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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Admiral Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Presenter: Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby
March 20, 2014
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY:  Afternoon, everybody.  I got a couple things to go through, and then we'll get to your questions.
 
Earlier today, Secretary Hagel spoke by phone with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu.  Today's conversation obviously focused on the situation in Ukraine.  Secretary Hagel was clear and he was firm:  Because Russian forces are in control of Crimea, they bear responsibility for what is happening there.  He also pressed Minister Shoygu to explain Russian intentions with respect to forces they have aligned near Ukraine's eastern and southern borders.  And he reiterated his call that Russia immediately worked to de-escalate the tension and to restore Ukrainian territorial integrity.
 
It was a lengthy call, lasting about an hour, and I think it's fair to say that at times it was direct.  But Secretary Hagel appreciated Minister Shoygu's time and the minister's assurance that the troops he has arrayed along the border are there to conduct exercises only, that they had no intention of crossing the border into Ukraine, and that they would take no aggressive action.  The two leaders agreed to keep the dialogue open.
 
Also today -- in fact, just wrapping up recently -- the secretary met with his Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's vice minister of defense.  The two leaders reaffirmed the strength of the U.S.-Saudi relationship with Secretary Hagel emphasizing the commitment of the United States to security in the region.  They also discussed regional challenges and the importance of regional cooperation in addressing common security issues.
 
And, finally, this week, we've all been reminded how important it is that we properly recognize and honor those who serve our country in uniform and distinguish themselves in combat.  Secretary Hagel believes this is a solemn obligation for the Department of Defense, one that we can never take lightly.  Today, Secretary Hagel directed the department to conduct a comprehensive review of its military decorations and awards program, incorporating lessons over the past 13 years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The review will focus on ensuring that the awards program appropriately recognizes all levels of combat valor, as well as the service, sacrifices, and actions of all our servicemembers.
 
It will look at how the awards program is structured to make sure that it fully reflects the joint nature of warfare.  It will examine the processes and procedures of how medals for valor are nominated in order to determine whether they can be improved or streamlined and help make the overall awards process more timely, and it will determine the best way to recognize servicemembers who use remote technology to directly impact combat operations, such as through cyber and remotely piloted aircraft.
 
The review will begin this June.  It will be led by the acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, Jessica Wright, who will work closely with Chairman Dempsey, the military departments, and the combatant commanders.  Given the secretary's desire to do this thoroughly and get it right, he has given them a deadline of the first of June, 2015.
 
The secretary knows full well how important it is that we properly recognize and honor the service and sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform.  It is important to our servicemembers, it's important to their families, and it's important to the nation.  It's important to the integrity of this institution.  He believes it is imperative that DOD conduct this review as we conclude combat operations in Afghanistan, and he intends to monitor progress closely as it progresses.  
 
With that, I'll take your questions.  Yeah, Phil?
 
Q:  First of all, on the phone call, did the Russian minister explain why he needed so many troops on the border for these exercises?  And does the United States have a good estimate of how many troops there are?  
 
And a second question when you...
 
(CROSSTALK)
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Sure.  They didn't get into specific numbers.  And as to the numbers themselves, I'd direct you to the Russian Ministry of Defense.  They should be able to account for the troops they have, and particularly because they're exercises.  So clearly thousands, but I'm not prepared to give you an actual number, and I think, again, that's a question that they should answer.
 
Q:  And on the issue of Ukrainian requests for assistance, is there any insight you can give us about where the Pentagon is in its decision-making on -- on requests for weapons in particular?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, let's back it up a little bit.  The Ukrainian government did submit a list for military assistance material, some we would consider, you know, lethal material and some would -- you know, you'd consider non-lethal.  We're working our way through that request right now here at the department and in the interagency.  I think it's safe to say that right now, the focus of that review is on the non-lethal side of things, but it is very much still an active issue under consideration.  Did that answer your question?
 
Q:  Yes, thank you.
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah.  Go ahead.
 
Q:  Admiral, I'm curious if you could confirm whether or not the May 2013 launch that China executed and that was supposedly a scientific mission was actually some sort of kinetic energy anti-satellite test?  And if so, what does that mean with regard to the threat scenario here in space to our satellites?  And what is the U.S. doing to address that?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I don't have anything for you on that particular launch right now.  You're going to have to let me take that one for the record and get back to you.
 
 
(CROSSTALK)
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  All right.  Well, let -- we'll work that and get back to you.  I just wouldn't have anything for you today on that.
 
Lita?
 
Q:  Two things, also.  On the call, when you say the secretary was direct, can you be a little bit more specific about whether he specifically asked him, the Russians to take any specific actions or to do anything specific to move their troops or take their troops away or anything...
 
 
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, without getting into the -- you know, every detail of the call, by direct, I mean that -- frankly, both men made points, and the secretary was clear on where he was, and that was that what's happening in Crimea is -- what's happening in Crimea does nothing to de-escalate tension there.  And, again, I'll say it as I said in my opening.  He made it -- he made it clear on more than one occasion that, because they are in control, they bear responsibility for what happens there, including the violence that happened recently.
 
And he also was -- was very direct about his concerns about the troops that are on the Russian side of the border, but across from Ukraine on the eastern and southern sides, and he wanted a better accounting for what that was all about.  
 
So, I mean, he was -- it was -- it was a very -- I know we use this word a lot, but it was a very candid discussion on both -- on both counts.
 
Q:  Okay.  And then, secondly, on the -- the satellite photographs or the -- or satellite images of this alleged debris, has there been any request of the Pentagon for it to go back and perhaps go through any satellite imagery it may have of that area to get any further clarity on what may be there?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No specific requests that I'm aware of for us to go back and look at historical data or imagery, but I would just say on this -- and I know there's a lot of interest in this -- but, look, the president said it was a priority.  We in the Pentagon have made it a priority to try to help the Malaysian government here.  We are mindful that there are more than 200 families out there that are grieving and they want answers, and we understand that, and we're doing what we can.  And we're not the only nation doing what we can. 
 
And we're putting as much effort into it across the scope of our capabilities as -- as is needed, and I wouldn't get into the specifics of each and every one of those tools, because, you know, some of those tools we don't talk about.  But I can assure you that, when the Malaysians are asking for help, when they're asking for information, when they're asking for whatever data that can be provided, if we can provide it, if we can help them, we are helping them.
 
Yeah, Spence?
 
Q:  John, can you give us any more specifics on what non-lethal aid the Pentagon is actively considering...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I'm sorry.  I missed -- sorry, non...
 
Q:  Sorry.  Can you give us any more specifics on what non-lethal aid you're -- the Pentagon is actively considering for the Ukrainians?  Did Secretary Hagel discuss that with his Russian counterpart?  And what sort of timetable are you on for a decision?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  The issue of non-lethal aid to Ukraine did not come in the conversation today with Minister Shoygu.  As you know, we have talked about providing ready-to-eat meals to the Ukrainian armed forces.  That's in process right now.  They've not been delivered yet.  There are other non-lethal items which are being considered.  I don't want to go into them by detail and give you a shopping list, but, you know, in general, it's on the order of medical supplies and uniform equipment and that kind of thing.
 
But I really don't want to -- I don't want to itemize it now.  These items -- all the requests are being considered and we've just got to let that process continue.
 
Q:  Do you have a timetable for (inaudible)?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  We're -- we're working it expeditiously is how I'd put it.
 
Yes?
 
Q:  General Sinclair received a reprimand today, as you know.  His attorneys say this was a sign that the system worked.  The defense is saying it's a travesty for the military.  I'm wondering what is your view of it and what it says about the Pentagon's ability to deal with these very high-profile sexual misconduct cases?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, I mean, it would be inappropriate for me to pass judgment on, you know, on a case that is now concluded.  What I'll tell you is, and we've said it time and time again, we take the crime of sexual assault very, very seriously.  And we know that we need to get better.  We know that there -- that there are changes that need to continue to be made.  
 
