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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Adm. Locklear in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Presenters: Commander, U.S. Pacific Command Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III
July 11, 2013 12:00 PM EDT

            COLONEL STEVE WARREN:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thanks for being here this morning.

             I'm pleased to introduce Admiral Samuel Locklear, the Pacific commander.  This is Admiral Locklear's third time here in the briefing room, and he will make some brief opening remarks and then open the floor to questions.

             Just to remind him, because he's not here all the time, please help him out by mentioning your name and -- and who you're with.

             We're going to spend 30 minutes in here.

             And, sir, the floor is yours.

             ADMIRAL SAMUEL LOCKLEAR:  Well, good morning.

             And thank you for taking a few minutes to spend with me.  I know there's a lot going on in the world, and for you to spend time thinking about what happens in the PACOM area of responsibility, which is about 51 percent or 52 percent of the globe, I think's certainly good for me.

             Since our last time together a lot's happened in the Pacific area.  As you know, we've had -- we had a significant provocation by North Korea.  That provocation has got a lot of attention, got a lot of world attention, and has since calmed down, but it's yet to be seen where the -- what the next steps will be by North Korea.

            We've had multiple engagements with all of our allies and our key partners in the region.  We've been to the Shangri-La Dialogue, where Secretary of Defense Hagel provided a very good overview of our rebalancing initiatives. 

            As I -- as you may know, I'm back here now participating in the State Department-hosted Strategic and Economic Dialogue with China.  And the day before yesterday we had a security dialogue with China, which we do annually.  And we also continue to move forward in the Asia-Pacific with the rebalance effort. 

            So the men and women of the PACOM AOR are continuing to support and defend U.S. interests throughout this area and doing a great job.  You'd be proud of them.  And I ask you all, if you have the chance, to stop by the Pacific AOR, to stop in Hawaii.  We're always glad to receive you and to let you see what's going on there. 

            So with all that said, let me turn to your questions. 

            COL. WARREN:  -- (inaudible) -- and Bob?

             Q:  Admiral, Bob Burns with AP. 

            I wanted to get your take on the issues that have been raised recently with Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, which is a direct reporting unit to you.  The Paul Cole report described dysfunction within elements of JPAC.  I'm wondering whether you would agree with that characterization.  And what, if anything, do you think needs to be fixed with that command? 

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Well, first, let me say that command has a very important mission that is -- has, I think, a sacred duty to -- to do all we can to return the remains of our fallen to their loved ones.  And -- but it's also a unique mission for the U.S. military.  And it has a -- a set number of experts that deal with this that are limited in number. 

            And it is a global mission.  It's not just in PACOM.  They do it wherever remains may be found.  

            We have had a number of looks -- internal looks at this organization over time, and, in particularly, after the Congress NDAA 2010 required them to up the number of remains that were being recovered.  And so we've had ongoing looks at -- at how that organization needs to be structured and how it can be -- most efficient. 

            So to characterize it as dysfunctional, I don't necessarily agree with that.  But I do think that there are areas where we need to take harder looks at how it is organized and how it's -- and how the mission sets are prioritized.  So I'm very supportive of the announcement by undersecretary of defense for policy, Dr. Jim Miller, whose office provides direct oversight and control of the mission set through -- as well as DPMO.  And I'm very supportive of that going ahead with a -- a deeper review. 

            But I would say that the -- the people in that organization are good people.  And they've done a lot of good work.  And they continue to work in some very difficult conditions and difficult places under different political situations.  So I -- I have looked at the executive summary of that report and I -- that -- that you mentioned.  And I can tell you I think it's one perspective, but we need to take a broader look. 

            Q:  What do you think is -- what, if anything, needs to be fixed?  You said -- you suggested that there are -- there are some issues that need to be looked at (off mic). 

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Yeah, I -- I think that we need to make sure that the organization is -- is, given this unique mission set, is as most efficient and effective as possible.  And there's always room for improvement in any organization. 

