Tuesday, May 16, 2000, 2 p.m. EDT
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Wake up, Charlie. It's time to wake up. The excitement is beginning now. Let me start with a couple of announcements. As you know, this week is the 50th anniversary of Armed Forces Day and there are a series of celebrations. One will occur here on Thursday, on the Parade Ground, from 10:00 to 11:00. Secretary Cohen will host a ceremony honoring approximately 300 military and civilians who have performed extremely well and deserve special recognition. They have been nominated by their divisions, teams, et cetera, throughout the national capital region, and they will receive special recognition and some awards from Secretary Cohen and then the Golden Knights will parachute onto the parade field to end --
Q: (Off mike) -- Shelton?
Mr. Bacon: Pardon?
Q: Will Shelton --
Mr. Bacon: No, he's not a Golden Knight. He's a knight, but not one of the trained Golden Knights, so he won't be in that jump, as far as I know. And then, of course, there will be the major ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base with the president on Friday and over the weekend there will be an open house at Andrews Air Force Base, and that will have performances by the Air Force Thunderbirds, Navy Blue Angels, Army Golden Knights, and there will be an air display out there, as well, so it'll be a great way to spend a weekend with your kids, looking at the military.
Second, I want to bring you up to date on the support that we're giving to fighting the fires in New Mexico. So far, there are 1,017 New Mexico Army and Air National Guard members on state active duty to assist civil authorities in operations around Los Alamos. And we have a long list of equipment which we can give you after the briefing that they are using to help combat these fires -- 106 Humvees, 37 2-1/2 ton trucks, et cetera. But it's quite a large mobilization of equipment, including ambulances, helicopters, generators, et cetera, being supplied by the Guard.
Tomorrow, the minister of Defense of Argentina, Mr. Lopez Murphy, will be here for an honors ceremony, meetings with Secretary Cohen and a press conference at 11:15, in Room 3E912.
Now, this is a preview of something very exciting that's going to happen on Thursday. We are going to announce on Thursday a special program with Yahoo!, the Internet company that is incorporating some military jobs into its Fantasy Careers programs. These aren't fantasy careers; these are real careers available to any young man or woman who joins the military. But this will be an interesting development that will have, we hope, some impact on recruiting.
And finally, with recruiting in mind, I'd like to welcome 22 interns from Phillips Academy and Phillips Exeter Academy who are here as part of their annual spring Washington program.
With that, I'll take your questions. Charlie?
Q: Ken, are there going to be any last-minute lobbying efforts by the secretary on the Hill in connection to the housing bill, the military construction bill on the Kosovo situation? And is there a compromise? Are you all working on a compromise, some kind of compromise, to try to yourselves out of this problem?
Mr. Bacon: Well, the easiest way out of the problem, as Secretary Cohen has highlighted, is for the amendment that would set a time-certain deadline, for getting out of Kosovo, to be withdrawn or modified in some way. Secretary Cohen has made it very clear, in his letter to Senator Stevens and in his public comments here this morning and elsewhere, that he doesn't think this is a good idea. General Wesley Clark is on the Hill today, talking to both Republican and Democratic senators about the problems that the so-called Byrd amendment would cause with our allies and the setback that it could impose on our efforts to calm the situation in Kosovo.
So we are working very hard, the entire administration is working hard, on this, and we will continue to work hard on it.
Q: Ken, is there any --
Mr. Bacon: Well, Secretary Cohen is in the process of talking to people on the Hill about this. I'm not aware of a compromise of this plan. It's something that could emerge later.
Q: As I understood it, the proposal said that the troops must be withdrawn unless Congress approves an extension of some kind. Is the thinking here that you would just never get that extension?
Mr. Bacon: Well, first of all, remember, this is something that's going to afflict the next administration, not this administration. This administration does not want to saddle or does not want to have Congress saddle the next administration with a problem that could cause the premature end to a peacekeeping and stabilizing operation in Kosovo.
