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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
April 01, 1997 1:30 PM EDT
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

It's April Fool's Day, and of course I'm very glad to be with you on this day.

I'd like to start off with an April Fool's Day question. Everybody knows that April is the month named after the Greek Goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love. If that's the case, why is the first day "fool's day"? That's the question.

Q: Women have been making fools of men for all eternity, right?

A: There's probably no right answer to that, but we can start with that. Anybody else have an answer?

Q: Only fools fall in love.

A: That's certainly a good answer. Any other answers?

Q: You're not going to provide us with...

A: No, I don't have an answer. This is a philosophical question here. This is a do-it-yourself briefing. You guys come up with the answers, and so far, it's been pretty short.

Secondly, I want to demonstrate our technology here. Technology in two ways. First, our technology to show you new technology on the Internet. That's the second part. This is GulfLink. As you can tell, GulfLink today is going interactive, which means that for the first time now, people who log onto GulfLink to get information about Gulf War Illness programs, for treating it, researching its causes, and making information available to the public, can send e-mail messages back and get answers. They may not always get the answers they want or they think they deserve, but they will get responses quickly, and as fully as we can give the responses.

So Bryan Whitman is going to illustrate the program here. There is the form, actually, that you use for reporting back in on medical conditions. You can actually make a medical report to the Department of Defense to get included in the Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program, seek information about either your medical condition, or to request information about documents or other types of information that we might be able to provide.

[Laughter]

Bryan has always lived a charmed life, as you can tell from his address.

We think this will help us in two ways. First, it will help us get more information from people; and two, it will help us get information out to people. As you know, we're still trying to assemble as much information as we can about certain Gulf War incidents.

There it is, a demonstration of how it works. Any of you can try this.

Q: I have this question about April Fool's Day.

A: Send it in and see what happens. Is it about Aphrodite?

Q: Yes, exactly.

A: Good. I thought you were going to ask that.

I don't know how many people, do you know how many people are set up to respond to these questions?

Voice: We have seven people replying to all correspondence, whether it be in written form, whether it's e-mail, and then we have approximately, as of today, 16 operators--telephone operators--that actually phone back, either calls coming into the hotline, or we'll call back people on e-mails that come in, also.

A: Seven people answering mail and e-mail and 16 people dealing with the incident hotline.

Q: So what's the answer? What's causing the problem?

A: We're hoping you'll find that out for us.

Let me make one other announcement.

As you know, today the B-2 bomber is beginning its initial operational capability. A wing of B-2s becomes operational today at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. There are, right now, 13 B-2s which have been delivered to the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman. There will be a total of 21 B-2s in operation, or 21 B- 2s delivered by the year 2000. As you know, this is a stealthy bomber designed to increase our air dominance. Air dominance is basically freedom from attack and freedom to attack. As a stealth plane this advances both those missions -- freedom from attack and freedom to attack.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Can you give us the details you have on the crash in Tegucigalpa, the C-130?

A: I do not have extensive details on that, but let me walk you through what I do have.

A U.S. Air Force C-130H, Hercules cargo aircraft, crashed at about 9:45 a.m. local time in Honduras -- that's 10:45 EST. It crashed at the very end of the Tegucigalpa International Airport. Tegucigalpa is the capital of Honduras. It was enroute from Howard Air Force Base in Panama to the base in Honduras on a routine resupply mission. It was assigned to the Air Reserves 440th Airlift Wing at General Mitchell International Airport in Wisconsin.

There were ten people on board. We, so far, have confirmed that three are dead. The other seven are injured. We will appoint a board to investigate the accident, as always, and we will also provide additional details as soon as we get them.

Q: A Reserve aircraft, Reserve flight?

A: Yes.

Q: From where?

A: This was from the 440th Airlift Wing at General Mitchell International Airport in Wisconsin, I assume that's Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Q: The plane was flying out of Howard. They were on temporary assignment.

A: It was flying out of Howard. They had been assigned temporarily to Howard, and they were resupplying either troops or embassy personnel in Tegucigalpa.

Q: It crashed on approach?

A: Yes. It crashed on approach at the edge of the runway. I don't believe there were... So far we have received no reports of collateral damage.

Q: Do we know who was on the plane? Were they all military personnel?

A: I believe so, but I don't know that for sure. We'll be checking that. We have not, I believe, released the names of any people in the crew yet. We'll check on that. You should stay in touch with DDI on that, or I can also give you a contact down at Howard Air Force Base if you want to call directly down there. It would be Captain Mike Murk, and he is at 507-284-5459.

