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DOD News Briefing with Vice Adm. Gortney from the Pentagon on Libya Operation Odyssey Dawn

Presenters: Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, Director of The Joint Staff
March 19, 2011

Go to http://www.defense.gov/news/PAO_DJS_Slides_19Mar11_v3.pdf to view briefing slides associated with this transcript.

                GEOFF MORRELL:  Good afternoon.  Thank you all for coming in on a Saturday afternoon.  We’ve gathered you all here today in order to provide you with an operational briefing by Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, who is the director of the Joint Staff.  

                Admiral Gortney will update you on Operation Odyssey Dawn, the international coalition’s military enforcement of U.N. Security Council resolution 1973.  The admiral is kind enough to join us this afternoon and he’ll make a very brief statement and then offer you all the opportunity to ask a few questions, but obviously he has operational matters to attend to, so this will not be a lengthy engagement. 

                With that, Admiral. 

                VADM WILLIAM GORTNEY:   Thank you.  

                Good afternoon.  Thank you for coming everyone.  As you know, we’re on the leading edge of a coalition military operations designed to enforce United Nations Security Council resolution 1973 in Libya.  The goals of these initial operations are essentially twofold; first, to prevent further attacks by regime forces on Libyan citizens and opposition groups, especially in and around Benghazi; and second, to degrade the regime’s capability to resist the no-fly zone we are implementing under that United Nations resolution. 

                To that end, earlier this afternoon over 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from both U.S. and British ships and submarines struck more than 20 integrated air defense systems and other air defense facilities ashore.  

                On the slide to my left – back one slide, please.  On the slide to my left you can see the rough locations of the military targets struck.  You will notice that most of them are on or near the coast, a fact which made their destruction vital to the enforcement of a no-fly zone since so much of the air activity we have seen and so much of the regime’s military efforts have been in this part of the country.  These strikes were carefully coordinated with our coalition partners.  The targets themselves were selected based on our collective assessment that these sites either pose a direct threat to the coalition pilots or through use by the regime pose a direct threat to the people of Libya.  

                Because it is night over there it will be some time before we have a complete pictures of the success of these strikes.  I want to stress, however, that this is just the first phase of what will likely by a multi-phased military operation designed to enforce the United Nations resolution and deny the Libyan regime the ability to use force against its own people. 

                This is an international military effort urged by the Libyan people themselves and by other Arab nations.  We are joined by several other allied partners and are committed to supporting their efforts.  Indeed, we continue to receive commitments of support and participation in leadership from both Arab and European partners.  

                In these early days, the operation will be under the operational command of General Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command.  And the commander of Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn, which is the name of this operation, is Admiral Sam Locklear, who is embarked on board USS Mount Whitney in the Mediterranean.  We anticipate the eventual transition of leadership to a coalition commander in the coming days.  

                That said, the U.S. military has and will continue to use our unique capabilities to create the conditions from which we and our partners can best enforce the full measure of the U.N. mandate.  Our mission right now is to shape the battle space in such a way that our partners may take the lead in both – in execution.  As the president has said, we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal, specifically the protection of the civilians in Libya. 

                And with that I will take your questions. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Lita. 

                Q:  Hi.  I’m Lolita Baldor with AP.  Can you give us a little bit more clarity on the strikes and the targets including, perhaps, just a bit more on what exactly U.S. ships, submarines, et cetera, did, and was there anything beyond the cruise missiles that is being done by the United States? 

                VADM GORTNEY:   Both from U.S. ships and submarines and a U.K. submarine a total 110, maybe 112 Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles, once again, targeted specifically at taking down the critical nodes of the integrated air defense system, which includes surface-to-air missile sites, early warning sites, key communication nodes.  

                Located up on the slide to my left you’ll see many of them.  Most of them are in the western part of the country.  That’s where those critical nodes are located and that’s why we targeted them there.  But it does build – give us the ability specifically with taking down the long-range surface-to-airs, the SA5s, taking them down, and then the C2 (command and control) architecture that goes with that opens up as broad a space as possible for the no-fly zone. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Tony. 

Q:  Just on the missiles themselves, you mentioned these are the new generation tactical Tomahawks? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  It was a mixture of our old Tomahawks and the newer tactical Tomahawk. 

                Q:  Do the new ones allow you to loiter over air space and take pictures actually before they drop in? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  Not pictures.  They have -- they give us the ability to loiter, and then we can shoot them a target and they will go to the target.  But in this particular mission we use them as we have just as one of the older Tomahawks. 

                Q:  Well, they’re clearing the air space basically for the non-stealthy fighters to go in or for jammers to go in? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  They allow us to penetrate a high -- what we would call a medium to high threat without putting the air crew at risk. 

                Q:  Okay. 

                VADM GORTNEY:  Create the conditions for manned aircraft. 