Obviously, any administration next year would believe that it could win the support of Congress. But we think it's better not to leave the sword of Damocles over the mission. For one thing, it sets an artificial deadline that can be manipulated by either side, the Serbs or the Kosovar Albanians, potentially to their advantage. It raises questions about the firmness of U.S. commitments to foreign policy goals. And it raises questions about the firmness of our commitment to working with our allies. And it raises questions about whether our allies can count on our continued participation in what is a very important NATO mission.
So for those reasons Secretary Cohen and others in the administration are arguing that this is a bad idea.
Mr. Lambros Papantoniou.
Q: It was reported that Secretary of Defense William Cohen and the Greek Minister of National Defense Apostolos Tsohatzopoulos most recently exchanged letters regarding your fighter F-16. Do you know what it's all about?
Mr. Bacon: I don't. We generally don't talk about specific correspondence between Secretary Cohen and his counterparts. But as you know, Greece has signed a letter of offer and acceptance to purchase 50 F-16s. And I assume that the letters may have involved some part of that transaction.
Q: But how do you speak to the Greek complaints that you violated the agreement of April 30th, 1999, which has been signed in Athens with the presence of Ambassador Nicholas Burns because you refused to the Greeks to give air-to-air missiles AGM 142, the bomb BU-87, and, of course, -- (inaudible) -- 2,000 -- (inaudible)?
Mr. Bacon: I don't respond to it. I wasn't aware of those complaints. But I'll look into them.
Q: When the secretary was here this morning, he mentioned, without any elaboration, that there's a U.S. team in Sierra Leone. Could you tell us who these people are, what they're doing? Is that different from the group that was in Nigeria?
Mr. Bacon: Yes. Right now there are two liaison officers, U.S. liaison officers, in Sierra Leone. One is a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and the other is an Air Force master sergeant, and they are there helping to coordinate with the British and looking at what might be the special security needs, if any, or equipment needs, for U.S. flights that may come into Sierra Leone if we do more in terms of transporting people or equipment from other countries to Sierra Leone. So far, we've only brought in one U.S. plane, which is a C-17. It came in over the weekend carrying equipment, mainly ammunition, from Jordan. But we have offered to supply air lift to other countries and should we do that, we'd just want an assessment of what's happening there.
So there are two officers there now; I mean, two people, the Marine and the Air Force master sergeant. Tomorrow, five more are going in, an Air Force team, to look at the situation. I think they will be on the ground for -- I think they will be there for about two days. And they'll do a more detailed assessment of the strength of the runway, et cetera, the types of assessment they have to do to decide what sort of traffic the airport can bear. They will be there for two days.
Mr. Bacon: Pardon?
Mr. Bacon: Well, it's the Lungi airport outside of Freetown, essentially, is what they're looking at.
Q: Are they also assessing force security?
Mr. Bacon: The Marine is primarily assessing security.
Q: Then who would be expected to provide that force security?
Mr. Bacon: Well, it depends on --
Q: Could it be American troops?
Mr. Bacon: Well, it depends what the assessment is. I don't want to prejudge what the assessment is.
Q: But American troops, is that possible, that American troops might provide that force security?
Mr. Bacon: Well, I think it's premature to suggest that. One of the reasons you have an assessment is to find out what the situation is. The British are there in considerable number. I think they've got over 600 -- about 650 or 675 people there. They're sending a carrier battle group, the HMS Illustrious, and an amphibious ready group, the HMS Ocean, into the area, so they will have a considerable force there, and we may not have to do anything more than what the British are already doing. That's one of the things we have people there to find out.
Q: Yes, anything on the latest meeting between Secretary Cohen and a delegation of Greek Americans here at the Pentagon?
Mr. Bacon: They met for about half an hour. I believe there were about 12 people, maybe 15 people in the delegation. And they discussed the good state of Greek-American relations. They discussed the improvement in relations between Turkey and Greece, and their hope that relations will continue to improve. And they also said they hoped there would be a resolution to the Cyprus crisis by the end of the year, and we share that hope.
Q: Okay. One more question. Any comment on the NATO military exercise Dynamic Mix and particularly for the U.S. involvement?
