GEORGE LITTLE: Well, good afternoon and thank you all for coming. We'll make a brief statement and then open it up for the customary round of questions.
The -- Secretary Panetta has been closely following developments with the Air Force's F-22 fighter and the hypoxia-like symptoms experienced by F-22 pilots. As our most advanced fighter aircraft, the capabilities provided by the fifth-generation F-22 are important to maintaining our air superiority and national security objectives, whether it's protecting air space or the United States or deploying overseas as part of our deterrence and engagement efforts. Secretary Panetta supports the measures taken so far by the Air Force to pursue all plausible hypotheses and determine the root causes of the hypoxia- like symptoms experienced by F-22 pilots.
However, the safety of our pilots remains his first and foremost concern. Therefore, in addition to those measures already taken by the Air Force to mitigate risks to our pilots, he is directing the Air Force to take three additional measures. First, the Air Force will expedite installation of an automatic back-up oxygen system in all F-22 fighters. Second, effective immediately, all F-22 flights will remain within the proximity of potential landing locations to enable quick recovery and landing should the pilot encounter unanticipated physiological conditions during flight. That means long-duration air space control flights in Alaska will be performed by other aircraft. Third, the Air Force will provide to the secretary a monthly progress report as it continues to pursue aggressively the discovery of the root cause of these events.
Secretary Panetta believes the department must do everything possible to ensure pilot safety and minimize flight risks. He will continue to closely monitor the Air Force's efforts to enhance the safety of this very important aircraft.
Q: George, on that topic, just a -- does the secretary consider grounding the aircraft again?
And also, does this restriction on the proximity of the landing site affect the deployment of the F-22s that are in the Middle East at the moment?
MR. LITTLE: The secretary believes that this is a prudent course of action to take at this time. As I indicated, he will be receiving regular updates, and all options remain on the table going forward.
In terms of the deployment in southwest Asia, we believe that we can safely continue that deployment given the geography of the region.
Q: Why not just ground the fleet until you know what's causing the oxygen problem?
CAPT. KIRBY: Well, I think George said it well. The secretary believes that this is the prudent course right now. It allows us to continue to examine the aircraft closely and to try to figure out what happened. There's a troubleshooting process that's going on right now. So the aircraft being in operation assists in that process. We believe we've mitigated the risks as much as possible, and again, safety of flight is paramount. The secretary is going to continue to get updates, and if he has to make future decisions about the fleet, he'll do that. But right now he believes -- and he is -- and he has been briefed very recently on this, very deeply on it. He believes that this is the right course right now.
Q: Could I follow on that?
MR. LITTLE: Sure.
Q: The two 60 -- the two pilots who flew the F-22 that were interviewed on "60 Minutes" addressed that issue about how the Air Force needs -- says it needs to take, you know, tests from flights in the air to figure out what the problem is. They describe themselves as guinea pigs. How do you ensure that, you know, airmen who are flying the Raptor aren't being used as guinea pigs in this case?
CAPT. KIRBY: I don't think we would ever refer to a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force as a guinea pig.
Q: But they --
CAPT. KIRBY: They're highly trained, highly skilled. We value their service and their expertise. And frankly, that service and expertise is critical to helping us figure out what the problem is here.
MR. LITTLE: (Name inaudible.)
Q: On that same topic of this quick recovery issue, how -- what is -- how far can they fly, essentially, under that new guideline? You said that the -- they don't do any long-duration flight. So what's their limitation now?
CAPT. KIRBY: I believe it's situational more than anything, Justin. And I don't -- I don't believe there's a nautical-mile limit here. It's just about an appropriate level of proximity to strips so that if they needed to get down in an emergency, they could in a relatively easy, quick fashion. But I don't -- there hasn't been a -- there's not a mile radius to put on this.
Q: So it's about proximity to strips in Alaska, let's say, so they have to be aware of landing strips that are lengthy enough to accommodate their landing? (Off mic.)
CAPT. KIRBY: Well, certainly the strips have got to be -- I mean, they have to be capable of handling that type of aircraft, absolutely. But it's about just general proximity here.
