REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Good afternoon.
I don't really have any specific announcements except to say that the secretary is hosting his senior leadership team here at the Pentagon this afternoon. As you know, he holds these senior leadership councils about once every 90 days or so.
Today's session is focused primarily on military professionalism, and on having a discussion that fosters ideas for how we as an institution can continue ensuring the -- the professionalism across the force.
As always, the secretary values the inputs, opinions, and perspectives of his leadership team. He's taking advantage of this opportunity today to seek those perspectives. He will continue to make this a priority in the weeks and months ahead.
Indeed, we're going to be releasing today a short public service announcement on -- on this issue that both he and Chairman Dempsey made together. It's one of a number of ways that he intends to communicate directly with the joint force about his expectations, and the video will be available on our website at defense.gov.
I can assure you that military professionalism remains a topic of discussion every week at his routine meetings with the chairman and other service leaders, and I believe that we'll have an announcement very, very soon on his selection of a senior adviser for military professionalism. I will not have an announcement on that today.
Secretary said it himself when he was here with you not long ago, "ethics and character are the foundation of an institution and a society. They must be constantly emphasized every level of command: top to bottom." He and his leadership team remain committed to that end.
And with that, I'll take your questions. Yeah Joe?
Q: Admiral Kirby.
Two weeks ago, you mentioned that the size of the Russian forces in Crimea is around 20,000. Correct me if I'm wrong. Do you still believe -- do you still believe that the number is the -- still the same now?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: In Crimea? I have nothing to indicate that it's different than that. But, again, I would -- as I said last week, I'd point you to the Russian ministry of defense to speak to their troop composition in Crimea and on the borders of Ukraine.
Q: So, the number's still around 20,000?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: To the best of my knowledge it is, but again, I don't want to be speaking for the Russian ministry of defense. They've decided to deploy their troops in Crimea, they should speak for what they've got there and what they're doing.
Q: Admiral, on professionalism, the Navy was going to do an investigation into the events that were taking place in Charleston at the Nuclear Power Training Center there. Do you have an update on where that is and when we can expect any do-outs or conclusions? And whether the number of people involved is the same as it was when we first heard about it?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't have a specific update for you. I'd refer you to the Navy on that. I do understand that their -- that the essential work is complete, but that the investigation is now in the staffing process through the chain of command. What they found, the specifics of it, I just don't know. I'd point you to the Navy on that.
Q: Do you have an update on the black box finder (inaudible) when (inaudible) going to reach (inaudible)?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, what I can tell you is that this afternoon, a couple of hours ago or so, the towed pinger locater, as well as a Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle were -- were flown out of JFK Airport, New York to Perth. Again, just a couple of hours ago. They'll arrive sometime tomorrow. There will be a small number of people going along with them. In fact, I think there's two on the flight with the gear itself, and then another eight folks will be flying separately to Perth to prepare the equipment. It should get there sometime tomorrow.
I want to emphasize, though, something right at the top. And this -- this gear, while incredibly useful, is being sent to Perth really because of a physics problem. We don't have a debris field that we can go look for specifically. We don't have something -- we don't have anything to indicate where the aircraft is or even that it is down at the bottom of the ocean.
But Admiral Locklear, I think, made a very prudent and wise decision to move the equipment that could be useful should a debris field be found, or should we think we can get close to where the black box may be. He made a decision to get that gear there now so that, again, should we be in that position, it will be a lot easier to get it on—on station.
Q: There's no official request from the Malaysians so far?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: For what?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, no. I mean, I talked about this last week, and Secretary Hagel spoke to his Malaysian counterpart and the minister did ask for some undersea surveillance equipment. We -- we acknowledged that -- that we would -- that we would do what we could to try to get them -- to get them that equipment. And that's what Admiral Locklear is doing right now.
But I think it's really important for everybody to understand that it's being sent there to be ready should there be a need. And right now, there's no need. We do not have a debris field.
Q: You mentioned -- Admiral, thanks -- a separate piece of equipment, I believe -- the Bluefin-21?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It's called a Bluefin autonomous underwater vehicle. This is a -- it's basically an underwater unmanned vehicle that has side-scanning sonar and what we call a multi-beam echo sounder. It's basically -- it would be useful should there be a debris field that we -- or there should be maybe some underwater objects that we believe need to be researched, to go look at it or, you know, to use sonar to try to ascertain what it is.
But it's only going to be valuable if you know you have something down there that's worth going and taking a closer look at.
