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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Tuesday, April 23, 1996 - 1:30p.m.

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
April 23, 1996 1:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, April 23, 1996 - 1:30 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

I want to start with an announcement. I want to state formally that theMinistries of Defense of Germany, Italy, and the U.S. yesterday signed anagreement of intent to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding for the MediumExtended Air Defense System, which is affectionately known as the MEAD System.This is a system we're developing with our allies to provide defense againstmissile attacks against maneuver forces and other critical assets in placessuch as Europe or other places where forces are maneuvering.

This was announced last year, the program, by Paul Kaminski and Jan Lodal downhere as an important allied air defense program, and it's going forward.France was, at one point, scheduled to be a participant and may still be aparticipant, but was not able to sign the statement of intent to negotiate anMOU at this time. We hope that later on they'll be able to.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: A senior defense official said this morning at the press breakfast that theUnited States, short of using a nuclear weapon, does not now have the earth-penetrating conventional weapons to destroy the plant near Tarhuna. Is theUnited States prepared to use a nuclear weapon to do that?

A: Charlie, the Tarhuna issue has been in the news for the last couple ofweeks, and it should rightly be in the news because it's the building of achemical weapons plant or a chemical weapons storage facility, in this day andage in the Middle East, is not in the interest of peace, not in the interest ofstability, and not in the interest of world order.

But there are many steps to stop this facility in Libya before we get tomilitary options. We have already launched diplomatic initiatives. That's whythe Secretary brought this up with President Mubarak in Egypt. That's why he'sspoken about it forthrightly and publicly. We think this is a regional problemfirst, and it should be dealt with as a regional issue as well as on aninternational basis.

There are also business and economic ways to choke this project. We've chokeda chemical weapons project in Libya in the past by putting pressure on suppliercountries, and we're prepared to do that again.

So there are a number of ways to pursue stopping this project short ofmilitary options. I think discussion of military options right now, andparticularly nuclear options, is premature. We ought to focus on thediplomatic and business options first.

Q: But the Secretary has said that the United States will not allow Libya tobegin producing these weapons. If Libya begins producing these weapons and theUnited States has not yet a conventional weapon to destroy it, would the UnitedStates use a nuclear weapon?

A: Libya is a country that has used chemical weapons in the past against thepeople of Chad; it used them in 1987. We take very seriously and ominouslyLibya's continuing program of chemical weapons. It's premature now to talkabout military options. They obviously remain for us if the diplomatic and theeconomic options don't succeed. This plant or facility is not in operationyet. It probably won't be in operation for at least a year. It gives us sometime to work diplomatically and economically against it, and that's what we'redoing.

Q: The key word here is option. Secretary Perry, in a speech as recently astoday, made it clear that the United States retains the option to use nuclearweapons in the event of the use of weapons of mass destruction against theUnited States. I guess what we're asking here is in the case of Libya, whilethere are many, many options that may be used first, does the United Statesretain the option of using some type of nuclear weapon to take out that plantas a last resort?

A: What the Secretary has said is that we retain the option to respond withdevastating force against any country that uses chemical or biological weapons.That threat to respond with devastating force was something that may havedeterred Iraq from using chemical weapons during Desert Storm. We believe thatcountries all over the world should take that threat seriously. He has saidthat devastating force could require, could include the use of nuclear weapons.He hasn't said that it would, but he said it could. He said that before theSenate Foreign Relations Committee, so it's not breaking new ground to say itagain here. I think you were there when he said this, and everybody understoodthe context in which he said it.

Q: All I'm saying is, given that he's willing to say it in that context, couldyou not...

A: This is a different context, isn't it?

Q: This is a different context, so we're asking, in this context, would theUnited States, does it retain the option of using nuclear weapons?

A: We retain the option of protecting our interests. The Secretary has spokenabout one context in which chemical or biological weapons are used as weaponsof mass destruction. We retain the right to respond. He has said that it isour goal to prevent this facility from coming into use. I've told you thatthere were diplomatic and business options we're pursuing before we get to thepoint of looking at military options.

Q: Since you now have your own experts saying on the record that there is noconventional capability existing to take out Tarhuna, and they also say thereis a growing threat around the world of deeply buried targets, is SecretaryPerry giving any thought to trying to boost funding for some of your weaponsdevelopment programs, accelerate them, solve any of their problems, and try andmake them actually work?

