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DoD News Briefing - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
December 12, 2000 1:30 PM EDT

Bacon: Good afternoon. Here I am, right on time at the stroke of 1:30. Charlie, write that down in your book.

Q: It's the first time --

Bacon: This is the beginning of a new era. For the next five weeks, I'm going to strive to be right on time.

Q: Right.

Bacon: Better late than never in being on time, right?

First of all, Secretary Cohen is in Los Angeles. He will speak at a Veterans Foundation dinner tonight and will be back tomorrow.

Second, a team of negotiators from the Office of POW/MIA Affairs, Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Affairs, will begin discussions with North Korean counterparts tomorrow in Kuala Lumpur to establish a schedule of remains recovery operations for the year 2001. We have had considerable success in the last year with recovering remains from North Korea, and we are meeting to set up a schedule for the next year. We had five recovery operations in the current year and brought back 65 sets of remains. And that compared with a total of 42 sets of remains in the years 1996 to 1999. There were three recovery operations in 1999.

And finally, there are some Portuguese visitors here, I believe. Is that correct? Some descendants of Henry the Navigator, who made it all the way to the United States. And we welcome them here. They are members of the Luso-American Development Foundation. And thank you for coming.

So with that, I'll take your questions. Charlie?

Q: Before we get to the V-22, I've got two quick ones. Did the Chinese launch test an intercontinental missile while the chairman was visiting China recently? And what -- go ahead.

Bacon: Well, they launched -- they tested one on November 4th, and I believe the chairman was in China at that time, although I haven't gone back to check his calendar.

Q: Was it about a successful test -- where did the test -- was it over the Pacific?

Bacon: No, it was over Chinese territory.

Q: How long-range?

Bacon: Well, I'm not going to get into great details. The missile itself, as has been published, has a range of approximately 8,000 kilometers. Obviously they didn't sent it 8,000 kilometers, but they had a much smaller flight path, shorter flight path for it.

Q: That -- wasn't that the third test of that missile?

Bacon: I believe it was the third test. I believe the first test was in August of 1999, and they have had two tests this year. This is a program that's been ongoing, the DF-31 program, since the late-1980s, and the test was pretty much as expected in terms of timing and in terms of results.

Q: Did the U.S. know in advance?

Bacon: Sorry?

Q: Did you know in advance?

Bacon: Well, I don't think I'll get into details like that.

Q: Did the U.S. know in advance?

Bacon: That's not a question I can answer.

Yes.

Q: So far they've just tested it with a single reentry vehicle, right? Is that still that case?

Bacon: I don't think I'll get into details like that.

Q: That would be very significant if it was now MIRVed, correct?

Bacon: Well, you can draw your own conclusions.

Yes.

Q: New subject?

Bacon: Sure.

Q: Is Saddam Hussein -- is the Iraqi military moving against the Kurds in the north? There have been a number of reports.

Bacon: Well, let me tell you what we know about that, and I start with the caution that most of our information comes from Kurdish reports. As you know, the northern corner of Iraq is Kurdish territory, and there is a line called the green line that was established in 1991. It was the line to which the Iraqis drew back to after mounting a military operation against the Kurds. That green line runs approximately from -- it runs from a point on the Iraqi-Turkish border down to a point on the Iraqi-Iranian border. And it's divided in half, approximately, by two Kurdish groups, the KDP and the PUK.

The KDP is the Kurdish Democratic Party.

There is a town about five kilometers inside the green zone -- in other words, beyond the green line in Kurdish territory -- called Baidhrah, spelled B-A-I-D-H-R-A-H. It's a town of about 10,000 people. The Iraqi army generally has a brigade right in that area, around Baidhrah. And on Saturday we got a report from the Kurds that the Iraqi forces had moved across the green line and assumed positions in some ridges around Baidhrah, not in -- they did not go into the city of Baidhrah, but they assumed positions around Baidhrah on some ridges.

The Kurds claim to have responded by mobilizing their own reserve force, about 5,000 people. I think there were about 150 Kurdish military people or fighters, militia, whatever they're called, in Baidhrah at the time, and they said that they mobilized reserves of about 5,000 people. This is the Kurdish report.

The Iraqis did move some reinforcements into the area. But basically what's happened is, no shots were fired. There was no direct engagement between forces, and the Iraqi troops have withdrawn from the hills around the town to a plain. They were essentially a little north of the town, in the hills. Now they've withdrawn to a plain between the town of Baidhrah and the green line, essentially south of the town.