Q: So it works separately from the ping locater, though?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It is a separate piece of equipment used for a completely different purpose. The towed pinger locater, this is the same equipment that the Navy used to help find the black box from Air France crash. It's designed specifically to -- it's a highly sensitive listening device and it's designed to help hone in the location of the black box itself, which as you know will emit a sound signal.
Does that answer your question? So there's two pieces of gear; 10 people going. But again, I want to stress again and again and again, this is just to have them there close by in case they're needed.
Q: And do they need to be on -- I mean, with the unmanned vehicle, do you have to then be on a Navy ship to operate it?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No, I think -- I think we're -- they're looking at using the -- an Australian commercial ship called the Sea Horse Standard [sic: DMS Maritime, Australian multi-purpose vessel] that would be used to embark this equipment and tow it -- or tow the pinger locater and operate the AUV from the Sea Horse Standard. It does not have to be deployed aboard a U.S. Navy warship or even an Australian warship.
Q: Yeah, the Navy helped with the search for the Titanic a number of years ago with a little (inaudible), I think it was the Alvin. How deep can this Bluefin-21 go?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The Bluefin can operate at a depth of 14,700 feet, and it can -- it's -- that's all right. No, we'll edit that for the transcript.
But, it can -- it operates at a speed of about four and a half knots. It has an endurance of 25 hours, but at a slower speed of three knots.
Q: It goes-- It’s sent to an area-- it's not a wide search?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: That's right. I mean, to -- in order for this technology to be useful, you have to -- you have to have an identified area on the sea bottom that you want to go take a look at. You have to be able to go give it some parameters, and right now we—we just aren’t there. We just don’t…
Q: Ukraine -- go from the underseas to Ukraine?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: The Army apparently has certified for training its NATO response force, the first brigade of the first cavalry division.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: Is there any thought -- A, is that accurate, have they certified it going through the national training center, and B, is there any thought of sending that as one of these signs of U.S. commitment to Europe?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: On the certification piece, I'd refer you to the Army. I don't know -- I just don't have that level of granularity on -- on the specific unit and their certification.
But you're right that the first brigade combat team from the first cav -- first cavalry division is assigned the mission for the NATO response force for 2014. It's a mission that they've been training for for over a year, and they're still scheduled to -- to deploy in support of that on time, conduct some exercises in June. Is the -- when the exercises are scheduled, and I think I just would leave it at that right now. I don't -- I'm not -- I'm not aware of any changes to their plans or schedules as a result of what's going on in Ukraine.
Q: Did you follow the Malaysia Prime minister’s latest announcement on the fate of the missing plane? Can you respond to that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Is this...
Q: Is this data based on the (inaudible). And does this -- the prime minister said the plane and it in the southern Indian Ocean. So, did the Pentagon or a U.S. agency know of this analysis—a British analysis before?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't -- I don't know that leaders here in the Pentagon were specifically aware of that. I mean, I would refer you, really, to the Malaysians for this. This is their investigation, their aircraft, and whatever analysis they're using to determine or make these conclusions, I think I would, you know, I would leave to them.
For our part, it continues to be one of support for the search mission. As you know, we still have two aircraft that are searching there, one to the northern section of the search area, one to the southern. And then of course, Admiral Locklear making this decision to send the -- this gear. That's the -- the limit of our participation right now.
Q: Do you think the U.S. Navy is going to, instead of -- instead of this search efforts in this region (inaudible)?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Do I think the U.S. Navy is going to step up? No. I don't know of any changes to our support for the search mission, which again, right now, is focused on fixed-wing aircraft with the P-3 and the P-8, and then again, sending this equipment just to be there in case it's needed. There's -- there's no changes -- no immediate changes on the horizon that I see from the U.S. Navy's perspective.
But as I said last week, I mean, search and rescue missions, search missions in general, particularly those at sea, they change over time based on the, you know -- based on the conditions and based on the information that -- that investigators continue to accrue. So, we'll see.
Q: Thank you, Admiral. I just want to follow up on that point. Does the U.S. have any independent information to confirm that there's no survivor of flight 370?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No.
Q: And to follow up on that, on this question, is there any information that you shared with Malaysian government that they haven't announced yet?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Nothing that I'm aware of, but I mean, I'm -- I'm certainly, even if I was aware of something that they didn't announce, then I don't think I'd want to be getting ahead of Malaysian authorities, but -- and that's not -- I'm not trying to be cute with the answer. I'm not aware of anything.
