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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
April 18, 1996 2:00 PM EDT

Thursday, April 18, 1996 - 2 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: I've got a couple of announcements to start with.

President Clinton has nominated Lieutenant General Wesley Clark to the rank ofGeneral and to become the Commander-in-Chief of the Southern Command in Panama.As you know, General Clark is in the Army and is currently the Director forStrategic Plans and Policy on the Joint Staff.

The second announcement is that next Monday, as you all know, is Earth Day.The Department of Defense will join the rest of the nation in the 26th annualobservance of Earth Day. DOD's environmental policies have been nationallyrecognized. It's won awards from the Nature Conservancy and other groups forthe good work we've done as stewards of 25 million acres of land in the UnitedStates. So there will be a number of events that will showcase theDepartment's environmental activities on Earth Day, and we can get you furtherinformation on those.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Can you tell us what you can about the Pentagon policy regarding thephasing out of dumb land mines and replacing them with smart mines and whetherthere's a timetable for that and what the proposal is at this point?

A: The President announced in late 1994 that we would strive for the eventualelimination of anti-personnel land mines. We are currently looking at ways todo that. It's likely to take some time. The whole policy now is underconsideration, but we have to find a way to balance the protective and militaryuses of land mines, anti-personnel land mines, against the desire to eliminatethem over time. Land mines do provide essential protection, perimeter defense,to American troops, particularly today in Korea.

As you know, it's our policy now to deploy only self-destructing land mineswhich do not have the long life that allows them to hurt civilians long afterthe conflict is over. This policy is now being worked and we don't have a firmschedule, but as soon as we do we'll tell you about it.

Q: Can you comment on the published reports today that say that the Pentagonis proposing a timeframe of the year 2010 to renounce the use of anti-personnelmines?

A: I think until the policy is firm in the Administration, it would bepremature to talk about it. But I just want to stress again that it is ourlong term policy to eliminate the use of anti-personnel land mines. It's notsomething that can be done immediately, but we're trying to find a way to do itas soon as possible, taking into account the fact that land mines do servelegitimate military purposes now.

Q: A fourth F-14 crashed yesterday at Oceana. Does the Secretary have anyworries about this? Has he discussed this with Naval officials? Is there anyindication that they'll stand the F-14s down again?

A: I can't answer that last question. As you know, the F-14 fleet has gottena lot of attention already this year. It will continue to get attention. TheSecretary is briefed on all crashes, and he's very concerned about flightsafety. Admiral Boorda listed a number of actions that have already been takenthis year to improve the safety of F-14s, and we'll continue to pursue everyavenue we can in order to prevent every crash we can.

Significantly, of course, we're going to add digital flight control systems tothe As and Bs. We're going to make some adjustments to the engines on the As.We've ordered changes in the flight profile, that is, after-burner restrictionson the Bs and Ds. There's been a stand-down already. There have been changesin training. There have been changes in in-flight procedures. We'll continueto take every step we can until we get to the bottom of these problems.

I hasten to point out that there is no common thread yet among these crashes,and there may not be. Every crash is being evaluated on its own. You got thereport last week of the crash in Nashville, and this week as we finish theinvestigations of the other crashes, you'll get equally full reports.

Q: I believe Admiral Boorda is in Russia now. Has the Secretary discussedthis with senior Navy officials, since it's happened, to reiterate hisconcern?

A: Charlie, the Secretary's concern is well known. I can't tell you for surewhether he's discussed it with senior Navy officials. I assume he has. But Idon't think there's any doubt in the Navy about the Secretary's concern.There's no doubt in any service about the Secretary's concern about flightsafety.

Q: The Secretary, I believe it was during the budget briefing, went on at somelength about the safety record in the military. I wonder if A, does he stillstand by that position? And B, you're probably aware that there's beencriticism from the Republican side on the Hill to the effect that maybe thedeclining defense budgets have had something to do with this spate ofaccidents. Can you comment on that, please?

A: We believe our force is very ready. We believe the pilots are welltrained. We don't think there's any connection between the defense budget andthese crashes. As I said, we have not found a common thread to the crashes.Flight safety has been improving in the services over the last several years.In fact, if you go back over 10 or 15 years you see a steady improvement. Nowthere are always statistical blips, and there are years when accidents go up,and it's sometimes difficult to explain these statistical blips.

But the point to make is, we take every crash seriously. We respond with athorough investigation. We look for ways to improve the flight record, andwe're doing that here.

Q: There has been speculation that because Lieutenant General Clark was atOxford with the President, and just because it's an election year, that thenomination will be held hostage by the Senate leadership and may not gothrough. Do you have any indication when the Committee will meet? And do youhave any indication that his nomination will be approved at this point?

A: General Clark is a superb military officer. His record is clear to anybodywho examines it. I would expect his nomination to be approved quickly, and itshould be.

Q: Back to the flight safety problem. One of the issues that was discussed atthe hearing on the Hill Tuesday was the Marine Harriers, which statisticallyhave the highest accident rate of any military aircraft. General Blot pointedout that the Marines would like to remanufacture those aircraft, put a biggerand better engine in at a faster rate, but they don't have the money to do it.Now Congressman Hunter is promising the Republicans will do that. That's oneof the things that he's attributing the Administration's budget cuts, makingthe Marines fly those airplanes that are not safe.

A: All airplanes have to be flown within the envelope of their performancecharacteristics. You could probably increase the engine power of almost anyairplane, and therefore, change its performance characteristics and thecircumstances, change the circumstances under which you fly it or the way inwhich you'd fly it. I can't comment specifically on that, but clearly, one ofthe steps that's been taken with the F-14s is to remind people to fly themwithin the parameters that are specified for the engines, the avionics, etc.

Q: In a speech this morning the Secretary didn't even mention Liberia, but hementioned another problem in Africa which is the plant being built in Libya,and he mentioned taking preventive action against it. He's mentioned thisbefore, of course, but he sort of went out of his way to mention it today. Isthere some preventive action being contemplated?

A: The first thing we've done is started a diplomatic effort to generateopposition to this plant. It's fair to say that deadly chemicals manufacturedin Libya are probably a most immediate threat to surrounding countries. Afterall, Libya did use chemicals against the people of Chad less than ten yearsago, so they have a record of using deadly chemicals against neighboringcountries. So the first step is to call attention to this plant, callattention to the risks of the plant, call attention to the record of theLibyans in using deadly chemicals in the past, and trying to generateinternational pressure against the Libyans to stop work on it. That's whatwe're doing.

There are other ways to stop this plant, and we've used them in the past.We've used economic steps, business steps to prevent suppliers from providingthe type of know-how and equipment that's necessary to build these plants. Wewill pursue that as well.

There are also a series of military options that we could pursue, ifnecessary. Our hope is it won't be necessary because the plant will be stoppedeither by diplomatic or by economic measures.

Any more questions?

Q: Will there be any type of cost figure in the Liberia operation?

A: Yes, there will be a cost figure in the Liberian operation when it's over,but it's not over yet. But we will get you a figure on that when we know it.

I've been handed a note here that says the next Amphibious Ready Group to theMed is not the ESSEX, but it will be built around the USS SAIPAN.

Thanks a lot.