The secretary ordered a review of the UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice] for just this purpose.  And our focus is on making sure that victims have the confidence to report, and that those who are proven guilty of the crime are held accountable.  And I think I'd leave it at that.
 
Q:  On the search, you're calling it a priority.  So are you...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  The president called it a priority.
 
Q:  You are calling it -- the president is calling it a priority.  He says that all of our resources were being used.  But in reality, we've got one P-8 over the area that's really of interest here.  And, you know, for four hours at a time.  
 
So, are you considering sending additional aircraft, specifically of the P-8s?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Okay.  Well, let's -- let's -- it's not just the United States and the United States Navy involved here.  There's many nations, more than 25 are helping in the search here.  So there's a lot of effort internationally being applied to this.  And it's all being done in coordination and consultation with the Malaysian government.  We're -- what they believe they need and what they asked and what they said they needed from the United States Navy was, at this point, now with the new search area towards the southern area of the Indian Ocean, that they needed -- that they needed fixed-wing, long-range patrol aircraft.  So, we have a P-3 and a P-8 dedicated to that mission.
 
Q:  There have been some reports that information sharing is not going as well as it could.  Are you satisfied with the level of cooperation that the Malaysians are -- are providing, and the cooperation between all these nations?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yes.
 
Q:  Yes?
 
Okay, and last one on this.  How much are we spending on the search effort to date?  And how long is the Pentagon willing to keep the search alive?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I'll have to get back to you on the dollar figure.  I don't have that for you.  And again, I think it's -- I think the president made this clear.  Secretary Hagel has certainly made it clear.  We're -- we're going to stay with this as long as the Malaysians need our help.
 
Q:  I have a couple of Russia-U.S. military business issues.  Last week, Secretary Hagel said that the Ukrainian -- Russia's incursion in to the Ukraine was going to trigger a review of the U.S. use of Russian-made engines for U.S. launch vehicles, satellites, for boosting satellites into space.
 
A week later, I understand a review has been requested of the -- by the Air Force.  Can you give a little bit of detail in terms of what's being asked for in the review?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I can't -- I can't give you a whole lot, but you're right.  The secretary directed the Air Force to perform an additional review to ensure that we completely understand all the implications, including supply interruptions of using foreign components for the evolved expendable launch vehicle program.
 
That review just got started.  It's underway.  I don't really have an update for you.  But as we can update you, we certainly will.
 
Q:  Do you have any -- does Russia have a history with this program, the RD-180 engine, of threatening to cut off supply?  This engine's been used for quite a number of years.  
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Do they -- we have a history of...
 
Q:  Does Russia have any kind of history that you're aware of threatening to cut off supplies?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Not that I'm aware of, but I'd point you to the Air Force.  They might have a better view of that, but none that I'm aware of.
 
Q:  Another issue, the Mi-17 helicopter contracts that the United States has had with the Rosoboron for the last three years, you've got a letter -- the Pentagon received a letter yesterday from six members asking why, if we're going after the Russians on so many fronts, do we keep buying their helicopters for the Afghan military?  Why can't you terminate the June 2013 contract for convenience?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Okay, well, you're right, we did get a letter from members of Congress.  We will respond accordingly.  I don't want to -- I'm not going to respond to that letter and to those members [of Congress] here from the podium today.  We will respond.  We do understand the concern.  It's not -- as you know, it's not a new concern that has been expressed by members of Congress.  We went through this a couple of years ago with respect to Russian deals with Syria.  
 
But -- but so, we're going to respond to the letter in kind, and -- and look, we're -- again, we're aware of these concerns.  But, I do think it's important to remember the original intent of the contract was to -- was to help deliver to the Afghan National Security Forces a helicopter that is well-suited to the missions they need to fly and will need to continue to fly post-2014 with a platform they know how to -- they know how to use, and that's well-suited to the very harsh Afghan environment and the altitudes at which they need to fly.
 
But, that said, got the letter.  Understand that.  Will respond accordingly.
 
Q:  All right.  Because, the point being, if you're buying their helicopters yet you're sanctioning their billionaires, it does seem to be an inconsistent policy here.  The defense department should lean on the Russians a little bit more by terminating the contract.
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Is that a question or an editorial comment?
 
Q:  That's the tone of the debate.  The members of Congress and the public are raising it.
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I got it.  And again, we got the letter.  We'll respond.
 
Q:  Fair enough.
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Jim.
 
Q:  Admiral, in your announcement about the awards and decorations for review, you emphasize the term, the joint aspect of this.  Are you looking -- is the secretary looking to increase, I don't know, the involvement of maybe the combatant commands, or in -- in awards and decorations?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of any specific -- I mean, there's -- first of all, there's no recommendations right now.  This review hasn't even started yet.  But I think what he's trying to get at is -- is he wants to know -- for anybody who's been in uniform, you know that there are some awards and medals you get that are service-unique.  That -- you -- like I'm a naval officer that you only get through the Navy.  And then there are some that are joint in -- in their -- in the scope of the duties that they -- that they reward.  I think he recognizes that we've been more joint now than ever before, and you don't have to look any farther than what we accomplished in Iraq and Afghanistan to see how joint the services have become, and I think it's a fair question to ask: do we need to look at the kinds of awards that we give, particularly for combat valor, in a more joint nature than perhaps some of them are.  It doesn't mean that there will be changes, but I think he wants to look at everything across the whole scope.  That answer your question?
 
Q:  Sort of.  So like, the Silver Star, if it's awarded the same way by all of the services or the...
 
KIBRY:  He wants to make -- well, he does want to make sure -- I think he wants to examine the degree to which the services submit and evaluate and decide on major combat awards.  I think he would like to get a better sense of what discrepancies there may be between the services.  And do those discrepancies need to be closed?  The answer may be no.  But I think he wants to ask those questions.
 
Q:  Admiral, could I follow on Jim's question please?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Absolutely.
 
Q:  On the review, has the decision to do this review, has this been influenced, informed in any way by the lengthy process that resulted Tuesday in the -- in the awards of the 24 medals of honor in the sense -- in this sense: I'm told that the Army considered something like 600 cases and came up with 24, and that the -- the Navy, for the Marines, and the Air Force, their cases came up with none.  So, has -- has that process informed in any way the difficult process that was involved that resulted in that ceremony Tuesday, has that informed this decision by the -- by the secretary?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I think it has, yes, Richard.  As well as the debate over the -- the remotely piloted aircraft medal that -- that had been signed off on previously.  But I also think I had an interesting conversation with him yesterday after the Medal of Honor ceremony here in the building as just the two of us for a little bit.  And he was talking about his service in Vietnam, and I think -- I think to be honest with you, some of his own services factored in to his -- his reasoning to want to go take a look at this.  I mean, he talked about seeing his own comrades there in Vietnam doing incredibly brave things, and -- and that many of those things will go completely unheeded because they were never written up, because of the -- the pace and speed of war, and the -- and just the constant pressure to keep going.  And so many heroic acts never got -- never got noticed, never got written up, never got submitted.  And I think -- I think that's also -- his own personal combat experience I think is weighing into this, as well.
 
Q:  Is it because there's always that question, you know, when you look at circumstances of individuals and how they were considered, there's always the question of how do you decide, you know, this incredibly brave act?  Why was that chosen over this other...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  That's right.  That's right.  Look, it's not a science.  And I don't think he's trying to make it a science.  But he does think it's time, after 13 years of war, to take a fresh look at how we think about this, what's the process, can it be done better, are there seams between the services that need to be closed, or not?  But it's -- it's -- he recognizes that it's -- it is by nature and will always be a subjective process.  But I think he wants to have a better understanding of that process and -- and -- and the ways in which it may -- it may be improved going forward.
 
Q:  John, in their conversation, did the secretary ask or did the Russian defense minister volunteer exactly how long this exercise is going to last?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  The secretary did ask when Minister Shoygu thought the exercise would be completed.  The minister said that -- that he didn't have a firm timetable on that.
 