Q: So this is indefinite, until the problem is solved? And what about if -- in combat -- (inaudible) --
MR. LITTLE: Bob, the secretary will be receiving regular updates. And once these problems are addressed, I'm sure he'll make further decisions in concert with the Air Force leadership.
Q: Is the secretary satisfied with how the Air Force has been handling this, number one? And number two, how will the Defense Department go about finding out the attitudes and the -- and the concerns that all the pilots have who fly the F-22?
MR. LITTLE: Well, I think it's safe to say that the secretary believes that the Air Force leadership shares his sense of urgency on these issues. And more broadly, he is deeply concerned about pilot safety. And that's a paramount concern for him, and he believes it's a paramount concern, obviously, for Air Force leadership too. So going forward, that's going to be a key metric, I think, that will drive his decision-making on this and other matters related to aircraft and other equipment in the U.S. military.
Q: (Inaudible) -- the pilots the -- how do you gauge their attitudes, how are you going to figure out -- in other words, is there a concern -- does he have a concern that the other F-22 pilots, perhaps their concerns haven't been addressed or the --
MR. LITTLE: Well, one of the drivers of his concerns for quite some time has been the expression by pilots of reticence to fly the aircraft. So that has figured into his decision to direct these actions today. He is very concerned about pilot safety, and he wants safety concerns to be addressed at all levels of command, through proper channels, and that's, I think, the direction he wants to ensure we head in.
CAPT. KIRBY: That's -- that’s what I was going to say, sorry.
Q: So was this a direct response to the concerns expressed by the pilots on "60 Minutes" or have there been any other -- any instances of hypoxia reported that we don't know about since then? Or can you tell us when the last one was?
CAPT. KIRBY: I don't believe there's been any new ones since press reporting. I think -- look, the secretary's been aware of this issue and concerned about it for quite some time. But in light of his decision recently to deploy the aircraft to Southwest Asia and then in light of concerns raised, as George mentioned, by pilots who fly the aircraft, he felt that he wanted to dive a little more deeply into the issue, study it a little bit more closely, and then has made these decisions and issued this direction.
Q: John, once the back-up oxygen system is in there, does that -- does it go back to normal then? And will they -- will they stop this limitation on flying?
CAPT. KIRBY: I wouldn't connect these three that way, Jim.
I mean, the secretary wants to preserve his decision space here. And that's why, you know, getting to Bob's question, there's not a deadline here on how long this is going to be in effect, this proximity issue. He's going to receive regular updates from the Air Force, and he'll make decisions based on what he learns and what they've learned about fixing the problem.
This is a problem that needs to be solved, and I think we want to -- he wants to preserve as much decision space as he can.
MR. LITTLE: The root cause of hypoxia-like events has not been determined. It is possible -- and I'm not the technical expert here, but it is possible that the -- it could be attributed to the oxygen system in the airplane. Thus the installation of back-up oxygen systems. But there could be other causes too, and the Air Force is aggressively looking at other factors that might be contributing to hypoxia-like events.
Q: Any --
Q: How many people have suffered these events of hypoxia? How long has this been going on? Does this predate the last variant coming off probation back in November?
MR. LITTLE: It's a good question, Rosalind. I think the the Air Force is probably in the best position to answer those specific questions.
CAPT. KIRBY: I do have some sense --
MR. LITTLE: Oh, do you have details?
CAPT. KIRBY: Yeah. The first reported hypoxia-related event was in April of '08. There's been a total of 12 reported between that time and January 11th.
Q: That 12 doesn't include the five guys on the ground, though, who suffered -- the maintainers who suffered hypoxia-like symptoms, does it?
CAPT. KIRBY: No, I don't believe it does, but again, I would refer you to the Air Force on that.
MR. LITTLE: Joe.
Q: Yeah. On a different topic --
Q: Can I have some more on this one?
MR. LITTLE: OK.
Q: What's the -- (cross talk) --
CAPT. KIRBY: Wait, wait, wait. Joe had -- he got called on by George.
Q: Why don't we stay on the same subject?
Q: On a different subject, quick question --
CAPT. KIRBY: Go ahead.
Q: Quickly -- but go ahead. That's fine. Ladies first.
