Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.
SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, Steny, and ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. It's a -- it's a real honor to be able to come here and visit with all of you and visit this remarkable facility here.
And let me -- let me -- let me begin as I do wherever I go, in going to our bases and facilities across this country. And I made it a point that as secretary, I think it's important to see these facilities up close and to be able to look at the missions, to be able to look at what's being accomplished, because I'm a believer that we must maintain the strongest defense system on the face of the earth. And to do that, we need to make sure that we're on the cutting edge and that we're doing what needs to be done, to look ahead in order to secure this country. And that's why I'm here, and that's why I pay tribute to all of you for the work that you do here and for the service that you provide our country.
I want to acknowledge, if I can, some of the community people that have been important here. Bonnie Green -- is Bonnie Green here? She's president of the Patuxent Partnership. You know, having -- as a member of Congress, I've had the opportunity in my own district in Monterey, California.
We had Fort Ord, we had the Defense Language Institute, which we have now. We've got the Navy Postgraduate School, and I know how important it is to have community support for these kinds of facilities. She created a partnership here that forms a three-way support system -- academia, Navy, the private sector -- all working in support of education, technology transfer, workforce development and advancing technology.
I can't tell you how important it is to have that kind of partnership so that we get the very best out of these kinds of facilities. She's a tireless advocate for the mission here at Pax River, and she works very closely, obviously, with the people inside the gate. Thank you very much for all you do for this operation.
Now, I don't know whether I -- Bob Waxman -- is Bob Waxman here by chance? How are you? It's an honor to meet you. I'm glad you're here because I feel like a kid. (Laughter.) Bob Waxman is a retired civil servant. I'm sure you're all familiar with him; 86 years old. And he was the top civilian for Webster Field, St. Inigoes for almost 48 years -- 48 years. He helped to build it up with a culture of strong customer service, entrepreneurial spirit, served in government services for DOD until retiring in 2006; and obviously continues to support the Navy's role here and the Navy's mission here as a contractor today.
Thank you very much for your great service and for your dedication. Really an honor to be able to have you here.
And my buddy Steny Hoyer -- I can't tell you how fortunate you are to have Congressman Hoyer representing this area. He's one of the most dedicated and committed members that I've ever had the honor of meeting. And as he said, it goes back a long way. I served with him in the Congress and -- you know, I think that the responsibility of members of Congress is to govern the nation. It's not about survival in office; it's about governing the nation; and it's about making the decisions that have to be made in order to ensure that we are protecting this country.
I -- I'm the son of a -- of immigrants -- Italian immigrants. And I used to often ask my dad, who came here with my mother early '30s, just like millions of other immigrants -- no money, no skills, no language ability -- seeking opportunity. And I used to ask my dad, why would you come all of that distance to a strange land, leaving -- you know, it's a poor area in Italy, but at least they had the comfort of family. Why would you do that? And he said because your mother and I believed that we could give our children a better life.
And that's the American dream.
That's what we want for our children and hopefully what our children will want for their children.
And very frankly, it is THE fundamental principle of what the United States of America is all about. It's about giving our children a better life. And the only way that happens is if there are leaders in this country who are committed to making the decisions that will ensure that our children have a better a life and a more secure life in the future. And that's what Steny Hoyer is all about. He's dedicated to that principle.
His support, what he's done for this facility, the work he does in the Congress, he is -- in my book, having served in the Congress and having served in the executive branch and having worked with a number of members, he is one of THE most outstanding members that I have ever had the honor to work with. And I'm really honored to have this chance to be able to come down and be with him today here at Patuxent.
It is -- it is important, as I said, that the U.S. military be on the technological edge of the future. That's where we have to be. We're going to have a strong defense, we have got to be there.
Because of you, because of the very unique testing and capabilities that are offered here, we are able to maintain that technological edge. And I want to thank you again for your dedication, for your commitment, for your great skills. This is a very unique facility. It is a national treasure that is important for us to maintain.
