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DoD News Briefing - December 3, 1996

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
December 03, 1996 2:35 PM EDT

Tuesday, December 3, 1996 - 2:35 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. You've had the science, now you get the art.

I have three announcements to start with. The first is that last night the 1st Armored Division reported that its last soldiers had moved out of Bosnia, and they're moving toward Hungary, and from there on their way home to Germany. They've been there since December of last year, and we have managed to get, as we said, all soldiers out in less than 365 days. That is no soldier in the 1st Armored Division has spent more than 365 days in Bosnia.

The second is that, as you know, the Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, General Rodionov, was scheduled to visit Secretary Perry on Thursday here, and then go up to Carlisle Barracks, the Army War College, on Friday, and then down to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and come back on Saturday for more meetings. He, today, had to cancel that visit. He did not cancel it, he postponed it, until probably some time next year. He cited pressing business in Moscow, sent a very gracious letter expressing regret, said that he had been looking forward to the visit and would reschedule it as soon as he could.


Finally, many of you have already picked up, I think, a copy of the report on executive aircraft used by the White House and other distinguished government travelers. This report was commissioned by Secretary Perry and it was led by Vice Admiral Donald Engen, who is a retired naval aviator. He became the Director of the Federal Aviation Administration, and now runs the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. So he's Mr. Aviation.

He reviewed the planes used to transport the President and to support other White House missions. Those are basically the planes in the Air Force 89th Air Wing from Andrews Air Force Base, and the Marine Helicopter Squadron One from Quantico, Virginia.

His findings were that the executive air fleet operates in a very safe and reliable way, and he found that the presidential airlift provided by the Air Force and the Marines has been virtually flawless. He basically divided his review into two areas. He looked first at the aircraft both from the Air Force and the Marines that carry the President. That's Air Force One, obviously, and Marine One. Those are the ones that he found were, as he said, virtually flawless.

Then he looked at support aircraft that support White House missions. It would be either backup aircraft -- they would be aircraft to carry equipment, communications equipment, to carry staff, and other support elements of a presidential travel mission -- and also aircraft that carry Cabinet officials, sometimes Supreme Court Justices, sometimes members of Congress. It was this overall fleet that he found has been operating very safely and reliably.

He did make several recommendations for both the Air Force and the Marine Corps. Secretary Perry has passed on those recommendations to both the Secretary of the Air Force and the Secretary of the Navy and asked them to report back to him in 60 days on how they plan to deal with the recommendations. So you have that package. The recommendations for the Air Force deal with the modernization of the fleet; some deal with the definition of a certain training level; one deals with command and control of the presidential pilot office. And the recommendations for the Marines also deal with buying some new helicopters and relooking at an organizational table for the way the operation is run.

With those comments, I'll take your questions.

Q: I wasn't able to get through every page of it, but was there a reference to the Brown, Secretary Brown's...

A: No, that was not... That was part of a European Wing. It wasn't part of the 89th Air Wing. Basically this report was requested by the White House Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta, on September 6th of this year after two Marine Corps helicopters both had mishaps, and that followed shortly after an Air Force C- 130 crashed taking off from Wyoming. So Leon Panetta asked the Secretary of Defense to review the safety procedures of the executive airlift operation.

Q: When they talk about defining a certain level of training for the pilots, are they talking about a higher level of training beyond that which the Air Force requires?

A: First, in answering all these questions, I again want to make sure that you focus on the fundamental distinction between the planes and crews that fly and maintain the President on the one hand; and all the others, on the other. We're looking now at the others, because the training requirements and the experience requirements for those who fly the President -- either in fixed wing aircraft or helicopters -- are extremely high. They're high also in all the others. They're not as high, though. One of the findings of the report was that for some... That the Air Force considers its most difficult missions to be those that involve aerial refueling, that involve airdrops, and involve certain other air procedures. They don't regard flying people in a transport capacity or civil air type capacity to be as demanding a mission as those that require air-to-air refueling, airdrops, or other procedures. So they tend, everything else being equal, to assign the most experienced pilots to missions that require air-to-air refueling and other activities like that. It asked that they review the experience levels required for flying in the 89th Air Wing. This only applies to fixed wing aircraft -- the Air Force part of it. That's what they mean. The regulations do say that the pilots have to be highly qualified, I think is the term they use, but there's no definition of what highly qualified means. So it asks that there be some attention given to defining the level of experience and training necessary.

Q: It also seemed to make reference to the fact that Congress is putting too much of a burden on the military for meeting its transport requirements. Is that the case, that these people are just overloaded given the...

A: Well, it is the case that there are sometimes shortages of aircraft, that it's not always easy to meet all the transportation needs posed by Congress and the Executive Branch. And you're right, the report did say that that is one thing that should be studied.

Q: What's the Department's position on that?

A: First of all, Secretary Perry didn't pass on that particular recommendation to the Services, but will study the entire report. We're in the process of trying to acquire larger and more modern planes. So we understand that some of the planes have been flying for decades, and although the maintenance is tip- top and the planes perform very well, there is a need for new planes, and we are now working to get new planes.