Q: No, that’s OK, Joe. You go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q: OK. The United States is planning to announce the second phase of military aid of -- with regards to Israel's Iron Dome. Do you know when this will take place? Is it this week?
CAPT. KIRBY: We have nothing to announce on that today.
MR. LITTLE: Nothing on Libya? Nothing to announce -- (inaudible).
CAPT. KIRBY: Nothing to announce on that today.
MR. LITTLE: Yeah.
Q: You don't know if Secretary -- if Minister Barak is planning to visit the Pentagon this week?
MR. LITTLE: Minister Barak will visit the secretary on Thursday. The secretary is looking forward to that discussion. He always enjoys receiving Minister Barak here at the Pentagon and to discussing important issues of common concern.
Q: Because the reason I'm asking -- sorry. The reason I'm asking, because the Jerusalem Post is reporting that Minister Barak and Secretary Panetta will sign the second phase of the --
CAPT. KIRBY: Yeah, you know, we've seen the press report but we have nothing to announce from the podium on this today.
Q: So will there be any coverage of the visit?
MR. LITTLE: We'll let you know. We're still sorting out the logistics for the visit.
CAPT. KIRBY: Coordinating.
MR. LITTLE: Coordinating. (Laughter.)
Q: There's some more questions on Iron Dome. (Inaudible.) On Iron Dome?
Q: No, F-22.
Q: Oh, OK.
MR. LITTLE: All right.
Q: Well, I just wanted to ask what the timeline is for the installation of the back-up systems, that's all.
CAPT. KIRBY: Yeah --
Q: And will the ones that are already deployed -- will they be -- will they have priority? Are they the ones that are going to get it first, or?
CAPT. KIRBY: The -- I got a few -- a few bullets here, if you don't mind me reading it, because I want to be precise. But the implementation for the accelerated installation of the back-up system is obviously going to begin this fiscal year. Phase one of the auto- back-up oxygen system, qualification and flight testing will wrap up in late November of this year. The first retrofit will be complete in December of this year.
Then beginning in January of '13, the planned retrofit rate is 10 aircraft per month. And then I'll just -- I think that's where I'll leave it for right now. The Air Force will have --
Q: What does any of that mean? (Laughs.)
CAPT. KIRBY: It means they're going to start -- they're going to -- they're starting work on it right now. He wants this accelerated. But, it looks like they'll actually start getting into the aircraft before the end of the year, before the end of the calendar year.
Q: (Inaudible) -- the back-up systems won't actually start going into aircraft until November -- late November of this year. That's what that means, basically?
CAPT. KIRBY: Flight testing will wrap up in November.
First retrofit will be complete in December, retrofit meaning install.
MR. LITTLE: Install, mmm hmm.
CAPT. KIRBY: OK, so by the end of this year.
MR. LITTLE: OK?
Q: Could I follow up on that?
MR. LITTLE: All right.
Q: OK, forgive me, because I missed the beginning, but can you explain the rationale -- maybe you did already -- but on what -- you know, these restrictions on landing or not being far -- not being too far from the landing place -- what does that ensure? I mean, if you get hypoxia and you black out, why does it help that you're closer than before to the landing spot if you're -- you see what I mean? What's the rationale behind this decision?
CAPT. KIRBY: It's an added safety precaution based on the onset -- I'm not a medical expert, but my understanding is the onset is fairly gradual, and this is just an added safety precaution to make sure that should they -- should a pilot anticipate or believe that this is an issue, that he'll be able to land his aircraft in relatively short order.
Q: And you didn't -- and I know you didn't say exactly how long and how far away -- (inaudible) --
CAPT. KIRBY: There isn't a -- yeah, I mean, this is -- we want to allow the maximum flexibility for the pilots as well. So there's not a geographic limit here. It's just a prudent amount of proximity to a landing strip is what we're looking for.
Q: Can you give us a time of how far you -- how far the pilot -- how long it would take to land in this -- under the new rules?
CAPT. KIRBY: No, I wouldn't do that. It's going to be case-by- case based on where the aircraft is, the altitude it's flying at, the mission it's flying, where it is. I mean, the idea here is to -- is to make sure that there's a prudent amount of safety built into each one of these flights in case hypoxia should occur, but not to be so proscriptive that you limit the ability of the pilot to actually do the mission that they're being asked to do.