These are world-class facilities that, as I said, depend on all of you, depend on community support, depend on your dedication, your patriotism, that is important to our military, important to our men and women in uniform who have to put their lives on the line, and it's important to our national security.
American troops have long gone to battle secure in the knowledge that we command the skies. This fifth-generation fighter behind me is absolutely vital to maintaining our air superiority. And it will enable the kind of vital operations that we need in anti-access environments.
I want you all to know that as secretary of defense, my department is committed to the development of the F-35. It's absolutely critical, absolutely critical that we get it right. And that's why you're here. The developmental testing that's going on here will ensure that we get this right.
Early in 2011 DOD was compelled to put STOVL -- it's the -- one of the variants of the GSF (sic) -- on probation.
Over the course of last year, you here at Pax River helped make an incredible difference by completing tremendous amounts of STOVL testing. More, frankly, than had been planned. You demonstrated that we've made real progress -- real progress towards fixing some of the known problems that we had with STOVL. We now believe that because of your work, that the STOVL variant is demonstrating the kind of performance and maturity that is in line with the other two variants of the JSF.
As a result of your hard work and the hard work of JSF's government and industry team -- and it's a tremendous team; I've had the opportunity to meet many of its members today -- the STOVL variant has made, I believe and all of us believe, sufficient progress so that as of today, I am lifting the STOVL probation. (Applause.)
Please accept my deepest thanks for your work and dedication.
I couldn't do it without you.
It's not to say we don't have a long way to go; we do. We've got a long way to go with the JSF testing, and it's obviously not out of the woods yet. But I am confident that if we continue to do the hard work necessary, if we continue to do the dedicated work that all of you have been doing, that both the carrier and the STOVL variants are going to be ready for operations and are going to be ready for doing the work that they have to do, which is to help protect this country.
Let me talk a little bit about some of the challenges that we're obviously going to be facing as we move forward because in many ways, we are at a turning point. We're at a turning point. After 10 years of war, we now have to be able to make that turn as we head into the future. We're at a point, as you know, where the Iraq mission was brought to an end, and it's now clearly up to the Iraqi people, to the Iraqi leaders to make sure they stay on the right track. That was the whole point of the mission, was to make Iraq be able to govern and secure itself.
In Afghanistan, we are making good progress there in transitioning as well to Afghan control and security, and we remain committed to making sure that happens.
In Libya, we had a successful NATO mission that helped bring down Gadhafi and return Libya to the Libyan people.
And al-Qaida, the enemy that attacked this country on 9/11, that made the war on terrorism something that all of us were committed to fight -- we have significantly impacted on al-Qaida. Its leadership is decimated. It doesn't have the ability to put command and control together to make the kind of plans for the kind of attacks we saw on 9/11. We have successfully gone after their leadership. And it's not just bin Laden, but a number of leaders.
But we need to continue that pressure. We need to keep going after them wherever they go, whether it's Yemen or Somalia or North Africa. We need to continue the pressure on them. But we are -- we are working to significantly weaken their capability. We've been good at it.
All of this clearly represents the fact that by virtue of what we've been doing, by virtue of our men and women in uniform, by virtue of the fact that they've done everything we've asked them to do, we're moving in the right direction.
And all of it comes at a time when, as Steny pointed out, we are facing a crisis in terms of the deficit and debt situation in this country. I think it was USA Today the other day that had a headline that said that our national debt is now comparable to our GDP: $15 trillion.
And obviously we continue to have excessive deficits that feed into that debt. It is a threat to our national security. We have a responsibility to confront it. We can't provide for that better life for our children in the future unless we deal with that.
And so we at Defense have a responsibility to do our part, and we will. We are the U.S., a global leader. We have to remain there.