Q:  And does the secretary and this building accept the description of that troop formation as an exercise?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  It's the secretary's expectation that Minister Shoygu will meet his word.  
 
Barb?
 
Q:  One on Ukraine, one on the airplane.  Starting with Ukraine.  However, you said that the secretary asked the Russian minister what his intention -- what Russian intentions were.  So clearly the secretary had some basis of doubt about Russian intentions.  So my first question is, could -- how much is the secretary worried or believe that the Russians may be preparing to go into Ukraine?  Otherwise, I can't fathom why he would ask about intentions.  
 
And my second question on the airplane, you had mentioned that -- you mentioned it's an across-the-administration effort to -- to help, and that there are some tools you do not talk about.  Can you assure -- because you spoke of the across-the-administration effort -- can you assure that any classified information the United States government has related to this plane has been shared?  Or is it the possible the government -- the U.S. government is still holding on to classified information?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Okay, well, on your first question, he asked the question because he wanted to know the answer.  It wasn't that he had a preconceived notion one way or the other.  You said that he obviously asked because he had doubts.  It wasn't so much that he had doubts.  He simply wanted to know, what are you doing?  And that was -- and that was why he asked the question.
 
And, again, Mr. Shoygu assured him, as I said before, that it was an exercise, that they had no intention of crossing the border into Ukraine, and that they would take no aggressive action.  His expectation is they will -- they will meet their word on that.
 
Q:  The secretary of defense had no information or intelligence suggesting that there could be a potential for the Russians to cross the border?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  We don't talk about intelligence matters, and I'm certainly not going to do that from here.  What I can tell you is he asked the question because he wanted to know the answer.
 
On your second question, again, you know, I'm not -- I'm certainly not going to get into a discussion about classified information here in this forum.  I'll go back to what I said before.  The president said it's a priority.  We believe it's a priority.  And we're doing everything we can to help the Malaysian government, in keeping with their desires, their needs, their requirements.  That's as far as I'll go.
 
Phil?
 
Q:  Admiral, on the medal review, part of the issue with the RPA [remotely piloted aircraft] or drone recognition before was opposition from Congress.  As this goes forward, will there be an effort to involve members or ask for legislation or change it through legislation to the way these decorations work?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I'm sorry.  Can you repeat the last part?  
 
(CROSSTALK, LAUGHTER)
 
Q:  Do you need to ask Congress to be a part of this review of the way medals work?  Because members before opposed in the one case...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  So will there be a review by Congress?
 
Q:  Does Congress need to pass a bill or change the law in order for the Defense Department to change the way it awards these medals?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Not that I'm aware of.  That's a pretty sophisticated question, Phil.  I'd have to go back and look and make sure.  I don't -- I don't believe so. 
 
I mean, look, I mean, Congress can legislate what Congress decides to legislate, and we respect that oversight responsibility of the Congress, of course.  And we want to -- we'll work in concert with the Congress as we go through this review, keep them fully informed, but I think this is something the secretary really wants to handle as much as he can in house right now and just get a better handle on it.
 
Q:  Can I just follow up on that?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Sure.
 
Q:  Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't -- if you had more, I didn't...
 
Q:  I have an unrelated follow-up.
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No, it's okay, go ahead.
 
Q:  We expect at some point soon for the Air Force to talk about the results of its investigation into the nuclear force cheating situation.  And at the time we're first hearing about that, the secretary came out and said he was expecting to appoint an ethics officer for the Defense Department on a relatively short fuse.  Do you have an update about that process?  And can we expect soon to hear who he's chosen to take that job?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah, thanks for the question.  I don't think he said he was going to appoint an ethics officer.  He wants to appoint a general officer, a flag officer to a position on his personal staff to be -- to facilitate and integrate issues of military professionalism.
 
He has interviewed candidates, and he is considering those candidates right now.  I think you'll -- I don't have anything to announce today, but I think we will have something to talk about very soon on that.
 
Q:  Can I just follow up on that?  Since -- on the awards, since we're today, at the eleventh anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq, have the -- and you're going to review awards, are you going to look at why in 11 years there is no living Medal of Honor recipient for the war in Iraq?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  That's not a part of this particular review, Barbara.  
 
Q:  Is it a question that is worth looking at?  
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  It's a fair question.  But it's not part of the review that I -- that I announced today.  
 
I already got you.  Yeah, Jon?
 
Q:  Admiral Kirby, going back to the Sinclair case, is this department concerned that the perception that a high-ranking officer was given a relatively lenient sentence, given what he was originally accused of?  Is the department concerned that this will be a setback, because it might discourage junior officers or enlisted personnel from bringing charges or accusations against senior officers who might have sexually assaulted them?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, look, we're not going to pass judgment on the -- on the case that just concluded.  You all know that every case has individual facts that are reviewed by judge and jury, and that was done in this case.  And sentence has been passed, and the case is closed.
 
We are always concerned about victim confidence.  We are always concerned about -- about the ability of leadership and the system itself, the justice system itself, in making sure that those who are found guilty are held properly accountable.
 
I mean, this is a serious issue.  No one's taken their eye off of it.  So we always have those concerns, and we're always trying to get better at it.
 
Yeah, Courtney?
 
Q:  Can I follow up on that?  We've had now several -- or high-profile, General Sinclair, there was this Naval Academy case that the third midshipman was acquitted today.  I mean, what -- what can you say -- or is the secretary concerned specifically that victims are seeing these and saying, "Why would I ever come forward?"  And what can you say to give them confidence that coming forward would actually result in some sort of justice for them, when we see literally just case after case after case of these people being acquitted?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  There's also plenty of cases where they're not acquitted, too, Courtney.  But I take your point.  I can -- I think the secretary understands that -- that any given victim on any given day might look at a case where someone is acquitted, and maybe that potentially could shake their confidence in coming forward.  Certainly we have that concern.
 
And that's why we're working so, so hard on getting victim advocates out there, making sure that our sexual assault response coordinators are fully trained, fully vetted.  That's why he asked the services to go back and look at people that are in positions of trust, recruiters, victims -- victim advocates, instructors, making sure that they are properly vetted.  That's why we are so focused on trying to get at this problem from a victim confidence perspective.
 
And -- and I'll tell you that the -- the reporting is up, in terms of sexual assaults.  While we don't want to see any, right now where we are in solving this problem, that's not altogether a bad sign.  It tells us that at least the -- there is some measure of increased confidence by victims coming forward.
 
So, yeah, of course we worry about that all the time, not just in any one particular case, but -- but writ large across the force, but again, I -- I'd like to just reiterate what I said before.  
 
I mean it's -- I understand these are two high-profile cases.  They make headlines.  I get that.  But there are -- there are plenty of other cases that -- that go all the way to trial and get convictions.  And look, convictions and prosecutions and convictions, while important in terms of holding people accountable, that's not the ultimate goal here.  The ultimate goal here is zero sexual assaults in the military.  That's what we're after.
 
Q:  Is the secretary reconsidering his stance on taking out the chain of command?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No, he's not.
 
Q:  And then I have one on Ukraine.  Who initiated the call today -- I'm sorry, with Shoygu?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Who initiated the call?  We asked -- we asked for the call, if that's what you mean.  I mean, it's not like he picks up the phone and just dials, but -- but Secretary Hagel asked for the call, yeah.
 
Q:  On the phone call, did the secretary get into the rest of (inaudible) going to continue to cooperate on things like the Syrian chemical weapons with -- withdrawal or on Iran nuclear talks, today get into those broader issues?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No, the discussion was solely about Ukraine. 
 
Okay.  Go ahead, one more.
 
Q:  Thank you.  
 
KIBRY:  Your questions I have a hard time answering.
 
Q:  Well, this one, I think you will have an answer to.  Just a follow-up to Tony's question about the RD-180 Atlas five engine.  
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yep.
 