Q: But you're not -- you're not -- but you're not defining "prudent" for us. You're not letting us know what you have determined prudent is. You don't know if it's an hour away from a landing strip, two hours, 15 minutes?
CAPT. KIRBY: This is -- that's right
Q: How is it helpful to know --
CAPT. KIRBY: Well, but --
Q: -- and in terms of judging your -- the seriousness with which the Pentagon is responding to this?
CAPT. KIRBY: Oh, well, we're responding very seriously.
MR. LITTLE: This is very serious --
Q: Yes, but I -- you can't help out with more info?
CAPT. KIRBY: We -- that -- it's deliberately not proscriptive in that regard so as to not take away the flexibility that pilots need in the air. And we leave it to their good judgment -- again, back to Spence's question -- they're highly trained, highly skilled, that they can make those kinds of decisions in terms of how long and how far.
But we have put -- you know, it's not -- the secretary has made it clear what he expects from the Air Force. Now it's up to the Air Force and their chain of command to determine those kinds of parameters.
MR. LITTLE: I'm sorry. OK, look, I think Mike's had his hand up for while.
Are we still on F-22 or --
Q: (Off mic.)
MR. LITTLE: OK. All right. (Chuckles.)
Q: (Off mic) -- that it was reported four years ago. I'm wondering whether there has been any serious consideration given to -- I mean, presumably, not just -- if it was just the oxygen system that wasn't working, you’d just replace it. But is there some consideration being given to the extraordinary versatility of this aircraft -- (inaudible) -- everything else, in which case is this unique to this aircraft or has anyone come across the same thing with the Joint Strike Fighter, for example?
CAPT. KIRBY: We're not aware of the same issue in the Joint Strike Fighter. I would defer to Air Force experts who know aircraft better than we do. But we do believe this is a unique issue for this particular airframe right now.
But again, this is an engineering problem that needs to be solved, and they're working really hard to do exactly that. It doesn't take away from the importance of the -- of the platform, of the aircraft, or the fact that we still value it, we still need it. It is a very powerful arrow in the quiver that we want to keep being able to use.
And that's why we're working so hard to try to fix this. But it's -- at its core, it's an engineering problem that needs to be solved.
Q: But -- (inaudible) -- just wondered --
MR. LITTLE: Sure.
Q: -- whether there was a link between the failure, if that's the right word, of the oxygen system, and some other aspect of the aircraft -- (inaudible) -- one is inextricably linked to the other, if it's -- as I said, if it's just an oxygen system, you can just -- that's easy, but if it's linked to something to do with the plane's versatility, that would be more serious, I would suppose.
MR. LITTLE: (Inaudible) -- hypoxia-like events, Mike? Well, again, we haven't determined the root cause. It could be something connected to the oxygen system. It could be other aspects of the aircraft that could contribute to hypoxia-like events, whether it's G- force -- (inaudible) -- forces, the altitude at which the plane flies. You're right. It's an extremely versatile, capable aircraft. So the Air Force is looking at the full spectrum of possibilities in a very robust manner. And the secretary is very confident that they're doing that.
CAPT. KIRBY: I think it's just too soon to tell, Mike, with any degree of specificity what the exact cause is.
MR. LITTLE: Yeah.
Q: Just to follow up on Dan's point, is -- the implication is, by the secretary ordering these actions be taken, that he's not satisfied with the Air Force leadership's handling of this. Has he been satisfied with them, their actions so far, or not? Why -- what prompted him to act -- (inaudible) -- the Air Force to handle this?
MR. LITTLE: Well, the Air Force has been addressing this in a -- in a robust manner, as I -- as I said. He has taken on board, you know, within recent weeks concerns addressed by pilots themselves. And he's received briefings on this issue. So that's what's driving his concern, and he wants to help the Air Force accelerate the addressing of potential problems with the aircraft. That's the long and short of it.
Q: Why did the Air Force -- (inaudible) -- themselves?