This has been -- as I said, there -- it -- no shots were fired. There was no direct engagement, and it seems to have calmed down. And both sides are apparently moving back to their original positions.

There is some report from the Kurds that this may have been a political move by the Iraqi forces, encouraged by a tribal faction, a religious faction of the Kurds, one faction jockeying with another faction.

We don't know why this happened. The Iraqis have not explained it to us, and we have the Kurdish speculation, but that's it at this stage.

Q: Does the United States consider this a violation of its warning against attacking the Kurds, or --

Bacon: Well, there were no attacks. I think that's the crucial point here, that there were no shots fired, there was no direct engagement between troops, and it was not an attack. It was, from the best we can tell, a movement of some troops and then a return toward original positions. So this does not appear to be a threatening or serious incident at this stage.

Yes?

Q: The assessment that no shots were fired and there was no direct engagement and that the Iraqis withdrew from the hills to the plain, is that still based on Kurdish reports?

Bacon: Almost all of what I've told you is based on Kurdish reporting.

Q: Has the United States ever pledged that they would come to the Kurds' aid in a situation like this? Is this covered under that no-fly zone -- you know, threaten the Kurds?

Bacon: Well, the no-fly zone patrols functioned during this period, and in their normal way. We did not change our flight operations in any way during this, but they continued to monitor what was going on.

Q: (Off mike) -- in that umbrella area?

Bacon: Well, Baidhrah, as I said, is on the other side of the green line, but the fact of the matter is there was no attack here. There was no military -- there was no military firing. There were some movements of troops; they moved in and now they appear to be moving back. So --

Bacon: You said they moved in. Did they move across the green line?

Bacon: Yes. They moved across the green line.

Q: The Kurds in this area are really worried about this movement and they said that future threat, they could be attacked.

Bacon: Well, I can't psychoanalyze the Kurds or comment on what they have said. All I can tell you is that according to their own reports, the Iraqi troops appear to be moving out or at least back toward the green line, and they no longer surround the town as they did at one point. At no time did they move into the town and, I repeat, there were no shots fired.

Yes?

Q: How large is -- (inaudible word) -- again?

Bacon: Well, there were two battalions that moved, that took separate positions, and each battalion was about 400 people.

Q: Was there any information about what prompted the Iraqi troops to --

Bacon: Well, all I can tell you is the Kurds themselves speculated that it might have been the result of some political jockeying between a Kurdish religious faction or tribal faction on the one hand and the Iraqis on the other. But beyond that, I don't have any information, and that was their speculation as to what could have caused it.

Q: New subject -- and I might have missed it. Has the secretary said whether he's available for further government service, or has he said he's going to go into the private sector, or hasn't he said?

Bacon: Well, the secretary's plans are to go into the private sector. But he's made it known that he would be available for certain government assignments from time to time -- blue ribbon panels, the type of thing that former Senator Rudman has done. I think he would like to operate primarily in the private sector. He does plan to leave the department -- leave his post as secretary of Defense on January 20th.

Q: Has he said what his new private-sector job is yet, or --

Bacon: He has not, and I think it's up for him to announce that.

Q: Well I thought maybe he already had and I missed it.

Bacon: You miss very little, George. I'm sure that if he'd said it, you would have caught it! (Laughter.)

Q: He said he's going to finish his book.

Bacon: Yeah.

Q: Well, he was going to do something with Sam Nunn. That's -- you don't know anything about that?

Bacon: I'm sure that he'll talk frequently with Sam Nunn. Sam Nunn has moved to Atlanta, hasn't he?

Q: Well, they had a deal -- well, I won't get into it. They had a deal going before he took this job and --

Bacon: Well, that was a long -- a lot of things have happened in the last four years.

Yes?

Q: Semi-related -- a transition question. As the election season appears to be continuing on, what risk is there that the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee is simply going to run out of time here to provide military support to the inauguration? The clock is ticking for that.

Bacon: Well, there is no risk that the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee will not be able to do its job. It's up and running. It has headquarters in a building that used to house the Department of Education, right opposite the Air and Space Museum on Independence Avenue.

It's in the process of doing everything that the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee does to prepare for inauguration, and that is basically to handle a lot of logistics and to support two other inaugural committees; one is the Joint Congressional Inaugural Committee, which actually runs the inaugural ceremony on the Capitol grounds. And they do things like -- they're prepared to provide snow removal, if there's snow; blankets, if it's cold. They've already provided -- or arranged to provide two trailers to house the media [correction: two flatbeds for media platforms] up there near the Capitol during the inauguration. So they are forging ahead with that.

