Tuesday, April 11, 2000 - 1:30 p.m. EDT
(Also participating in this briefing was Lieutenant General Fred McCorkle, deputy chief of staff for Aviation, Headquarters Marine Corps)
Rear Admp. Quigley: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
We're going to do the briefing this afternoon in two steps. We're joined today by Lieutenant General Fred McCorkle, deputy chief of staff for Aviation of the Headquarters Marine Corps staff here in D.C. General McCorkle will have a brief statement and then take your questions on the MV-22 Osprey crash last weekend.
When General McCorkle is completed with that portion of the brief, he and his team will depart the briefing room, I'll return to the podium, and we'll tackle other questions after that.
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: I normally don't use notes when I give a brief, and I hope you'll forgive me if I end up reading some of this. Most of it I won't.
I'd like to start off by saying, for those of you that I talked to yesterday, once again the Marine Corps's heart goes out for the families of every one of these members of the Marine Corps that we lost and of the Marine Corps family. And as most of you all know, the Marines really take personally the loss of life of any our Marines.
While this mishap is currently undergoing investigation -- and that's what you normally get from most of the people that talk to you -- I will answer very candidly any of the questions that I can. And I also plan on giving updates to you as I can, as we go along.
When I talked to the commandant immediately after this accident, I recommended that we send a colonel from Headquarters Marine Corps, here in the Pentagon, and he concurred. And Colonel Dennis Bartels, who works here on the Headquarters Marine Corps staff, is currently out there. He is a CH-46 pilot by trade and has gone through a couple of these in the past. So I don't think that we could find anybody more experienced to head up the investigation.
Let me emphatically state that we're also looking for the truth. And as most of you know that have talked to me before, we will give it to you. Right now we have no indication of what caused the accident. I've heard on a number of news work (sic) that we were looking at pilot error. We are not. We're looking at anything that caused the accident, whether it's material, whether it's mechanical, or whether it was human factors-related. And right now we have none of that information.
I'll tell you a little bit about the scenario. For those of you that don't know, this was an operational evaluation out at the weapons and tactics instructors' course. This is a production airplane. I've heard a lot of people use the word "test." It is not a test airplane; it's one of the first four production airplanes for the Marine Corps, and it was doing an evaluation. All the tests were over and done with in the past, and I'll give you the hours on those in a couple of minutes.
There were 30 total airplanes in the flight, with helicopters involved, with F-18s involved. I briefed some of you yesterday that the F-18 that was overhead was watching the whole scenario on his FLIR, the forward-looking infrared. And it was my opinion that we had a tape of that. We do not, which really disappointed me. And it's like having your TV on at home but not your VCR. And I'm told that that's not unusual at all. I've flown the F-18 many times. Most of the time, when I flew it, they had the FLIR on and the FLIR tape, so that we could come back if we were doing air-to-air or whatever else. He did not have it on because this operation was taking place over a three- or a four-hour period. He was refueling in between and did not have it on.
The aircraft, as they were coming in, the first two MV-22s -- they had 15 troops on board each one of them. And they were doing a simulated evacuation from Marana Airfield out in Arizona.
There were two other MV-22s that were holding off to the side, and when the first two aircraft simulated the takedown of the airfield, they were going to come in and pick up the hostages.
At the same time, there were helicopters landing at each end of the other field as part of the weapons and tactics evaluation.
When the first aircraft came in -- and I have more data now than I had yesterday because this aircraft had a VSLED [vibration, structural life and engine diagnostics] on there, which takes the altitude, air speed and everything else off of the aircraft. This is the first aircraft, not the mishap aircraft. And he was in a hover at about 30 feet and 40 knots, slowly moving forward, as the second aircraft crashed. And I can back that up just a little bit and say, as they were coming in, they're supposed to have about a 1,000 feet interval. They were flying in a combat spread. The crew chief, when he looked at the aircraft, he looked at it, and they were moving into position directly behind, which is the way that we land when we do something like this. Approximately six seconds from that time was when the mishap aircraft impacted the ground. I told some of you seven seconds yesterday. So I was off by one second.
I understand that the crew chief did look back and did see the aircraft when he was approximately 200 feet and tucked nose down, according to the crew chief, and yawed to the right and went into the deck. So the crew chief did see him at about 200 feet, which I was asked yesterday and I said that I thought that it was lower than that.
When the aircraft impacted the ground -- and I know some of you have a couple of questions on the lead aircraft -- the explosion blew the ground cushion out from under the front aircraft, and he actually hit the ground on his wheels and went forward about 150 feet. Because he had the VSLED on there, which records everything on the aircraft, you know, as to if it's had any damage or whatever, all the VSLED indicates that there is no damage to the aircraft and it is good to go on the first aircraft, but we're having our experts look at it anyway.
As each of you know out here, our Marines are a precious asset to us. I will tell you that I've personally flown this aircraft. I know a lot of you who have taken several briefs from me have heard me say that many times, and I consider this to be the best aircraft that I've ever been in. This accident, to me, is not going to do anything to our MV-22 program, and I think this is a technology that this nation is going to get which rates right up there with the invention of the jet engine or rates right up there with the invention of the helicopter, for those of you that have heard me say that before.