MR. LITTLE: They've been looking at this, as I've said, very aggressively for some period of time. The plane was grounded -- I don't recall for how long, but for an extended period -- and the secretary wants to add his muscle behind their efforts to address these problems.
CAPT. KIRBY: I think the bigger point is here is that leadership across the department cares about this issue, cares about safety of flight. It's that important, and it's that important to the secretary of defense.
Q: So it seems --
MR. LITTLE: Larry --
Q: You --
MR. LITTLE: Let's go with Larry and then --
Q: You used the words "automatic back-up oxygen generator." Is this going to replace the manually operated back-up oxygen generator that they have already in these, that they installed --
CAPT. KIRBY: The phrase I think was in here was --
Q: -- (off mic) -- the return -- (off mic) --
CAPT. KIRBY: The phrase I think was in here was "auto back-up." I'd refer you to the Air Force on a question like that, Larry. I'm just -- we're not experts enough on that.
MR. LITTLE: OK. Let's see here. We have some go-backs now, right? Yes.
Q: Well, Afghanistan and Pakistan, please.
MR. LITTLE: OK.
Q: As far as Afghanistan is concerned, the murder of -- Arsala Rahmani's murder -- you think that will -- how can you protect the future peace ambassadors in Afghanistan?
MR. LITTLE: We condemn his murder. He was very important to efforts in Afghanistan to seek lasting peace and stability in that country.
As tragic as his murder was, we don't believe that it will derail our efforts in Afghanistan or the efforts of the government in Afghanistan to continue to prosecute the war effort, to move along the transition process, and to, outside the military lane, reach a lasting political solution that's in the best interests of all the people of Afghanistan.
Q: And George, related question. As far as security of Afghanistan is concerned, it depends on how the review is between U.S., NATO and Pakistan, which is now going on. And Pakistan's foreign minister, Madam Khar, she has said that routes should be open between the two countries.
And my question is that -- but there are certain conditions they are putting, and you know them, in the future but still now. One, drone attacks must immediately be stopped by the U.S. against Pakistan. And second, some kind of apology, not just what they are saying U.S. had said in the past. And finally, about the Haqqani network or terrorism in Pakistan is a concern. So where do we stand on this opening of the routes?
MR. LITTLE: We have been in discussions with the government of Pakistan for some time on the reopening of the ground lines of communication, and we are hopeful that in the very near future they will be reopened. They're important supply routes for us. We continue to work closely with the Pakistanis to renew a vibrant relationship that gets over some of the obstacles we faced together in the past.
On the issue of terrorism, look, this is a common concern for both the United States and Pakistan. The secretary's been very clear on this on repeated occasion. The same terrorists that come after us go after Pakistanis and have been, in fact, responsible for the deaths of thousands of Pakistanis. So we have common cause on the issue of counterterrorism. And our counterterrorism cooperation does continue.
We, at the end of the day, believe that we share common interests with Pakistan. The relationship, we believe, is getting to where it needs to be. And that's why we're committed to ongoing dialogue, not just on GLOCs and on terrorism, but across the full range of security issues that we have common interest on.
Q: Follow-up on that?
Q: (Inaudible) --
Q: Has the administration ruled out an apology in this case?
MR. LITTLE: We've expressed -- you mean, for the border incident that took place in November? Well, I would reiterate what we said in December, and that is that we've expressed deep regret and extended our condolences to the Pakistani people, to the Pakistani government, and of course to the families of the loved ones who were lost and of course those who were injured in the incident as well. So we have been clear about expressing regret for that incident, and the goal now is to press ahead, move forward, and reinvigorate the relationship with our Pakistani partners.
John, do you have any add?
CAPT. KIRBY: No.
MR. LITTLE: OK.
Q: On Yemen, reports of an assault by Yemeni troops on al-Qaida militants, Yemeni officials saying that this was carried out with U.S. support. They say that these -- attack of these -- this assault was with direct guidance from U.S. troops in the country. What can you tell us about the type of support that U.S. forces provided?
MR. LITTLE: We have long-standing counterterrorism cooperation with the government of Yemen. They have taken aggressive action inside their own country against militants that would like to thwart or to plan attacks against the Yemenis and to plan attacks against the United States and other countries. I'm not going to get into the specifics of reported operations inside Yemen. But we believe that the government of Yemen has taken on, in a decisive manner, the need to go after militants that are located inside their own country.