One of the realities is that even as we are at that turning point and even as we have to confront these deficit issues, this isn't like draw downs in the past: coming out of World War II, coming out of Korea, coming out of Vietnam, coming out of the end of the Soviet Union, when the potential enemy or the enemy that we were confronting, you know, was disabled and in some way rendered ineffective. We still face a number of threats. We're still confronting a number of threats in the world.
We're still fighting a war in Afghanistan. We're facing threats from North Korea. We're facing threats from Iran. We continue to face threats from the proliferation of nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction. We face threats now in a cyber world in which the battlefields of the future could very well be in cyber.
We face threats from rising powers in Asia and elsewhere. We face threats from the continuing turmoil in the Middle East. And so at a time when we're at that turning point, at a time when we're facing the budget challenges that we're facing, we still have to be strong to confront the threats that we face in the world. And so that's been the challenge. That's been the challenge.
When we were handed the number by the Congress that we had to reduce the defense budget by about $487 billion over the next 10 years, what I did was I sat down with our service chiefs; I sat down with their under secretaries; I sat down with the key leaders at the Pentagon. I talked to people I respect, both inside and outside of the Pentagon. And I said, we have to view this as an opportunity to shape the defense system we need for the future, and there are four principles that are important in that process.
Number one we are and have to remain the strongest military in the world. We are not going to back off from our position of being the strongest military. If we're going to confront those threats, if we're going to be a world leader, we have got to maintain our military power.
Secondly, we can't hollow out this force. We've made that mistake in the past. Every one of those draw downs I talked about, there were cuts across the board. They took big numbers, cut everything across the board, weakened everything across the board. That's hollowing out the force.
We are not going to do that.
What does that mean? It means the third point, which is that we have to look at every area -- look at every area for where savings can be achieved, where efficiencies can be achieved, where cost savings can be achieved -- every area, in order to make sure it's balanced.
And lastly, we cannot break faith with those that have served, men and women who've deployed time and time and time again to the war zone, who've been promised and committed to certain benefits. We have got to maintain faith with them. At the same time -- at the same time that obviously, we've got to deal with growing costs in the future.
Not easy challenges. But I must say that the team at the Pentagon working together and saying, what is it that -- what kind of force do we need in the future; what is it that we have to design here, that we put together a strategy that I believe represents the best defense strategy for the future because it not only confronts the problems of the present, it confronts the problems of the future.
What are the key elements? Let me just briefly describe them.
We know we're going to be dealing with a smaller force. It was going to happen regardless of the budget constraints as we were beginning to draw down. So we're going to be a smaller force. It's going to be leaner.
But it has to be agile, it has to be deployable, it has to be flexible, and it has to have the best advanced technology in the world.
That force has to be on the cutting edge of technology. That's what will give it that edge to be able to confront any enemy and defeat that enemy.
Secondly, we've got to look at our global posture and figure out, where are those areas that we have to focus on? And clearly, we have to focus on the areas where we have the potential problems for conflict in the future. So we focus on the Pacific and we focus on the Middle East, because those are the areas where the potential problems and conflicts can arise. And we will maintain and strengthen our presence in those areas, because it's important to our national security.
But thirdly, in dealing with the rest of the world, we have to build new partnerships and we have to develop innovative ways of maintaining our presence there. And so we will work with NATO; we'll work with other countries to develop partnerships, to be able to work with them and advise them. And at the same time, we're going to develop an innovative rotational presence in which we will go into countries in Latin America, in Africa, in Europe, elsewhere, so that we can do exercises. We'll be there; we'll provide advice; we'll provide guidance; we'll build partnerships. And it will give us a presence so that we can continue our role of global leadership.
Fourthly, we have to ensure that we can confront any aggressor, anywhere, at any time. The whole purpose of this force has to be to have the capability to take on any aggressor, and more than one at a time.
If we're in a land war in Korea, we've got to have the capability to confront Iran if they go after the Straits of Hormuz. We have to be able to deal with more than one threat at a time, because that's the nature of the world that we confront. And we can do that with the force that we've designed.