Look, I mean, and we've said this before, we're being as open and as transparent and as helpful as we can be. In keeping with the -- the great complexity and enormity of the -- of the mission and the area, as well as with the needs of the Malaysian government, and what -- what they've asked us to provide. I mean, we're doing this in lockstep with them to meet their needs.
Q: And to your knowledge, do you think they have been transparent?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes.
Q: And on the black box, as we know the batteries going to die in maybe another 13 days. After that, is the U.S. also going to take lead or assist the locate -- to find the location of the black box?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not that I'm aware of, no. I mean, again, this is a -- this was a Malaysian aircraft. This is the Malaysian government's mission and investigation. I don't -- I don't foresee any role by the U.S. military to take it over at any time, particularly not after the black box expires.
Q: (OFF-MIKE) do you think it is to (inaudible) this 13 days before the battery?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: How -- how -- I'm sorry?
Q: How urgent it is to find the black box...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think everybody has shared a sense of urgency since word first went out that the aircraft was missing. And I -- and I -- two things that would run -- want to remind everybody, one this isn’t just about the United States or even the United States nation. There’s some -- or the United States Navy, there are some 26 nations involved in this search effort.
Everybody's pitching in to the degree that they can to meet the needs of the Malaysian government. And then the other thing I'd say is let's not forget that we have more than 200 families out there that are grieving right now. They just got -- they just got some stark news today from the Malaysian government. Honest news. Bitter news, no doubt, but they're grieving. And I think—I think the whole world grieves with them. And I—and we shouldn't be forgetting that.
Q: Can you give us an update on the situation on the eastern Ukrainian border and the Russian military's presence?
And, has anything happened since the secretary last spoke to his Russian counterpart that would call into question the commitment that Russia would not move into the Ukraine?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, first point is, it's -- it's to the -- it's for the Russian Ministry of Defense to speak to their - to their movement, their size and their composition. Not for us. Number two, they continue to have forces arrayed and amassed to the east and to the south of Ukraine.
Our last communication with the Russian minister of defense made it clear that -- or they made it clear that, they -- that they are there for exercises only, that they will not cross the border into Ukraine and they're not gonna take any aggressive action. And, as I said last week, it's the secretary's expectation that they're gonna live up to that word.
Q: The White House reiterated this morning its concerns about the possibility that Russian troops might go into Ukraine. So are there any signs that make you think of the possibility they are going to...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: There's -- let me -- let me -- thanks for the question. I mean, maybe I didn't deal with this the way I should have.
There is nothing -- I've seen nothing, there's no indication that would alleviate our worries of what their intentions could be. But, it comes down to -- from a purely military perspective -- it comes down to capability and intent.
Through what we know, they certainly have the capability if they wanted to cross into Ukraine. They certainly have the force -- sufficient force and size and composition to do that. It's the intent. They -- the Russian minister of defense made clear that their intent was to conduct Spring exercises, Spring exercises, that they wouldn't cross the border and they wouldn't take the aggressive action.
And that's our expectation.
Q: Any update on Ukraine's request and inquiry in the (inaudible)?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We're still reviewing the entire list for military assistance. What I can tell you is that we are moving forward on getting some -- some rations to the Ukrainian armed forces.
About 25,000 cases will be shortly sent to Ukraine. They'll be delivered to the International Peacekeeping and Security Center in the Yavoriv -- Ukraine. Once they start moving, it'll take about three to five days to get them there.
So that's moving forward. We're looking at the rest of the requests. And, as I said last week, our focus from an inter-agency perspective here in the United States is on the non-lethal side of those requests.
Q: Three to five days to get there, but when does that three to five day countdown begin?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: We're moving out today to -- to -- to finish all the paperwork on it and move them on the way. So I would expect it before the end of the week?
Q: Admiral. Can you -- is there any reaction to Ukraine's decision to pull its remaining troops from Crimea? How does that change the situation? And then going back to the rations. Can you just help me understand that? Is that -- that particular assistance, is that designed to affect Ukraine as it confronts the situation with Crimea, or is that something related to the tumult that happened before?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: The rations?
Q: Yeah, why that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It was -- they asked for it. I mean, to Richard's question. I mean, one of the items on there -- on the list of materials that they -- that they were asking the United States for was rations so -- so we're meeting that request that -- that they asked for. I'd let them speak for why that specific need. I'm sorry, and your other question was?
Q: The departure. The departure of remaining troops.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah. Well, I mean -- I look -- I wouldn't -- I wouldn't second-guess decision -- the decisions of Ukrainian commanders in Crimea to surrender their installations or their vessels. I mean, that's -- that's a decision that they made on the spot, and we certainly wouldn't be second-guessing it here from Washington, D.C..
