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Secretary Cohen Press Conference at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, Texas

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
November 09, 1999 4:30 PM EDT

Press Conference prior to addressing the Dallas Council on World Affairs at a dinner honoring former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, in the Director's Room of the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, Texas

Allen Spielman: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I am Allen Spielman and I am, in my volunteer life, President of the Dallas Council of World Affairs, and we are especially honored to have Secretary of Defense William Cohen with us.

As you've probably noticed on the wire today, this is particularly a noteworthy day in that this is the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall -- today is. So we're especially glad to have Secretary Cohen on this day in Dallas with us.

Secretary Cohen.

Secretary Cohen: First let me express my gratitude to Allen. He and I went to Congress way back in 1972. It's hard for me to believe that now. But we went to Congress together at the same time. We also attended the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics. There were four of us who were selected to attend the very first experimental course they had at that time at Harvard. Sort of a pre-school advance course for brand new members of Congress. Allen, myself, Yvonne Braithwaite Burke from California and Barbara Jordan of Texas were the four who had this advance course.

It's a pleasure to be with you, Allen, and I want to thank you for inviting me to share a very special evening tonight.

I'm here to help the Dallas Council on World Affairs honor Dick Cheney and to speak at the John Tower Center at SMU tomorrow. Both Secretary Cheney and John Tower made important contributions to build a United States military that indeed is the best in the world. And no matter where our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines serve today, they are the envy of the world.

As Allen mentioned, today is the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of a process that freed Eastern Europe from Soviet rule. The world has changed rather dramatically in the last decade, but one fact has not changed and that is that the United States remains a force for peace and stability. That is true in Asia where we have roughly 100,000 of our forces forward deployed; it's true also in Europe where we have roughly 100,000 forces that are deployed there as peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo included; and it's true in the Middle East where we have approximately 26,000 of our troops on patrol in the Gulf, including soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas.

Wherever I travel in the United States I point out that the prosperity that we enjoy at home rests on the stability that our troops maintain abroad. As President Eisenhower noted nearly four decades ago, what takes place in Indonesia will have an impact in Indiana, which happens to be the home of my wife.

But I'm glad to be in Dallas, and I'm prepared to take any questions you might have. But first, let me point out that Will Ball, a former Secretary of the Navy, former Chief of Staff for Senator Tower, has joined us for this occasion this evening and for tomorrow as well. Welcome.

So let me respond to any questions you might have.

(No response)

With that, I guess I can take my leave. (Laughter) This is the easiest press conference I think I've had.

Q: You talked about how much things have changed since ten years ago when the Wall went down. A lot of people, or some would argue, that the F-22 is responding to a Cold War threat which doesn't exist anymore. How many F-22s do we really need, if any, and what does the F-22 situation presage in regard to the Joint Strike Fighter?

A: First let me point out that we have just concluded the most successful air campaign in the history of the world. We did so based on technology that was developed back in the 1970s and even prior to that time.

The reason that we need the F-22 as well as the Joint Strike Fighter is to give us the same kind of capability that we had to have in this war against Kosovo.

In this situation you might take note that the United States had to carry out most of the heavy lifting during the first phase of the campaign because none of our allies had the capability that we had to go in with stealth aircraft, with precision-guided munitions, to go after the air defense systems, the command and control systems in Kosovo. So we are depending upon technology that was developed over three decades ago to carry our forces today.

When we talk about the need for the F-22, I don't think anyone can tell you exactly how the world is going to unfold in 10 or 15 or 20 years from now. But the fact is if we don't have the F-22, you will be calling upon our pilots to fly aircraft during that timeframe roughly 30 or 35 years old. We don't ever want to put our pilots in a situation where they have to fly against more and more sophisticated air defenses, and against aircraft that are being developed by other countries -- Russia, China, and others -- that will pose a challenge to them.

So we think it's imperative that we go forward with the F-22.

Secondly, if you don't have the F-22, you have to go back and recalculate exactly what you want the Joint Strike Fighter to do. The Joint Strike Fighter's requirements were designed and based upon the fact that we would have an F-22 and a Joint Strike Fighter. The high end being the F-22 which would take the place of the F-15 and F-117, and the so-called low end would be the Joint Strike Fighter. So we need both. And if you were to ever cancel out the F-22 you would have to go back and redesign the Joint Strike Fighter which pushes it well into the future, which means we'd be relying upon the F-16, F-14, other aircraft, and the F-15, well into the period of 2015, 2020. That's not something we ever want to put our pilots in a position of doing.

Q: A two-part question. First of all, there was an article in Monday's Washington Post about Lockheed Martin, serious trouble. The fact that the $25 million company is experiencing cash flow of $11 billion in debt. Can you give us any indication if that's true, and what is the relationship between the government and Lockheed Martin?