Mr. Bacon: Dynamic Mix is an exercise that I think will involve 14 NATO countries later this year, and -- including Greece and Turkey. And it'll involve naval and air force forces, I believe. It's one of a number of regularly scheduled NATO exercises. This is a large one and an important one. And I think we'll have more to say about it as we get closer. It's supposed to begin on May 20th and last until June 10th, as I understand.
Q: But there will be U.S. involvement?
Mr. Bacon: Well, there will be U.S. involvement. The 6th Fleet is involved, and the U.S. Air Force will also be involved, with fighters, tankers, and bombers. This is a multi-force combined NATO exercise that involves maritime, air, and amphibious landing operations.
Q: The New York Times reported that Kofi Annan was complaining about the cost of U.S. air support to peacekeeping missions. Does the United States Department of Defense require the U.N. to pay for the C-17 that went in, or is this something that the U.S. covers?
Mr. Bacon: There's a law that requires us to recover the costs, as we calculate them, for transportation that we provide to the U.N. -- transportation and other services, I believe. And this law gives us very little flexibility.
The president can waive the law or waive the payment requirement by declaring a national security need to waive the payment, which is difficult to do during a period when we're helping other countries transport their troops and where commercial or other types of transportation from other countries may be available.
Q: And you said that it's sometimes two or three times the cost of what it would cost U.N. to contract commercial carriers. Is that accurate and why?
Mr. Bacon: Well, there are several reasons: One, it is -- our transportation is more costly than many charter carriers, commercial charter carriers, would be. One reason is that our planes, which are designed for specific cargoes, such as carrying tanks, frequently fly fewer flight hours than commercial aircraft. For instance, C-17 on average flies about four hours a day, whereas a commercial 747 might fly eight to 10 hours a day. So the flight-hour costs, obviously, are higher, if they are prorated over the cost of the airplane, for a plane that flies four hours a day than one that flies 10 hours a day.
The planes that are built to carry very heavy cargoes have higher operating costs because of bigger engines than other planes would. So there are a variety of reasons why our costs are higher. And that's one of the reasons frankly, why many countries willingly take contract air. There is a lot of contract air available in Russia and elsewhere; many cargo and passenger planes available to provide this type of charter service.
Q: There was a transatlantic expense issue that came up today. The United Kingdom chose a French-British team to build their next-generation air-to-air missiles called the Meteor. Secretary Cohen in the last year has written quite a few times to his U.K. counterparts, urging them to buy a Raytheon version, called the BVRAAM. The last letter was like two weeks ago. Does the department have a reaction to this seeming rejection of the Raytheon proposal and kind of a slap in the face?
Mr. Bacon: Well, I don't know whether I'd call it "a slap in the face," but it was certainly a disappointment that the British chose to develop an entirely new missile with the European consortium, rather than to work with an American team to improve the AMRAAM missile that is available today. My understanding is that they will -- it's going to take probably most of a decade to develop a new beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile. And in the meantime, they will buy some AMRAAMs from us to tide them over and help meet some of their air modernization needs. But in the long run, they will develop a new Meteor missile with a European consortium.
We think we offered a package that was cheaper for them, that involved British participation in jobs, and also that would have gotten them a more capable missile into the force faster.
Q: Can I ask a follow-up?
Mr. Bacon: Sure.
Q: Does the Pentagon see this as a setback to its long-standing attempt to bet on further transatlantic defense cooperative relationships, short of mergers, such as joint ventures?
Mr. Bacon: Well, it's certainly a setback in that we had offered the British an opportunity to work cooperatively with Raytheon and to have many of the jobs in Britain -- a joint project. I think we have to wait and see what happens in the future. We're hopeful that we can work with our European allies in a way that helps both countries meet their force modernization needs quickly and as economically as possible, but also develops a true transatlantic efficient defense industry where appropriate. And this was an opportunity to start down that road, but it's an opportunity passed by, and we'll have to hope that we can find other opportunities in the future. But that will be up to our European allies to some extent.