                Q:  And has the no fly zone enforcement begun?  And what coalition members will enforce that?  Will U.S. jets be in the air? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  At this point we are creating the conditions to be able to set up the no-fly zone, and once we have established and confirmed that the conditions are right then we will move forward into the next – one of the next phases of the campaign. 

                Q:  So it has not yet begun enforcement? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  That’s a tough one to say based on how you call – do we have airplanes patrolling over Libya to enforce a no-fly zone?  No, ma’am, we do not.  But I would say we are beginning that because we’re setting the conditions to be able to reach that state. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Chris. 

                Q:  Admiral, will Colonel Gadhafi’s tanks and heavy artillery also be targeted going forward? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  I’m not – I’m going to have to limit my discussion today to the actions that were taken thus far, and I’m not going to be able to discuss potential future operations.  

                MR. MORRELL:  Kevin. 

                Q:  Admiral, you said that protecting the population of Benghazi was one of the goals, but I don’t see that as one of the strike targets on your map.  Why is that? 

ADM GORTNEY:  That’s correct.  And that’s where I was talking about where the critical nodes of that integrated air and missile defense system.  At this particular point Gadhafi is predominantly – lives in Tripoli, and you’ll see that’s where the most robust IADSs (integrated air defense) are.  But the no-fly zone that we want to enforce encompasses both east and west, and so we went after that first, this wave, after the most critical part.

                Q:  So will the second wave then go to Benghazi? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  I’m not going to talk about future operations. 

                MR. MORRELL:  (Inaudible). 

                Q:  Are U.S. forces required or have they been used to help with the targeting on the ground?  Have U.S. forces been on the ground to help with the targeting – 

                VADM GORTNEY:  There has been no U.S. forces on the ground to do the targeting.  We don’t require people on the ground to develop the targets for the target. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Elizabeth. 

                Q:  Can you tell us what submarines and ships the missiles came from?  The U.S.? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  I’m going to have to provide you that at another time.  I don’t have that in front of me right now, ma’am.  [Arleigh Burke-class, guided-missile destroyers USS Stout (DDG 55) and USS Barry (DDG 52) and submarines USS Providence (SSN 719), USS Scranton (SSN 756) and USS Florida (SSGN 728) participated in the strike.  Other ships in the JTF include USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), USS Ponce (LPD 15), and USS Mount Whitney (LCC/JCC 20).] 

                Q:  And there are -- just to be clear, there are no U.S. aircraft involved at this point ? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  No U.S. aircraft over land at this time.  No, ma’am. 

                Q:  And no involved in air strikes right now? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  Not at this particular time.  No, ma’am. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Nathan. 

                Q:  Admiral, are any U.S. aircraft providing refueling support for any aircraft involved in this – (inaudible)?

                VADM GORTNEY:  I would anticipate that we will be providing that.  You know, we bring unique capabilities in command and control and logistics, so a part of that we bring a very large tanker force to do that and we will be contributing that now and in the future. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Rick. 

                Q:  When did this start in relation to when the French launched their fighter jets?  Was this after they had launched, before they launched?  Do you anticipate launches will continue?  And when you talk about critical nodes, is Gadhafi’s upper echelon command and control considered a critical node of his air defense? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  First question? 

                Q:  When did the Tomahawks first get launched in comparison to when the French -- 

                VADM GORTNEY:  It was after the French flew their particular missions the Tomahawks were launched.  About a time of flight of about an hour from launch to impact.  First impact was at 15:00 Eastern Standard Time. 

                I’m not going to answer the second question because it deals to future operations. 

                And your last question? 

                Q:  Was – when you talked about you were targeting command and – or critical nodes, is Gadhafi’s upper echelon command and control considered one of those critical nodes that you attacked? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  No.  We’re focusing on the command and control of the integrated air and missile defense system. 

                MR. MORRELL:  (Inaudible.) 

                Q:  I think I anticipate, but do you the U.S. intend to go straight to the no-fly zone with attack aircrafts --

                VADM GORTNEY:  I’m not at -- 

                Q:  -- or fighters -- 

                VADM GORTNEY:  I’m not at liberty to talk potential future operations. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yes, ma’am. 

                Q:  Can you tell me which Arab nations are part of the allied partners? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  Right now of the coalition the countries that have asked us to mention their names, of course the U.S., U.K., French, Italy and Canada.  The other countries have asked for them – they want to be able to make the announcement.  And it’s the same for the Arab countries as well.  We’re going to go ahead and let them make the announcement. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Greg, do you have anything? 

                Q:  No, I’m okay. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Luis 

                Q:  Sir, there were also electronic planes that can do the electronic jamming of the integrated missile sites.  Was other technology used during these strikes? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  For this particular strike, what we would call that support package.  The electronic attack was not required in order to get the cruise missiles into their targets. 