The other major committee with which they coordinate and support is the Presidential Inaugural Committee, the so-called PIC. And that committee is set up by the president-elect. The problem they've had, obviously, is without a president-elect, there's no Presidential Inaugural Committee, and therefore, there's a whole large suite of offices empty over in the former Education Department headquarters waiting for the Presidential Inaugural Committee to move in. Clearly, there can't be a Presidential Inaugural Committee until there is a president-elect.

The AFIC would love to sit down with representatives of the two transition teams and give them a checklist of steps that will have to be taken as soon as either Vice President Gore or Governor Bush is determined to be the president-elect, because they'll have to move very quickly to make a number of fundamental decisions, such as whether or not to have a parade. That's a decision that the Presidential Inaugural Committee makes. The Presidential Inaugural Committee also decides how many inaugural balls there will be and where they will be; it decides the invitation list for the inauguration, and then once the invitation list is set up, the military facilitates the movement of those people to and from the inauguration to -- if there is a parade, to their spots along the parade route, et cetera.

Q: But can they actually legally or -- I don't know -- regulatoryily-wise sit down with representatives of the campaigns prior to a president-elect being declared? Because the GSA hasn't done it yet. There isn't an official president-elect. So are they asking for the campaigns to contact them? What do they want to have happen?

Bacon: Well, I know that the White House chief of staff, John Podesta, has met with representatives of both presidential candidates. Obviously, the CIA is providing intelligence briefings continually to the vice president, and now also to Governor Bush.

So under the theory of similar, equal treatment, I think that if the two campaigns were to send representatives over to meet together with the AFIC people, they would give them basically, you know, here's what lies before you should your candidate be named the president- elect. And so they could start thinking about it.

Now, it could well be that neither campaign has gotten to the point of thinking about the inauguration because they've been so -- the teams have been so involved with legal strategies and other things. But if they have thought about the inauguration, the AFIC would be willing to sit down with the two of them together. I don't think this -- I mean, this is really in the information-passing mode more than anything else.

Q: And, just to close out a little more substantively, has the U.S. military gotten any -- from a substantive point of view -- any interest in sitting down with either -- representatives of either and beginning to brief them on military affairs similar to the CIA briefings?

Bacon: No, I don't think we've reached that stage yet. And obviously when there is a president-elect we'll do that. I assume that the CIA is keeping them up-to-date on the intelligence side. And we'll have -- certainly Vice President Gore knows what's happening militarily. And certainly Governor Bush has very close advisors, including his vice presidential running mate, who have intimate knowledge of the military and certainly an ability to report on and interpret what's happening -- all the exciting events happening in this building.

Q: Ken?

Bacon: Yeah.

Q: I'm sorry. What is the reactional mood within the military because of this presidential drama continuing? I mean, is there any kind of -- how they feel? (Scattered laughter.)

Bacon: I think the military feels exactly the way the rest of the country does. It's another illustration that democracy is the most exciting, least boring form of government. (Scattered laughter.) There's always something new under the sun. And I think the military, like every other American, and indeed many people around the world, are watching with great interest what's happening.

Q: I'd like just to follow -- I'm sorry -- any reaction from world -- and paramilitaries concerned and from world leaders to the secretary of defense -- how they feel from this or any --

Bacon: The secretary has traveled in the Middle East, right after the election, went to nine countries, and he was in Brussels last week.

And he's had an opportunity to speak -- he has an opportunity to speak from time to time with colleagues around the world.

And what he's -- I think what he's found is that people are watching very carefully. There is a strong feeling that the president of the United States is important to the fate of world peace and certainly world prosperity. People have a great deal of confidence that we will continue to handle this the way we have, which is according to the laws of the land and calmly and as quickly as possible.

The secretary has assured them that there is not a crisis. This is a constitutional process; it's not a constitutional crisis. And I think that anybody who takes the time to follow it on CNN or any other channel, or to read newspapers will see it as a process -- a long process, to be sure, but a process and not a crisis.

Q: Ken, is the SecDef as assured or as confident as Marine leaders that the V-22 program is still safe and kicking? And has he received a request from the commandant to form a blue-ribbon commission to look over the whole program?

Bacon: Well, the secretary is in the process of appointing a blue-ribbon commission to look at the Osprey program. He will talk to the commandant personally about this tonight. The commandant will join him in Los Angeles, and they'll have a discussion about this. But this is something that started this -- that the secretary started this morning. The commandant certainly supports this move, and it will be -- it will provide an opportunity to look at the entire program.