            So the fact that we've had this report and others highlighted to the commanders there of things that need to be looked at, we need to go into -- to -- to do the best we can to ensure that they have the organizational construct, the right oversight, the right direction to be able to accomplish what the American people expect them to do. 

            COL. WARREN:  Barb? 

            Q:  I wanted to ask you about -- a lot about North Korea, but if I could just briefly follow up on this first.  I'm still confused.  I mean, I understand what you're saying, but can you give us any specifics?  In other words, you know, the Vietnam remains are always a huge issue.  Is that not being done properly?  The war in -- what is it, specifically, that is not being done as you believe it should be?  And then I really want to ask you about North Korea. 

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Yeah, well, it's a great question.  But the real issue for me is whether or not, with the capacity and the funding that you have and the people that are able to do this mission set, have we first prioritized where -- where and how they pursue that mission so that we can get them on an up-ramp as far as number of remains that -- that get recovered.  The goal was by 2015, as you know from the NDAA 2010, was to go to two -- 200 recoveries a year, and we're not approaching that. 

            Now, some of that is -- has -- is not JPAC's fault.  Some of it has to do with the, oftentimes, the political will of the nations that we're operating in to be able to provide the right access and the right support.  So it's a very complex issue globally to try to get at it.

             But to -- to say that the organization is dysfunctional, I don't agree with that.  I just think that we need to -- to -- to work harder to make sure that -- that the goal that they've been given, that they can achieve it. 

            Q:  Are Vietnam remains the top priority? 

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  All remains are a top priority. 

            Q:  Okay.

             If I could just ask you about North Korea.  As you look back on the recent provocation, what, period, what conclusions have you come to about what you believe Kim Jong Un and the regime was trying to do, trying to say, trying to achieve?  What were they up to? 

            And many people say that they see signs now of a -- (inaudible) -- entering potentially another provocation period in August as you come up on another military parade, more equipment showing up in Pyongyang for that.  What do you see going on? 

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Well, if you take a look at -- back at history through several regimes in North Korea they have a -- a -- a strategy of provocation or a cycle of provocation, where they institute a provocation either against South Korea or against the -- the region or against the United States, raise the rhetoric level, get everybody really all worked up, and then they try to bring you to a dialogue that allows them to, number one, to continue in power and, number two, that would allow them to, you know, extract some -- some deal out of it.  And we see this cycle going over and over, over time. 

            So what's changed over that time I believe, though, is their continued pursuit of a nuclear capability. 

            So where we are today with -- I believe is North Korea is that, will there be another provocation?  I don't have a crystal ball on that.  History would say that there -- there would likely be one.  But that, clearly, the position, I think, for all countries in the region and certainly our country is that, you know, that North Korea must be committed to the total denuclearization, and a  complete and verifiable plan to that.  And that's kind of the bottom line entry of how you would get into a broader set of negotiations with -- with North Korea at this time. 

            Q:  What do you think the status of the Musudan missile is? 

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Well, the status meaning where it's at or where, what’s its capability?

             Q:  That missile, is it real?  Is it in test phase?  Can they launch it?  Can they credibly launch it?  What -- what is it? 

            (CROSSTALK)           

            Q:  Or is it just cardboard and paint? 

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Well, you know they have a -- a number of missile types, from short-range ballistic missiles, to medium range -- which the Musudan would be a medium range -- to ones that they have purported, which would be a KN-08, which would be a larger range, road-mobile ICBM. 

            And so at various stages of those capabilities they have -- have some -- have demonstrated or shown us something that looks like it might be real.  We -- but they have -- we have not seen, in the case of the Musudan or the case of the larger ICBM, have not seen a credible demonstration of that. 

            Even though when you extrapolate what they referred to as a satellite launch a few -- a few months ago, as we went through this discussion back then, that particular demonstration and the fact that they were able to successfully do that was a demonstration to us that they have the ability to put something into a larger ballistic orbit.  Now, whether they can successfully take that technology and mate it with where they are in their nuclear program has not been demonstrated. 

            Q:  Thank you.  I’m Lalit Jha with Press Trust India. 

