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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD (PA)

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD (PA)
February 15, 1996 1:30 PM EDT

Thursday, February 15, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.


Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing. I have no announcements, and I'm ready to take your questions.

Q: General Shali said this morning at a breakfast that the United States felt that the Chinese military couldn't successfully engage Taiwan now because they couldn't support it because of sealift. I'm wondering how the Pentagon felt about it.

A: You're asking me to comment on what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said? I think he was absolutely right. [Laughter] He gave a very proper and correct assessment of our view of the Chinese amphibious capability.

Q: Clearly, China is a major power, and clearly is much larger than Taiwan. What is the Pentagon's assessment, as long as we're on the subject, of what China militarily is capable of doing in threatening Taiwan?

A: First of all, I think we ought to redirect this conversation. We're not anticipating any military action by China against Taiwan. Both China and Taiwan are committed to a peaceful resolution of their differences, and that's what we anticipate will happen. China has a right to conduct military exercises. It's apparently planning a military exercise along the Strait of Taiwan. We do not anticipate any military action against Taiwan. So I think we should not think in those terms.

Q: But just for the record, can you give us some idea of the naval and amphibious assault capabilities of China?

A: I'm not an analyst of China. I'd recommend that you get a hold of this well known book, "The Military Balance," which lays out in great detail the forces of the People's Republic of China and the forces of Taiwan. This is widely available, it's the bible of military statistics, and I think you can draw your own conclusions on what their comparative military strengths are.

Q: Did you just happen to have that or... [Laughter]

A: Actually, we keep one on the briefing stand all the time for moments like this. But I will call your attention in there, since it was brought up earlier, to this section on China's amphibious capability. I think you'll find, again, that General Shalikashvili got it exactly right. They have a very limited amphibious capability.

Q: What is China up to then, in the Pentagon's view, in staging these exercises and taking what Secretary Perry has termed an attempt to threaten, has taken threatening moves?

A: I think you should ask the Chinese embassy what they think they're up to.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the C-17 GAO report that is now coming out. McDonnell Douglas apparently likes to make a lot more money than perhaps the taxpayers would think they should be making. Does the Pentagon, Defense Department, Air Force plan to further investigate the cost of parts that go into the C-17, or is it satisfied that everything's on the up and up and we can now trust McDonnell Douglas to lead us into the promised land?

A: Talking generally about the C-17 program, this program has been placed under perhaps greater scrutiny than almost any weapons purchase program in the last 20 years. It has developed, after a rocky start, into what everybody considers to be a huge success. Let me give you a couple of examples of that. First

-- in terms of performance -- the C-17, which has been really the work horse of our airlift into Bosnia, has performed terrifically. A lot of people have had a chance to fly on the C-17 -- members of the press; the President took a C-17 into Tuzla; Secretary Perry took a C-17 into Tuzla; all the visitors who have gone in. But aside from that, it's carried a whale of a lot of equipment into Tuzla and done it very, very well.

The cost of the plane, as you know, the number of planes we had planned to buy, has been debated for a long period of time. We initially started out with a

40-plane buy. The fly-away cost per plane for the first 40 planes was $338 million. Recently we decided to buy an extra 80, and the fly-away cost of the second buy, if we can buy them on a multi-year procurement basis, will be $183 million per plane [or less] on a fly-away cost basis. So there's a substantial reduction in the cost as we buy more planes. There have been substantial steps taken by McDonnell Douglas to cut the cost and to make the production more efficient.

Because this program has received so much scrutiny over the years from Congress and from the Pentagon, it's been very tightly audited, as are all defense programs. In 1992, the GAO found that McDonnell Douglas did overcharge for some spare parts. McDonnell Douglas has returned $188,000 which they and the GAO have determined to be the overcharge for those parts, so this is a problem that's been taken care of. We agreed with the GAO report, that there had been overcharging, so did McDonnell Douglas agree, and McDonnell Douglas has made a refund.

We will continue to audit the program very closely, but I regard this as a problem that's been solved.

Q: What should the public think when you say we will continue, it's under intense scrutiny, we'll continue to watch it very closely, but obviously three or four years ago... This is like the hammer and the toilet seat...

A: The public should think that this is a terrifically successful program. This was a program to design a cargo plane that carries large cargoes with a small crew, it's a fly-by-wire plane. It can take off from runways of 2,000 feet or less. It can land also on runways of 2,000 feet or less. It's the world's most capable cargo aircraft, there's no doubt about that. It took a long while for us to get to where we are, but we've done it. I think the public should be aware that we have produced an extremely capable aircraft, that we've done it at declining cost, that we've done it in spite of many difficulties.