And one of the reasons we do that is because we are going to protect our investments in technology. We're not only going to protect our investments, we're going to make new investments in technology -- in this kind of capability, in ISR, in space, in cyberspace. That's the future, and we are going to be there.
We're going to maintain our ability to have global strike capability. We are going to invest in special operations and have that capability -- we have it now; we're going to build that for the future.
And we have to have the capability to quickly mobilize if we have to, which means we need a strong reserve, we need a strong National Guard.
And we have to protect our research and development capability, and we have to protect our industrial base. If we're going to mobilize, I have to have an industrial base that's there to do what it has to do in order to give us what we need to confront any enemy. And if we cut back on that industrial base, it will weaken us for the future. If we cut back on facilities like that -- this will weaken us for the future.
We need the kind of research and development that goes on here. We need the kind of testing that goes on here. That is the Defense of the future.
And then lastly, and most importantly, we need to maintain a strong volunteer force. That's the heart and soul of our strength. And thanks to the men and women who've been willing to serve, thanks to their families that provide the support that's so important to their service. This is without question the next-greatest generation we've had to have served this country.
I met with a group of our wounded warriors last night -- and I often go to Bethesda. And I have to tell you, I've been around a while, I have never seen the kind of spirit that these guys have. And that is the greatest healing element of all; it's the spirit that no matter how badly they've been injured, they are ready to go back to duty. They are ready to fight again for America. And you know what? In the end, that's our greatest strength as a country.
So we're not going to short-change people in our volunteer force, we're going to support them with programs and support the families that need the help so that we can truly maintain that kind of spirit and that kind of support.
Look, in the end, our national defense is not just -- it's not just our military cpability, as important as that is.
It's not just our planes. It's not just our weapons. It's not just our technology. It's also our people. It's also our businesses. It's also our communities. It's also our leaders.
All of that is our national defense. But it begins with our people. And thank God we have the very best fighting men and women in the world. And thank God we have the American people that are supportive of making sure that we do everything possible to reach that American dream of giving our kids a better life.
Thank you for what you do, thank you for what you do here, and God bless all of you. (Applause.)
Thank you. Now I'm happy to handle some questions if you got some questions here. You got the secretary of defense. (Laughter.) And besides that, if I can't answer that, I'll throw it to Hoyer. (Laughter.)
Q: I'll be brave.
SEC. PANETTA: Go ahead.
Q: First off, Secretary Panetta, thank you so much for your service to the country and your willingness and ability to make the hard decisions that are necessary to govern and protect this country.
You spoke of the need to equip our war fighters with agile, deployable systems and weaponry that employ the latest in technologies. When we look at the pace at which technology advances, our existing acquisition and procurement policies don't appear to enable, and many would say actually inhibit, our ability to field and get the most recent, advanced, technologically capable weapons and tools to our war fighter.
Can you speak to --
SEC. PANETTA: Yeah.
Q: -- any initiatives that are under way to reform or address or streamline those policies?
SEC. PANETTA: Yeah, you know, I -- I've got the -- Frank Kendall is here who heads up our whole procurement area. Ash Carter is my deputy at Defense, and he came out of procurement. And as a matter of fact, when I'm heading back, I'm going to be meeting with a lot of our industrial people that work on a lot of our contracts and on our technology for the future.
We -- you know, we've been -- we were blessed -- (chuckles) -- in Defense during the last -- over the last 10 years that, you know, when you got a -- when you've got a blank check, it's kind of easy to kind of go out there and -- you know, and hand money out and kind of let the system kind of work its way. But the fact is that we have a responsibility to the taxpayers to make sure that we take a disciplined approach here and that we do it in a cost-effective way and we do it in an efficient way.
And very frankly, I mean, I think some of the examples of what you're developing here are -- is an example of the kind of cost- cutting that doesn't impact on our military capability, that gives us good stuff, that gives us, you know, the kind of cutting edge technology we lead -- we need and, at the same time, reduces cost. And I'm absolutely convinced that we can get there.