Q: Do you want to get out of the Congressional travel business?

A: I didn't say we wanted to get out of the Congressional travel business. I said that we're trying to expand and upgrade the fleet to meet the needs. We'll look at the specific recommendation about Congressional travel. I think it's unreasonable to expect that the Air Force is going to get out of flying Congressional delegations on Congressional business.

Q: Does Congress use it too much?

A: I don't believe that that's what the report concluded.

Q: I'd like to ask you about the Chinese Defense Minister's visit. Do you have an itinerary yet for where he will be going?

A: You and I discussed that on the phone, and it really hasn't changed since then.

Q: Oh, I was told that they finalized it yesterday.

A: Well, as I said, I don't think it's changed since we discussed it, but I don't have the itinerary here.

Q: And again, I wanted to ask you, does the Pentagon have any reservations about honoring someone who ordered the use of military force against unarmed civilians in Tiananmen?

A: When Secretary Perry went to China as the guest of Defense Minister Chi in October of 1994, he received very fine treatment and full military honors, and he plans to return that treatment when Minister Chi comes here next week.

Q: If there is a finalized itinerary, can we get it?

A: We're going to have a briefing on the entire trip, I think, on Thursday, and we'll release the itinerary then and describe exactly what's happening on the trip and during the visit.

Q: I'm not quite sure that you answered Bill's question. I would simply pose it again. You're saying you're reciprocating on a visit that he got, but certainly you couldn't put the two men in a parallel track and say that their histories are the same, so I don't think that answers the question.

A: The answer to the question is no.

Q: Do you have a topic for Secretary Perry's speech tomorrow?

A: He's speaking to a, I think he's speaking on basically digital information is the last I've seen, but I have to tell you that he, on the road, frequently changes his text, and he could work on it some tonight, or his staff could work on it tonight, so I'm a little reluctant to give you a topic, but the last I understood, it's sort of a group of computer and information transmission people, and he was talking to them in their language on their topic.

Q: If I could go back to this investigation for a moment. The report, as you noted, said that VIP and civil airlift have received exceedingly low accident rates, but it also notes regardless, there's a perception among many passengers that flying is unsafe. When you have a series of high profile accidents like the helicopter one and the C-130 crash, does it create a false impression about the safety of the fleet, do you think?

A: I don't have, unfortunately, my copy of the report here. I thought it said that there was the impression on the part of some in the press that there might be a safety problem. I think every time there's a crash people worry about safety. This report is very clear and forthright in pointing out that these are human institutions, the planes are flown by humans, they're maintained by humans, and that no human institution is infallible. But the people who fly the President and maintain his planes, and the people who fly the planes for other distinguished travelers and maintain those planes, are doing the best job they can. They're operating at very high standards, and they're required to operate at very high standards. Having said that, you can always find ways to lift standards even higher. That's what the proposals and recommendations were designed to do.

Q: On the Gulf War illness investigation, I was a little confused by the comments made last week by Bernard Rostker about whether or not the Pentagon believes that it's been established as a scientific fact or that there's a scientific consensus behind the idea that veterans who served in the Persian Gulf are suffering illness at a higher rate than soldiers who didn't serve. Can you clarify and tell me whether that's in fact a conclusion the Pentagon has come to?

A: It's too early to come to any conclusions based on those studies or any other small number of studies right now. We have 80 studies currently underway, more than 80 studies underway on a variety of health aspects that afflict or could afflict veterans of the Gulf War. These were only two of the studies. So they're part of a much larger constellation of studies, and I think just as we noted but did not make a lot out of the studies that came out from the Navy and the Veterans Administration two weeks ago on rates of hospitalization and mortality, we're urging that people look at these studies in the broader context.

Having said that, I think there are probably several other points to make about these studies. The first is that they are incomplete in that they're still undergoing peer review, and they're still being written in final form.

Second, the preliminary findings of the studies aren't new, in that they were both reported back in 1995 -- one in June and the other in October -- and in fact one of the studies was reported on in a piece in the Early Bird, as I recall.

Finally, these studies are both self-reporting studies. That is, people have come in and either filled out forms about their own health, or they've volunteered to come in and respond to questions about their health, so there's a certain amount of subjectivity in the findings of these studies. Now that doesn't invalidate the studies at all. They are important data points and they'll be considered as that. But they have to be seen as part of a much broader spectrum of studies.

Q: So would you say it's fair to say that the Pentagon's position, that this is still an open question about whether or not there's a higher incidence of illness among veterans who served compared to those who didn't?

A: Certainly these studies suggest that, but I think we have to wait until we get all the evidence in. I would be loathe to make any conclusion right now based on a particular study while there are still many other studies out there. I'm not a scientist and I can't make a firm conclusion about these anyway. But from talking to the scientists here who are looking at these studies, we want to look at as broad a spectrum of information as we can before we draw conclusions about the incidents of illness or causes of illness.