Let me just give you an example of how this plane differs from other cargo planes. It has a crew of three. It has a pilot and a co-pilot/navigator and a loadmaster. The C-141, which is a much smaller plane, has about half the cargo capacity, and I believe has a crew of six or eight. So it will give you an idea of how much more efficient this plane is in terms of ease of loading, unloading, etc. This is a great plane. I think that if the public becomes aware of the facts, they'll agree that we have produced a great plane.

Q: Perhaps no one could argue with the fact that this is now a great plane, and it's on schedule and on target. Is the Pentagon in any way, are you considering revisiting that the $187,000 -- which some people say in Congress is not enough of a pay-back by McDonnell -- or is the issue closed, as far as you can see?

A: As I said, we monitor contracts all the time and contract performance all the time. We are against cost overruns, we are against over-charges. Nobody is condoning those. We agreed with the GAO. We found there had been an overcharge, we admitted that right away, so did McDonnell Douglas. It was a mistake, the mistake has been corrected, we're moving on.

Q: But the GAO suggests, and some members of Congress charge, that $187,000 isn't enough. Do you plan on revisiting that and looking at it again?

A: As I said, contracts are always under review. We believe that there has been a just refund in this case. This has been widely studied by the GAO, it's been widely studied by the Defense Department. We are sorry it happened. It was unfortunate. It's been corrected, and we're continuing with the program.

Q: Can you assure us there will be no more $8,800 door hooks? I mean, have you checked the price of toilet seats in that plane and everything else that goes with it?

A: The Pentagon and the military is a huge purchasing organization where thousands and thousands of decisions are made each day. I think everybody would agree that generally these decisions are made intelligently, they're made with the best interest of military capability balanced with taxpayer fairness in mind. There are occasionally mistakes. This was one, we've corrected it. We are not dwelling in the past. This happened in 1992. If you want to reexamine every decision you made in 1992, you can spend your life doing that. We have been working to make this program work. We've done it. It's a success story. We're moving forward.

Q: Can you respond at all to the concern expressed by Senator Dole and several others about the extent to which U.S. and NATO forces are assisting in the arrest of indicted war criminals in Bosnia?

A: I'm sorry. Can you repeat the question?

Q: I was just wondering if you could respond to the criticism and the question raised by Senator Dole in the letter he sent to the Administration on this subject.

A: Let me divide the answer to that question into several parts, because it was a one and a half page letter, and it covered many topics and raised a number of concerns.

The first concern is, did the Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic go through checkpoints undetected. General Nash and his people at Task Force EAGLE and other IFOR officials have attempted to reconstruct the route that Karadzic may have taken. They have, based on their reconstruction, have not been able to find IFOR checkpoints that he may have encountered. Now is this a dispositive finding? No. But we have not been able to find evidence that he went through checkpoints.

Secondly, as we discussed here, you and I last week, and others, I mean earlier this week, it's important to remember what a checkpoint is. In many cases, a checkpoint is little more than an observation post. It might be a Bradley Fighting Vehicle sitting next to a road watching traffic go by. The goal of these checkpoints, primarily, is to monitor the flow of military traffic -- both arms and troops.

We are trying to encourage and maintain freedom of movement within Bosnia -- freedom of movement that did not exist during the war but generally exists now. Therefore, the soldiers at these checkpoints are not in the habit of stopping civilian traffic as it goes through unless they have some reason to do so. Sometimes traffic is stopped and checked. Other times, it's just waved through.

So that deals with the Karadzic situation.

In terms of working to look for war criminals, as you know and have reported, the primary job of the IFOR force is to perform military tasks, to separate the forces, to maintain zones of separation, to monitor the transfer of territory. Those tasks it's performed very well.

If it encounters in the course of doing that job indicted war criminals, it will detain the war criminals and turn them over to the War Crimes Tribunal.

So the question is, how do they position themselves to do this? There's been a lot of discussion of that. Yesterday, for instance, the North Atlantic Council of NATO discussed this and they issued a press release, which I hope you've gotten, in which they reaffirmed, in which NATO reaffirmed its strong support for the War Crimes Tribunal and its effort to bring indicted war criminals to justice. This is the view of the United States. We very much support this. We've supported the War Crimes Tribunal from the beginning. We're supporting it with intelligence, and we're supporting it in other ways as appropriate.