Q: Had there been any indication the aircraft was in difficulty?

A: We don't have those details yet. This just happened several hours ago, and the authorities have been concentrating more on taking care of those who are injured. As those details become available, we'll get them to you.

Q: Do you know whether the plane crashed at... Which end of the runway? Was it a missed approach, or the end of the runway or the beginning of the runway?

A: I believe it crashed on approach, but I don't have full details of this yet. More details, I'm sure, will become available in the next few hours.

Q: Just to follow up on the B-2, the plane has been criticized by some because of its expense; by others because of the fact that it was originally designed for a different mission, that it might be a Cold War relic. Can you assure the U.S. taxpayers that the B-2, that they're getting their money's worth with the B-2 bomber that now assumes operational capability?

A: I can assure the U.S. taxpayers that this is the most up-to-date heavy bomber flying in the world today. It has stealth capability. As you know, it has a very unique, pioneering shape. It's a flying wing made out of composite materials. It's designed to be able to evade enemy defenses and to zero in on its targets. General Fogleman, the Air Force Chief of Staff, has said that in the past we talked about how many aircraft we needed to destroy a target. With the B-2, we talk about how many targets we can destroy with one aircraft. In fact during some recent tests--using the Joint Direct Attack Munition, the JDAM, which as been cited many times from this podium as an example of saving money through procurement reform, and something else called the Global Positioning Satellite Aided Munition, both very highly accurate, pinpoint bombs--three B-2s destroyed 16 targets using 16 bombs, so they were able to destroy 16 different targets with 16 bombs. That, I think, illustrates General Fogleman's comment that we've changed the calculus of warfare with planes that can (1) evade enemy air defenses; and (2) deliver highly precise modern munitions.

Q: If it's such a good plane, why doesn't the Pentagon want to buy any more of them?

A: We've said many, many times that this is a wonderful plane but it's a very expensive plane. It was built, as you know, it was designed before the end of the Cold War when we maintained on alert a nuclear bomber, long range aircraft carrying nuclear bombs. We no longer maintain those planes on alert any more, on runway alert as we used to.

This is a plane that has both a conventional and a nuclear mission and will be able to, I think, give us full spectrum dominance in any type of heavy bombing that may be required today or in the future. But it is a costly plane. One of the things we learned when we used the F-117 fighters in Desert Storm was that when you have a stealthy aircraft that can evade air defenses, you don't need nearly as many of them as you did conventional planes. Therefore, the planners felt that we were able to get by with a far smaller fleet than we would have had to 40 years ago building heavy bombers. We're doing that. As you know, we only have 50 F-117s, and that fleet performed brilliantly during the Gulf War.

Q: The B-2 is now certified to carry nuclear weapons. Is it countable under the START rules? Does that limit its availability for conventional missions?

A: Sorry, does it limit its availability?

Q: If it's counted under START rules...

A: I'm afraid I'm not an expert on the details of that. We'll get you an answer to that.

Q: I just wanted to be clear on your answer to my question, and make sure I didn't quote you out of context. Basically what you're saying about why you don't want more of them is that while it's a wonderful plane, in your words, it's very expensive. So is the cost factor why you don't want to buy any more of these planes?

A: The Air Force has made the decision that 21 planes will be enough for them to meet their needs in conjunction with other heavy bombers we already have. We've got nearly 100 B-1 bombers and we have several hundred B-52 bombers still in operation. So we have a diverse, heavy bomber force built over a number of decades, but as you know, the B-52s, some of which are 40 or more years old, are still flying and performing very, very well. In fact B-52s were used to launch cruise missiles against targets in Iraq several months ago. So they're still very much in use.

Q: Can B-2s launch cruise missiles?

A: B-2s can launch a variety of ordnance. I don't know whether these have been outfitted to launch cruise missiles.

Q: We have it from a highly reliable source that these 13 B-2s are now in modification to have their wings folded and operate from carriers. Could you comment on that?

A: Since they are a wing, I think it would be hard to fold the wing. It would be like folding a butterfly.

Q: The mass suicide in California has aroused the American public's growing interest once again in UFOs to the point where some of the public believes that the government can substantiate their existence--that the government houses remains of these spacecraft and aliens. Would you address those two issues, please?

A: Yes. We cannot substantiate the existence of UFOs, and we are not harboring remains of UFOs. I can't be more clear about it than that. We cannot substantiate that they exist and we are not harboring remains.