            Last month you were in India traveling with Secretary Kerry for the strategic dialogue -- (inaudible) -- military leaders over there.  Can you give us a sense, what are the kinds of challenges you're facing building or strengthening the military-to-military relations between India and the U.S.?

             ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Well, that's a great question.  First, I think we have -- well, we're on a good upward trajectory with our military-to-military relationships at the service levels, in particular, with the -- with the -- the Indian military.  We continue to increase in both size and complexity the type of exercises that we do together. 

            As you know, we also had an initiative to try to determine how we can do more defense trade with each other and how to remove barriers on both sides, bureaucratic barriers that are keeping us from being able to do cooperative military procurement projects together.

            Secretary Ash Carter has been involved directly with their -- with their National Security Adviser Menon to try to ensure that we can come up with a better understanding of how we can get past that. 

            So I would say that -- that we are in a positive trajectory on our mil-to-mil on both sides. 

            Q:  No challenges between the two? 

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Always challenges.  Always challenges.  It's just -- I mean, we're two large democracies and -- that have -- that are in different parts of the world that have a very valuable view from each perspective of how the world looks. 

            And so this is a -- the fact that we have those different views, I think, makes it even more important for us to have good mil-to-mil relationships.  So they are positive.  

            Q:  Thank you. 

            COL. WARREN:  One more on this side.  Then we'll go to -- (inaudible). 

            Q:  Thank you.  Olga Belogolova, Inside the Navy. 

            You spoke to the Armed Services Committee several months ago, talking about the potential impacts -- coming impacts of sequestration, about readiness, assets in the Pacific and canceled exercises.  Can you paint of picture of what things are like now several months after that?  

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Yes.  Well, I think Secretary Hagel's letter -- that's being quoted in the paper this morning -- to Senator Levin is an accurate description, I think, of what's happening to the joint force at large.  And he did reach out, as always, reached out to the -- to all the COCOMs to get our perspectives on what's happening to readiness.  

            And as his letter clearly lays out, it is about the money, but it's also about the way that the money is being managed.  It's about our inability, because of the way sequestration has been implemented, and in particular if sequestration is compounded by a continuing resolution, which is the -- the norm in -- in budget cycles these days rather than to have long-term continuing resolution, it exacerbates the problem.  

            So what it -- it does, it limits the ability for us to manage the money and allow -- and forces the services to have to take that money, which, in the case of fiscal year '14, if unaddressed by a Congress, will be about $52 billion in execution on the -- on the -- across the defense budget. 

             And because we are restricted in where we can take the money from it, it comes out of operations and maintenance.  So what happens is that the services are then required to -- to not overhaul ships, not fix airplanes, not do training at home, and to be able to ensure they push as much resources to -- to the places of the world where it has to be maintained, which would be in Afghanistan or it'll be on the Korean Peninsula.  So we're basically hollowing out the force through sequestration.  

            I came to the Navy 41 years ago, and I came into a hollow Navy at that time, a hollow military.  And it doesn't take a year or two to -- to go from a high-performing military -- you can make it smaller if you want, but you've got to allow -- allow us to do that -- manage that efficiently.  And the sequestration is not allowing that to happen. 

             Q:  Can you speak specifically to -- to the Pacific and assets or canceled exercises?  

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  In '13 alone we canceled several exercises, primarily ones that were more U.S.-centered, and we've maintained our -- the main exercises with our allies, even though in some of those exercises we -- we actually dialed down the amount of -- of participation we had -- had it then, but we were able to sustain the majority of the -- the benefit of the exercise. 

            But it's not just about exercises.  So for today, if you ask the chief of the Air Force, he'll tell you that about one-third of his airplanes and air crews back in the United States are not flying.  The number of steaming days and flying hours that are allocated to me in the Pacific, and particularly in the Pacific where I have things we have -- that we have concerns about, are -- are being decremented.  And so it just pushes the risk up for those who -- those servicemembers who are -- are potentially out there in harm's way.  And that's going to exacerbate through '14 if the sequestration is not relieved.  