CAPT. KIRBY: A large part of what we're doing there is just trying to help build their capacity to take on these kinds of missions as well.
I'm -- I agree, George. We're not going to get into the details of CT operations, counterterrorism operations. You understand that. But just so you understand that the mission there really is to help build their capacity to deal with the threat inside their own borders.
Q: Can I follow up? As described in the article and the rules mandating their operations in Yemen, does that sound feasible given what restrictions they're under, what described in -- what we just described? Is that feasible in what you just said under the parameters of their current mission, which is to train?
CAPT. KIRBY: It's to build their capacity. And again, we're not going to get into the details of all that -- all that comes under counterterrorism operations. But the secretary was clear about this last week. You know, we do -- we do conduct operations with the Yemenis to get after terrorist targets. We're not -- again, not going to go into the details of that. But a large part of that effort, Luis, is helping them build their capacity to do it by themselves.
MR. LITTLE: Larry.
Q: Yes, further north in the region, the secretary said last week that there was planning going on with regards to Syria. I know you guys don't want to get into details, but can you give us an idea of when the timeline -- has he given anyone a timeline as to when he wants to see a plan on his desk? And can you give us any broad picture of the nature of that planning?
MR. LITTLE: We're an organization that plans constantly, sometimes without timelines, sometimes with timelines. And I wouldn't get -- want to get into the specifics with respect to planning on Syria. The focus remains -- when it comes to Syria, the focus remains on -- with the international community, applying diplomatic and economic pressure on the Assad regime. They continue to perpetrate violence against their own people, and that's deplorable.
So I think, as the secretary has said, you know, the goal is to continue that effort. And you know, in terms of planning -- something this building does all the time.
All right, we're doing some go-backs here. All right. Spence and then -- (off mic) --
Q: Back to the F-22 for a second, John, if I understood your timeline correctly, the flight tests that contribute to understanding the source of the oxygen problems will wrap up in late November. Is it fair to conclude from that, that chances are the department won't find out what's the root cause of the oxygen problems before that time?
CAPT. KIRBY: Well, I think they're working on this as hard as they can, Spence. And I think if they could find the answer next week, they'd be delighted to do that. But what I -- the timing that I was talking about was the flight testing for the back-up system that's going to get installed. It was about the retrofit of the back-up system --
MR. LITTLE: The back-up system -- (off mic) --
CAPT. KIRBY: -- not the general problem-solving effort.
MR. LITTLE: Right.
Q: On South Korea, regarding the possibility of a nuclear -- adding more nuclear weapons into the Korean Peninsula, does the U.S. have any plans or intention to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula?
CAPT. KIRBY: No.
MR. LITTLE: Next. (Laughter.)
OK, Joe and then Louie and then Rosalind and then Dan, and then maybe -- (laughter) -- then one more go around the room.
Q: To follow up on the question on Syria, would you consider the Jordan -- the military exercises in Jordan kind of message to Assad regime in the future, for example?
MR. LITTLE: The message that joint exercises with Jordan sends is that we have a very strong military relationship with Jordan.
CAPT. KIRBY: And other countries in the region.
MR. LITTLE: And other countries that are -- yeah.
Q: (Off mic.)
CAPT. KIRBY: This is a -- this is a -- no, this is an exercise that we do on a frequent basis. I think it's annual.
Q: I think it's --
CAPT. KIRBY: It's a -- no, it is a big exercise, absolutely. But it's not like we don't do these exercises or haven't done them in the past. It's just a routine part of theater security cooperation efforts. And as George said … there's a message to be found in there. It's that we have a presence there; we're going to exercise that presence; we're going to work closely with our allies and partners to make sure that readiness across the board remains high.
MR. LITTLE: And a larger point -- I mean, this is part of our defense strategy, that is, exercises with other countries. I mean, we're -- we've done this in, you know, a robust manner with a range of countries around the world. And as we work through, you know, the next phase of the complexion of the U.S. military, I think this is very -- going to be very important, not just in the Middle East, but also in Asia-Pacific, South America and elsewhere.