It's a great aircraft. If there's something that caused this accident that was material, we will fix it. And we do plan to go on. This technology takes us from a helicopter that'll go 120 or 140 knots to one that has flown 342 knots.
For those of you that are interested and don't have this data, when I read several times, you know that this was a test aircraft. The test aircraft was an FSD aircraft, or full scale development. And in those aircraft, one through six, we flew almost 1,200 hours. After that, we had the EMD aircraft, engineering and manufacturing and development aircraft, which both the [F/A-18] E and F and MV-22 went through at about the same time. That was aircraft seven through 10 for -- four aircraft, and they flew approximately 1,600 hours. These production aircraft, we've received five. This one that crashed I think we received in January of this year. Is that correct? In January of this year. And the first five production aircraft had flown a total of 840 hours since we had received them.
This particular aircraft which we received in January had flown over 135 hours. And that, when Fred McCorkle had said it is more than most of our operational aircraft are flying out there, so that they had done very well. In fact, the four aircraft that were out there in the operational evaluation had flown 140 hours, over 140 hours in the last month, which was about 35 hours apiece.
The two pilots flying the aircraft, I did not bring their names for this because I did not think that that was appropriate. But I can tell you that they were very experienced. I can give you the names later if you would like to have them. One of them had over 3,800, or nearly 3,800 hours of flying, and the other one had over 2,100 hours. Both pilots were approaching a hundred hours in the MV-22, and both of them had a hundred hours or more in the simulator.
This aircraft was equipped -- and I'll read this part -- with a crash-survivable memory unit. When I talked to some of you yesterday, we discussed that. I went back, said, What does this thing really do?
It does a lot more than I thought it did. I was telling you how great it was, but it records 227 separate aircraft parameters, so when they get this out of the airplane, I think that it's going to provide us with invaluable insight.
The parameters, for those of you that don't already have this, there's airspeed, altitude, heading, engine performance data and so on, and any potential system malfunction should be indicated on there.
Q: You don't have it yet --
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: No, which will take me to the next part in there. We started recovery of the remains this morning at 0800. I know some people had already written or had on newscasts that all the remains had been recovered. They couldn't do that because we wanted to do it the right way. We asked for pathologists and others to come out on the scene. They started that at 8:00 this morning, and we did not want to disturb the bodies in order to get to the flight data recorder.
Q: Do you believe that the recovery of the bodies would provide you with evidence that would be helpful in the accident investigation?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: My normal comment on that would be that I wouldn't know. It's my opinion that the bodies will not give us any additional evidence in the cause of the accident. I think that the only thing that the recovery of the remains will do is bring the families to closure.
I might add that right now we have really been helped by our sister Navy, by the fire departments out there, by the police and by everyone involved. We've got 15 Aviation Mishap Board personnel on the scene. They've got 15 Naval Aviation Center personnel on the scene. Human resources personnel from Davis-Monthan are there with counselors on site; HMX-1, with their flight surgeons on site, and others that have helped us out in that area.
I'd like to conclude these remarks -- and then I'll take your questions -- by saying I can quote our secretary of the Navy, Mr. Danzig, in saying, "Evaluating new equipment and training for war, like war itself, puts life at risk." And in peace and war, our Marines accept that risk.
We do everything that we can do to keep them from being at risk, if we can.
I consider, as I told most of the people yesterday, that this particular flight has to be one of the most benign flights that we've had in the Osprey. The pilots were equipped with AN/AVS-9 night-vision goggles. And I used to read, when I was a youngster -- now everybody says good things about night-vision goggles -- but when somebody would say, "Hey, General" -- or -- "Hey, Colonel, I can tell you that you only have 20-40 perception or visibility with goggles," I would say: "Put your hand over your eyes, and now you have 20-400. Which would you rather have?" And that's what most people would say, when I would take them out in an airplane to show them to you.
I have also talked with General Whitlow, who is standing in the back here I think, but we are going to bring some night-vision goggles in from HMX-1. And for any of you that would like to see those, we'll take you -- and I think, if you haven't worn those before or put them on, it will make you a real believer. And the first time I ever put them on, I was what I consider to be an old guy, and I thought the good Lord had turned night into day.
With that, I will end. And I will take questions from you.
Q: General, you said the explosion of the crash "blew the cushion out" from underneath number-two helicopter. What is this cushion? A cushion has to be laid down on the field before it can land?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: As you come in to land -- and I am a helicopter pilot, and I'd also determined, since yesterday, that the aircraft was in the helicopter mode. I had heard a lot of people say, "Well, was it in the transition mode?" I said, "I don't know if it was in the fixed-wing, transition or helicopter mode." It was in the helicopter mode. The crew chief on the lead aircraft did see that. That is not considered to be privileged information by me, so I'll pass it on to you.
For all the people that have flown a helicopter or flown in one, or even a fixed-wing aircraft, as you come into the ground in a helicopter and you're sucking the wind down, it gives you a ground cushion so that you can lift on the ground than you can if you get up high in the air.