A: I don't have any access to Lockheed Martin's books that I can make any kind of a judgment in terms of how much debt they're carrying, but clearly, our major contractors have been consolidating in the past decade. They have been taking on more debt in that consolidation process. We have other contractors, there was a story recently about Raytheon in terms of its debt load as well. So all of them are going through this process of consolidating, and they will assume more debt.

What Lockheed Martin is doing, however, is also competing globally for contracts not only in Europe and elsewhere, but over in the Pacific. I just came back from visiting the UAE, by way of example, There was a major contract that Lockheed Martin is competing for, the F-16, with other European competitors, and that's roughly a $7 to $8 billion contract there alone.

I think that Lockheed Martin certainly produces the finest aircraft in terms of the F-16, and they can be very competitive globally and will continue to be, but I think they also have to look at their management practices, try to get the debt down as soon as they can.

But we work very closely for Lockheed Martin. Whenever I have a situation where I am in competition or advocating a competition with a foreign country, then I certainly advocate on behalf of Lockheed Martin or any of the other major contractors that we have. But all of them are going through a process now of consolidating and accumulating debt.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what is your take on Governor Bush's foreign policy acumen? Should he be looked upon objectively based on (inaudible)? How comfortable would you be (inaudible)?

A: One of the great joys of my job is I don't have to talk about politics anymore. I was selected by President Clinton to serve in this capacity to try to develop a bipartisan support in the Congress and the country for national defense. That is what I have been doing. I just confine my comments to building bipartisan support for...

Q: (inaudible), though. How about as far as just the presidential (inaudible)?

A: I don't comment on presidential candidacies because I could end up commenting on both Democratic and Republican, and I think it's best for me just to do my job so I don't comment on any of the candidates.

Q: Can you see yourself serving under President Bush if (inaudible)?

A: I see myself becoming a private citizen at the end of this term.

Q: Mr. Secretary, a number of members of Congress have expressed reservations that the country can afford to build the F-22, the super Hornet, and the Joint Strike Fighter. If that is true, where is the Pentagon prepared to give?

A: Again, I would point to the fact that we just completed the most successful air campaign in history, depending upon the kind of high/low mix that we've had developed back in the '70s, '80s and '90s. We need to have that kind of a mix for the future.

I went through this during the review of the so-called Quadrennial Defense Review and made a determination at that time that we had the F-18E/F models coming off the lines as I was taking office so it became important to keep that line going. I also needed to have the F-18E/F models as some leverage against the Joint Strike Fighter which at that point was still basically on paper. I needed to have some leverage, so I cut the F-18E/F model purchase by half, and then said we will acquire roughly half as many as the current production schedule calls for, and then in the event the Joint Strike Fighter doesn't come on line as called for, or there are delays or there's some reason why I need more leverage, then I have the E/F model as some leverage to balance that out.

In the mean time, the F-22 gives the Joint Strike Fighter the kind of capability also as far as the stealth is concerned.

So we looked at this very closely and decided that we needed to have the high/low mix and it was important for our pilots for the future to be able to take on either sophisticated air defense systems or air-to-air type of combat scenarios. We want to do so with the best that this country has to offer and not with something that is 30 or 35 years old.

So as far as TacAir is concerned, in the wake of what took place in Kosovo I would think we would have more support rather than less.

Q: I didn't get to part two of my question.

A: Sorry.

Q: It sounds like, because there is a Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth to build the F-15 and the F-22, it sounds like [if] the company as a whole is in trouble, the people in Fort Worth who work in that plant should be able to (inaudible) orders for F-15 and F-22. Can you elaborate on that?

A: There are orders for the F-16. And again, it's one of the most successful aircraft that we have in overseas sales. In addition to being the most capable aircraft that we have as far as air-to-ground capability.

The F-15, that is an aircraft, again, that needs to be replaced by the F-22. So that line is still open, but that's the purpose of the F-22, to replace the F-15 and the F-117 stealth bomber. That gives you the kind of air superiority that you need as we move into the future.

So all of that technology, I know it's easy to say at this point why do we need it. Well, we just saw why we needed it in Kosovo where many of our allies didn't have the capability that we did. We had to carry the heavy load in the first part of the campaign. It evened out somewhat, quite a bit actually, towards the end of the campaign where we carried about 53 percent of the airstrikes compared to 47 for the allies. But in the beginning phase of that campaign we had to go in with our capability. There may be other cases in the future, and I certainly don't want to be in a position to short change those pilots 10 and 12 years from now who will rely upon the decisions we make today, and I will address this this evening as well.