Q: Yes. What effort is Secretary Cohen currently undertaking to convince Congress and senators to approve the language in the defense authorization bill that would support the presidential directive? And as a follow-up, since we've had new arrests or trespassers on the range, and because of the ease to trespass on the range and renewed calls from religious leaders to set up camp once again, what would be the Secretary Cohen's reaction to that?
Mr. Bacon: Well, we're against that. We think that the Puerto Ricans ought to honor the agreement that was reached between the governor of Puerto Rico and President Clinton in January. We think that the agreement offers great economic benefits to Vieques, both in the short term and in the long term. And in that regard, Secretary Cohen and his team -- primarily his team right now -- are working with Congress to get the legislation passed that's necessary to provide the $40 million to pay for the first tranche of improvements. We are hoping that we can work with both the House and the Senate to get the money with terms that allow us to proceed with the agreement.
Q: Just one last clean-up question on Sierra Leone. Could you go back for a minute, the U.S. pilots that are in the exchange program on the British ships, if you know how many are there? And just to clarify the ground rules of their deployment there, if the British were to undertake flights over Sierra Leone, would they do so as well? Would they be operating at their, whatever, British ROE that is in effect?
Mr. Bacon: There are seven pilots that were assigned to the British forces under a normal exchange program. We have British officers working with our forces. They happened to deploy with these forces to Sierra Leone. And my understanding is that they would be used in the standard way, should their number come up to participate in a mission.
I think that there are four Air Force pilots, and the other are, I think, Navy and Marine pilots, as I understand it. And we have notified Congress that they are there on the ships, but we can't forecast at this stage if they'll be used or bow they'll be used.
Q: Which ships are they on?
Mr. Bacon: Well, the ships that are going down there are the Illustrious and the Ocean. I'm not -- there could be other ships in the group, but I assume, since they're pilots, those are the ships they're on.
Q: A Joint Strike Fighter question. This morning the secretary reiterated his support for the program and that of the services. What is the latest schedule on announcing the revision -- if there is revision to the acquisition strategy? I ask this because a number of the members on the House and Senate Defense committees have brought this up in the last week as one of the reasons why they cut dollars from the program. They're just not sure where the department's going, and they wanted a time line at least. And it's been quite a while since it was first announced.
Mr. Bacon: Well, the program is on schedule. And there -- I'm sorry. There have been a slippage of a couple of months in some flight tests, but other than that, it's basically on schedule. Both companies, Boeing and Lockheed, are moving ahead, developing their prototypes, and the prototypes will then have their flight test.
The issue of the contract is whether it'll be winner -- whether one company gets to build all the planes, or whether it's somehow split between two companies. And that is something that the department is looking at right now. It should not change the pace of the program, and it shouldn't -- it should not change the pace of the program or the cost of the program in any deleterious way. If a decision is made, it will be made to improve the program and improve the strength of the program and of the defense community, the contracting community.
So this is a question that I would expect to be considered relatively soon and decided relatively soon.
Q: Is it possible it could be decided as late as -- I mean as early as Friday, the end of this week, or --
Mr. Bacon: I don't think I'll speculate on the future.
Q: But within several weeks --
Mr. Bacon: We're talking about weeks, not months.
Q: Weeks, not months?
Mr. Bacon: Right.
Q: Thank you.
Mr. Bacon: Any more questions?
Q: There was a report that the Greek air force ordered some parts for its F-16 fighters from your country, but the entire order finally arrived in Larisa, Greece, from Turkey instead of from the United States. Do you have anything on that? Because it was --
Mr. Bacon: The good news is, the parts did finally reach Greece. The bad news is, they took an unforeseen stop in Turkey. That apparently had to do with the air shipping company that was chosen to ship these parts. It was not a Pentagon plane that went awry, it was the contractor.
Q: No, no, no, but to clarify for me finally, the order came from the United States or from Turkey?
Mr. Bacon: I think they came from the United States, but I'm -- I'll check on that.
Q: Okay. Thank you.
Mr. Bacon: Sure.
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