                Q:  Is that AWACS, is that what you mean or -- 

                VADM GORTNEY:  Well, we have aircraft that jam electronics, the early warning [sic-radar].  We haven’t had to use those.  That’s one of the benefits of using the Tomahawk cruise missiles. 

Q:            And what was the purpose of the French – (unintelligible) – Gadhafi? 

                MR. MORRELL:  You’re not -- 

                VADM GORTNEY:   I’m not here – I’m not able to speak to the French mission objectives. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Yes. 

                Q:  Total number of targets again? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  It’ll be over 20 targets.

                MR. MORRELL:  Jim. 

                Q:  How will you assess the damage?  Will you send like a Global Hawk or from satellite imagery from the -- 

                VADM GORTNEY:  Yeah.  Bomb damage assessment is going to take a little bit.  You know, after being in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan where we have Predators, Reapers, you know, full-motion video, we don’t have that in the contested airspace, so that’s why we had to drop the IADSs (integrated air defense system) in order to do that.  We’ll be able to use a Global Hawk now that -- once we have confirmed that the SA5s are down.  And then we’ll use the traditional national technical means. 

                MR. MORRELL:  (Inaudible.) 

                Q:  To be clear, this is a U.S.-led operation, but in the hours leading up today there’s communications or talk to try to talk that down. 

                VADM GORTNEY:  We are on the leading edge of coalition operations where the United States under General Ham in Africa Command is in charge.  He’s in command of this at this point.  And in the coming days we intend to transition it to a coalition command. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Elizabeth. 

                Q:  Can you specify how many British ships were involved compared to the U.S. ships? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  We had one British submarine. 

                Q:  And the rest were all U.S.? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  Yes, ma’am. 

                Q:  And the number of the -- 

                VADM GORTNEY:  I don’t have that in front of me, the exact numbers, but -- 

                MR. MORRELL:  Let’s just take a more minutes here.  Tony? 

                Q:  How sophisticated was this air defense system compared to Iraq’s, Iran’s, and you know, even going to back to Vietnam?  I mean, you’ve studied these systems, and I think the public would like a sense of that. 

                VADM GORTNEY:  This is an integrated air and missile defense system much like the one that Iraq had and has surrounded Bagdad, built on older Soviet technology, but still good capability. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Courtney 

                Q:  Two things.  The bomb damage assessment, do you have a rough idea of will that take hours or days? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  I would say between hours and days.  (Laughter.)  

                Q:  And is it fair -- 

                VADM GORTNEY:  It’s going to take us anywhere from six to twelve hours to get this based on assessing whether or not the SA5 sites are down, that we could then move Global Hawk in and then the other national technical means to collect and then assess. 

                Q:  Is it fair to say that the no-fly zone enforcement probably won’t begin until the bomb damage assessment is complete? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  I’m not able to talk about specifics of future operations. 

MR. MORRELL:  More hands as we go on.  So let’s try to get control of this.  Let’s do Chris and Mathew and Nathan, and then we’re done. 

                Q:  Would you -- Admiral, would you consider this period that we’re in right now to be a pause in that no more strikes are going on until the assessment? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  No.  We’re in the first phase of a multi-phase operation. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Matthew. 

                Q:  So strikes -- 

                VADM GORTNEY:  I wouldn’t specifically call it a pause. 

                Q:  But so strikes are continuing even before the assessment -- 

                VADM GORTNEY:  It’s the first phase of a multi-phase operation. 

                MR. MORRELL:  Matthew. 

                Q:  I just want -- you said it was a U.S.-led operation, but at which level and how do you coordinate with coalition partners?  Is it in -- (unintelligible) -- 

                VADM GORTNEY:  Within the -- 

                Q:            -- at the Africa Command or -- 

                VADM GORTNEY:  Yes.  Within Africa Command, and then on Mount Whitney on -- where the JTF commander is, we have our coalition partners embedded into the staff that help do the planning, execution and assessment of the coalition operations.  Much like we do around the world. 

                MR. MORRELL:  I think I promised that Nathan would be the last one. 

                Q:  Admiral, could you just give us a sense of the total number of ships that are attached to this JTF Odyssey Dawn or the number of U.S. vessels versus coalition? 

                VADM GORTNEY:  I apologize.  I should have that information and I don’t have it in front of me, and we’re going to have to get that for you.  We will be able to provide that. [Arleigh Burke-class, guided-missile destroyers USS Stout (DDG 55) and USS Barry (DDG 52) and submarines USS Providence (SSN 719), USS Scranton (SSN 756) and USS Florida (SSGN 728) participated in the strike.  Other ships in the JTF include USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), USS Ponce (LPD 15), and USS Mount Whitney (LCC/JCC 20).] 

                Q:  Thank you. 

                Q:  All right. 

                MR. MORRELL:  As operations develop and events warrant, we will come back to you and keep you updated as things go on.  But thank you all for coming in on this weekend.

                Q:  Will there be anything else today?

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