Q:  Was that review that Secretary Hagel ordered, the additional review, in response to Representative Aderholt's question, or was that review already under way when Congress raised the issue in hearings?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I know that he -- he ordered -- he ordered two reviews: one by the department in -- by the Department of Defense, and then he asked the Air Force for an additional one.
 
Q:  Okay.  So was that a response to specific congressional concern, or was that already done because of Russia's activities?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  He ordered -- he ordered a review, well -- I'll get back to you on that.  Yeah, you stumped me again, let me get back to you on that.
 
Q:  Thank you.
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah Jen.  
 
Q:  John, forgive me if you've already dealt with this, but there's a story out about Guantanamo Bay inmates being released to Uruguay, and a minister in Uruguay says that they've accepted -- that they would accept five of the Guantanamo detainees, but that they would be treated as refugees and would be allowed to bring their families from wherever they're from in the world.  Are you aware of this, and is this part of the plan to release Guantanamo detainees to Uruguay?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Not aware of that, Jen.  I'll have to take that one for the record and get back to you, sorry.
 
Yeah, Jim?
 
Q:  John, the remotely piloted vehicle decision that was already made, in other words, the medal reviewview is coming...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Right.
 
Q:  ... and the secretary's already made a decision on that, create a device as opposed to a medal?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No, he hasn't actually.  He's -- that's part of the review, to see whether or not the way to get at that is this device.  That's part of the review, whether or not we should have a special device to go on another ribbon or medal with respect to those who fly remotely piloted aircraft.
 
Q:  A separate medal?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah, he wants the issue itself studied as part of this review.
 
(OFF-MIKE)
 
Today we're announcing the -- the review itself.  It will, as I said-- at the outsetI said, will not physically start until June, so a couple months from now.
 
Luis.
 
Q:  Going back to the Ukraine phone call.  Was there -- was this call prompted by a growing concern that the number of forces have been increasing?  Because I believe this -- these exercises had already been made public by the Russian defense ministry a week ago.  They cited a specific number.  Were you seeing these numbers increase, which prompted concern, which is what led to this phone call?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I think it was prompted by a number of things, yes, that they kept reinforcing, and that we didn't believe we had a clear indication of intent.  But the call was also on the secretary's mind because of the use of force in Crimea, the attack on the naval base, the killing of a Ukrainian warrant officer, and I think it was -- and also arose out of his conversation yesterday with the minister of defense of Ukraine and some of the concerns that Minister Tenyuk expressed to him as well about the situation there.
 
Q:  So, these reinforcements, were they significant in nature enough to raise concerns?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah.  Of course.
 
Q:  And were they moving closer to the border with Ukraine?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I'm not going to get into the exact geography here.  Again, the -- you know, where they are or how many they are, I mean, that's something the Russian ministry of defense should speak to.
 
Q:  It doesn't sound like you really have a clear indication of the intent, still.  I mean, after the call, because you don't know how long they're going to be there.  They've pretty much just taken the Russian minister at his word that they're not going to cross the border.
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, again, I said, I mean, we -- our expectation is that he gave three assurances, which I have outlined for you.  It's an exercise, only.  No intention of crossing the border into Ukraine.  Not going to take any aggressive action.  That was Minister Shoygu's words, and Secretary Hagel's expectation is that he'll live up to those words.
 
I think I've got time for one more.  Yeah, Becky?
 
Q:  Does Secretary Hagel intend to review the unfunded priorities list as Secretary Gates did before him, and do you have any indication of when that might go to the Hill?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I don't have a sense on timing.  The -- all he has asked is that the [military] services coordinate the unfunded lists with him, not for chop or editing, just so he has a sense of what they're going to submit, but I don't have a sense on timing.  Would have to get back to you on that.
 
Yes sir?
 
Q:  (OFF-MIKE)  my question is that what you mentioned.  There's no new findings on the search of the Malaysian airplane, but are there a channel from a military side that the public or media can obtain the accurate information on this incident? Because you know, it's very important for the families of the passengers to know.  Yeah more information from the -- maybe here, or the number seven fleet, or -- or just the Pentagon?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, I think -- I think the Navy and 7th Fleet I think have been doing a terrific job keeping people informed of what the U.S. Navy is doing to assist in the search, but the search effort, the investigation, all that is being led, as it should be, by the Malaysian government, and I think I would refer people who want more detailed information about the larger investigation and search to -- to consult with the Malaysian government on that.
 
Q:  Sorry, I do, one more.  Yeah, just now is almost, I think the searching is coming to a critical point, in that the searching area is getting narrow.  So now, is there any new methods or just a change from the military effort of the U.S. to -- to add more deployment or just to -- just focus on the Air Force to search the airways?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Any search and rescue mission changes over time.  I mean, just a few days ago, we had a -- a U.S. Navy destroyer that was assisting in the effort, and now she's not.  The focus from a U.S. military perspective is fixed-wing, long-range search aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft.  The P-8 and the P-3 from the United States Navy.  That's what we're providing now because that's what the Malaysian government asked us to provide.  That could change over time, and if it does, we'll adjust.  I mean, again, we want to do what we can to help.  We know that there's a lot of grieving families out there who have -- who have questions they'd like answered and loved ones that they would like found, and we're committed to helping in any way that we can.
 
Q:  It will change, it depends...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  All search and rescue missions change over time.  That's just the nature of that kind of operation, and we'll change with it as required.  Yeah.
 
Q:  Do you know who actually found images, the digital globe images?  Was this something that the NGA was involved in?  The National Geospatial [-Intelligence Agency]...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I don't have anything on that.  I just don't have anything on that.
 
Q:  Sir, the U.S. commercial satellite images, so...
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  They're commercially -- they're commercial satellite images, yes.  I don't know the specifics.  I just don't have it, Justin.  I've got one more.  Yeah, Tony?
 
Q:  Budget related.  You have -- you have access to Hagel and Ms. Fox and all the top leadership.  In the last week or so, has there been any thinking that we need to relook at the budget in light of the Russian incursions over there, in terms of whether we should the reduction in Army force structure, beef up infrastructure in Europe?  Reconfigure from the Asia rebalance?  Any thinking emerging on that?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No.  I mean, that's probably -- that's probably too glib an answer.  
 
(LAUGHTER)
 
Look, I mean, we're committed to this strategy.  We just completed and wrote the QDR [Quadrennial Defense Review], which calls for rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, maintaining a focus on the Middle East, but also preserving our equities in places like Europe, and on investing in new and emerging capabilities, such as cyber and space and special operations.
 
So we're committed to the strategy that we submitted just a couple weeks ago.  We're committed to the budget that we submitted just a couple weeks ago.  We believe that the -- that the budget as submitted and the strategy as submitted amply provides for a military that can meet the national security needs of the nation, with some risk -- we said that, with some risk -- but that we can -- that we can still accomplish the defense strategy, and that includes meeting our security commitments in Europe, and those to our -- to our allies there in NATO.
 
Q:  So Hagel hasn't been scratching his head lately, saying maybe we should rethink this, given what's going on in the Ukraine?
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I think if the secretary is here, he'd tell you exactly what I just said.  He believes the budget we submitted and the strategy we submitted are adequate to meet the national security needs of the country.  There is, again, some risk.  And that includes meeting our security commitments to NATO and to our partners in Europe.
 
But we -- there's -- I'm getting there.  You...
 
Q:  (OFF-MIKE)
 
REAR ADM. KIRBY:  The -- the world's a very dynamic, ever-changing place.  The security environment -- the security environment continues to evolve.  And what we believe is important about the defense strategy that we've put forward is it allows us the -- a flexibility to adapt and evolve with a changing security environment, wherever that is.
 
Thanks, everybody.
 

 

Presenter: Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby

 

March 20, 2014

 

Department of Defense Press briefing by Admiral Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room

 

 

            REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY:  Afternoon, everybody.  I got a couple things to go through, and then we'll get to your questions.

