haircut on federal spending that applies to the current fiscal year, '00. And the haircut, I believe, was 0.38 percent, and it was to affect all of federal spending. And the military part of that is approximately a billion dollars, and we have made our plans for absorbing that. But this was a congressionally mandated haircut that came at the end of the session.
QBut that's not for the next budget, you're talking about the current budget?
MR. BACON: Yeah, I'm talking about the current budget. That's what that story was. Are you talking about the story yesterday?
MR. BACON: Yeah. And there was a Post story over the weekend about that. This goes back to the 0.38 percent haircut that was imposed by Congress on the federal budget. And it will apply in various ways to various programs because personnel, that is military pay, for instance, was exempted. So we don't have to cut back the pay increase, which takes effect this week for soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines -- the 4.8 percent pay increase. Nor do we have to cut back the number of people in the military in order to reduce what we spend in personnel. Personnel is exempted, and therefore, we have to take the cut in other areas, and we have done that in a very surgical way.
QThat's not the '01 budget, that's the '00?
MR. BACON: No, it's the '00 budget. And so I think it's very important to realize that this is a congressionally mandated cut in the defense budget, not something that's being imposed on us by the White House.
QWere the cuts taken across the board or were specific programs targeted?
MR. BACON: There was a formula that -- because personnel was exempted, we obviously had to take -- we have to achieve a 0.38 percent cut across the entire budget. If you exempt personnel, which is a big part of the budget, that means we had to take the rest of the cut in procurement, operations and maintenance, in all of the non-personnel accounts. So therefore, the cuts in some programs were larger than 0.38 percent. Basically, we took the smallest cuts in our top-priority programs; some would get no cuts whatsoever. I don't believe for instance, there was a -- I'll have to check on this, but I don't believe there was a cut in the F-22 for instance. I think that many of the top-priority programs avoided any cuts; some other programs obviously got larger cuts.
Basically, our programs, our top-priority programs, got no or very small cuts, and then some of the other programs that weren't top priority got larger cuts. I don't think there was any cut larger than 5 percent, maybe 10 percent at the tops, but there were some cuts of programs of 5 percent.
QWhat about readiness? That has obviously, especially towards the end of last year, been a concern.
MR. BACON: Well, readiness is a very -- is a top priority. And I can't speak precisely about readiness. But obviously, that's one of the programs that we would have gone very light on.
In general, I'd like to make the point that the spending on readiness has been increasing steadily over the last 10 years. And I'll give you one measurement of readiness, which is operations and maintenance spending per capita; that is, per person in uniform.
In the fiscal year of 1990, we spent $53,000 per soldier, sailor, airman and Marine on active duty in uniform, on operations and maintenance. That would be the best plug for readiness.
In fiscal 1999, we spent $67,800 per soldier, sailor, airman and Marine in readiness. So it's a dramatic percentage increase in readiness spending per capita between fiscal year 1990 and fiscal year 1999. And that has been actually a fairly steady increase in readiness spending over the last decade.
QCould we get a listing of where those cuts were made?
MR. BACON: Pardon?
QCan we get a listing of where the cuts were made?
MR. BACON: Yeah -- I mean, it's a huge list obviously, but we'll do our best to put together a list, see if we can do that.
QIf you meant to disabuse us of the notion that you want to cut the defense budget, maybe you could tell us what percent you plan on increasing it?
MR. BACON: Well, all of that will become clear when we have our annual budget briefing, which I know is your favorite briefing of the year. (Laughter.) And Bill Lynn will be down here, and the secretary, armed with charts, and you'll have numbers coming out your ears. But the defense budget will continue to increase.
QWhen is it going to be, Ken?
MR. BACON: Well, I think the budget goes up at the very end of the month.
STAFF: On the 7th.
MR. BACON: February 7th?
MR. BACON: The early part of the month; in a month, the budget will be going to Congress. And we'll have our standard array of impressive briefings to fill you in on our latest initiatives.
But I can tell you one thing about the budget. We are continuing to increase money for procurement of new weapons. And you know that Secretary Cohen and Secretary Perry before him, have been struggling to get procurement up to $60 billion a year. And I believe we will hit it this year or at least be within a whisper of hitting it this year.
In 1997, when Secretary Cohen came, I think procurement spending was about $43 (billion) or $44 billion. It was about $56 billion in the current fiscal year and I think we'll get it up to $60 billion, which is a goal that has been pursued by two secretaries of Defense in order to help with our modernization programs in the 21st century.
