DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
Let me just start with an update on where we stand in Zaire.
The USS Nassau is currently on station about 220 miles off the coast of Africa, about the confluence of Congo, Zaire, and Angola -- 200 miles west of that. It's a place called Simba Station. The response time to get into Zaire, should that be necessary, to evacuate our people there would be several hours from the Nassau.
The Marines have sent a detachment into Brazzaville to consult with General Smith and his headquarters, and over the next couple of days we'll be seeing the Marines take over the tactical operations from the Joint Special Operations Task Force that's there now, serving as the group that would actually evacuate people should that be necessary.
I want to stress again that there's been no request yet to evacuate Americans or others from Kinshasa. We're hopeful that peace talks will, in fact, begin over the next couple of days, and that there will be a peaceful solution to the problem there, but we're there in case an evacuation is necessary.
This is an evacuation force. It's not there for any other reason.
As the Marines take over, a number of the Army troops will leave from Africa. We now have about 670 people assigned to this mission. By April 15th we think that number will be down to about 400 people on the ground; and the Marines will be offshore on the Nassau.
That's basically a picture of where we stand there.
Let me make one other announcement before I start. Today, the Secretary of the Navy, John Dalton, and other U.S. officials are at the island of Midway for a ceremony that will turn Midway over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and turn it into a national wildlife refuge which will be open to the public. Should anybody want to go to Midway, which is several hundred miles west of Hawaii, it's supposed to have great birds, great fish. It's interesting to recall that Midway was the scene of one of the great naval battles of all time, a battle that actually changed the course of naval history. It was a time when a vastly outnumbered U.S. force used two things -- good intelligence and air power -- to wipe out essentially a much larger Japanese force. It stopped the eastward movement of the Japanese forces and turned the tide of the battle of the Pacific. So a little bit of history about the island of Midway.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q: On Zaire, the 400 people that are going to remain on the ground, will those be Army forces, or some of the Air Force...
A: There are some Air Force people there, and some Army people there. Basically the remaining forces, and I don't have a precise breakdown, but the remaining forces will be largely Air Force people who will be operating the TALCE's or the air traffic control, tanker air traffic control elements that have been put into Libreville and Gabon, and into Brazzaville and Congo. There will be also some communications, some assets there as well.
So that infrastructure, the so-called enabling force, will remain, and the Marines will take over the job of being what we call the evacuation force.
Q: How long is it anticipated the Nassau will continue to hang out there on that sort of contingency basis?
A: The Nassau is scheduled to come back to the United States and end her deployment at the end of this month or early in May. It will stick to the previous schedule and do that. Right now our plans call for replacing it with the Kearsarge.
Q: How many ships are in the Nassau group and how many Marines are...
A: There is one ship, the Nassau, in the group, and it has on it 1,388 Marines. Approximately. (Laughter)
Q: Secretary Cohen, being a Yankee and tight with the dollar, is he going to end this use of mid-flight refueling on his Asian trip with that 747?
A: My understanding is that we are going to Asia on the 747, and it will be a combination training mission for the crew on that plane, which is, as you know, part of the National Military Command Authority, and a transportation mission of the Secretary of Defense. One of the reasons for taking that plane is it can be refueled in flight, which allows us to cut the time of travel.
Q: The question is, is he going to continue, as Dr. Perry started, using tankers to refuel that plane in fight, at great expense to the taxpayer?
A: I just told you that yes, we do plan to use the...
Q: How many times is he going to be refueled in the air on this flight?
A: I'm afraid I don't know that. But as you know, because this has been pointed out to you when you visited the plane and when you met with its crew, a normal part of the training regime is to practice in-flight refueling. This is practice both for the crew of the 747, the NAOC, and also practice for those who run the tankers. This is something we do regularly. What we've been able to do is more efficiently combine the Secretary's travel with the normal, by folding it into the normal training envelope.
Q: But you could land and get refueled at a number of military bases en-route to Hawaii.
A: I don't think you heard what I just said. There is refueling incorporated in the normal training pattern of the NAOC, and also of the tanker crews. This is going on anyway. What we've done is fold the Secretary's travel into the normal training missions to allow, basically a two-fer.
Q: So he's tagging along on training missions.
A: I didn't say that. I said we've been able to combine the two.
Q: That's a bit of a dodge, isn't it?
A: I don't think it's a dodge at all.
Q: . ..taxpayers to do it this way, isn't it?
A: We are spending money on refueling anyway as part of our normal training missions. This is the third time I've said this. What we've done is to combine the travel by the Secretary into training missions to the greatest extent possible, so that we can actually have overlapping missions.