This particular aircraft, when this explosion came and the force came out, they didn't only blow out his ground cushion, you know, but it blew out anything else that was under there so they came down on the wheels, impacted the ground. And he had a little bit of forward speed, which was good for him, as far as I am concerned, and he went about 150 feet.
Q: So this is a cushion of air created by the rotors?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: That's correct. That's correct.
Q: I was going to ask you whether there was -- early there was a report that an eye witness said there was a fire before the aircraft hit the ground. Is there any indication of that?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: There is no indication of that. I talked with the Safety Center -- and these guys at the Safety Center and the engineers, as most of you all know from civilian accidents, or whatever, have gotten better and better over the years to where they can tell you when an aircraft caught on fire, how it caught on fire, whatever. And there is no indication whatsoever that there was any fire before the aircraft impacted the ground.
Q: So when do you think you'll get to the flight data recorder?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: It would be premature for me to say, but we are hoping to recover the remains today; if we do, then I would think tomorrow. Now, if it's two or three days, and you can say the general lied to us. Most people would say it's premature for me to say we're hoping to recover all the remains today and to get to it tomorrow morning.
Q: Sir, do you know at what point the tilting of the rotors had been completed? And the question, of course, goes to the real question as to whether this technology was involved or contributed to or the cause of this crash.
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: No, but I do know that it was in the helicopter mode. I didn't know that yesterday. I think that the crash -- flight data recorder will tell us that. But I can tell you, with 3,600 hours in the aircraft, total hours for all these aircraft together, we've never had a problem with that transition in there. And the technology on this tilt rotor aircraft, in Fred McCorkle's opinion, is much more elementary than it is in a regular helicopter.
Q: But this was the second accident --
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: Yes, sir?
Q: Yes, thank you. General, does the Marine Corps absolutely need the MV-22?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: Sir, I think that the nation absolutely needs the MV-22. And I can tell you that if you looked at Desert Shield and Desert Storm -- I'm a CH-46 pilot by trade. I'm a guy that lost five of these airplanes, was shot down five times in Vietnam, taking care of the guy on the ground. And we could not -- we could not support the ground troops like we needed to support them in Southwest (sic) Asia, and we kept moving the bases closer and closer and closer to the front lines in order to do that.
Here you have an aircraft that can go 2,100 nautical miles, 300 knots. It takes our sons and daughters out of harm's way vice putting them in harm's way because it allows you to go 4(00) or 500 miles around, you know, vice going up the throat of the enemy. It's a great technology. Why somebody didn't think of it before or bring it on before, I don't know, but do we need that? I think anybody that don't have it is going to be left out of the game real soon.
We have also seen for this nation, with you all reporting, NEO after NEO when we couldn't get to somebody, whether it was a Somalia or a Kosovo or somewhere else, you know? And here's an aircraft that can take you around, you know, a flanking maneuver or whatever else, put you in there, take care of our sons and daughters for this nation or somebody else. And is that a propaganda? It may be, but I really believe in the aircraft. I'm just sorry I'm going to be in a rest home before all of them are fielded. (Laughter.)
Q: What will be the -- (inaudible) -- event to when you lift the temporary grounding -- what evidence will you have to have -- (inaudible) -- let them go back to flying?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: To me -- and I run Marine aviation, even though the assistant commandant is an aviator and senior to me I run aviation for the Marine Corps -- it's my recommendation to the commandant that we would do a operational pause on these aircraft, number one, to give the families of these great Marines, you know, to honor them for a period of time. We started this morning doing ground turns and taxi or any other operations that we needed to do on the ground, and I think that we will return to the air in the very near future.
Q: About the pilot, a little bit on that. I don't know exactly what your standards are for flying new aircraft, but what I saw, how many hours that they had in that particular aircraft, it struck me as low to be participating in an exercise where other people's lives depend on them. If I were flying a commercial aircraft and I found that my pilot had lots of flight hours, but only, say, 86 in the particular aircraft he was flying, I'd be nervous. Could you explain how -- what the standards are for that sort of flight?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: If I'm not mistaken, the Learjet that just crashed with a multimillionaire on it, that the guy only had less than 50 hours in that particular aircraft. But what we do is we have the standards -- we run these guys through a very strenuous test program. If you go to HMX, as an example, and you've never flown a 53 or a 46 or whatever else, it's about a 15- or 20-hour syllabus, you know, until you can sign for the airplane, if you're an experienced pilot.
On this one, we had one of the individuals with a 120 hours in the simulator and 93 hours, I think, in the aircraft. The other one had, like, 87 hours in the airplane and close to 100 hours in the simulator. And both of them very experienced. In fact, the one individual, with the 3,777.1 hours -- I said approximately 3,800 -- but he was one of the more experienced pilots, I think, that you would find in any of the services.
Q: All right. I can't argue with the experience, but could you just give me a cut-off line? How many hours will it take for a future V-22 pilot before they can fly out the aircraft and participate in an operation? How much will they have to log in training?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: For the individuals that are in (inaudible), when they undergo 204, that training syllabus is -- what, 25 hours?