            COL. WARREN:  Jon Harper. 

            Q:  Hi, I'm Jon Harper with the Asahi Shimbun.  In this strategic and economic dialogue that's going on this week, have you seen any tangible progress in terms of improving transparency between the U.S. and Chinese militaries, or getting any better understanding of Chinese intentions?  Or has this just been, sort of, a diplomatic dialogue that's been going on for awhile?  

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Well, the dialogue's still going on, so I don't want to pre-empt Secretary Kerry and his counterpart as they -- when they put out a -- their final communique on it.

             This is my -- I will say, from my perspective, my second year involved in this particular dialogue -- last year I was there and went to Beijing for it and was in Beijing following that.  And I think that the progress that we're making between our two militaries is quite commendable.  It -- it's commendable because we are able to have very good dialogue on areas where we converge -- and there's a lot of places where we converge as -- as two nations.  And we're also able to directly address in a matter-of-fact way where we diverge. 

            And that -- those divergences are where you will find friction points, and friction points are where militaries that understand each other can maybe not solve the friction, but they can manage it so that diplomacy can continue to -- to work. 

            And both militaries, both the PLA and the U.S. military -- in fact, PACOM; it's my forces that will interact with them most of the time -- understand this and are committed to it.  So I think that alone is significant progress.

            Now, at the -- kind of the -- the lesser known levels, we just finished operating side-by-side in a -- in a large humanitarian disaster relief exercise in Brunei.  It was sponsored by ADMM-Plus.  But in that exercise, you know, U.S. and PLA ships and forces were working side by side.  That's substantial. 

            We just had the USS Shiloh that completed a very productive port visit in China, and we will open port visits for Chinese ships as well in the future.

            And, as you know, the Chinese have agreed, based on a recommendation I made to the secretary of defense to include them in a limited Pacific exercise in 2014.  That's -- they have accepted that -- that request, and that's a big step for the Chinese military, Chinese navy. 

            They'll be entering a multinational, three-week long exercise that's basically run by the, you know, the U.S. from -- from the 3rd Fleet headquarters.  It'll be done in the Hawaiian operating area, so they'll be operating a long way from home.  But they're excited about it.  They're excited about coming and participating.  And we wish them all the success. 

            Q:  And just a quick follow-up, in terms of the Chinese port visits, has any date been set for that?  And is this a new proposal that came out of these talks? 

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  No.  No, these are -- you know, we -- we meet several times a year through different defense consultative talks, visits that I make, visits they make, and we plan out calendar of events that allows us to use the resources we have. 

            And so we've been, I'd say on both sides, very good at staying consistent with our -- our calendar proposals, of which includes port visits. 

            Q:  But no date has been set? 

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  No. 

            Q:  Jim Miklaszewski with NBC.  Just to follow up on that, you know it wasn't too long ago that -- that the Chinese military, especially at sea, was provocative, if not confrontational.  How would you describe the mil-to-mil relationship between the U.S. military and the Chinese today? 

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Well, Jim, I would say it's not provocative certainly.  I'd say it's -- that we have, particularly in the -- in the Asia-Pacific, in the areas that are closer to -- to the Chinese homeland, that we have been able to conduct operations around each other in a very professional and increasingly professional manner. 

            Some of this had to do with the lessons that were learned a number of years ago by some of the unfortunate encounters. 

            Now, it doesn't mean that -- that we won't have in the future, you know, the potential for miscalculation, particularly as it relates to, you know, young commanders or young COs of ships and airplanes that -- that could be -- find -- find themselves in difficult positions. 

            But we are having a -- an ongoing dialogue with the Chinese military about, you know, what are the, kind of the rules of the road of how we manage our relationship as the Chinese navy inevitably gets larger and inevitably will come out further from their territorial seas.  The U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific's not going anywhere.  So we have to manage our ability to operate around each other.  And I think that's -- it's a -- it's a doable thing. 

            Q:  Let me -- if I could follow up, as -- as the top military commander of PACOM, do you look at the Chinese military as a growing potential threat or an opportunity? 