 

            Earlier today, Secretary Hagel spoke by phone with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu.  Today's conversation obviously focused on the situation in Ukraine.  Secretary Hagel was clear and he was firm:  Because Russian forces are in control of Crimea, they bear responsibility for what is happening there.  He also pressed Minister Shoygu to explain Russian intentions with respect to forces they have aligned near Ukraine's eastern and southern borders.  And he reiterated his call that Russia immediately worked to de-escalate the tension and to restore Ukrainian territorial integrity.

 

            It was a lengthy call, lasting about an hour, and I think it's fair to say that at times it was direct.  But Secretary Hagel appreciated Minister Shoygu's time and the minister's assurance that the troops he has arrayed along the border are there to conduct exercises only, that they had no intention of crossing the border into Ukraine, and that they would take no aggressive action.  The two leaders agreed to keep the dialogue open.

 

            Also today -- in fact, just wrapping up recently -- the secretary met with his Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's vice minister of defense.  The two leaders reaffirmed the strength of the U.S.-Saudi relationship with Secretary Hagel emphasizing the commitment of the United States to security in the region.  They also discussed regional challenges and the importance of regional cooperation in addressing common security issues.

 

            And, finally, this week, we've all been reminded how important it is that we properly recognize and honor those who serve our country in uniform and distinguish themselves in combat.  Secretary Hagel believes this is a solemn obligation for the Department of Defense, one that we can never take lightly.  Today, Secretary Hagel directed the department to conduct a comprehensive review of its military decorations and awards program, incorporating lessons over the past 13 years of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The review will focus on ensuring that the awards program appropriately recognizes all levels of combat valor, as well as the service, sacrifices, and actions of all our servicemembers.

 

            It will look at how the awards program is structured to make sure that it fully reflects the joint nature of warfare.  It will examine the processes and procedures of how medals for valor are nominated in order to determine whether they can be improved or streamlined and help make the overall awards process more timely, and it will determine the best way to recognize servicemembers who use remote technology to directly impact combat operations, such as through cyber and remotely piloted aircraft.

 

            The review will begin this June.  It will be led by the acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, Jessica Wright, who will work closely with Chairman Dempsey, the military departments, and the combatant commanders.  Given the secretary's desire to do this thoroughly and get it right, he has given them a deadline of the first of June, 2015.

 

            The secretary knows full well how important it is that we properly recognize and honor the service and sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform.  It is important to our servicemembers, it's important to their families, and it's important to the nation.  It's important to the integrity of this institution.  He believes it is imperative that DOD conduct this review as we conclude combat operations in Afghanistan, and he intends to monitor progress closely as it progresses. 

 

            With that, I'll take your questions.  Yeah, Phil?

 

            Q:  First of all, on the phone call, did the Russian minister explain why he needed so many troops on the border for these exercises?  And does the United States have a good estimate of how many troops there are? 

 

            And a second question when you...

 

            (CROSSTALK)

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Sure.  They didn't get into specific numbers.  And as to the numbers themselves, I'd direct you to the Russian Ministry of Defense.  They should be able to account for the troops they have, and particularly because they're exercises.  So clearly thousands, but I'm not prepared to give you an actual number, and I think, again, that's a question that they should answer.

 

            Q:  And on the issue of Ukrainian requests for assistance, is there any insight you can give us about where the Pentagon is in its decision-making on -- on requests for weapons in particular?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, let's back it up a little bit.  The Ukrainian government did submit a list for military assistance material, some we would consider, you know, lethal material and some would -- you know, you'd consider non-lethal.  We're working our way through that request right now here at the department and in the interagency.  I think it's safe to say that right now, the focus of that review is on the non-lethal side of things, but it is very much still an active issue under consideration.  Did that answer your question?

 

            Q:  Yes, thank you.

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah.  Go ahead.

 

            Q:  Admiral, I'm curious if you could confirm whether or not the May 2013 launch that China executed and that was supposedly a scientific mission was actually some sort of kinetic energy anti-satellite test?  And if so, what does that mean with regard to the threat scenario here in space to our satellites?  And what is the U.S. doing to address that?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I don't have anything for you on that particular launch right now.  You're going to have to let me take that one for the record and get back to you.

 

 

            (CROSSTALK)

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  All right.  Well, let -- we'll work that and get back to you.  I just wouldn't have anything for you today on that.

 

            Lita?

 

            Q:  Two things, also.  On the call, when you say the secretary was direct, can you be a little bit more specific about whether he specifically asked him, the Russians to take any specific actions or to do anything specific to move their troops or take their troops away or anything...

 

           

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, without getting into the -- you know, every detail of the call, by direct, I mean that -- frankly, both men made points, and the secretary was clear on where he was, and that was that what's happening in Crimea is -- what's happening in Crimea does nothing to de-escalate tension there.  And, again, I'll say it as I said in my opening.  He made it -- he made it clear on more than one occasion that, because they are in control, they bear responsibility for what happens there, including the violence that happened recently.

 

            And he also was -- was very direct about his concerns about the troops that are on the Russian side of the border, but across from Ukraine on the eastern and southern sides, and he wanted a better accounting for what that was all about. 

 

            So, I mean, he was -- it was -- it was a very -- I know we use this word a lot, but it was a very candid discussion on both -- on both counts.

 

            Q:  Okay.  And then, secondly, on the -- the satellite photographs or the -- or satellite images of this alleged debris, has there been any request of the Pentagon for it to go back and perhaps go through any satellite imagery it may have of that area to get any further clarity on what may be there?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No specific requests that I'm aware of for us to go back and look at historical data or imagery, but I would just say on this -- and I know there's a lot of interest in this -- but, look, the president said it was a priority.  We in the Pentagon have made it a priority to try to help the Malaysian government here.  We are mindful that there are more than 200 families out there that are grieving and they want answers, and we understand that, and we're doing what we can.  And we're not the only nation doing what we can.

 

            And we're putting as much effort into it across the scope of our capabilities as -- as is needed, and I wouldn't get into the specifics of each and every one of those tools, because, you know, some of those tools we don't talk about.  But I can assure you that, when the Malaysians are asking for help, when they're asking for information, when they're asking for whatever data that can be provided, if we can provide it, if we can help them, we are helping them.

 

            Yeah, Spence?

 

            Q:  John, can you give us any more specifics on what non-lethal aid the Pentagon is actively considering...

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I'm sorry.  I missed -- sorry, non...

 

            Q:  Sorry.  Can you give us any more specifics on what non-lethal aid you're -- the Pentagon is actively considering for the Ukrainians?  Did Secretary Hagel discuss that with his Russian counterpart?  And what sort of timetable are you on for a decision?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  The issue of non-lethal aid to Ukraine did not come in the conversation today with Minister Shoygu.  As you know, we have talked about providing ready-to-eat meals to the Ukrainian armed forces.  That's in process right now.  They've not been delivered yet.  There are other non-lethal items which are being considered.  I don't want to go into them by detail and give you a shopping list, but, you know, in general, it's on the order of medical supplies and uniform equipment and that kind of thing.

 

            But I really don't want to -- I don't want to itemize it now.  These items -- all the requests are being considered and we've just got to let that process continue.

 

            Q:  Do you have a timetable for (inaudible)?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  We're -- we're working it expeditiously is how I'd put it.

 

            Yes?

 

            Q:  General Sinclair received a reprimand today, as you know.  His attorneys say this was a sign that the system worked.  The defense is saying it's a travesty for the military.  I'm wondering what is your view of it and what it says about the Pentagon's ability to deal with these very high-profile sexual misconduct cases?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, I mean, it would be inappropriate for me to pass judgment on, you know, on a case that is now concluded.  What I'll tell you is, and we've said it time and time again, we take the crime of sexual assault very, very seriously.  And we know that we need to get better.  We know that there -- that there are changes that need to continue to be made. 