Decisions, when Dick Cheney finished up his term in office he pointed out that he would hope that decisions he would make would be as important to his successor as those that were made two or three decades prior to his service. And those decisions made back in the '70s served him well during the Persian Gulf War, and certainly in Panama as well. The decisions I make today in making recommendations to the Congress to fund will, I hope, serve my successors, because they will not come on line until 2008, 2015, during that period where we get all of the modernization in the TacAir.

So I hope that the decisions I'm making will benefit my successors as well.

Q: Mr. Secretary, speaking of technology, how concerned are you about the parts problems that came up with the Army's Apache, grounding them temporarily? And is there something that that indicates about potential problems as far as procurement or maintenance or development for the services?

A: It represents a problem in terms of a bearing that is crucial to the aircraft's performance. So they are being temporarily grounded for inspection. It's not a stand-down, but each one has to be inspected. Once it's inspected and we're satisfied that it's safe, it will go right back up. We will, of course, call upon those front line helicopters that are now serving in Bosnia, in Kosovo, over in the Gulf, will be the first ones that we will look at and get repaired if they need repair, and get them back into service as quickly as possible.

Q: Technology is an important issue, but perhaps the most pressing issue in the military is the recruiting and retention. What about that?

A: How much time do we have?

Q: It's clearly a more pressing issue than the F-22, which...

A: We've always put people at the very top of the pyramid of our interests. It doesn't matter if we have F-22s or if we have B-22s or all of the exciting new technology we're developing if we don't have qualified and competent people to operate them.

Right now we face a situation in which we have perhaps the lowest percentage of the pool of people coming out of this generation that we've had in a couple of decades. We've got a much smaller pool to draw from.

Secondly, you've got a much more competitive economic environment. We've had several decades now of prosperity, but especially in recent years in which it becomes more competitive for us to try to attract those young people to come into the service.

The third point would be that many people in the past depended on the college benefits that would accrue from serving in the military, and many universities and colleges now have an abundance of these scholarship programs, so there's not as strong an incentive to draw young people to go into the military directly from high school.

A fourth point would be that we don't have a Cold War in existence, and many people don't see the intensity of interest by virtue of the fact they don't see an enemy on the horizon. There are, of course, but it makes our job that much more difficult.

The final point I'd make is we have more and more of the people who are so-called influencers, people who have not served in the military or do not recommend to their sons or daughters or relatives, or just coaches recommending to their students, to go into the military.

So you have a combination of all of those factors. That has made the job of the recruiters that much more difficult.

So what we have done -- both my wife and I, and she has been a joint partner in this effort -- have gone back. We went during my first year up to New York to review our advertising campaign. Was it successful, not successful, were we doing the right thing, the right kind of research. So we've changed that.

The Air Force, for example, where they will have a significant shortage of pilots due to the fact that the commercial airliners are hiring in such numbers, for the first time have taken to the air waves to advertise.

We are also putting our best people into the recruitment offices, as such.

So we are intensifying our recruiting techniques, becoming much more aggressive as we have to be in this kind of an environment, and we're also appealing, trying to appeal more and more to the character building that's involved and the transformation that takes place by people who in fact do serve in the military.

So it's a tougher job, but I must tell you what has also taken place on the retention part, we've had some success and indications of success as a result of passing the largest pay package increase in a generation. We have increased the pay package, we've changed the way we compensate those at the mid-career level and so-called, the pay benefit that goes to them. And we've also increased the retirement benefits 40 to 50 percent, put it back up to where it was before 1986.

I recently came back from the Gulf. I was on the USS CONSTELLATION. I personally reenlisted 12 young people aboard that ship and I asked each one of them, why are you reenlisting? Each person said because of the pay package and benefits package and retirement, and because you've heard some of our problems and you're responding. They had thanks and gratitude to go all around from the President to the Congress to the Department.

So we're changing that. We're seeing some increased retention now both in the Army and the Navy, so there's some positive signs there. We're still deficient somewhat on the recruitment side and that's where we have to redouble our efforts.

Q: Are standards going to have to be lowered?

A: We don't think we have to lower the standards. There has been some marginal reduction as far as high school graduates. We still are well above our average of taking the 90 percent of high school graduates. That figure of 90 percentile, and not dropping below the 60 percent percentile on Category 3. So we have lowered it somewhat on the margins, but no significant reduction in standards.

Q: (inaudible) ...prisoners of war, about daily beatings received from Serbian troops. They were quite graphic.

Are there any plans (inaudible) retaliation of the Serbian government?

A: Wherever there is evidence of war crimes, and it's clear based on their statements that there was a violation of the Geneva Convention on the part of Serb soldiers. Those allegations will be part of bringing those individuals who inflicted this kind of punishment to justice. So we are pursuing war crimes. We are seeking to hold all of those accountable who inflicted damage and cruelty upon not only the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo but also upon our own soldiers.

Q: Thank you very much.

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