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  I look at them as an opportunity.  If the opportunity is not realized, then, as it would be with any other -- any growing military, it potentially, you know, could become a threat.  But I certainly view it and approach it as an opportunity.  That's really the -- the -- the only best path forward. 

            Q:  Admiral, Mark Shantz, Air Force magazine. 

            Since you last visited here, the Philippine government has made a few announcements about they're updating their military modernization program.  And I want to ask you about two parts of that. 

            One, they said specifically they're going to continue deep and broad investments in advancing their maritime capabilities.  Has there been any progress on foreign military sales or excess equipment sales to the Philippine government?  And, two, they also said they were going to be investing in their infrastructure and their bases in the country to possibly host U.S. and Japanese forces.  Any comment on that? 

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Yeah, well, first, I think the -- the Filipinos are committed to developing a minimum credible defense, is what they call that.  And we're -- as a close ally -- we're committed to assisting them where we can.  

            So in the time that -- since I was here last, we have successfully transferred to them two excess defense articles in the form of two cutters that they have now.  I think they found themselves lacking in their maritime domain awareness, their ability to manage the vast maritime spaces that they have.  They're really a nation made up of many, many islands.  

            And so they're -- they're -- we're working with them.  And they're -- they're working to produce the resources necessary to -- to understand what happens in their -- in their maritime domain and to be able to more effectively control it. 

             They're also looking -- working with us as we look at, you know, potential access agreements down the road.  You know, they're going to always ask the question, 'Is the U.S. going to reopen Subic or Clark?'

             And I say, the U.S. isn't going to open bases – any more bases in the Asia-Pacific, just we're not in that -- in that business.  But what we are looking for is opportunities to -- to where we can -- where our -- our mutual interests along with our allies is to be able to -- to be able to have access with them that would enable us to better -- number one, help them in their defense and, two, to -- to be able to respond -- help them respond to a broader range of contingencies, whether it's a large disaster, which, you know, likely to happen -- maybe not -- not in my -- my tour, but certainly will happen there -- all the way up to larger scale contingencies. 

            So we're working very close with them, and we're making good progress.  

            COL. WARREN:  -- (inaudible) --  

            Q:  China missile question.  The -- the air -- National Air and Space Intelligence Command came up with their -- their annual -- their assessment of ballistic missile threats around the world.  It's the -- their four-year update.  They identified China as the most active ballistic missile nation in the world in terms of the breadth of what they're operating.  

            You, anti-ship ballistic missile to their JL-2s.  How do you look at their aggressive program?  Is this in reaction at all to the -- their perception of the air-sea concept or their perception of the Asia pivot strategy?  

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Well, I -- first off, I agree with the report.  I believe they do have probably the -- one of the most sophisticated, if not most sophisticated ballistic missile programs.  The missile program has been in place long time before there was ever any discussion about a strategic rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.  So I don't see that as necessary.  

            I -- I -- I would say that -- that their -- their pursuit of that -- those technologies -- first of all, they are relativity inexpensive.  They are -- are suitable for the type of near-land issues that they -- that they, in their mind, are -- that they're going to encounter in terms of the defense of their own homeland, and that they are the type of systems that are representative of a defensive nature rather than an offensive, you  know, reaching out.            

            And I -- and I think that as time goes on -- and assuming that China stays on a trajectory of becoming a huge economic power, global power that -- that they will over time morph their military acquisitions to be able to buy things and to use things that -- that go beyond their near -- their near -- near shores.  

            And we're already seeing some examples of that.  We're seeing the Chinese operating today in places beyond the first and second island chain that we wouldn't have seen before.  We've seen them be able to successfully do operations alongside -- alongside of us in the Gulf of Aden in anti-piracy.  

            So it's -- I think it's a natural thing as their global, economic power grows for them to have security interests that go beyond their -- beyond their -- their backyard.  