 

            The secretary ordered a review of the UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice] for just this purpose.  And our focus is on making sure that victims have the confidence to report, and that those who are proven guilty of the crime are held accountable.  And I think I'd leave it at that.

 

            Q:  On the search, you're calling it a priority.  So are you...

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  The president called it a priority.

 

            Q:  You are calling it -- the president is calling it a priority.  He says that all of our resources were being used.  But in reality, we've got one P-8 over the area that's really of interest here.  And, you know, for four hours at a time. 

 

            So, are you considering sending additional aircraft, specifically of the P-8s?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Okay.  Well, let's -- let's -- it's not just the United States and the United States Navy involved here.  There's many nations, more than 25 are helping in the search here.  So there's a lot of effort internationally being applied to this.  And it's all being done in coordination and consultation with the Malaysian government.  We're -- what they believe they need and what they asked and what they said they needed from the United States Navy was, at this point, now with the new search area towards the southern area of the Indian Ocean, that they needed -- that they needed fixed-wing, long-range patrol aircraft.  So, we have a P-3 and a P-8 dedicated to that mission.

 

            Q:  There have been some reports that information sharing is not going as well as it could.  Are you satisfied with the level of cooperation that the Malaysians are -- are providing, and the cooperation between all these nations?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yes.

 

            Q:  Yes?

 

            Okay, and last one on this.  How much are we spending on the search effort to date?  And how long is the Pentagon willing to keep the search alive?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I'll have to get back to you on the dollar figure.  I don't have that for you.  And again, I think it's -- I think the president made this clear.  Secretary Hagel has certainly made it clear.  We're -- we're going to stay with this as long as the Malaysians need our help.

 

            Q:  I have a couple of Russia-U.S. military business issues.  Last week, Secretary Hagel said that the Ukrainian -- Russia's incursion in to the Ukraine was going to trigger a review of the U.S. use of Russian-made engines for U.S. launch vehicles, satellites, for boosting satellites into space.

 

            A week later, I understand a review has been requested of the -- by the Air Force.  Can you give a little bit of detail in terms of what's being asked for in the review?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I can't -- I can't give you a whole lot, but you're right.  The secretary directed the Air Force to perform an additional review to ensure that we completely understand all the implications, including supply interruptions of using foreign components for the evolved expendable launch vehicle program.

 

            That review just got started.  It's underway.  I don't really have an update for you.  But as we can update you, we certainly will.

 

            Q:  Do you have any -- does Russia have a history with this program, the RD-180 engine, of threatening to cut off supply?  This engine's been used for quite a number of years. 

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Do they -- we have a history of...

 

            Q:  Does Russia have any kind of history that you're aware of threatening to cut off supplies?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Not that I'm aware of, but I'd point you to the Air Force.  They might have a better view of that, but none that I'm aware of.

 

            Q:  Another issue, the Mi-17 helicopter contracts that the United States has had with the Rosoboron for the last three years, you've got a letter -- the Pentagon received a letter yesterday from six members asking why, if we're going after the Russians on so many fronts, do we keep buying their helicopters for the Afghan military?  Why can't you terminate the June 2013 contract for convenience?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Okay, well, you're right, we did get a letter from members of Congress.  We will respond accordingly.  I don't want to -- I'm not going to respond to that letter and to those members [of Congress] here from the podium today.  We will respond.  We do understand the concern.  It's not -- as you know, it's not a new concern that has been expressed by members of Congress.  We went through this a couple of years ago with respect to Russian deals with Syria. 

 

            But -- but so, we're going to respond to the letter in kind, and -- and look, we're -- again, we're aware of these concerns.  But, I do think it's important to remember the original intent of the contract was to -- was to help deliver to the Afghan National Security Forces a helicopter that is well-suited to the missions they need to fly and will need to continue to fly post-2014 with a platform they know how to -- they know how to use, and that's well-suited to the very harsh Afghan environment and the altitudes at which they need to fly.

 

            But, that said, got the letter.  Understand that.  Will respond accordingly.

 

            Q:  All right.  Because, the point being, if you're buying their helicopters yet you're sanctioning their billionaires, it does seem to be an inconsistent policy here.  The defense department should lean on the Russians a little bit more by terminating the contract.

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Is that a question or an editorial comment?

 

            Q:  That's the tone of the debate.  The members of Congress and the public are raising it.

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I got it.  And again, we got the letter.  We'll respond.

 

            Q:  Fair enough.

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Jim.

 

            Q:  Admiral, in your announcement about the awards and decorations for review, you emphasize the term, the joint aspect of this.  Are you looking -- is the secretary looking to increase, I don't know, the involvement of maybe the combatant commands, or in -- in awards and decorations?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I'm not aware of any specific -- I mean, there's -- first of all, there's no recommendations right now.  This review hasn't even started yet.  But I think what he's trying to get at is -- is he wants to know -- for anybody who's been in uniform, you know that there are some awards and medals you get that are service-unique.  That -- you -- like I'm a naval officer that you only get through the Navy.  And then there are some that are joint in -- in their -- in the scope of the duties that they -- that they reward.  I think he recognizes that we've been more joint now than ever before, and you don't have to look any farther than what we accomplished in Iraq and Afghanistan to see how joint the services have become, and I think it's a fair question to ask: do we need to look at the kinds of awards that we give, particularly for combat valor, in a more joint nature than perhaps some of them are.  It doesn't mean that there will be changes, but I think he wants to look at everything across the whole scope.  That answer your question?

 

            Q:  Sort of.  So like, the Silver Star, if it's awarded the same way by all of the services or the...

 

            KIBRY:  He wants to make -- well, he does want to make sure -- I think he wants to examine the degree to which the services submit and evaluate and decide on major combat awards.  I think he would like to get a better sense of what discrepancies there may be between the services.  And do those discrepancies need to be closed?  The answer may be no.  But I think he wants to ask those questions.

 

            Q:  Admiral, could I follow on Jim's question please?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Absolutely.

 

            Q:  On the review, has the decision to do this review, has this been influenced, informed in any way by the lengthy process that resulted Tuesday in the -- in the awards of the 24 medals of honor in the sense -- in this sense: I'm told that the Army considered something like 600 cases and came up with 24, and that the -- the Navy, for the Marines, and the Air Force, their cases came up with none.  So, has -- has that process informed in any way the difficult process that was involved that resulted in that ceremony Tuesday, has that informed this decision by the -- by the secretary?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I think it has, yes, Richard.  As well as the debate over the -- the remotely piloted aircraft medal that -- that had been signed off on previously.  But I also think I had an interesting conversation with him yesterday after the Medal of Honor ceremony here in the building as just the two of us for a little bit.  And he was talking about his service in Vietnam, and I think -- I think to be honest with you, some of his own services factored in to his -- his reasoning to want to go take a look at this.  I mean, he talked about seeing his own comrades there in Vietnam doing incredibly brave things, and -- and that many of those things will go completely unheeded because they were never written up, because of the -- the pace and speed of war, and the -- and just the constant pressure to keep going.  And so many heroic acts never got -- never got noticed, never got written up, never got submitted.  And I think -- I think that's also -- his own personal combat experience I think is weighing into this, as well.

 

            Q:  Is it because there's always that question, you know, when you look at circumstances of individuals and how they were considered, there's always the question of how do you decide, you know, this incredibly brave act?  Why was that chosen over this other...

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  That's right.  That's right.  Look, it's not a science.  And I don't think he's trying to make it a science.  But he does think it's time, after 13 years of war, to take a fresh look at how we think about this, what's the process, can it be done better, are there seams between the services that need to be closed, or not?  But it's -- it's -- he recognizes that it's -- it is by nature and will always be a subjective process.  But I think he wants to have a better understanding of that process and -- and -- and the ways in which it may -- it may be improved going forward.

 

            Q:  John, in their conversation, did the secretary ask or did the Russian defense minister volunteer exactly how long this exercise is going to last?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  The secretary did ask when Minister Shoygu thought the exercise would be completed.  The minister said that -- that he didn't have a firm timetable on that.