Q: Just to follow up Michael's question on the -- on the F-22, just to confirm, does -- is there a re-examination of the F-35 design, whether it's the oxygen system or other aspects of that aircraft, to ensure that it does not have the same problem the F-22 is encountering? Because the development of the F-35 was in part shaped by the F-22's design and so on. So is it clear that that is not a concern, or is that being looked at?
CAPT. KIRBY: I think it's safe to say that Air Force leadership as well as the manufacturer are trying to learn as many lessons as they can from what's going on with the F-22 for future programs. And I don't know with any degree of specificity how much the discussion has revolved around the F-35 in particular. But again, I think it's safe to say that everybody in leadership is concerned about this, even in the defense industry environment, and that they're all going to work very hard to make sure that the problem gets solved for this aircraft and doesn't get repeated in another.
MR. LITTLE: Rosalind.
Q: I wanted to come back to something you said earlier, George, about pilot reticence. How reluctant have pilots been to fly the F-22 and how have they made that plain to the secretary, to the secretary of the Air Force, to their commanders? Has that had an impact on the kind of training, on the kind of missions that they've been able to conduct using this particular aircraft?
MR. LITTLE: Might need to check with the Air Force to -- for specifics, Rosalind. But you know, as I understand it, concerns have been raised through the chain of command.
And look, we take very seriously safety concerns raised by the men who fly these planes. We have to take their assessments into account when we're looking at how an aircraft flies and the safety of flying. So when there are expressions of concern, we're going to take them seriously.
Q: Would it be fair to say that because these concerns came all the way up into the secretary's office, that this is one of the reasons why the secretary is ordering these steps, as opposed to simply letting the Air Force brass handle it?
MR. LITTLE: Well, I don't think it's an either/or. I think, you know, the Air Force has been handling this. I mean, they have been managing this problem identification process. And they've taken themselves, I think, very seriously the concerns addressed by Air Force pilots.
The secretary also has the same concerns. So it's not an either/or. The secretary's concerned, Air Force leadership is concerned, and the secretary wanted to issue this directive today in order to show that he, in a very formal way, is taking action to address the safety concerns raised by pilots and others.
Q: (Inaudible) -- when it gets to the secretary's level and the secretary feels moved enough to say something that it's not going to -- (inaudible) -- trigger among the general public. Wait, there must be something seriously wrong with the F-22 if the secretary has to get involved.
MR. LITTLE: Well, I'm -- all I can say is that the secretary is very concerned about the concerns -- to repeat myself here -- he takes very seriously the concerns raised by the pilots, OK? And that's his paramount concern. It's not about public perception. I mean, he wants to make sure that these problems are fixed. This is a -- this is a process that he's engaged in and is driven by, you know, the motive of trying to fix this problem.
CAPT. KIRBY: Safety is a zero-sum game in the military, and it only takes one. It only needs to take one safety concern that is deemed at all valid or even just to be investigated for us to want to make the appropriate leadership positions. I mean, there's no margin for error here. Safety is a zero-sum game.
Q: Has the secretary met with any pilots who have been concerned about this?
MR. LITTLE: Not to my knowledge.
Q: You said he's been briefed about by --
MR. LITTLE: He's been briefed on, and I'm not -- I'm unaware of any face-to-face meetings.
Q: (Off mic) -- the bigger picture? America has spent billions of dollars on these two new fighter aircraft. The F-22 has a problem; has the pilots making -- are nervous to fly it. It -- and it potentially caused one pilot's death. The F-35 -- can't land on a carrier. The F-35B variant was on probation for many months. Is there a bigger picture problem with the way we buy these high-end weapons systems that makes them too reliant on the manufacturer and not reliant enough on the people who actually are going to use these weapons systems in combat?
And can anything be done, or is this -- is this -- are we too far down a road that we can't go back?
CAPT. KIRBY: Look, I mean, anytime you purchase a major new system, whether it's a ship or an airplane or a motorized vehicle, there's -- there are always going to be technical issues that have to be ironed out. And oftentimes it takes several iterations of a copy of one of those systems before you get all the bugs ironed out.