The NATO statement points out that the War Crimes Tribunal is providing IFOR headquarters with all available information, appropriate information on indicted war criminals. There are 52 indicted war criminals so far. They have provided fact sheets on those 52 people, and they've also provided photographs on 15 to 17 of these people. So we have a lot of work to do to get photographs on the rest.

Q: Can NATO or IFOR troops use force to apprehend these war criminals if they come across them? For instance, if Karadzic is surrounded by many armed body guards and passes by or near a checkpoint, how much force can they use in an attempt to apprehend him, or do they have to let him go by?

A: The rules of engagement allow for the use of an appropriate amount of force to perform IFOR's job and to protect the IFOR forces in the course of performing its job, so they can use the force that's necessary and appropriate to apprehend the war criminals.

Q: Are they authorized to get into a shoot-out with Karadzic's body guards?

A: As you know, we don't talk about rules of engagement in any specificity, but they are authorized to do what needs to be done to perform their job. Their job is that if they encounter war criminals in the course of doing their patrols, they will turn them over to the appropriate authorities.

Now the information, you interrupted my soliloquy on providing information to the IFOR forces. The War Crimes Tribunal has provided this information. It's gone to IFOR headquarters. The information is of dubious usefulness. The pictures sometimes are foggy, blurry photographs of photographs, etc., so we've adopted a two-track approach.

The first is that the information we have, no matter what its quality, will be handed downstream to lower level commands, and it will be made available to soldiers in the form of posters, handbills and at command briefings.

Secondly, while that's happening, we will work with the War Crimes Tribunal to get more detailed, more specific information and better pictures of these people, these indicted war criminals. That, when it's ready, will also be handed down to the troops.

So this is something that's being worked on. We're not there. We don't have all the information down to the lowest level yet, but we're doing our best to get it there.

Q: Do you have anything new on the death of Sergeant Dugan, and can you update us on when that report will be coming out from the Army?

A: The answer is no and no.

Q: Can you tell us why the Army is taking so long to get it out?

A: Well, I hope you can appreciate this, but the Army wants to do a very thorough investigation, and it has to balance a number of considerations. It has to conduct this investigation in a way that does not interfere with the mission of the troops in Sergeant Dugan's unit. They didn't want to pull the whole unit off-line while they questioned them. They had to talk to some Bosnians about this as well. The weather has been lousy. But there's another humane consideration... The first consideration is they want the best possible report, because they want it to be dispositive. The second consideration is that we want to hold up the release of the report until we've had a chance one, to consider it; and two, to brief Mrs. Dugan and her family fully.

Q: Didn't they consider all that before they said they'd have it out within 36 hours?

A: They miscalculated. Actually, a draft of the report was done and it was considered inadequate by the commanders, and the investigators were sent back to work. When I was in journalism, this even used to happen to some of my stories. I was sent back to work on them a second time. Yours may be perfect the first time around, but this one they decided needed more work. And being diligent, they decided the second time to get it right and take all the time they needed, and that's what they're doing.

I will say it should be out soon -- a word I won't define. And I will also tell you, you will not be surprised by the conclusions.

Q: Has Secretary Perry seen it yet, or is it not even at this building?

A: I don't believe Secretary Perry's seen it, but I don't know for sure.

Q: Can you respond to two general criticisms of the mission in Bosnia? One is that U.S. and NATO forces ought to be doing more to assist the War Crimes Tribunal. The second one is, if you do more to assist the War Crimes Tribunal, isn't that mission creep? Isn't that a dangerous slippery slope?

A: I think that military commanders working in the face of scrutiny from today's press and today's parliaments and legislatures all around the world are always suspended between two groups of people -- the mission creepers and the mission followers. There are always going to be people who are claiming, particularly in a peacekeeping operation, that we're doing too much, and others who claim we're doing too little. We want to be right in the middle. Our mission is very very well defined by the Dayton Accords. It is one of the most extraordinary...

How many of you have read the Dayton Accords? I think you'll agree that it's one of the most extraordinarily detailed set of specifications for how a military force should carry out a peacekeeping operation that we've ever seen, and it covers an awful lot of ground in great specificity. We are trying to follow that. We're not trying to embellish it and we're not trying to undercut it. We're trying to do what's laid out, and that's what we're doing.

Q: Is the Administration considering, as was reported today, delaying the arms shipments to Pakistan because of the alleged shipment of nuclear technology from China?

A: This whole issue is being reviewed, and I really can't comment.

Q: You can't say one way or the other whether it's being considered?

A: I'm telling you that we always review arms sales in light of information we have at the time, and I just can't go further than that.