            Q:  One follow-up.  They did say that they -- they project China's ICBM nuclear warhead capability -- basically it could hit the United States -- will increase to, like, over 100 warheads by -- in the next 15 years.  That's a little bit -- that -- that's not so much homeland defense, it seems.  I just... 

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Yeah. 

            Q:  ... what's your perception of that? 

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Yeah, I don't -- I don't -- haven't really taken hard look at that.  So I won't comment on that today. 

            COL. WARREN:  All the way in the back, the last question. 

            Q:  Ben Dooley, Kyodo News. 

            Actually I have two questions for you if that's all right.  The first one is concerning Chinese activity in the U.S. EEZs [exclusive economic zone]?  You mentioned a couple of times over the last few months that China naval activity has been -- has been increasing around Guam and Hawaii. 

            And I wonder if you could speak to that a little bit.  Have you discussed it with your Chinese counterparts at all?  And just do you have any concerns about miscalculation or anything like -- like that that you mentioned?

            And then the second question is about air-sea battle as Tony mentioned.  There seems to be a misperception in China or perhaps a misperception that air-sea battle is aimed at the Chinese.  I'm wondering if you're concerned about that misperception, and if so what you're doing to -- to correct it in your talks with China.

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Well, the first question, the EEZs is a good one, because it really boils down to a  -- a kind of a fundamental difference in the way we interpret the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention of how -- of what activities you should be able to do in an -- in an economic zone.  And we believe, the U.S. position is that those activities are less constrained than what the Chinese believe. 

            So if you -- I've been told that if you look at all the EEZs in the world, you put them out on a map, that it turns out to be about a third of all of the oceans in the world, and it turns out to be -- and inside that it's -- most of the major sea lines of communication, or SLOCs, we call 'em, that are in there.  And that -- and so, you know, as I approach my counterparts from the PLA, I say, look, I said, you know, you don't want to have every country that owns an EZ controlling one-third of all the sea lines of communication in any manner they want.  It's got to be -- you've got to be able to look at your security interests in those -- in those EEZs. -- not in territorial seas, but in the EEZs. 

            So they have a more -- they take a different interpretation, and they would like to be -- inside of their, what they call their EZs, which are still -- you know, all these things are -- in many ways can be disputed, which -- (inaudible) -- still got a litigation about who owns what EZs.  But they would like to be able to have a further restriction of anybody's military operations inside their EEZs. 

            So there is that fundamental -- (inaudible) -- this is a place where we diverge, and we talk about it.  And we talked about, you know, how -- you know, their perspective and then why -- why we feel the way that we do. 

            Now, in regard of the air-sea battle, the air-sea battle, to me, is just -- is something that every smart military should be doing, whether it's an air-sea or an air-ground battle.  It's a -- and I would hope that the American people would expect us to be looking at the investments we've made in some of these higher-end systems across the -- our Air Force and our Navy and our Marine Corps and our Army, and to be able to bring them together in ways that increases their capabilities and increases their effectiveness without having to buy more of those systems. 

            And that's really what air-sea battle is about is how do you -- how do you better bring these systems together so that they can address the threats, no matter where those threats come from.  Because what -- no matter who's building a particular threat, over time that threat will proliferate.  And when it proliferates, the expectation is that the force -- our force will be able to address it.  So that's really the crux of the air-sea battle.  The air-sea battle is not a strategy.  And it's -- it's not a strategy.  And it's not directed at any one -- any one country. 

            It might be directed at systems that countries are being -- are building that are difficult to deal with, that we want to use our systems in the most productive way to do that. 

            So -- and we're pretty clear about this with them as well.  There's a perception that -- that all these things we're doing is an attempt to contain China.  And the reality, and we tell them this as well, I have, is that we have no -- there's no need or intention, there is no good for the United States -- I mean, we're too interconnected in too many ways for us to have a containment policy, a military containment strategy.

            We have one of cooperation and collaboration.  But we do have U.S. interests that go around the world, and we're going to make sure those interests are -- are well defended. 

            COL. WARREN:  All right sir, thank you very much. 

            ADM. LOCKLEAR:  Thank you.