QI have a large appetite to delve into a lot of budget minutiae, but now that you've said a couple of things, I feel like I just -- (Inaudible.) You made a point a couple of times of saying that this was a congressionally mandated cut in the current budget year. But wasn't that a cut to a budget that was congressionally mandated to be higher than what the Pentagon --
MR. BACON: Well, let's go back to -- I don't have all these figures here -- but I think there's only one figure you have to remember for last year's budget, and that's $112 billion. That's the amount of money by which President Clinton increased Defense spending over the future year defense program -- $112 billion was added last year. Nobody expected that money to be added until it was. It was a major commitment to improving readiness and procurement and it's a commitment that we will continue now for the next five years. We've got five years to go in the -- last year it was six years, this year it was five years.
So there was an increase. Congress added to that. One notable way in which they added to it, and we supported it, was they sweetened the pay increase. We had proposed a 4.4 percent pay increase; Congress turned it into a 4.8 percent pay increase. And as I said earlier, the first higher paychecks under that pay increase will be received this week.
Q (Inaudible) -- but I just want to ask about the figures you cited for O&M accounts. You did say 1990, 53,000 for -- (inaudible) -- was that correct?
MR. BACON: Yeah, 53,000.
Q (Off mike) -- 67 --
MR. BACON: Sixty-seven thousand eight hundred.
QIs that adjusted for inflation? Are those inflation-adjusted?
MR. BACON: These are in constant dollars, adjusted for inflation. They are fiscal 2000 dollars.
QAnd you said that was a dramatic percentage increase. Do you know what the percentage is, or do we have to do the math ourselves? (Laughter.)
MR. BACON: All of you are high school graduates. You can do the math yourself. I mean, you can -- it's approximately 20 to 25 percent.
QAnd one last point on that is, of course, with that figure, there's no way for us to tell whether that simply reflects the increasing cost of maintenance. And we have no way of knowing if you're actually getting 15 percent greater maintenance for that money or if it's simply costing more to maintain today's more expensive equipment.
MR. BACON: And old equipment.
QOld. It's falling apart.
MR. BACON: Well, let me say three things about that. The first is, you know that every successively modern or new generation of equipment is easier to maintain than the last, so maintenance does get easier over time. That's -- they're designed to be -- to allow maintenance to get easier over time -- our planes, tanks, et cetera.
Two -- and I think you can see that if you go into the cockpit of a C-17, compared to the cockpit of a C-141. You can see how cleaner and simpler it is than the older equipment.
Two, to the extent that we are buying more off-the-shelf technology, commercial off-the-shelf technology, under the so-called COTS program, we are trying to buy equipment that is readily available, in everybody's inventory, and easy to snap in and snap out of our machinery.
And three, you're absolutely right; we do have aging equipment, particularly tactical aircraft and the F-16 and F-15. We're working very hard to keep those planes flying. And that's precisely the reason that we have aggressive programs to modernize tac air under way now -- the F/A-18 program, the new versions, the F-22 and the Joint Strike Fighter.
So we have in -- the F-16 and the F-15 that were introduced into the fleet even before John McWethy was covering the Pentagon, in the 1970s --
MR. BACON: -- and is still flying today, and even before Charlie Aldinger was covering the Pentagon -- (laughter) -- in the early 1980s.
QBefore Ken Bacon --
MR. BACON: No, actually I was here when they were -- I was covering the Pentagon when they were introduced, which is how I happen to know these dates. So we hope that early in this current millennium we will be able to begin replacing those planes with new ones.
QSubject change to Colombia?
MR. BACON: Sure.
QCould you talk about what the military will be doing as part of that -- the aid package that's going, how much of what and when is going down?
MR. BACON: Well, I think that Secretary Albright and Director McCaffrey are briefing on that right now. But let me tell you what I know about the package.
The increase is part of a large plan, called the Plan Colombia, that President Pastrana has devised to improve his ability to protect democracy, to defeat insurgents, to cut down on the flow of illegal drugs, and to improve the justice system in Colombia.
This plan is a $7.5 billion plan over three years. Of that, Colombia plans to put up $4 billion, and President Pastrana of Colombia has asked other countries, including the U.S. and Europe, to supply the rest -- $3.5 billion.
The American decision, made by President Clinton, is to increase our aid to Colombia by approximately $1.3 billion. Of that, the Pentagon -- that's over two years. The bulk of it will come in the current fiscal year, '00, and I think that's approximately $950 million. And the rest will come in '01, the next fiscal year. Of that, approximately $1.3 billion -- it's slightly less, it's $1.278 billion, I think -- of that, the Pentagon share is approximately 10 percent, a little more than 10 percent -- $144 million over two years.