Q: Ken, if I could just ask the same question just to make sure I'm clear, from the opposite way. If, for instance, you were to stop refueling, would there be any savings... If you didn't refuel on the Secretary's trip, would there be any savings to the taxpayer, or would the money simply be spent on some other refueling?
A: Certainly whether it would be one for one, I cannot answer that question. But a certain amount of refueling goes on as part of training missions, and to the extent possible, we are able to put the Secretary's travel within the envelope of training missions, that's our goal. Can we do it 100 percent of the time, I'm not certain. But we do it as often as we can.
Q: I'd like to ask you about this story in the Times today that an advisor to Togo West said that the Army is too masculine and that much would be gained to change the, she says, "If armed force is ever to be deployed, then idealism and moral conviction are preferable motives to macho posturing."
Does the Pentagon agree with this advisor's assessment?
A: The goal of the United States Army is to fight and win wars. That's what the culture of the Army is designed to do. We train, we deploy in order to carry out the nation's strategic needs and to meet its strategic interests. I don't think it makes sense to describe the Army as macho or not. I think it makes sense to describe it as a successful fighting force. That's what it is.
As for Ms. Morris, the law professor at Duke University who wrote a lengthy Law Review article, some of which I've read, and on which that article was based, let me just describe her relationship to the Army.
She is a consultant to the Secretary of the Army, Togo West. When the problems at Aberdeen surfaced last year, one of the things Secretary West did was appoint a senior advisory panel to look into training, to look into Army culture, to look into changes that might be made to reduce the chances of sexual harassment in the Army. That group is supposed to issue its final report some time this summer, and a preliminary report will come out before that. I don't know whether it will be made public or not, but it will go to the Secretary of the Army.
When the panel was appointed, Secretary West only named people in the government, many with an Army association, but some with other service associations to that panel. He did that for a reason of basically operational efficiency.
He was criticized at the time for appointing a panel of sort of inside, pro-military type people who wouldn't take a hard look at how the Army operates and what the Army's problems are, so he decided that he would appoint some consultants to him, people on whom he could call for outside, independent advice. And this advice could be an evaluation of the panel's report, or it could be other advice that he might think he needs in the course of trying to make decisions over the next several months about possible changes to training practices or whatever in a way that would deal with sexual harassment. Ms. Morris was one of several consultants he appointed.
He appointed some people at the University of Maryland, a couple named the Segals; he also appointed the current head of DACOWITS and the previous head of DACOWITS. These are consultants to him.
Ms. Morris is paid the minimal rate that a consultant is paid on a per diem basis when she works. He has asked her to do basically two small projects. One is looking at the quality of Army statistics on sexual harassment. Are they accurate? Do they give the right picture? Could they be better? Are they understandable, etc.?
When the report is done, when they have a draft, he is probably going to ask her to review the draft and to give him advice on how the draft can be made better, maybe to suggest areas that the draft missed and should have covered. That's the type of advice he hopes to get from her.
So I think the accurate description is that she's a consultant to him, Secretary West; not a consultant to the Army.
Q: Just a quick follow-up. It was her suggestion that there's much to be gained by changing the culture, the military culture, from a masculinist vision to an ungendered vision. Would you share that view? Do you think that's a good idea as a way to deal with sexual harassment?
A: The Army's vision is a vision of combat success, and it is looking for the best way to train, the best way to equip, the best way to recruit, and the best way to deploy to meet that vision. That's the Army's goal, it has been for over 220 years, and it will remain the Army's goal as far into the future as you and I can see.
Q: But what's your reaction to the sort of overall conclusion of this Duke Law Review article in which Professor Morris seems to be saying that the male-dominated military culture contributes to an atmosphere that promotes sexual misconduct?
A: First of all, I'm very glad that the Pentagon press corps is reading Law Review articles. I think it's a big step forward. How many of you actually read this article?
Q: As you have said, I've read parts of it. (Laughter) And I must say, I received those parts from your staff, so I didn't go out...
A: As did I. I'm very glad. I think this is a real step forward that the Pentagon press corps is reading these Law Review articles, and I think that the Pentagon press corps should treat this Law Review article with the same deference and respect that it treats all Law Review articles read by the Pentagon press corps. (Laughter)
Q: Have you been given any indication from the Justice Department or elsewhere in the Administration that there isn't enough evidence to extradite the gentleman in Canada in regards to the Khobar Towers bombing?
A: I regret to tell you that the Justice Department tells me just as much about this case as it tells you. And I think that... Actually, I don't even ask them questions. I probably ask them fewer questions than you ask. This is their job. It's their project. They're the people who should answer questions on this suspect in Canada.
Q: So they haven't kept you informed at all about whatever is happening with this case?
A: They are in charge of giving out information on this case, and they're the people you should talk to for information.