Q: Can you just review for us, I may have forgotten what the current status is. Weren't there some weapons that we were, F-16s we were withholding from Pakistan? What's the status of those?

A: Well, this is a long story. I will not be able to review it in huge detail because I just forget some of the dates. But, basically what happened was, we agreed to sell some F-16s to Pakistan. Pakistan actually received, I believe, delivery of some of them, paid for more of them, but the shipments were interrupted. They were interrupted because of concerns about proliferation. Last year there was a reconsideration of that, and we've made an attempt to be able to deliver [sell] the planes. The U.S. Government has done everything that it's supposed to have done in this arrangement so far, but we have agreed to resume making some sales to Pakistan. There was legislation that was sponsored by Senator Brown, I believe, last year, that specified the way we proceed on this.

Q: Do they have those planes now, or are those...

A: I'll have to get you all the details on that. We can give them to you.

Q: On the funding agenda, the three supplementals and reprogrammings. One went up at the end of January. Can you tell us what the status is of the other two?

A: We'll get it for you. I just don't know offhand, but that's an easy question to answer.

Q: When Secretary Perry met with the Croatian Defense Minister this week, did they talk about Croatia being invited to join the Partnership for Peace program? Or does he support that?

A: We support making the Partnership for Peace as broad and as inclusive an organization as possible. I think it's probably a little premature right now to talk specifically about Croatian entrance in PFP. It's a long term goal. It's something we would like to have happen. But there are some problems that have to be resolved first. One, of course, is the Eastern Slavonia situation.

Q: Is there an indication that the F-14 crash in Nashville a couple of weeks ago was anything mechanical, or was it all pilot?

A: That investigation is continuing. It would be premature to comment on it.

Q: Do you know when you can expect a report on that?

A: I'm afraid I don't. Ask the Navy.

Q: What's the status of the Perry posture statement? He mentioned that it's near to be given birth, and that was a few days ago.

A: That's a good question. I think it's very close to birth, and I would expect it soon.

Q: Not this weekend?

A: No. Not this weekend. Maybe in the next two, two and a half weeks, I would guess.

Q: There was a published report today suggesting that the U.S. commander in Korea, General Luck, was turned down in his request that funding for the THAAD missile defense system continue at its current rate. Can you just comment on whether the Pentagon is being responsive to requests from commanders in the field who are asking for weapon systems to protect U.S. troops?

A: Yes, he asked for a weapon system that doesn't exist yet. The question is.... Generally, we can't provide weapon systems that don't exist. This whole issue of providing a theater missile defense, a national missile defense, is under review which will be completed and announced relatively soon. But, basically, we have made a clear commitment to protect our forces against an evolving theater ballistic missile threat, and we are now working on, we have a fairly robust program that involves about six elements. One is an improved Patriot, the other is the theater high altitude defense system. There's one called the Navy lower tier, there's one called the Navy upper tier, which is felicitously referred to as the "NUT" system. There's the MEAD system, which we're developing in connection with some Europeans, and there's a post-boost phase intercept, a boost phase intercept part as well.

The issue is how do we, which of these programs are going to be survivors and which aren't; and which of these programs we're going to move forward with quickly; which are going to be slowed; which are going to be stopped entirely. That's what we've been looking at. How do we get the best combination of programs to provide an effective missile defense? As I said, that review is nearing completion and should be announced soon. That's what's determining the speed at which the THAAD program will continue. It's not THAAD or nothing else. It's, as I said, a multi-part program and will continue to be that. When that's sorted out, we'll move forward and produce the program as quickly as possible. The threat of theater ballistic missiles and cruise missiles against our forces is a real threat. We realized that, as did the whole world, during the Gulf War, and we're working aggressively to defend against it. We've made many improvements already. We'll make many more.

Q: Do you have any comment on the Army decision at Fort Bragg to apparently prohibit U.S. soldiers of the 82nd Airborne from displaying the American flag? Apparently that's caused a bit of a controversy down there.

A: The report is wrong. There was no decision against displaying American flags. Many soldiers have American flags on their uniforms.

I think the origin of the report comes from the fact that soldiers in a unit at Fort Bragg were told that if they plan to display the American flag it should be done in an appropriate manner. For instance, should not be used as a bedspread, it shouldn't be thrown over a chair as a piece of upholstery. But no one... And that seems perfectly reasonable to me. No one was told that they could not display an American flag. So I hope that you don't repeat what I consider to be an erroneous report about what was told to soldiers at Fort Bragg.

Press: Thank you.

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