A: First, as you know better than anybody, deeply buried targets is a targetset we've been prepared to address for a long time. This is not new withTarhuna. We have faced deeply buried targets in other countries around theworld, and we faced them specifically during Desert Storm. So we have beenworking for well over 10 years, probably well over 20 years on weapons toattack deeply buried targets. This is not a new threat and it's not a new setof weapons development for us.

We are now working on a series of weapons -- both nuclear and conventional

-- to deal with deeply buried targets, working on improving weapons we alreadyhad. Many of these weapons were started long before Tarhuna became an issue.

Q: You said, and I just want to make sure because I'm not sure where yoursentence ended. Are we working on new -- you said nuclear and non-nuclear --and I want it to be very clear. Are we working on new nuclear weapons ormodifying and improving existing nuclear weapons?

A: Yes.

Q: Which is that? New or improved?

A: We are modifying existing ones. As I said, this is not a new threat.

Q: I just want to follow up on a couple more points there. Modifying whichones? Can you tell us?

A: The one that was mentioned this morning was the B-61.

Q: You're modifying the B-61 to address deeply buried targets.

A: This has always been a weapon that had some capability, but we're improvingthat capability.

Q: My other question then is, sorry to be so nit-picky, but your own expertson the record this morning said you do not have the capability to deal withthis target. So the question that I have is, why is the Secretary notconsidering, or is he considering, anything specific to deal with these targetswhich are much, much deeper than anything we've ever addressed in the last 20years?

A: We are.

Q: You're doing what?

A: We are looking at ways to deal with ever-deeper targets.

Q: Are you looking to boost existing funding in any of these programs?

A: We already have some programs underway. One of those programs is, there'san advanced concept technology demonstration project that has three parts to itthat deal basically with attacking weapons of mass destruction, including onesthat are underground. The three parts to that program include developingbetter sensors to help us locate and monitor weapons of mass destruction sites.Secondly, developing better weapons to attack those sites. They can includepenetrators, they can include fire accelerants, they can include other types ofweapons that are under development. The third part involves better ways ofintegrating intelligence and surveillance to help us with strikes againstthese.

Now these are programs that have been underway for at least a year or so, andthey're moving forward.

Frankly, one of the problems we face with an installation that is undergroundand contains chemical or biological weapons is how to strike it in a way thatdoesn't contaminate a large area, and that's one of the challenges that we'reworking on specifically and have been long before the Tarhuna site became anissue.

There are several ways to do that, and one of them does involve basicallyincinerating what's in the underground facility in a way that also seals thefacility at the same time. You can see this is a challenge, but it's one thatwe've undertaken, and I think we'll probably be able to make significantprogress on, but it takes time. However, it's going to take time for thecompletion of this project. As I said, we believe the project should bestopped and that it can be stopped diplomatically or economically.

Q: Does Tarhuna contain biological agents as well?

A: Not that I'm aware of, but we have to prepare weapons to deal with allsorts of threats. As the Secretary has made very clear, the proliferation ofweapons of mass destruction in chemical and biological forms is one we takeseriously. We had a whole report on that.

Q: Is the weapon that would incinerate and seal at the same time, is that theB-61, the modified...

A: No. What I talked about, the Advanced Concept Technology Developmentprogram, focuses on conventional weapons.

Q: So you would look for a conventional weapon that would incinerate and sealat the same time?

A: That's our hope. That's what we're working on.

As I say, these are demanding technological challenges. That's one of thereasons that it takes time. But we're working on this.

Q: On the general subject of advanced weapons -- Secretary Perry referred totoday a joint project underway with Israel involving high energy lasers toprovide a, I believe he said a missile and rocket fence system. I was justwondering can you tell us any more about that program and whether it would havea capability against the Katyusha rocket?

A: We have successfully tested a laser defense system against short rangerockets such as the Katyusha rocket, and we are working on a joint program todevelop such a system with the Israelis. The advantage of a laser defensesystem against rockets is that it's considerably cheaper than a missile defensesystem against rockets, because the lasers, of course, can be turned on and offin the face of a threat. The name of the system is called the Nautilus. Itwas tested successfully earlier this year in New Mexico, and it's one of thesystems we're developing with the Israelis to continue to provide them with aqualitative edge in their own defense.

Q: Is this a ground-based system?

A: Yes.

Q: Is there any estimate at this point about when it might be deployable?

A: No. I'm sure there are estimates. I don't know what they are, but it'snot immediate.

Q: Is this an ARPA program? Is this a service program?

A: This is being worked on by the Army Space and Strategic Defense Command.

Q: Do you have the funding for that?