Obviously, the secretary has stayed informed. The commandant has kept him informed about the program. He followed it closely as a member of Congress and certainly now, as secretary of Defense. And he is determined to make sure that the program is as safe and as effective and cost-effective as possible.

Q: How would you characterize his level of concern?

Bacon: Well, first of all, he's concerned any time soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines die in training accidents or other accidents. And the military, as you learned directly from Lieutenant General McCorkle, has a very vigorous process for studying accidents, what caused them, and squeezing as many lessons out of every accident as possible.

I think in the V-22 case, it's not a plane that affects just the Marines. The Air Force plans to use it. The Special Forces plan to use the V-22 as well. So the secretary wants to have a bunch of experts look at the whole program. I think that he wants to assure himself that the program is as good as it can be, and I'm sure that this panel will do that. The Marines, of course, themselves want to assure themselves that the program is as strong as it can be, and that's one of the reasons they're taking the steps that Lt. Gen. McCorkle explained this morning.

Q: These outside experts are Pentagon people or who?

Bacon: Well, they haven't been appointed yet, and I think I'll wait until they are appointed before speculating as to who they'll be.

Q: I was just wonder whether he wants an outside, independent, so to speak, viewpoint, or whether he wants the military itself to look at it.

Bacon: I think they will be -- they are likely to include at least some outside people with extensive military experience.

Q: Would they meet in Washington?

Bacon: Yes.

Q: Is it the crash that prompted this, or is it the crash plus the OT&E report plus --

Bacon: I think it's a combination of all those.

Q: And who initiated the idea for a blue ribbon, the commandant or the secretary?

Bacon: It's hard to know. I think they both had the idea at the same time. But certainly this process started in the secretary's office this morning. I didn't talk to the commandant early in the day, but the commandant certainly believes this is the way to go.

Q: You know there's a STOVL [short takeoff vertical landing] version of the Joint Strike Fighter, and I wondered if this inquiry could be broadened to that, because if there's something endemic about the technology of this STOVL-type aircraft, it would seem to be relevant. Is that on the scope for this review?

Bacon: Well, the Joint Strike Fighter is a jet, and this is a propeller plane. I think the physics are quite different. The mechanics are clearly different. This will focus only on the Osprey, the V-22, the panel that the secretary's in the process of putting together. So -- and obviously the V-22 is much further advanced in development now than the Joint Strike Fighter is.

Q: Yeah, but there is a lot of commonality in the AV-8's early problems, and they hopefully had applied those to the Joint Strike Fighters.

Vertical flight is vertical flight, and there's a lot of commonality there. It would seem to be relevant to look at the Joint Strike Fighter in the same inquiry. But it's not on the scope? It's not on the scope?

Bacon: It's not on the scope.

Q: Ken, could you succinctly put the mission of the blue-ribbon commission that has been named?

Bacon: Well, it doesn't have a charter yet, but obviously it will be to pull together a group of technical experts to review the performance, combat capability, safety, maintainability, cost of the program. But the focus will be on performance, safety, and maintainability.

Q: Will the secretary tell the Navy not to go ahead with any kind of procurement decision until after the blue-ribbon panel is done?

Bacon: Well, right now the Marines have requested that, and --

Q: Well, but they've requested it until they know what caused the crash. Will Secretary Cohen request --

Bacon: I don't anticipate that the panel, which is yet to be set up and yet to have a charter, so I can't talk about it with great specificity -- but nevertheless I don't anticipate that this will be a study that will take a long time. I think the secretary will propose a -- after some consultation with experts, will propose a fairly quick, intensive study of the V-22 program. It's clearly at a crucial phase right now. And the Marines need more lift, they need modern lift, and so everybody wants to get this done as quickly as possible.

I think it'll be -- in a way, he will give it the same instructions that he gave the Cole commission. He will say: "Work as diligently and as expeditiously as possible, but take the time necessary to get the job done. However, we hope you can get it done as quickly as possible."

Q: And if the Navy makes a decision before then?

Bacon: Well, I don't think we'll speculate about hypotheticals right now. The Marines have asked them not to go ahead with the low-rate initial production decision at this stage, and the Marines will obviously take some time to sort out what happened. And I think that the schedule will come together appropriately.

Yes?

Q: Flights have been stopped indefinitely or till when?

Bacon: Well, I mean, they have been stopped by the Marine Corps until they more information.