But it's certainly -- certainly reinforces what we've seen for more than a week now, which is that the Russian forces are in operational control of Crimea, and -- and this is a way to -- to more solidify that control, and they -- they continue to do that.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah.
Q: What is your reaction to President Karzai's comment about Russia annexing Crimea after the -- the U.S. and all of these NATO countries have denounced the action, NATO countries remain fighting in Afghanistan, and then President Karzai comes out and says it's righting historical wrong. What's the reaction to that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'm going to let President Karzai speak to his comments. What I can tell you is-- it's clearly not helpful, and while he's certainly entitled to his opinion, it's our opinion here in the United States and I believe I can speak for us as a NATO partner that it's the opinion of the alliance that Russia is absolutely in violation of international obligations, violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and we continue to call for them to remove their troops from Crimea.
Q: Admiral, I found it interesting that there's been two satellite detections of debris in the South Indian Ocean, and the U.S. has one of the largest collections of spy satellites around. We haven't reported anything. Does that indicate a gap in our coverage, that we're not -- we don't have satellite coverage in that part of the world?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No -- I don't know that I would make that assumption, Otto. I'm leery of discussing some of our capabilities in that regard here, from the podium, as you might understand. But we have been, to the degree we have been able to, sharing satellite imagery with the government of Malaysia to help them in the search.
Q: And do you know that the North Korea launch the many of short range rocket to the South Korea past couple days, and do you have any schedule to the U.S. and South Korea that military conduct military-- military eagle exercise on schedule next month?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Scheduled changes to announce? No. No. I mean, our exercise program continues apace, as it should. We always welcome these opportunities. I won't speak for the motive -- motivation of the North for launching these missiles. We're seeing these reports, and once again, we -- we call on them to -- to not take provocative actions. This is -- this does nothing to help security and stability in the region.
But the exercises that we're conducting? They do.
Q: No change there?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: No changes that I'm aware of, no.
Q: Well thank you.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I just didn't want to go to Missy this time.
Q: All right. So, do you have any announcement you want to make on troops to Central African Republic? Can you just sort of...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I think you've seen the -- the press coverage. There have -- we have -- we have deployed four CV-22 Ospreys two C- 130s, and one KC-135 to northern Uganda to support the -- the counter Lord's Resistance Army effort in and around Uganda, and to support the -- specifically to support the air transport requirements of the African Union Regional Task Force.
They'll be there for a period of time. These are aircraft and troops -- support troops that are based out of Djibouti. They'll be -- they'll be conducting, you know, periodic deployments to Uganda to support this mission.
Q: What was the reason for this decision right now? Why (inaudible) send more troops?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I think -- I mean, you know, you're looking for sort of a specific, you know, impetus. And I can't give you that. This is a -- this is a mission that we've been conducting now for about a year. This is a support mission. Airlift has been one of the consistent requirements and requests of the African Union. We are in a position now to provide that airlift for a while and we're going to do it.
I mean, this is very much in keeping with the, you know, the mission goals writ large.
Q: (inaudible) rotation? Is that what you mean? Like they'll go...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think it's safe to say that, you know, that -- that these aircraft and these crews will -- will probably redeploy back over time. I mean, I don't want to get into specific periods of time right now, for obvious reasons, but they probably won't be on the ground for -- for very long, but they'll be back. They'll be back while they're forward-deployed.
Q: What about the special forces that are going? How long will they be...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It's -- they're -- as I understand it, it's -- they're part of this package that's going. And so they'll come in -- they'll come in and they'll go back again as well.
Q: And about 150 is the correct number there?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: It's about 150 air crew, maintenance personnel, with the aircraft and about 100 special operations forces as well in an advise- and-assist capacity.
Q: (inaudible) 100 special operation forces are the ones who are already there? Or are there...
REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yes.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: And again, advise and assist.
Q: So it's not 100 more that are going in.
Q: It's 150.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: One-hundred and fifty with this -- I'm sorry -- you're -- I wasn't -- 150 with the aircraft and 100 that were already there, special operations forces.
REAR ADM. KIRBY: CV-22s.
Q: (inaudible) follow up on (inaudible) question, another Afghanistan question. So the Afghan government issued a statement today saying that Pakistani intelligence services were involved in the planning of the attack on the Serena Hotel. Do you have any -- does the United States government have any information about that?
REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't have anything to share with you today on that, no.
OK. Thanks, everybody.