A: I'm afraid I don't know what the funding is right now.

Q: Is that going to be a subject on Sunday for their discussions?

A: Yes. The whole question of maintaining Israel's qualitative edge will be atopic, but two specific systems that will be discussed will be the Nautilussystem, this laser-based system, and also the Arrow missile which we're workingon with the Israelis, and that's a system to protect them against ballisticmissiles. This, to be clear, is designed specifically to deal withKatyusha-type rockets -- shorter range -- I think over 500 Katyusha rocketshave been fired against Israel in the last week or so, so they come with moreregularity than ballistic missiles would. And of course they're entirelydifferent battlefield type weapons than ballistic missiles are.

Q: What would be the applicable use for the United States military, theNautilus system today? Or is it strictly an Israeli system?

A: We presumably face the same types of threats in certain situations. Itwould provide increased battlefield protection for us.

Q: Would it be underlaying like the Patriot system, or where would this fit?

A: This is a much shorter range. We're dealing here with, I can easily findout or you can find out in Jane's what the range is of a Katyusha rocket.Maybe Barbara knows. Stand up and give a lecture on the performance... Butthese rockets were developed by the Soviet Union. They're in many arsenals.

Q: What's the range of the laser?

A: I don't know the performance characteristics of this, and I suspect wearen't going to reveal all the ranges at this stage.

Q: Can you bring us up to date on what the Pentagon knows about the fire inthe Soviet Union near Chernobyl that apparently may be sending up someradioactive material?

A: I'm afraid I can't go beyond the news reports on that. I don't know. Idon't believe we know a lot more at this stage, but we're monitoring it andwe'll try to find out what we can. As I understand it, it's a fire actuallyoutside the Chernobyl complex, on the periphery of the Chernobyl complex, andI've read that there are now firefighters on the scene fighting this thing.

Q: On the Tarhuna thing, back to it a minute, if you're talking about, I thinkyou said incinerate it and maybe seal it, could this be some kind of, in layperson's terms, kind of an underground fuel-air explosive, that kind ofthing?

A: I'm sorry, what did you say?

Q: An underground fuel-air explosive. Like if there's some way to get oxygento it. Is that what you're talking about? A conventional weapon that might dothat kind of thing, sounds like kind of a fuel-air explosive or something.

A: I can't describe it beyond what I have as to what it would do. It's a hightemperature fire accelerant. There are probably several ways to do that.

Q: As I recall, approximately today or about this time frame was when theservices were supposed to report back to Secretary Perry concerning theirrecommendations for retrofitting passenger-carrying military aircraft withcockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders and GPS systems. Can yougive us any update on how many planes, now that they've had two weeks to lookat it, how many planes are involved?

A: They reported yesterday, I can't give you an update, the Secretary saidthat the goal was to retrofit all their passenger-carrying planes with thisequipment. They reported yesterday. No firm decisions have been made on aschedule for doing it at this stage, but I would expect those decisions to bemade quickly.

Q: When we asked for the specific number of planes involved, they said that'sone of the things they were going to determine so we couldn't get a specificnumber. Can you take the question about how many planes this now affects?

A: Sure, we'll take the question.

Q: Also, what cost is involved, which is another one of the...

A: That's one of the issues that's still being decided -- cost and schedulingis still being decided.

There are a number of variables, obviously, that determine cost and schedule,and those are still being worked out. But we will take the question onnumbers.

Q: Is it fair to say that some of this work is about to begin?

A: I think it's fair to say we'll get back to you with more specifics whenit's appropriate to do so.

Q: Do you have any further information you can disclose to the public from theSaudi government about the suspects who are being held for bombing the Americanmilitary complex about a year ago?

A: No.

Q: Where they may have been funded from or where the inspiration for this camefrom.

A: I think it's up to the Saudis to describe that now.

Q: Regarding the T-43 crash, are there existing Air Force regulations whichprevent a non-directional beacon approach to that airport?

A: We're now in the middle of a very full investigation of what led to thatcrash, and I think rather than answer piecemeal questions about what happened,what our regulations are, I'd rather defer all answers on that until wecomplete the investigation. We've already given you two briefings on that.We'll give you other briefings when appropriate, but I'm not going tosalami-slice the findings or the speculation at this stage.

Q: You could also take that question and separate the crash from it. Canplanes fly in there on instrument-only approach?

A: I tried to say it very clearly, but I'll say it more clearly, I'm not goingto answer that question.

Press: Thank you.

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