Lieutenant General McCorkle explained that at great length this morning, and if you weren't there, you ought to read the transcript rather than repeat it.

Yeah?

Q: Is it safe to say that the secretary remains an enthusiast of the V-22, or has his doubts, like his predecessor did?

Bacon: The secretary has supported the V-22. He clearly wants a plane that can perform. He clearly wants a plane that is safe and reliable, and part of the purpose of this panel will be to make sure that those milestones are met.

Q: Ken, why is this panel being started now, a week before this milestone decision was going to be made? You've got a whole process within the building that's supposed to look over the program and approve it step by step, through the milestone process. Why now, on the eve of this huge production decision --

Bacon: Well, first of all, the production decision has been delayed at the request of the Marine Corps. Second, I think that the answer is very obvious. There was a devastating crash last night in which four Marines died, and everybody wants to make sure that the program is running as well as it can. And the secretary thinks that in the wake of the crash and the wake of the Coyle report, it's just a good idea to have some experts review the program from outside the Marine Corps, from outside the Navy. So that's what he's in the process of doing, in consultation --

Q: (Off mike) -- 19 Marines died in April, and you didn't have this kind of review. It went through the normal acquisition process. This is somewhat confounding, why you're doing it now and why you didn't do it in April after that larger, more tragic crash.

Bacon: Right now, of course, we have no idea of what caused this latest crash, but in light of -- looking at everything in toto, the secretary believes it's a good idea to have some outside experts look at the program.

Q: Ken, you just said everybody wants to make sure the program is running as well as it can. Isn't that adopting the Marine Corps line that, well, there may be something wrong here, or this is a troubled program, but we have faith in it. Is the question here whether the program ought to be operating at all, as opposed to whether it ought to be operating well?

Bacon: I think you're all leaping to conclusions. The reason you have a review is to find out -- is to assure yourself of where the program is, and that's what the secretary has set out to do. And when the panel is set up and when there is a charter for the panel, we'll have more to say about it, but the panel has not been set up yet.

Yes?

Q: Can you bracket, ballpark, when you would establish the commission, how many members would be on it, and roughly --

Bacon: No, I can't do any of those things. I would think it'd have a relatively small number of members. I think it'll probably be set up this week. It's only Tuesday. I would hope that it would be set up relatively soon and, as I said, I'm sure the secretary will ask the panel to report as quickly as possible, but they will need a certain amount of time to bring themselves up to speed.

We will have people who are technical experts, and they'll have to go through a lot of very detailed information.

Yeah?

Q: Ken, let me go back to China. The Soviet Union was dismantled. Now China is getting stronger and stronger militarily. Don't you think it's a threat to the world peace? And also, anybody in this building is worried about the future of China maybe getting into the same way as the Soviet Union against the United States?

Bacon: Deng Xiaoping announced four modernizations, one of which was military; it happened to be the last modernization that China got to. It chose to allocate resources on agriculture, industry, and other areas before it got to its military modernization. In the last several years, it has focused more resources on military modernization, but it's still increasing its education budget faster than it's increasing its military budget, to the best of our ability to monitor that.

We have an extensive engagement program with China, and the engagement program is designed to work with them in a way that gives us an ability to look with more transparency at what they're doing, and gives them an ability to look with more transparency at what we're doing. We think that engagement program has been helpful in that it's led to greater involvement by China in a number of arms control regimes. For instance, they've signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. And they've done other things to limit proliferation.

Obviously, we have to watch carefully any country that is developing its military forces. But China has been working on modernizing its long-range missile program, which is very modest, compared to ours; very modest compared to the Russians; very modest compared to the French and the British. But they've been working to modernize this program for some time.

I think that we have published extensive public reports on what they're doing. You can read about the DF-31 in a number of public reports that are put out by the Central Intelligence Agency, by the Defense Department and other agencies.

So we are watching it. I don't think it's fair to say that this building or this government is worried about what they see in China. But clearly, we watch any country that is developing its military -- modernizing its military.

Q: Ken, just to follow that. But also China is flying missiles and other -- I mean their military technology to Iran and Pakistan on a regular basis.

Bacon: Well they've just -- they made an announcement several weeks ago that they were going to curb their dealings that lead to proliferation of weapons; at least some weapons. So, we will watch them and we hope that what they've said is correct. And we hope that it's a sign that they realize that proliferation is double-edged; that it can come back to hurt the sponsor someday as well as perhaps other countries as well.

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