STAFF: Yes, sir.
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: 25 hours. Of course, now with the structure that we've built and the individuals that are out there flying now, they'll be the more experienced. They should have a couple of hundred hours when they come out, so those guys will be co- pilots for a while. But it's approximately a 25-hour syllabus.
Q: You said before that you never had any problem with a transition, but wasn't the second accident in '92, where seven people died, wasn't that while the V-22 was making a transition?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: It was -- I've got the second cause right here. There was a sequence of events that resulted in the failure of the interconnecting drive shaft that lost drive to the propeller system on that. And so the drive shaft broke on that. That aircraft, I can tell you, as I discussed yesterday, was completely different. That was an EMD airplane put together by pieces and hands, and which is very, very different from these aircraft, which are production aircraft with all the simulation and everything else, you know, that's been put into these.
Q: General, do you know, I'm wondering what is the plan to deploy MV-22s to Okinawa, Japan, when it will be.
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: I'm not sure. There again, I may be in a rest home before it's deployed over there. If I was in Okinawa, Japan, and I was in the Japanese government or an Okinawan, I would really look forward to this aircraft because it's much quieter than a regular helicopter, leaves the area much quicker and gets to the training area and everything else.
I'm not sure -- I'm sure that when they have the summit this summer and a decision is made on Futenma and where they're going and so on, that decisions will be made after that. And I don't think anything is concrete yet on that.
Q: General, you said that you expected the V-22 to be flying again very soon. Are you not then going to wait till you know what happens with this crash? And if that's the case, why not?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: This is the way that we do on every accident, I think, in the Department of the Navy or actually in the Department of Defense. We lose F-16s or F-18s or whatever else all the time, and we don't stop flying unless there's a reason when the accident occurs that someone says, Hey, I think there was kind of a flight control malfunction or something else, and then we will red stripe the airplanes and hold them down. Thus far -- and I've talked to a lot of people on this particular accident, from Yuma to the safety center or whatever, and I've had nothing so far to lead me to believe that we would have to hold them down.
Q: I think you said that the normal distance between these two aircraft would have been about a thousand feet?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: That's correct.
Q: If it were less than that, is it possible that the interaction, or the proximity of the two could have been a contributor to the cause of this? And is there a minimum distance that is safe?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: Well, a minimum distance, when we fly formation, we fly 10 feet away from the other aircraft. Jets most of the time -- and when they're going 500 knots, they're about 4 feet away from the other aircraft, which makes it -- when you come in and land, we land a lot of times, I would say, 50 feet from the other aircraft. But I don't know how close this aircraft was. I do not think that the proximity of the aircraft had anything to do with the accident in this case. And the reason I say that is because -- and having a lot of time in fixed wing and helicopters, if the guy in front of me, if my closure rate is on him, then I'm going to be picking up the nose, not stuffing the nose over to the ground. So I would think that he would be trying to pick it up, you know, and go off to the side.
Q: A pitch-down from a slow flight condition usually says, you know, stall. But if he had rotated into the helicopter mode, that would not be a classic reaction unless there had been a control system problem or the pilot did something else wrong. Normally if he -- if he'd been in the transition mode, you could say stall. But if he's already in the helicopter mode, that doesn't compute.
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: That's correct. And that's one that I will not speculate on because I think -- and I hate not to do that, but I'm not going to speculate on that because I think that that's up to the mishap investigation board. And I wouldn't -- there are a thousand different things that could happen that could him to do that. And I would prefer not to get into it.
Q: (Off mike) -- mechanical, rather than pilot?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: It -- it could have been any -- it could be maintenance, mechanical or a human factor, and we're looking at all of those.
Q: General, could you clear up the price tag on these aircraft?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: This gentleman here, and then I'll get you.
Q: General, do you know how much experience the pilots had with the particular set of night-vision goggles they were using? And do you know how long those goggles have been in the field? How long have they been used by --
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: I've flown the AN/AVS-9; the AN/AVS-6 were before that, and the AN/AVS-9 is a step up. It's light years ahead of the AN/AVS-6. They're both worn and used the same way. I do know that one of the pilots had over 400 hours on goggles. The other pilot, I think, had 70 -- somewhere over 70 hours. When we would take -- when I was a commanding officer of the Marine Weapons and Tactics Squadron and we took an individual in out of the Marine Corps during that time, and that was about 15 years ago, but you had to have 15 hours on goggles in order to be a weapons and tactics instructor to be trained.
So, 70 is a lot; 400 is a heck of a lot.
Q: Can you clear up for us the price tag on this aircraft? I've seen it various reported between $40 (million) and $80 million apiece. How much do they cost?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: I'll be more than happy to, and this is on the back of an envelope, not something that you can take to the bank on price tag. But the way that I talk about price is what all the DOD aircraft are priced at is '94 dollars. It's -- the last official price on the MV-22 in '94 dollars is $39.9 million. I understand now that that is going to increase to, like, 41.7 or something million dollars, but when I hear somebody say it's $80 million, I'll say, Okay, so what does your aircraft cost and -- when we look at it in the same way? So normally, when you hear prices of $80 million or 100 million, somebody is comparing apples and oranges.