Q: When citizens call with sightings of UFOs, where are those calls routed to now?

A: That's an interesting question. Let me talk a little bit about UFOs.

For 22 years, from 1947 to 1969, the U.S. Air Force investigated reports of UFOs. It was called Project Blue Book, and that project was headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. They investigated 12,618 sightings during that 22-year period, and they reached three conclusions based on those investigations.

The first was that no UFO reported, investigated or evaluated by the U.S. Air Force posed any threat to United States of America national security. That was the first conclusion they reached.

The second conclusion they reached was that there was no evidence submitted to the Air Force or uncovered by the Air Force that sightings called "unidentified" represented technological developments or principles beyond the range of our scientific knowledge. In other words, there was nothing outside the realm of our scientific knowledge, our ability to build aircraft, understand aircraft, etc.

The third conclusion they reached was that there was no evidence indicating that sightings of these so-called UFOs were extraterrestrial vehicles. A vast majority of those sightings were explained by meteorological phenomena -- lightning, etc. -- or they were explained by planes in the area, etc.

Of the 12,618 sightings, virtually all of them were explained. There were, however, 701 "unidentified" sightings. Those are the ones that I referred to in the second point I was making, which is, of the sightings identified or categorized as unidentified. Nothing represented technological developments beyond the realm of our knowledge.

So many of these we believe might have just been sketchy reports that couldn't be tracked down totally; they couldn't be nailed down because we didn't have enough facts.

Q: So the calls are routed to where now?

A: Now the calls are routed to private organizations. There are a number of private organizations that look into UFOs. You can get these names off the Internet if you enter UFO you can get names off the Internet. But there's also something called Gale's Encyclopedia of Associations, which lists associations by interest or subject matter, and it has a list of UFO-interested organizations, and people can call those organizations.

You might ask why did the United States Air Force stop after 22 years investigating? Why did it stop investigating reports of UFOs? It did so primarily because it didn't find that there was any threat to the nation's security, and it didn't find that any of these were extraterrestrial vehicles as claimed by many of the people who made these calls. It just was not a good way to use the taxpayers' money.

Q: A question on the future of NATO command. How high ranking on the agenda of General Clark is the expansion of NATO?

A: The expansion of NATO will be one of the major topics on his agenda. He will not get there probably until July of this year.

As you know, there will be a summit in Madrid in July where it's anticipated that the leaders of NATO will announce the countries who will be asked to join NATO. It will take several years, probably, until they're actually into the alliance because it requires a unanimous vote by all of the current NATO members, all 16 members.

General Clark, or the SACEUR--whether it's General Clark or now General Joulwan--is intimately involved in making the military side of NATO expansion work. The decision to expand NATO and whom to invite into NATO will be made by political leaders, by Presidents and Prime Ministers. That's mainly a political authority made by elected officials. The military commanders will make the military side of that work, which is making the military forces of the new NATO members as interoperable as possible with the forces of the existing NATO members. Does that answer your question?

Q: There's a piece in the Washington Times about evidence that Moscow has had an aggressive underground bunker-building program going on with four separate projects in and around Moscow, and also a related story about there having been at least four alerts during the 1990s when Russian nuclear weapons were placed on a higher-level alert. Can you shed any light on either of those reports? Is the Pentagon aware of it? Concerned about it?

A: The Russians are building--and have been for some time- -various underground facilities in Russia. These were done in the Soviet Union and they're being continued by Russia today. We also have hardened structures to protect our leaders in the event of nuclear war, and we also have other ways to protect our leaders, by moving them, by putting them in the air, etc., from nuclear attack. So this is something that both the United States and Russia have done.

Russia is continuing the program. We do not regard the program as a threat. It is not an offensive program. It's a program to protect their officials. We don't understand why they're continuing to do this, but they are.

Q: This doesn't bother you in light of Russia talking about not having the funds to go with further reductions of START? Yet they're putting all this money into that kind of...

A: First of all, Russia has agreed, President Yeltsin has agreed to bring START II up before the Duma, so the Duma will have a chance to vote on the START II Treaty. The Russian leadership, led by President Yeltsin, thinks that this is an important treaty and it's a necessary precondition to further arms reductions which both Russia and the United States want.

Secondly, Russia has been reducing its nuclear arsenal in compliance with the START I agreement. That takes arsenals down from 10,000 or more nuclear weapons down to about 6,000 as defined by the START I agreement. They've been doing that and they've been doing it quite aggressively. Just in recent weeks they've destroyed 19 submarine launched ballistic missiles, in the last 7 to 14 days they've destroyed those. So they are moving forward with their weapons destruction as required under the START I Treaty and we fully anticipate that they will under the START II Treaty, after the Duma ratifies it.