That will generally be used for three things. One, to train and equip two more counterdrug battalions. As you know, right now we are working to train and equip a counterdrug battalion. This is a battalion that will work completely on interdicting narcotics flows and eradicating narcotics facilities. It is not involved in counterinsurgency; it deals exclusively with arresting flows of illegal narcotics. By order of Congress, the members of these counternarcotics or counterdrug battalions have to be vetted for human rights abuses to make sure that we're not bringing abusers into the military and training them. And so everybody who participates in these counterdrug battalions will be properly vetted.
So, the $144 million that will go to the Pentagon will, one, train and equip two more of these counterdrug battalions.
QHow many people is that?
MR. BACON: I don't know the size of a Colombian battalion.
QHow many U.S. soldiers are down there? And do you envision more heading down?
MR. BACON: I don't envision that -- the number of soldiers -- or the number of U.S. citizens working on military programs varies between approximately 150 and 200, you know -- I mean, over time. Many of them are contractors or civilians running radar facilities. And the number of trainers who are from the Seventh Special Forces Group, varies from time to time, but I don't know how many are there now. But there will be, obviously, probably a small increase in the number of trainers at specific times as we begin training more Colombian soldiers. But it's a very modest number of American soldiers or military people there at any one time.
Let me just run through the rest of the program.
One will be to help set up a forward-operating location, which is actually in Ecuador, on the border of Colombia, to help strengthen our ability to provide intelligence information, mainly radar information, to the Colombians so they can use that to interdict illegal narcotics shipments.
And then the third element of our program will be to improve some radar and interdiction facilities within Colombia. I don't anticipate that this will lead to a major increase in the number of Americans in Colombia, and it certainly will lead to absolutely no change in our mission, which is to train and support the counter-drug forces.
QDoes that mean we will put more radar sites in Colombia?
MR. BACON: The main -- there will be some enhancement of the radar operations in Colombia. I don't have the exact details on that.
QWell, of the three sites that are currently operating, we'll just have better stuff?
MR. BACON: I believe that's the case. I don't believe there's a new site, but I'll double check on that.
QWith a forward-operating base in Ecuador, is there a chance that there would be any flight ops or any operational operations launched from there into Colombian territory?
MR. BACON: Well, we don't do interdictions, as you know. We give information.
QBut you do survey and intelligence-gathering --
MR. BACON: We could do survey and intelligence-gathering out of Ecuador.
QSo it would be an air base?
MR. BACON: Yes.
Let's go -- yes.
And also, one part of improving their ability to interdict, there'll be some increased training for riverine operations. They've got plenty of equipment for that, but the more successful we are at preventing narcotics shipments through air, the more they're driven to the ground and the rivers, so we have to help them stop up all avenues of exit.
QDid you check about the Black Hawks? And then also the $144 million increase that brings the total amount of money that DOD spends --
MR. BACON: We're spending about $50 million, $53 million this year, I think, and this would be 144 (million dollars) over two years. Black Hawks are being paid for by the State Department; the bulk of this money will be spent by the State Department. I believe there are 30 Black Hawks and 15 Hueys. The Black Hawks are new, the Hueys are old, secondhand. And that will be paid for out of the State Department allocation.
QThe Black Hawks will be for the two additional battalions, or will there be additional helicopter --
MR. BACON: Well, the Colombians will use them as they see fit, whether they're used by these particular battalions or by others, I don't know. I assume that they be used in part for interdiction to try to stop the airplane traffic.
QWill they be used for counterinsurgency? Are there restrictions? Do we have restrictions on them saying we can't use them --
MR. BACON: Because the Black Hawks are being supervised by the State Department, I can't speak authoritatively about them beyond their numbers.
QI assume that since the Hueys are all going to come out of the surplus U.S. military stocks --
MR. BACON: Yes. I believe that --
QThe number of Hueys is 15 or 50?
MR. BACON: Fifteen.
Thirty Black Hawks, 15 Hueys, I believe, are the proper numbers for this.
QWhen you say are "training battalions only to do drug interdiction and narcotics operations," I am a little confused because the insurgents are now in the drug and narcotics business. You are indicating that these troops will not fight the insurgents, but how in the world can you avoid it? And how can you tell?
MR. BACON: This is the type of difficult distinction our military is trained to make. (Laughter.) You are absolutely right: We are not in the counterinsurgency business; we are in the counternarcotics business. And we do our best to separate the two.
I have got a problem, which is I have a 2:30 appointment. I feel like the guy who came to work late and had to leave early. And as he said to his boss, "You know, I have got to leave early; I am sorry. But you should have seen how late I came in." (Laughter.) That's me, and I'll be back on Thursday to answer more questions.
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