And the first aircraft that's built costs a lot of money, because that's the only one on the production line. I wouldn't want to speculate on what the first 747 cost when it was on the production line, and I won't get into some of our military aircraft, but the first one costs a lot more.
Q: But just -- not to overthink this, but just for a layman, what do the next ones cost that you're buying in today's dollars?
Is $80 million an accurate representation of how much this is costing --
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: No, it's an inaccurate representation of what they cost. I think that the ones right now -- and like I said, I can't give you the exact figures. But I think with the -- and the low rate production, and we're getting 11 of them in '00. The ones that we got in '99 I think were somewhere in the area of $57 million.
Q: General, when you --
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: And now, once you go up to 30 or 36 a year is when the price goes down, just like on the [F/A-18] E and F, just like on any other aircraft like that.
Q: Well, just take the question, though, about -- it is an expensive aircraft. And you've touted its virtues. But couldn't you buy a lot of helicopters, good helicopters for that money and save yourself a bundle?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: I will tell you what you could buy for that money. I could give you the answer that a lot of people -- that I've given to a lot of people. The MV-22 is expensive when you compare it to a loaf of bread or a bobsled. Compare it to an [F/A-18] E and F, or an F- 22, or a B-1, or any other aircraft like that -- our last Department of the Navy Blackhawks that we bought we about $29 million a copy with the avionics gear on them. So your answer is no, and this airplane is twice as fast, goes four times as far, it'll carry twice as much as any of our other helicopters, plus what it brings, I would go back and say how many A-1 Spads could you buy instead of buying an [F/A-18] E and F or instead of buying an F-22? And you would probably say, What are you, nuts?
Q: Exactly right. (Laughter.)
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: But I wouldn't say that to you, because it'd be inappropriate. So -- (laughter).
Q: General, do you -- there's some confusion, I think, about the infantry Marines on board. Were they role players? Were they conducting a NEO? And if they were conducting a NEO, have their weapons been recovered?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: I'm not sure about the weapons or what they're doing with that. They were conducting the NEO, and they were role players in their part of the weapons and tactics instruction course and part of the evaluation on how the MV-22 worked in with other helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.
Q: General, you've said that the aircraft was in helicopter mode before it crashed.
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: That's correct.
Q: Does helicopter mode mean that the nacelles are fully vertical, or is anything other than horizontal in helicopter mode? The reason I ask is because if they were fully vertical, it seems there would be something drastically wrong if it went nose in with them fully vertical.
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: It was in the helicopter mode. Other than that, I can't speculate. It was fully in the helicopter mode.
Q: You mean they were fully vertical, though, the engines?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: Yes. Like this -- (indicating), not like this. The nacelles were up --
Q: (Inaudible) -- engines were, though.
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: Yes, that's correct. That's correct.
Q: So wouldn't that indicate something was drastically wrong if those engines were up vertically completely and it went into a nose dive?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: Something drastically wrong happened in order for the airplane to crash. And that's as far as I could go.
Q: What will be the procedure for releasing the findings from the (inaudible)? Will you follow the same procedure that the NTSB does and give a full briefing at the time, or does the Navy have a procedure that you all have to follow?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: I think that that will be up to the Safety Center and the Aviation Mishap Board. As most of you know from the past, that Aviation Mishap Board is closed. And as a closed document and as a closed board, in fact I, as the deputy commandant for aviation, can't call Denny Bartels, who is a friend of mine, and say, "Hey, Denny what's going on?" But I will say that the Safety Center in recent years has really come forward, and they've really come forward for the press to let the American public know, and the families or whatever else, to say, "We do not think that an engine caused this jet mishap or whatever." And as soon as they provide information like that, then I'll provide it to you all.
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: Yes, sir.
Q: Sir, if I could follow up one more question regarding that second crash, the one in the Potomac, it apparently occurred during rotation or transition of the engines, and it was a fire that disabled the cross shaft, and a fire that would not have occurred on an engine that stayed fixed, because the oil would have stayed cool down at the bottom of the nacelle. So how can you say that this kind of transition is not involved, or not contributory, at least, to what happened?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: For a Marine aviator, and I think you could take any armed forces aviator or any civilian aviator, I have personally seen at least a thousand engine fires in my time; and I could say that if this had been a nacelle, you know, we wouldn't have had that engine fire, or if this had been a helicopter engine, we wouldn't have had that jet engine fire, or whatever else down the line.
But it had nothing to do with it being a nacelle, it had to do with it being a(n) oil line or whatever that leaked the oil or something else in there. And -- but it had nothing to do with the tilt rotor technology, the accident itself. And I think that the investigation or whatever which was opened stated that emphatically on both of them. And we've flown 2,400 hours since that accident.
Rear Adm. Quigley: Just one or two more, ladies and gentlemen.