Q: You said they destroyed 19 missiles. Do you mean submarines or missiles?

A: No, they destroyed 19 submarine-launched ballistic missiles in the last week or so.

Q: You don't think that the resources they're using could be used in a better way?

A: Every country makes decisions about how to defend itself and how to defend its people and its leaders. We make those decisions every day and Russia makes those decisions, and this is how they decided to do it.

As I pointed out, we do have facilities for protecting military/civilian leaders, for protecting our national command authority.

Q: Does the United States discuss this issue with Russia? About maybe these funds would be better spent elsewhere?

A: First of all, money that's being spent on digging tunnels is not being spent on developing new missiles; it's not being spent on developing new offensive capabilities. I think that's a very important distinction. These are on defensive measures. We are worried primarily about offensive measures.

As you know, we have a program--the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program--that is helping Russia destroy its nuclear arsenals. It helps them cut the wings off bombers; it helps them dismantle missiles. We provide all of that assistance in kind to Russia. Not in terms of money. We provide them equipment, we provide them technological advice, technical assistance, etc. So these are entirely different programs and it's not, they can't take money from the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, also known as Nunn/Lugar, and divert it to other purposes.

As I said, we're worried primarily about offensive capability, and we've started a very aggressive arms reduction regime with Russia to limit their offensive capability and our offensive capability. In Helsinki, the leaders of both Russia and the United States made it very clear that they want to go beyond START II to a START III agreement that will reduce even further the nuclear arsenals of both countries.

Q: To kind of put this story in perspective, has the United States or the Pentagon noticed an accelerated movement in the construction of these bunkers, or is this something that's been going on for some time?

A: They've been burrowing away for some time in various underground facilities. They have always placed a heavy emphasis, going back to Soviet times, on civil defense and protection, underground protection and other types of protection. I can recall decades ago Harold Brown, then the Secretary of Defense, used to talk, there was a big debate during the Carter Administration about civil defense. The debate went that the Russians were outspending us by some huge margin on civil defense, and, therefore, we were leaving ourselves exposed by not spending as much money on civil defense.

Harold Brown said, "We practice civil defense every Friday afternoon when people leave cities and drive out into the country. We have ways of disbursing our populations very, very quickly." The Russians have not paid as much attention to dispersion as we have, and they've paid more attention to underground protection.

But I think this development which has been going on for a long while and is not new, deflects attention from two more important developments. The first is the progress that we're making on arms reduction today. The START I Treaty, as I said, brings it down to about 6,000 countable weapons. START II which our Senate has ratified and we hope the Duma will ratify soon, brings the numbers down between 3,000 and 3,500 on each side -- a significant reduction. And START III, as outlined by President Clinton and President Yeltsin, would bring the arsenals down to between 2,000 and 2,500. So this is a reduction of about 80 percent or will be a reduction of over 80 percent in arsenals in a 10 to 15 year period. This is an extraordinary development. That's just one of them, though.

The second is that both the United States and Russia have agreed to stop targeting their strategic nuclear weapons at each other. So we no longer have the hair trigger that we lived with for decades under the Cold War. This, again, is another important development. It's an effort by both sides to build stability and confidence in a continuing peaceful environment.

We still maintain very extensive nuclear forces, as do the Russians. What we're trying to do is to limit and contain those forces as much as possible.

Q: Do you think this positive development could come to a halt considering that Russia might be threatened by possible NATO expansion?

A: No, I don't. And I don't think President Yeltsin does either. In Helsinki he talked about moving to START III. I think the Russians understand that NATO is going to expand and it will expand in a way that's not threatening to Russia. NATO expansion is not against Russia, it's for stability in Europe, increased stability in Europe. We've spent a lot of time talking to Russia about that. We're working hard to find ways to incorporate Russia into a consulting arrangement that will make them feel part of rather than outside of security decisions made in Europe. They'll have a voice, not a veto in these decisions.

So I gather from what President Yeltsin said that they fully intend and want to go ahead with further arms reductions, even as NATO expands.

Q: Astatus report on the security review of the COSCO/Long Beach lease. There was a story in the paper the other day that we've now granted COSCO 24- hour notice to pull into any port that has military significance, which is something we still don't do for Russia and some of the other former Russian states. That decision was made, and the initial decision to allow Long Beach to go ahead last year. Were both of those decisions made without any Pentagon review of the security threat?