In this case, with the F-22, it's a safety of flight issue to the -- to the human body of the pilot in the cockpit that we're taking very seriously. I'd think it would be a leap, Larry, to just use this incident with this aircraft and say we've got some larger acquisition problems writ large with how we purchase and buy and set requirements and control costs for aircraft in general.
We're taking this case very, very seriously. That's why the secretary is involved. And I think the other thing to remember is, I mean, the majority of F-22 pilots are out there flying it every day. It's on, as you all know, a deployment to southwest Asia right now. There've been no problems. It is flying. But it -- as I said to Rosalind, it doesn't take but one validated, sincere safety concern to cause the leadership -- it should cause the leadership to the highest levels to be concerned and to register that concern.
Q: New topic?
MR. LITTLE: Maybe a couple more questions and then we'll wrap up. All right? Justin, and then Luis.
Q: How much will it cost to fund the ANSF through 2025? And how much of that do you expect to get from NATO allies committed during this upcoming summit this weekend?
MR. LITTLE: I don't have specific figures out until 2025, but we believe that our ISAF partners and we and the government of Afghanistan have a very strong interest in sustaining an ANSF force that can provide security for the people of Afghanistan.
And we realize that there are going to -- we're going to need to help fund that. The Afghans themselves are willing to pony up money to fund the effort, and we're going to do all we can to try to fund the effort too. But this has to be a multilateral funding effort. We think that there should be contributions from other countries. And so we're going to be looking to ensure that we -- I mean, first and foremost, we want the ANSF to be strong and capable, and they're making extraordinary progress.
Secondly, they need to be strong and capable for the long term. So we want to make sure the size of the ANSF is appropriate.
And third, obviously it takes resources. It takes people but it also takes money and equipment. So we're going to be looking at the long-term funding trail as well for the ANSF, and that's going to be --
CAPT. KIRBY: (Inaudible.)
MR. LITTLE: -- and that's going to be the trajectory that we -- that we set in terms of trying to identify funding.
Q: Thanks very much.
MR. LITTLE: Well, I think one more.
Q: (Off mic.)
MR. LITTLE: I mean, you're welcome to wrap up the -- yeah. (Chuckles.)
Q: (Off mic.)
MR. LITTLE: Are you calling the questions, Bob? (Chuckles.)
Q: (Off mic.)
MR. LITTLE: All right.
Q: (Off mic) -- four-part question -- (off mic). (Laughter.)
MR. LITTLE: (Chuckles.)
Q: (Off mic.)
MR. LITTLE: Well, that's shorter than your usual questions. (Chuckles.)
Q: Did the Secretary of Defense (Off mic) Admiral Stavridis that he extend his tour as SACEUR and EU commander?
And then back to the F-22: Why is it going to take two years to retrofit the entire force with this equipment? And has the secretary commissioned a survey of pilots? And has he also reached out to NASA and the Navy to see what they've done on -- (inaudible)?
CAPT. KIRBY: I'll take the F-22 if you want to take the easy one.
MR. LITTLE: OK, all right, and then we'll let Bob call the press conference, all right.
CAPT. KIRBY: I'd refer you to the Air Force on the timing of the retrofit. I mean, the -- this is the plan right now, and I'm just not enough of a technical expert to explain why that timeline is set the way it is. I'm not aware that he's asked for a poll of pilots. But he has, as part of his direction to the Air Force today -- he has requested that they reach out to both the Navy and to NASA as they begin to continue to troubleshoot the problem.
MR. LITTLE: You know, I grew up in this town. I was raised in Northern Virginia. My father worked in government. And one of the oldest parlor games in D.C. is trying to figure out who's going to be next in a particular job. I'm simply not going to get involved in that kind of speculation or parlor game. There have been no announcements made on, you know, SACEUR or on other leadership positions in the military. And so you can count me out of your next parlor game, OK?
Q: It's Trivial Pursuit; sure you don't want to come?
MR. LITTLE: Trivial Pursuit, I confess I like. So -- all right, good. Thanks, everyone.
CAPT. KIRBY: Thanks, everybody.
MR. LITTLE: All right.