Q: General, you heard that family members of some of the people who were killed yesterday characterize the accident by saying that their son was a guinea pig, that they know that the aircraft was unsafe and their child had communicated that to them. Can you respond to those characterizations of distraught families? Where do you think they're getting this impression that this is a raw aircraft that is not safe and that their kids were guinea pigs?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: I just talked with the commandant this morning at length. And I can tell you that his heart is broken that anyone felt that way, and it's really because of misinformation. And quite frankly, you all can help me in that area in saying that this was not a test aircraft, you know, that this was an operational aircraft. And as soon as somebody puts out, you know, that they're undergoing a test or something like that and the family reads it, then it would really torque my jaws, too. And these are operational aircraft that we plan on flying for years in squadrons in the Marine Corps and are production aircraft and in no way test aircraft. And we are trying to get the word out to the family now to let them know that, because it really -- that makes me feel that someone believes that I'm not taking care of their Marines. And even though these were troops in the back, you know, and weren't aviators, you know, flying an airplane, it absolutely breaks my heart, and I think they've been given misinformation.
Q: And when is the next batch of these aircraft coming into your hands, and how many? What -- like, months from now, six more, or --
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: We're getting, what, 11 in '00. We're getting about one a month, or one every 33 days, or 34 days, or whatever.
Since these four were undergoing evaluation, we've received one more, which is the first one in New River.
Q: Where do you stand on the operational test and evaluation? How long can you maintain your non-flying status before you start running into problems?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: Right now we're ahead. We've done really great on number of hours, or whatever else, when you compare it. And I don't know what other aircraft look like, but 135 hours in a 30-day period for four aircraft, we've really done well in that area. But I don't think that that's going to be a long period of time. Like I said, we're doing ground turns and taxing or whatever we need to do today, and I think that we'll be back up in the air relatively soon.
Q: Sir, you've got a major production decision, though, coming up in October, it's the milestone three, to turn the spigot on for most of the airplanes in this program. At this point, is there any question in your mind that that decision point should go through, or does the accident on Saturday raise basic questions about the design stability of the aircraft?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: As I told you yesterday, there's no doubt in my mind whatsoever, you know, that the full rate of production decision will be made with milestone three and that it will go through. Every single person I've ever talked with that's been involved with that aircraft think that it's the best thing that's ever happened to the Marine Corps and to the nation, and we see no design flaws; we haven't seen any in the op eval. We think that during EMD and the initial testing, that all of those have been fixed and we're ready to go.
Q: As long as operational evaluation is continuing, to me that seems like it's just a test aircraft. Could you explain why that's not correct?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: Right now, every aircraft that's involved over 100 out at MAWTS-1 [Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1], some of them 30 years old, some of them almost as old as me, are undergoing an evaluation, an operational test out there with the weapons and tactics squadron. What we're doing with these aircraft, with the MV-22s right now, when they're undergoing the operational evaluation, we're seeing how they will be used with other aircraft in operations in the world, whether it's a NEO or it's a (inaudible) or whether it's ship-board landings.
And we have done all those. And like I said, if you ever go into a ship -- or to the individuals yesterday -- ever go into a ship on night-vision goggles and you're landing on something the size of stamp, then that is really dangerous and puts you at risk. And we have done all that in flying colors. So this is operations and how we are going to do future operations.
Q: Has the Operational Test Office given this its firm stamp of approval? Have they given it a final passing grade?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: That happens, at the end of op eval, before they go into a full-rate production.
Q: So that hasn't happened yet?
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: No.
Q: Thank you.
Lt. Gen. McCorkle: Thanks.
Rear Adm. Quigley: We have with us today, for the second part of today's brief, 12 students from the Freedom Forum, participating in an international journalism program. And they are here in the Pentagon with us today to see how communication and interrelationship between the Department of Defense and the news media -- so welcome to each and every one of you. Please feel free to ask questions during the briefing, if you wish.
With that, I have no further announcements. I'll be glad to take your questions.
Q: Craig, is the Pentagon satisfied with the Marine Corps' decision to go ahead and fly these planes again, before the cause and effect is determined? I mean, this is a Defense Department aircraft, not just a Marine aircraft. The Air Force and the Navy also are going to buy these things. Are you happy with the decision by the --
Rear Adm. Quigley: We are confident that the Marine Corps will do the right thing and make the right decision, as to when and under what conditions flights will resume. So the answer to your question is yes.
Q: Could you -- on a different subject?
Rear Adm. Quigley: Sure. Any -- well, let me pause for one second.
I am seriously under-armed as to the specifics of anything with the MV-22 crash. That's why we asked General McCorkle to come down today. So I would ask any of you, if you do have any follow-on questions on the MV-22 crash, to just steer those to Dave Lapan and his team there at Marine Corps, please.
Q: The Russian tanker that was detained?
Rear Adm. Quigley: Yes.
Q: Shell Oil says its Iranian oil, and that they are going to be filing a compensation claim; I think $17,000 a day.
Rear Adm. Quigley: I haven't read those reports yet.
Q: Do you all have any reaction to this? To you have any reason to believe that it might not be Iraqi oil?