 

            Q:  And does the secretary and this building accept the description of that troop formation as an exercise?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  It's the secretary's expectation that Minister Shoygu will meet his word. 

 

            Barb?

 

            Q:  One on Ukraine, one on the airplane.  Starting with Ukraine.  However, you said that the secretary asked the Russian minister what his intention -- what Russian intentions were.  So clearly the secretary had some basis of doubt about Russian intentions.  So my first question is, could -- how much is the secretary worried or believe that the Russians may be preparing to go into Ukraine?  Otherwise, I can't fathom why he would ask about intentions. 

 

            And my second question on the airplane, you had mentioned that -- you mentioned it's an across-the-administration effort to -- to help, and that there are some tools you do not talk about.  Can you assure -- because you spoke of the across-the-administration effort -- can you assure that any classified information the United States government has related to this plane has been shared?  Or is it the possible the government -- the U.S. government is still holding on to classified information?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Okay, well, on your first question, he asked the question because he wanted to know the answer.  It wasn't that he had a preconceived notion one way or the other.  You said that he obviously asked because he had doubts.  It wasn't so much that he had doubts.  He simply wanted to know, what are you doing?  And that was -- and that was why he asked the question.

 

            And, again, Mr. Shoygu assured him, as I said before, that it was an exercise, that they had no intention of crossing the border into Ukraine, and that they would take no aggressive action.  His expectation is they will -- they will meet their word on that.

 

            Q:  The secretary of defense had no information or intelligence suggesting that there could be a potential for the Russians to cross the border?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  We don't talk about intelligence matters, and I'm certainly not going to do that from here.  What I can tell you is he asked the question because he wanted to know the answer.

 

            On your second question, again, you know, I'm not -- I'm certainly not going to get into a discussion about classified information here in this forum.  I'll go back to what I said before.  The president said it's a priority.  We believe it's a priority.  And we're doing everything we can to help the Malaysian government, in keeping with their desires, their needs, their requirements.  That's as far as I'll go.

 

            Phil?

 

            Q:  Admiral, on the medal review, part of the issue with the RPA [remotely piloted aircraft] or drone recognition before was opposition from Congress.  As this goes forward, will there be an effort to involve members or ask for legislation or change it through legislation to the way these decorations work?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I'm sorry.  Can you repeat the last part? 

 

            (CROSSTALK, LAUGHTER)

 

            Q:  Do you need to ask Congress to be a part of this review of the way medals work?  Because members before opposed in the one case...

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  So will there be a review by Congress?

 

            Q:  Does Congress need to pass a bill or change the law in order for the Defense Department to change the way it awards these medals?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Not that I'm aware of.  That's a pretty sophisticated question, Phil.  I'd have to go back and look and make sure.  I don't -- I don't believe so.

 

            I mean, look, I mean, Congress can legislate what Congress decides to legislate, and we respect that oversight responsibility of the Congress, of course.  And we want to -- we'll work in concert with the Congress as we go through this review, keep them fully informed, but I think this is something the secretary really wants to handle as much as he can in house right now and just get a better handle on it.

 

            Q:  Can I just follow up on that?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Sure.

 

            Q:  Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't -- if you had more, I didn't...

 

            Q:  I have an unrelated follow-up.

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No, it's okay, go ahead.

 

            Q:  We expect at some point soon for the Air Force to talk about the results of its investigation into the nuclear force cheating situation.  And at the time we're first hearing about that, the secretary came out and said he was expecting to appoint an ethics officer for the Defense Department on a relatively short fuse.  Do you have an update about that process?  And can we expect soon to hear who he's chosen to take that job?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah, thanks for the question.  I don't think he said he was going to appoint an ethics officer.  He wants to appoint a general officer, a flag officer to a position on his personal staff to be -- to facilitate and integrate issues of military professionalism.

 

            He has interviewed candidates, and he is considering those candidates right now.  I think you'll -- I don't have anything to announce today, but I think we will have something to talk about very soon on that.

 

            Q:  Can I just follow up on that?  Since -- on the awards, since we're today, at the eleventh anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq, have the -- and you're going to review awards, are you going to look at why in 11 years there is no living Medal of Honor recipient for the war in Iraq?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  That's not a part of this particular review, Barbara. 

 

            Q:  Is it a question that is worth looking at? 

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  It's a fair question.  But it's not part of the review that I -- that I announced today. 

 

            I already got you.  Yeah, Jon?

 

            Q:  Admiral Kirby, going back to the Sinclair case, is this department concerned that the perception that a high-ranking officer was given a relatively lenient sentence, given what he was originally accused of?  Is the department concerned that this will be a setback, because it might discourage junior officers or enlisted personnel from bringing charges or accusations against senior officers who might have sexually assaulted them?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, look, we're not going to pass judgment on the -- on the case that just concluded.  You all know that every case has individual facts that are reviewed by judge and jury, and that was done in this case.  And sentence has been passed, and the case is closed.

 

            We are always concerned about victim confidence.  We are always concerned about -- about the ability of leadership and the system itself, the justice system itself, in making sure that those who are found guilty are held properly accountable.

 

            I mean, this is a serious issue.  No one's taken their eye off of it.  So we always have those concerns, and we're always trying to get better at it.

 

            Yeah, Courtney?

 

            Q:  Can I follow up on that?  We've had now several -- or high-profile, General Sinclair, there was this Naval Academy case that the third midshipman was acquitted today.  I mean, what -- what can you say -- or is the secretary concerned specifically that victims are seeing these and saying, "Why would I ever come forward?"  And what can you say to give them confidence that coming forward would actually result in some sort of justice for them, when we see literally just case after case after case of these people being acquitted?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  There's also plenty of cases where they're not acquitted, too, Courtney.  But I take your point.  I can -- I think the secretary understands that -- that any given victim on any given day might look at a case where someone is acquitted, and maybe that potentially could shake their confidence in coming forward.  Certainly we have that concern.

 

            And that's why we're working so, so hard on getting victim advocates out there, making sure that our sexual assault response coordinators are fully trained, fully vetted.  That's why he asked the services to go back and look at people that are in positions of trust, recruiters, victims -- victim advocates, instructors, making sure that they are properly vetted.  That's why we are so focused on trying to get at this problem from a victim confidence perspective.

 

            And -- and I'll tell you that the -- the reporting is up, in terms of sexual assaults.  While we don't want to see any, right now where we are in solving this problem, that's not altogether a bad sign.  It tells us that at least the -- there is some measure of increased confidence by victims coming forward.

 

            So, yeah, of course we worry about that all the time, not just in any one particular case, but -- but writ large across the force, but again, I -- I'd like to just reiterate what I said before. 

 

            I mean it's -- I understand these are two high-profile cases.  They make headlines.  I get that.  But there are -- there are plenty of other cases that -- that go all the way to trial and get convictions.  And look, convictions and prosecutions and convictions, while important in terms of holding people accountable, that's not the ultimate goal here.  The ultimate goal here is zero sexual assaults in the military.  That's what we're after.

 

            Q:  Is the secretary reconsidering his stance on taking out the chain of command?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No, he's not.

 

            Q:  And then I have one on Ukraine.  Who initiated the call today -- I'm sorry, with Shoygu?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Who initiated the call?  We asked -- we asked for the call, if that's what you mean.  I mean, it's not like he picks up the phone and just dials, but -- but Secretary Hagel asked for the call, yeah.

 

            Q:  On the phone call, did the secretary get into the rest of (inaudible) going to continue to cooperate on things like the Syrian chemical weapons with -- withdrawal or on Iran nuclear talks, today get into those broader issues?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No, the discussion was solely about Ukraine.

 

            Okay.  Go ahead, one more.

 

            Q:  Thank you. 

 

            KIBRY:  Your questions I have a hard time answering.