Q: On the Secretary's visit today with the Israeli Defense Minister, two questions. One, did they discuss at all possible U.S. arms sales to the region, i.e., Saudi Arabia? And also, the Blue Top you guys put out said they decided to accelerate the Arrow missile defense program. Maybe you could give me a little bit more on that.
A: I can't give you much more on it. We've offered to invest some more money on that. We'd rather discuss it with the Hill first. The details aren't totally worked out. But we will increase our investment in the Arrow missile program, and it will help with testing and other aspects of it.
We've also offered to, and I'm sure they'll accept, to increase our investment in the high energy laser program which is designed as a defense against Katyusha rockets of the type that were fired from Southern Lebanon into Northern Israel last year.
Another element of the meeting was that we will enhance a counter-terrorism program that we and the Israelis are doing together. We will each put in more money than previously contemplated. I think we put in money on a two-thirds/one-third basis. So we'll be putting in two-thirds and the Israelis one- third to boost spending on that.
Q: How much is currently being put into the Arrow program?
A: I think we're putting about $200 million in, and we would increase that by a fairly significant percentage.
A: Twenty-five or so.
Q: My first question? On arms sales?
A: I wasn't at the meeting. There was a long discussion of the threat environment in the Middle East, and I'm sure that the capabilities of other countries arose in the course of that discussion, but I can't go into specifics because I wasn't there.
Q: An independent board of auditors predicting another staggering increase for the F-22. My question about that, do you know the board I'm talking about?
Q: Who makes up that board? And is there a price for the F-22 above which we will not pay?
A: First of all, I don't know who makes up the board, but Susan Hansen will tell you who's on the Cost Analysis Improvement Group, is what it's called, actually. And I can't answer the question about what the top price we would pay for the F-22 is. That's still being, the whole question of the cost of the F-22, as the latest report shows, is still one for consideration and analysis.
The Air Force is in the process of taking a number of steps designed to either hold down or reduce the cost of the F-22. They involve greater efficiencies in subcontracts and material, cutting down subcontractor production time, implementing various types of producibility and productivity enhancements, cutting the number of steps in the production process, for instance. They're also looking at a multi-year purchasing authority similar to what we have with the C-17 which allowed a reduction in the per plane cost of the C-17. These are steps that are either underway or under consideration to hold down the cost of the F-22.
Q: Even with those steps, though, I think the independent board sees the price going up substantially more than the Air Force predicts. Has the price become a determining issue for the acquisition of this airplane for the Defense Department?
A: Price is always an issue in the acquisition of any weapons system. The Quadrennial Defense Review is looking at the whole question of tactical air, how much we need, what types we need, who needs it, when we need it. Those decisions will play into the future of the F-22 and other tactical air programs as well. But I think it's premature to make any Shermanesque statements right now about what's going to happen to the F-22. The program is in development. The first plane is supposed to be delivered to the Air Force, I think, next week. It's a very important project from the Air Force's standpoint. They're very determined to do what's necessary to retain air dominance well into the 21st Century and beyond, and they see the F-22 as crucial to that. But it's a program that will be worked and considered for some time to come.
Q: What is your best guess estimate now of what a per copy cost of the F-22... If we're writing stories about the F-22, what should we say the estimated cost of the plane is?
A: The Air Force estimates that the unit procurement cost is $110 million in then year dollars. That's the per plane cost.
Q: On the Nassau, I know you don't normally talk about operations, but to a layman, 220 miles sounds like a long ways. Can you say anything about why Point Simba is that far offshore?
A: I can't. I guess the commander of the ship just decided that was an appropriate place to keep it. It may come in closer at times, but the helicopters can make that trip relatively quickly. Of course we assume that before... If any evacuation is necessary there will be some warning time, and the ship will have an opportunity to move in closer, if that's appropriate.
Q: To get back to the F-22 for a second, the cover letter that Secretary Cohen sent to the Hill with this CAIG report takes note of the cost reductions that you mentioned the Air Force attempting. But there's no guarantee that those will be successful. Is the Secretary satisfied the Air Force is doing enough to get the cost of that program under control? Is he unhappy with it?
Q: This is a program where there have been widely disparate cost estimates. It's a program also in which the Air Force is working very hard to make as efficient as possible. What the Secretary in his letter said was that the CAIG itself has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to justify the Air Force's cost estimate based on the new cost-reducing programs or techniques because they're relatively early in their operation.
What the Secretary said was, let's give the Air Force time to see if it can make this work, and let's come back and look later to see if the Air Force's plans for reducing the cost actually succeed. That's the response he gave to Congress on this.