Rear Adm. Quigley: Well, we don't think -- we think we're right. And we stopped the tanker as part of the normal maritime intercept operations. We think the cargo tests, having taken the sample and sent it off to laboratories for the analysis that we've discussed here in this room before, will provide convincing evidence of the petroleum product's origin. We don't have that analysis back yet. The status of the ship itself remains basically unchanged from several days ago. It is detained, but certainly has not yet been diverted pending the final analysis of the petroleum products on board.
Q: Have any other detained ships ever sued the U.N. or the U.S. Navy?
Rear Adm. Quigley: I don't know.
Q: On the same subject, in past incidents there was corroborating evidence in the form of the ship's logs, in the form of satellite tracking of the ship in the region and testimony from crew on the ship and so on. Is there any corroborating evidence in this case?
Rear Adm. Quigley: Well, we at least challenge -- and this is the U.N. Maritime Intercept Force -- we at least challenge by bridge to bridge radio virtually every cargo vessel, petroleum vessel north of 29 North. And it's really improved the effectiveness of the intercept operations by moving north into the Arabian Gulf before ships have a chance to disperse, and it's just easier to track them earlier on.
In each and every case we try to have a variety of inputs that goes into the process of checking the bona fides on the origin of the cargo from a tanker vessel. Some of these could be, certainly, its navigation track, any sort of a history of movement, a history of past smuggling operations, suspicious movements once it's in international waters, to do some sort of a transfer at sea of a petroleum product. I don't know if there's any single thing that we rely on too much. It's a combination of all of the above.
And most of the time, when we do a bridge-to-bridge check of a vessel, most of the time nothing comes up, if you will, despite the fact that we've seen increased instances of smuggling recently as the price of oil has risen. But most of the ships aren't smuggling. But if those factors come together to just make us say, hey, this one we better take an extra close look at, then we will do that and take that action. In the particular case, after the bridge-to-bridge radio conversation, the master of the vessel, this was a completely compliant boarding, it's called, and the maritime intercept force was invited aboard to inspect the vessel, take the samples and whatnot.
Q: Well, were there other indicators in this specific case of the ship -- I mean, in past instances, again, there was tracking --
Rear Adm. Quigley: There were contributing factors from other sources that led us to challenge and board this particular ship.
Q: Can you share with us at all what it might have been?
Rear Adm. Quigley: No, I can't. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. But it is --
Q: Would it be of an intelligence nature?
Rear Adm. Quigley: -- I gave you examples of those. But yes, it would be of an intelligence nature.
Q: What about the navigation equipment on board the ship, charts? Do they provide any information, or have you --
Rear Adm. Quigley: I think we're waiting on -- I have not heard the specifics. As to what the boarding team in this case, from -- the United States Ship Russell was the members of the boarding party in this case -- I'm not sure what products. I would go back and add that to the list, Chris, of items also. You would check the navigation -- electronic navigation equipment on board. You would check the charts, have there been sudden and hurried erasures on a navigation chart to try to disguise a recent navigation track. All of those all contribute to the same thing, but I have not heard, Tom, as to whether or not that was done in this particular case.
Q: Different subject?
Rear Adm. Quigley: Yes.
Q: With the Israeli prime minister in town this week, can you bring us up to date on is the Defense Department still opposed to Israel's sale of radar to China? And why, exactly, is the Pentagon opposed to this sale, especially Defense Secretary Cohen?
Rear Adm. Quigley: Well, just to take you back a week or a week and a half ago, when Secretary Cohen was in Israel at the very start of his trip to the Middle East, he had a press availability with Mr. Barak, and I guess they would agree to disagree during that session that this was a good sale.
Secretary Cohen's position is that this is a very sophisticated system. It is a -- it would allow the Chinese, in this case, or any nation that would have this technology, to have the startings of a very sophisticated airborne battle management system, similar to the U.S. AWACS or E-2 Hawkeye or something of that sort, and in this particular case, given the tensions between China and Taiwan, and adding a system of this capability would upset that very delicate balance that we try very hard to maintain in that part of the world. And so for that reason and the capability that it would provide China versus any other nation in that region, Secretary Cohen has expressed his views to the Israelis that he just doesn't think that this sale is in the best interests.
Q: Why didn't the United States -- go ahead.
Q: Do you have --
Rear Adm. Quigley: Go ahead, Barbara -- (laughter) -- and then I'll come back.
Q: Do you have any indication that the Israelis are going to agree to withhold the sale?
Rear Adm. Quigley: No, again, Mr. Barak, during that session, said that he was very much aware of the U.S. opposition to the sale, but by the same token, I will try to paraphrase his words, he also would -- is very much aware of the Israeli contractual obligations on an international scale with China, in this particular case. So we'll see how this plays out in the weeks ahead.
Q: Can I just ask you also, I don't know if it's kind of a nitpicky question, does the U.S. government have any contractual or export license right to involve itself in this transaction, or are we simply on the sidelines expressing our opposition to it?
Rear Adm. Quigley: Yeah, we have no sense at all that there is any U.S. technology that is involved in this sale, so this is not some surreptitious, under-the-table transaction at all. But by the same token, no, I mean, the U.S. sees conventional arms sales and sensors and radars and things like that sold on the world market and as you know, that's quite legal. So it's just in this particular case we think it's important that we continue to say to the Israeli government that we just don't think that this particular sale is in that region or anybody's best interests.