 

            Q:  Well, this one, I think you will have an answer to.  Just a follow-up to Tony's question about the RD-180 Atlas five engine. 

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yep.

 

            Q:  Was that review that Secretary Hagel ordered, the additional review, in response to Representative Aderholt's question, or was that review already under way when Congress raised the issue in hearings?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I know that he -- he ordered -- he ordered two reviews: one by the department in -- by the Department of Defense, and then he asked the Air Force for an additional one.

 

            Q:  Okay.  So was that a response to specific congressional concern, or was that already done because of Russia's activities?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  He ordered -- he ordered a review, well -- I'll get back to you on that.  Yeah, you stumped me again, let me get back to you on that.

 

            Q:  Thank you.

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah Jen. 

 

            Q:  John, forgive me if you've already dealt with this, but there's a story out about Guantanamo Bay inmates being released to Uruguay, and a minister in Uruguay says that they've accepted -- that they would accept five of the Guantanamo detainees, but that they would be treated as refugees and would be allowed to bring their families from wherever they're from in the world.  Are you aware of this, and is this part of the plan to release Guantanamo detainees to Uruguay?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Not aware of that, Jen.  I'll have to take that one for the record and get back to you, sorry.

 

            Yeah, Jim?

 

            Q:  John, the remotely piloted vehicle decision that was already made, in other words, the medal reviewview is coming...

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Right.

 

            Q:  ... and the secretary's already made a decision on that, create a device as opposed to a medal?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No, he hasn't actually.  He's -- that's part of the review, to see whether or not the way to get at that is this device.  That's part of the review, whether or not we should have a special device to go on another ribbon or medal with respect to those who fly remotely piloted aircraft.

 

            Q:  A separate medal?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah, he wants the issue itself studied as part of this review.

 

            (OFF-MIKE)

 

            Today we're announcing the -- the review itself.  It will, as I said-- at the outsetI said, will not physically start until June, so a couple months from now.

 

            Luis.

 

            Q:  Going back to the Ukraine phone call.  Was there -- was this call prompted by a growing concern that the number of forces have been increasing?  Because I believe this -- these exercises had already been made public by the Russian defense ministry a week ago.  They cited a specific number.  Were you seeing these numbers increase, which prompted concern, which is what led to this phone call?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I think it was prompted by a number of things, yes, that they kept reinforcing, and that we didn't believe we had a clear indication of intent.  But the call was also on the secretary's mind because of the use of force in Crimea, the attack on the naval base, the killing of a Ukrainian warrant officer, and I think it was -- and also arose out of his conversation yesterday with the minister of defense of Ukraine and some of the concerns that Minister Tenyuk expressed to him as well about the situation there.

 

            Q:  So, these reinforcements, were they significant in nature enough to raise concerns?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah.  Of course.

 

            Q:  And were they moving closer to the border with Ukraine?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I'm not going to get into the exact geography here.  Again, the -- you know, where they are or how many they are, I mean, that's something the Russian ministry of defense should speak to.

 

            Q:  It doesn't sound like you really have a clear indication of the intent, still.  I mean, after the call, because you don't know how long they're going to be there.  They've pretty much just taken the Russian minister at his word that they're not going to cross the border.

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, again, I said, I mean, we -- our expectation is that he gave three assurances, which I have outlined for you.  It's an exercise, only.  No intention of crossing the border into Ukraine.  Not going to take any aggressive action.  That was Minister Shoygu's words, and Secretary Hagel's expectation is that he'll live up to those words.

 

            I think I've got time for one more.  Yeah, Becky?

 

            Q:  Does Secretary Hagel intend to review the unfunded priorities list as Secretary Gates did before him, and do you have any indication of when that might go to the Hill?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I don't have a sense on timing.  The -- all he has asked is that the [military] services coordinate the unfunded lists with him, not for chop or editing, just so he has a sense of what they're going to submit, but I don't have a sense on timing.  Would have to get back to you on that.

 

            Yes sir?

 

            Q:  (OFF-MIKE)  my question is that what you mentioned.  There's no new findings on the search of the Malaysian airplane, but are there a channel from a military side that the public or media can obtain the accurate information on this incident? Because you know, it's very important for the families of the passengers to know.  Yeah more information from the -- maybe here, or the number seven fleet, or -- or just the Pentagon?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, I think -- I think the Navy and 7th Fleet I think have been doing a terrific job keeping people informed of what the U.S. Navy is doing to assist in the search, but the search effort, the investigation, all that is being led, as it should be, by the Malaysian government, and I think I would refer people who want more detailed information about the larger investigation and search to -- to consult with the Malaysian government on that.

 

            Q:  Sorry, I do, one more.  Yeah, just now is almost, I think the searching is coming to a critical point, in that the searching area is getting narrow.  So now, is there any new methods or just a change from the military effort of the U.S. to -- to add more deployment or just to -- just focus on the Air Force to search the airways?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Any search and rescue mission changes over time.  I mean, just a few days ago, we had a -- a U.S. Navy destroyer that was assisting in the effort, and now she's not.  The focus from a U.S. military perspective is fixed-wing, long-range search aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft.  The P-8 and the P-3 from the United States Navy.  That's what we're providing now because that's what the Malaysian government asked us to provide.  That could change over time, and if it does, we'll adjust.  I mean, again, we want to do what we can to help.  We know that there's a lot of grieving families out there who have -- who have questions they'd like answered and loved ones that they would like found, and we're committed to helping in any way that we can.

 

            Q:  It will change, it depends...

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  All search and rescue missions change over time.  That's just the nature of that kind of operation, and we'll change with it as required.  Yeah.

 

            Q:  Do you know who actually found images, the digital globe images?  Was this something that the NGA was involved in?  The National Geospatial [-Intelligence Agency]...

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I don't have anything on that.  I just don't have anything on that.

 

            Q:  Sir, the U.S. commercial satellite images, so...

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  They're commercially -- they're commercial satellite images, yes.  I don't know the specifics.  I just don't have it, Justin.  I've got one more.  Yeah, Tony?

 

            Q:  Budget related.  You have -- you have access to Hagel and Ms. Fox and all the top leadership.  In the last week or so, has there been any thinking that we need to relook at the budget in light of the Russian incursions over there, in terms of whether we should the reduction in Army force structure, beef up infrastructure in Europe?  Reconfigure from the Asia rebalance?  Any thinking emerging on that?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No.  I mean, that's probably -- that's probably too glib an answer. 

 

            (LAUGHTER)

 

            Look, I mean, we're committed to this strategy.  We just completed and wrote the QDR [Quadrennial Defense Review], which calls for rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, maintaining a focus on the Middle East, but also preserving our equities in places like Europe, and on investing in new and emerging capabilities, such as cyber and space and special operations.

 

            So we're committed to the strategy that we submitted just a couple weeks ago.  We're committed to the budget that we submitted just a couple weeks ago.  We believe that the -- that the budget as submitted and the strategy as submitted amply provides for a military that can meet the national security needs of the nation, with some risk -- we said that, with some risk -- but that we can -- that we can still accomplish the defense strategy, and that includes meeting our security commitments in Europe, and those to our -- to our allies there in NATO.

 

            Q:  So Hagel hasn't been scratching his head lately, saying maybe we should rethink this, given what's going on in the Ukraine?

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I think if the secretary is here, he'd tell you exactly what I just said.  He believes the budget we submitted and the strategy we submitted are adequate to meet the national security needs of the country.  There is, again, some risk.  And that includes meeting our security commitments to NATO and to our partners in Europe.

 

            But we -- there's -- I'm getting there.  You...

 

            Q:  (OFF-MIKE)

 

            REAR ADM. KIRBY:  The -- the world's a very dynamic, ever-changing place.  The security environment -- the security environment continues to evolve.  And what we believe is important about the defense strategy that we've put forward is it allows us the -- a flexibility to adapt and evolve with a changing security environment, wherever that is.

 

            Thanks, everybody.

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