Q: That implies if the Air Force does bring it under control we'll go ahead and acquire it. But it also implies if they don't, if it gets up around the CAIG figure, something else will happen. Is that right?
A: This sounds like a question you asked me about ten minutes ago, and I can't answer that question. This is an important program for the Air Force. It's a program that's going forward with Department support right now. It's also one of a number of programs that's being reviewed by the Quadrennial Defense Review. I don't think it pays us right now to make any speculation about some level beyond which we won't go at this stage, because right now the Air Force is working hard to control or reduce the cost of the program, and we should wish them well.
Q: Just to clear up one thing on the Arrow. You said that currently the United States was providing $200 million, and you said a willingness to bear a fairly significant percentage, 25 or so. Were you talking about 25 percent or 25 million?
A: Twenty-five percent.
Q: About $50 million.
A: As I said, the number isn't totally nailed down.
Q: Is there a reason we're accelerating Arrow? Are we concerned that the Israelis need the system earlier?
A: The Israelis think this is a very important system, and it's to provide them defense against SCUDs and similar type missiles. They've been working very hard on it. A couple of years ago when Secretary Perry was in Israel, he spent half a day reviewing the progress of the Arrow program. He went out to a lab where work was being done on it, saw them working on parts of it. This is, for them, an important program. We're committed to helping them maintain their qualitative defense edge, and this is one of the programs they have identified as crucial to maintaining that edge.
Q: Do we concur with that, that they need it earlier? Or are we taking their word for it basically?
A: Well, we have extensive discussions with Israel about their defense needs, and we certainly agreed that increased investment in the program was warranted at this time.
Q: Back to the F-22. Just a couple of minutes ago you said that the Secretary told Congress to give the program some time for the cost reduction initiatives to work. I would assume that some time means at least a couple of months. Can we assume that that means the F-22 program will remain intact in the QDR as it currently is? The QDR is almost near completion.
A: You want me to predict the future of the F-22?
Q: The QDR?
A: You want me to predict the future of the QDR as well?
Q: Either one.
A: The ante goes up. I stand up here... Would you like me to predict the outcome of our next war? We're going to win.
Q: How much time is adequate to let these cost reduction initiatives work, or see if they work?
A: I can't answer that question because I'm not an expert on cost reduction initiatives. But I think they'll require, it will require some time. How long that is, I don't know.
But this is a program that is ongoing and I have every reason to believe that it will continue to go on.
Q: On Gulf War Illness, USA Today reports today on a 1972 Army experiment in which sheep died after being exposed to low level chemical weapons, but it says the Pentagon has never revealed the study, even though it could suggest why hundreds of sheep, goats, and camels died during the war.
Two questions here. One, is there any relevance to this '72 study to what happened in the Persian Gulf War? And is this in fact true, that hundreds of sheep, goats and camels died during the war?
There are people laughing, but we've been told that one of the reasons that there hasn't been a lot of weight given in the past to chemical weapon exposure is that they didn't see widespread deaths of either animals or people. So I just was curious about that.
A: The Army study actually was part of an effort to learn what happened when some sheep near Dugway Proving Grounds died in 1968. That incident has been widely written about, widely publicized over the years.
The Army did some research and I think they would call their study research notes rather than a formal study. I'm not aware that it concluded anything particularly unusual, that it gave them any new insights into what happened to the sheep that died in Utah in 1968. That's why, as I understand it, it was never published is because it wasn't particularly revealing.
In terms of the Gulf War, it's been said by many people in the past that we do not have evidence of unusual animal deaths in the Desert Storm area of operations. As part of our continuing sifting through facts and history of the Gulf War, we're looking at this and everything else. I am not aware that we have significant new information of animal deaths during the Gulf War. But it is one of the things that Dr. Rostker and his group is continuing to study. That's all I can say about that.
We do have a number of studies ongoing. We have one major study ongoing, looking at combinations of various substances to which soldiers might have been exposed during the Gulf War, sort of what's been called the cocktail effect of exposures to oil fires or pesticides or various medicines that they had. In a way, that was one of the goals of this research that went on in 1972, was to see if there was any combination of pesticides and low level chemical exposure. I think they were focusing in both cases on organophosphates to find out if there was any combination that might have explained what happened to the sheep. I think they came up with zeroes on that, as I understand it.
Q: After the Gulf War, was there any actual checking of any dead animals to try to determine if they had died from any sort of chemical exposure that you're aware of?
A: I know that there has been testimony in the past by Department of Defense officials that there were not unusual animal deaths that could be attributed to chemical exposure. That's all I have to go on right now. As I said, we're looking into this as well as every other fact about exposure to chemicals or other possible toxins during the Gulf War, and this remains under review.
Press: Thank you.