Q: Well, why didn't the United States object to this sale three years ago when Israel first got the contract instead of now, as it's about ready to deliver the aircraft?
Rear Adm. Quigley: I thank you for asking, because I've seen press reporting in that regard. And shortly after the Israelis announced their intentions to conduct this sale in '96, we started, through diplomatic channels, to voice our opposition to the Israelis, and have been consistent and continually voiced that opposition for three-plus years along that line. This might be the most visible and public objection to the sale recently, perhaps, with Secretary Cohen in Israel. But the -- our position has been consistent for this three- plus-year period.
Q: Does the United States have any assurances or can it provide Israel any insurances (sic) that if Israel were to stop the sale, that the other two countries that bid on it, Britain and France, U.S. allies, would not then provide the same technology to China?
Rear Adm. Quigley: I don't think so. I think that -- I don't think we could offer those assurances. It would kind of start the process over again.
Q: Does the United States withhold anything, use any leverage, as far as weaponry, to persuade the Israelis not to sell this system? And how long is this system from being delivered? Do you know?
Rear Adm. Quigley: Mm. I don't know on the second part. I'd have to steer you to the government of Israel in that regard. I get the sense that it's approaching that point where the contact can be fulfilled, but I can't quantify that for you.
And certainly, on the former part of the question, we have expressed through diplomatic channels, in our military-to-military channels with the Israelis over this three-plus-year period of time why we don't think that this is a sale that should go forward. And we just think that that's the right way to go, and try to convince the Israelis that this is not a plus for that region of the world.
Q: But nothing is being withheld, from the United States?
Rear Adm. Quigley: Not at this point, no.
Q: Is there any --
Rear Adm. Quigley: Again, I just wanted to repeat that there's no indication here that there's any U.S. technology involved in this sale.
Q: New subject?
Rear Adm. Quigley: Any others on that subject? Yes, sir?
Q: Has there been any discussion of withholding U.S. military assistance to Israel over this --
Rear Adm. Quigley: No, but I have seen press reports of increasing congressional concern on the sale. I think it would be safe to assume that you might expect greater congressional scrutiny of any anticipated assistance to Israel.
But I -- short of -- beyond that, I think it would be speculative. But that increased interest is clear.
Q: Does the department -- is the Department of Defense undertaking or going to undertake any sort of action or review or -- that might result in any DOD civilian or military personnel being disciplined in any way for the erroneous targeting of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade?
Rear Adm. Quigley: No, sir. We have no such effort underway or contemplate it.
Q: Why not, considering that the CIA has taken action? And the CIA's faulty intelligence was reviewed here at the Pentagon, also at NATO headquarters in Brussels, and none of this erroneous targeting information was caught. What -- is there no responsibility on the part of the Pentagon, the U.S. military or the alliance, for this mistake?
Rear Adm. Quigley: Well, I -- you know, we have apologized profusely to the Chinese government. We have made financial reparations for the repair of the damaged embassy. We've made voluntary humanitarian payments to the families of those injured and killed in the attack. We have said over and over again that this was a mistake, a tragic mistake that ended in the death and injury of people and severe damage to property. But the CIA is certainly empowered to take whatever action they feel necessary. I would only tell you that in the Defense Department we do not have a similar action underway or contemplate it.
Q: Well, didn't the -- the CIA says that one of its employees pointed out or raised questions about the target. While he didn't know it was the Chinese embassy, he questioned whether it was the accurate target and tried to relay that information to the U.S. military, and apparently nothing was done about that and the bombing went forward. Isn't there some account -- why is it that the CIA can have accountability and take action and announce it publicly but the Pentagon's not even -- not only are you not taking any action, you're not even apparently considering reviewing any accountability in this case?
Rear Adm. Quigley: Well, I'm not clear as to what path the CIA employee that you referred to tried to take to inform, you know, someone in the Defense Department. I'm just not familiar with that process. The CIA clearly looked at it and they made the decision that was announced over the weekend. But I can just tell you that we have no similar action pending.
Q: Isn't it clear, though, in this situation that there were lapses, at least in communication if not judgment, within the DOD in this situation?
Rear Adm. Quigley: Well, clearly, I mean, a horrible mistake was made. We thought that we were shooting at the FDSP headquarters. And it ended up being the Chinese embassy. I think the whole process -- I would take you back to then-Deputy Secretary Hamre and Director of the CIA George Tenet's testimony from last fall, a lengthy testimony before, I believe, the House Select Committee on Intelligence, I believe, in detail after detail of the process and what we've learned in taking a look at it after the fact. Lots of process improvements that we recognize can and should -- many have been already made.
Q: Thank you.
Q: But there were failures within the Department of Defense in this chain.
Rear Adm. Quigley: Any process that leads you to hit the wrong target clearly is not a process that we want to see happen again.
Q: So you're not saying that the Defense Department is without any responsibility in this situation.
Rear Adm. Quigley: Oh, certainly not. Certainly not.
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