Q: Can you provide an update on where we are in Central Africa, about help or not help out?

A: Well, we're still looking at the situation. We have about 440 people in Africa now -- most of them in Entebbe. As you know, the Canadians are hoping to send a survey team into Eastern Zaire soon, but they haven't gone in yet. It's a five person team -- four Canadians, one person from Great Britain -- to get a clear idea of what the situation is on the ground there. We're continuing to search with aircraft for concentrations of refugees so to better chart where they are. That's basically where we stand. We're prepared to act if we have to, but so far we do not have permission from other countries to set up a large aid delivery operation, and we're still trying to get better information on where the refugees are, what their condition is, and where they're going.

Q: Has the AC-130 flown any missions yet?

A: Yes. It flew on Sunday. To supplement the two P-3s flying there now which mainly take photographs of refugee concentrations, we now have an AC-130 which has been sent there because of its infrared capability and its ability to use infrared imagery to see either through cloud cover or at night. And...

Q: (inaudible)

A: Yeah. Actually there's a new group of photographs. I don't have any infrared imagery, but there's a new group of photographs that you can get from Jamie Graybeal, Lieutenant Commander Graybeal, today. I think these were taken from the P- 3s yesterday or the day before. I assume that they'll be put on the Internet.

A2: They should already be up there.

A: The moon, the back side of the moon is also on the Internet. The moon skating rink, moon rink is already on the Internet.

Q: Where are the AC-130s flying out of?

A: Flying out of Entebbe, I believe.

Q: As well as the P-3s?

A: The P-3s are also flying out of Entebbe.

Q: We reported yesterday that South Korea was developing a long range cruise missile in violation of a bilateral agreement which I think was signed in 1979 by the U.S. military and South Korea and then later upgraded. Does the Pentagon have any concerns about this development in terms of an arms race in the area?

A: As you know, we have been talking to the South Koreans about joining the Missile Technology Control regime. We think that would be an important step forward. The South Koreans have just, I believe they have now completed two days of talks with Robert Einhorn at the State Department on arms control issues. This was one of the issues that came up, the whole question of South Korean missiles. I think it would be more appropriate to talk to the State Department about that than to me. And I know you already have, actually.

Q: Anything on Okinawa? Was anything actually decided?

A: I can provide you a long list of all the terms, but basically we're reducing our footprint there by 21 percent without reducing the number of troops. This agreement that was signed or was completed by Secretary Perry the other day is what I would call a win-win-win agreement in that it maintains our current troop levels in Okinawa and in Japan and therefore, in Asia generally. These troop levels have been very important to providing the stability on which the economic growth has grown, so it's a win from that standpoint. It's a win for stability, it's a win for us because we get to maintain the troop levels there, and it's a win for the Okinawans and the Japanese because we are reducing not only our footprint -- in other words the amount of space we're using, but we're reducing our noise there, we're turning over Futenma Airport to the Japanese and building an off-shore facility that will house the planes that used to fly from Futenma.

Q: What can you tell us about the floating heliport?

A: I can't tell you a lot about it right now. I think the design isn't complete. But it will be something that will be worked out in the next, I can't predict the amount of time, but it's an exciting development because, as you know, some people in the Navy have been promoting this for a long while as a way to give us more flexibility in basing planes, and...

Q: Is it going to be mobile...as in 'move it'?

A: No, I don't anticipate that it will be mobile. I think it will just be off-shore. It won't be what used to be referred to as the mobile off-shore bases. It will be not a MOBs, but a FOBs -- it will be a fixed off-shore base.

Q: (inaudible)

A: That remains to be seen. Maybe we'll call it the SS George Wilson.

Q: Are you going to actually have people live out there, though? Is that...

A: I'm afraid I don't know that. I suspect not. But obviously it will have to be manned all the time that it's in use. I don't anticipate people will live there. But as you know, probably the civilian analog of this off-shore base is an oil platform. That's the basic technology, and people do live on oil platforms in the middle of a sea for long periods of time, so it would be possible to live there.

Q: You used the words "virtually flawless" and so does the press release. Does that characterization appear in the investigation itself, or is that the Pentagon's interpretation?

A: My recollection is that it does appear there. I read the report, and I think it's taken right from the report.

Q: Can you point us to... I've read through it and I can't find it.

A: We'll show it to you.

Q: Show me to the back of my hand.

A: I'd be glad to do that.

Q: Can we go back to MOBs and FOBs for just a second? Does this agreement in Okinawa now mean that the Pentagon is no longer interested in the mobile base concept, and that that is off the drawing board?

A: No, it doesn't mean that at all. It means that we're flexible and we're willing to look at interesting technological solutions to our problems. I think it would be premature to say that we're not interested in mobile bases any more. Here a mobile base wasn't called for. We know where we want it. The Marines are stationed there, they have to fly in and out, so it's appropriate to have a fixed base. There may be other situations where mobile bases would be possible. I suspect that this would provide some important information and experience, although it's not mobile, on how to construct a large airport-size off-shore facility.

Press: Thank you.

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