A: The security review of the COSCO arrangement--and the potential COSCO arrangement is that the China Ocean Shipping Company which has been operating out of Long Beach, California since 1981--would expand its operations there if it reaches an agreement with the Port of Long Beach, and all of these negotiations are taking place between COSCO and the city, or the Port of Long Beach, not between the U.S. Government and COSCO or between the U.S. Navy and COSCO.

COSCO also operates in a number of other ports, including Baltimore, which of course is relatively nearby. And it operates out of Los Angeles and Seattle, other ports in the United States.

The Office of Naval Intelligence has done a preliminary investigation and has talked to some people on the Hill about its findings. It has not found--I don't believe it has found-- national security concerns.

We are continuing to review this, and the Secretary has not completed work, the Department has not completed its work on this, but the early reports are that there were not national security concerns attendant to expanding COSCO's presence in the United States.

Q: Is this review being affected at all by the fundraising allegations connecting the White House and the DNC?

A: No, this is totally separate from that. As I pointed out, COSCO has operated in the United States for many years before these allegations came to the surface. This is a completely separate operation from that.

COSCO is the world's largest ocean shipping company. It carries goods for the world's largest, most populous country; a country that has been experiencing economic boom and doing more and more trading all over the world, including with the United States. It is the company that brings Chinese goods, one of the companies that brings Chinese goods to the United States, and then carries U.S. goods back to [China]. I know that you probably spent enough time in Southern California to have seen COSCO containers traveling on trucks or railroad trains. You've probably been seeing this for the last 10 or 15 years, and I doubt if you've ever worried about our national security when you've seen a COSCO container.

Q: Has the Department made its official position yet on the McDonnell Douglas/Boeing merger? And if not, when will one be forthcoming?

A: It has not made its position known yet, and I don't know when that decision will be.

Q: The QDR report is due to Congress six seeks from now. Can you give us an update on where it is? Have recommendations been made? What's the Secretary's involvement at this point?

A: The Secretary's involvement is intense. He has met several times with the Chiefs to discuss this. He has briefings pretty much on a weekly basis about the QDR. Right now there has been a draft... He has said from the very beginning that he wants this to be a strategy driven review, not in response to budgetary figures, but in response to our view of what our strategy should be for the next 10, 15, 20 years. And a lot of work right now has been going into getting that strategy portion worked out.

There are drafts that have been written, but nothing is final yet. There's still work being done on the strategy part, and that will probably continue for another week or so.

In parallel to that, there are seven groups, as you know, working on various topics. All of this stuff is being integrated, groups have been--are--looking at ways that the Pentagon can be run more efficiently, and that some things can be done for less money. Some things may have to be done more aggressively than we've done in the past and may cost more money. Those are the types of choices that will be made in the next month or six weeks.

Q: The strategy portions... Is it safe to assume that a week or so from now either the two MRC strategy will be locked in place or something will replace it? Is that what you mean by overall strategy?

A: Well, it's more complex than that. It's broader than just whether we stick with the two MRC strategy. It really is the strategy that will define the way we engage with the world. And the way we think we can best shape events that are of interest to our national well-being. That's what we're looking at. What types of forces do we need to do that, how best do we do it, what sort of forward deployments do we need? There are a number of questions that have to be answered by that.

We, I believe, will be able to discuss the strategy section of the QDR before the whole study is completed. Our hope is we'll be able to discuss that some time in early May before the final document is done. After the strategy part is complete, then a number of choices will have to be made about how best to implement that strategy. That work will be done over the next several weeks.

Q: A Japanese television network has reported that according to U.S. intelligence reports, there's been some recent military movements in North Korea. One of the reports saying that some of our troops have moved to (inaudible). And...

A: Sorry?

Q: . ..have moved to the border region of China; and the other one being some unusual tank movements in Pyongyang. Can you confirm these reports?

A: There have been... The winter is usually the most intense training period for the North Korean military, and they have been carrying out training exercises recently, some of which were reported by the Senate delegation that's just come out of North Korea.

That training has been at somewhat lower tempo than past years, but it has been going on, and as part of that training there have been movements of troops, etc., and various types of training flights. I'm not aware that there have been any unusual movements or anything that has caused us any particular concern. We do watch movements by the North Korean military very, very closely. We watch them all the time, and we've very alert to any changes that could be menacing, but I'm not aware that we have seen anything like that in the last few weeks.

Press: Thank you.