I think industry can get there. I mean, I -- you know, I know how these patterns establish themselves. Sometimes you get into an easy path. Sometimes, you know, as long as you're getting a check, you know, you just kind of hope that everything goes its way.
We can't allow that anymore. Everybody's got to join this effort. That means industry has to do it. That means we have to push industry. I mean, the fact is, we are pushing them all the time to reduce their costs, to try to produce these things on a faster time track, because we can't wait, frankly, 25 or 30 years in order to finally get what we need on line. We've got to be able to do -- to move and to move quickly, and to do it effectively.
And very frankly, the kind of stuff you have here -- the simulation testing that's going on here -- that's what's going to give us the edge. It's going to give us the edge, cut cost, but it doesn't impact on the quality of what you're producing.
But imagine if you have -- you take some of the stuff you're doing here and do it outside in the testing world -- how long it would take, how much more expensive would it be.
So we've got a responsibility to develop the very best procurement reforms we can, to increase competition, to make people understand that they're just not going to get handed easy money, they're going to have to work for it, and they're going to have to produce.
And I think part and parcel of all of this has to-- we have to make clear that disciplining our budget isn't just my job, it's their job. It's their job. And if they want our business, then damn it, they've got to show that they're willing to roll up their sleeves and be as cost-effective as possible in helping us develop this technology for the future.
So answer to your question is, we are looking at a number of steps to try to improve that competition and try to reduce those costs for the future.
Other questions? Go ahead.
Q: (Off mic) -- thanks for coming down today. You mentioned the all-volunteer force and how strong they've been, and those of us who work with them every day couldn't agree with you more.
But there are concerns in some quarters that we might not be able to sustain our military strength with an all-volunteer force, and there is also the antagonism, even open antagonism, towards those who don't serve in the government, towards those who do. Do you have any thoughts on national service as a requirement, as some of our allies have, and whether that's ever something that would occur?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, I mean, you're talking to somebody that -- I think I was one of the first members in Congress to introduce a bill on national service. So I'm a believer that everybody ought to serve.
Look, I'm a believer that our democracy is strong because there are people that are willing to give something back to this country. I mean, our forefathers established this democracy on the basis that it would be a government of, by and for people. And it doesn't work unless there are American people who are willing to give something back, who have a sense of duty, who have a sense of giving back. That's what public service is all about.
That's why these men and women in uniform are so great. It's because of the willingness they have to give something back to this country, to be willing to go out on a battlefield, to be willing to face an enemy, to be willing to fight and die for your country. My God, that is the essence of public service. It's the essence of giving back to your country. And thank God, we've always had men and women that have been willing to do that.
I have to say -- I mean, I -- you know, I was -- I was one of those that never quite thought that the volunteer force would be -- because I came out of the draft.
I served two years in the Army. I came out of the draft system and thought, you know, that's the only way you can maintain it. I do have to say that the volunteer force has proven to be very strong because we're getting young men and women who are -- who want to fight, who want to get in, who want to commit themselves to public service, and so I'm -- you know, I'm a believer in a volunteer -- in a volunteer force.
But I'm also a believer that we ought to give opportunities to young people to serve in some capacity -- to serve in some capacity so that, you know, if they -- if they choose the military, fine. But they ought to be able to, you know, to work in conservation, to work in education, to work in health care, to be able to work in other aspects of our society and give back to the country in some way.
It'll make them better, and it'll make our country better. So I'd love to hopefully, someday, be able to fashion that kind of system, but I think it's going to be a hell of a long time before we see it. But, in the meantime, I think we've got to continue to encourage younger generations that they have a responsibility to give something back to the United States of America in some way. That's important.
Thank you very much, everybody. I appreciate being here. Good luck to all of you. (Applause.)
Moderator : Mr. Secretary, Congressman Hoyer, thank you for spending the day with the NAVAIR team.