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En Route Media Availability with Secretary Mattis

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JIM MATTIS:  Minot – we’re on the record, OK? -- we're on the way to Minot.  I want to see the airmen who serve out there, on alert, all the time, both intercontinental ballistic missile airmen and B-52 airmen, and talk to their commander, talk to the troops, just get a feel for how it's going and hear directly, unfiltered, their view of their mission, their readiness, that sort of thing.  

I know they're ready, but I want to know the obstacles for their readiness, so I can do something about it.  And I get good reports, but I always like going out and talking to human beings face to face.  

Then we're going to go down to STRATCOM Headquarters and talk there more broadly, but now informed by what I saw, having been out at the hangars.  Some of you were with me out at the sub base, now have been to the intercontinental ballistic missiles, the bombers, the three legs of the triad.  And then this is just an introductory --  I'll continue making these trips.  

At STRATCOM, I'm going to be talking to them about the broader aspects of the Nuclear Posture Review, their view of how it's going, their ability to get input to it, just to make sure that what I'm getting is a real well-informed review.  

We'll also talk about various international issues that I won't go into detail with you all on, but you can imagine what they are.  After we spend some time there, we'll go down to Mexico and pay our respects, military respects, for their independence day.

We have a very good relationship, military to military, as they battle internal enemies primarily, the narco guys.  And just -- you know, it's a neighbor.  North America, as you know, the only all-honors parade that I've done since I've been here was for Canada, Mexico and United States together on the parade deck.  

This is a continuing effort with Mexico.  Why is it not Canada?  Because Canada, I see at every NATO meeting, as well, where we always do pull-asides there.

He's also been down to see me separately, as have the Mexicans -- been to Washington.  Now it's my turn to go down and see them there, and I'll get to Ottawa one of these days, or somewhere up north of the border.  So that's kind of what the trip is in a nutshell.  

I recognize I -- we're landing soon, and we'll have a short flight from Minot down and I do my normal office work on the plane.  I won't have much time to talk with you.  

What we'll try and do is talk with you each day, and if I can talk with you on the trip from Minot to Omaha, I will.  That one might be a little too tight.  And then certainly, on the way down to Mexico, if you have a question, I'll be able to talk.  And coming back, we should be able to talk, although that one -- we're going to ruin your Friday night by getting you in about three in the morning, Saturday morning, prove that I can still ruin anybody's liberty call.  OK?  

But I know I'll be able to talk to you before you hit the rack, coming out of Mexico.  And I'll -- so why don't we just go with any questions you all -- you all -- excuse me, I got to remember my protocol here.

Q:  A couple of quick questions on nuclear-related things I've been percolating in recent days, one of which is whether you've been able to conclude from the -- the North Korean test whether it was a -- actually a hydrogen bomb that they tested.  And secondly, the South Koreans have been talking recently about considering reintroducing U.S. nuclear weapons in -- onto the peninsula – whether you are considering that now?

MATTIS:  Yes.  I won't -- on the second question about reintroducing U.S. nuclear weapons, I won't talk about where we keep nuclear weapons, where we station them or anything like that.  It's simply a longstanding policy so the enemy, the -- our adversaries never know where they're at.  It's part of the deterrent that they cannot target them all.  There's always a great big question mark.

So can't answer that one.  On the first question, we -- we have determined about the size -- the approximate size.  You've seen that number.  You all reported that number.

Q:  A 100 kilotons.

MATTIS:  Yeah, 100 kilotons or more.  So it's a large one.  I don't -- I don't want to talk any further than that right now, OK?  It's a large one.

Q:  But you’ve concluded it; you just can’t talk about it? You've concluded whether it was a hydrogen bomb or not?

SEC. MATTIS:  No.  No, I won't even say that right now.  But we have a pretty good idea of what happened.

Q:  And the 100 kilotons is based strictly on --

SEC. MATTIS:  Pardon?

Q:  -- on the seismic data?  That's just, that’s all -- that just strictly based on the seismic data, 100 kilotons?

SEC. MATTIS:  I won't -- no, we have more than just that.

Q:  And on the -- I mean, on the removal of the strategic, the nuclear, weapons on the peninsula was a public -- a matter of public record.  So I'm just trying to understand, if we're not going to talk about your possible redirection of the peninsula but --

SEC. MATTIS:  The possibility of --

Q:  -- of reintroducing the peninsula, that would -- that would seem to be a shift, because previously there was a policy of not having nuclear weapons on the peninsula.  So is there a, is that a shift then?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, right now we -- how can I answer this still?  

We have a nuclear deterrent and its location is immaterial.  And we have very open, transparent and candid discussions about the severity of the North Korean threat with our allies South Korea and Japan.

That's about as much as I'm willing to say on that, and it’s not much, is it?

Q:  Going into the nuclear part of your trip, are there any specific questions that you're seeking to have answered with these -- with these visits?

SEC. MATTIS:  Probably not.

Probably, principally I want to get a sense of how they see it.  I don't want to really -- I mean, I'm sure I'll uncover some as I'm talking with them and go deeper, but I want to hear -- without going out and telling them what I want to see, which can sometimes, at my level, dictate perhaps a narrowing of the conversation -- I want them open to talk to me about anything on their mind, from the condition of their airplanes to the reality of the mission.

I want to hear what's on their minds.

Q:  Sir, So as you're --

SEC. MATTIS:  If I have one specific, probably would be I want to make certain that the nuclear posture view is taken into account, what I see at Bangor -- here at Bangor, at Minot and Omaha.

Q:  So while you're speaking about that, sir, do you think that the New START training is a good idea?  Is that something that you're – (inaudible)

SEC. MATTIS:  We're still in -- we're still engaged in determining if it's a good idea.  It has to do with adherence to current treaties.  In other words, you don't go into treaties if already others are being broken.  You have to at least be informed by that. 

So we've got to look very broadly not just at the conditions that it would bring forward, but about the adherence by other signatories in other related treaties.

So, I'm not ready to go much further than that right now.

Q:  After this trip, do you think that the nuclear posture review will be closer to being completed?

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, the posture review goes on.  I -- I review it every couple weeks, I have different people in, the people who are leading it, the greybeards who are over-watching and checking it out, scientists.  And I want to make certain as I do this I'm getting informed by them, I'm also getting this input.

So it's on a -- it's on a schedule, it's meeting the current schedule.  This is more for my review, so I'm not -- I'm not just listening to what I'm told by the people engaged in the review.  I'm also talking to people who have nothing to do with the -- with current DOD, people outside the government who have studied this for many years, as well.

Q:  And when you're at Minot, will you have a chance to talk to some of the missileers, to talk to them about their readiness concerns?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.  I mean, I want to hear from them, where they see their readiness.  I want to tell them what I expect.  And if there's a gap between those two things, I find our young soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines are quite willing to tell me where they think I'm all wet.

So, some of it is just opening the lines of communication in a way that removes the layers and removes any sense of intimidation about bad news.  There's ways to do it so that the edges of a corporation -- at the edges of our military, they feel they can get information to me.

There's other means, too, that I'm employing now, that I've learned over the years, to get that kind of information.  But nothing takes the place of -- you know, I can't just sit there.  I've got to be additive.  

And the way you're additive is you get my color of hair and you go down and you listen to young people who don't have that color of hair, who actually have to carry the load.  And then I apply the judgment I developed over these years.  So that's what I'm doing this time.

Q:  Are we still looking at early next year, as far as the completion of that review?  And how do you think that'll be rolled out?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, I don't want to set – if it’s -- for example, the reason I don't want to set the specific time is, if it comes to me and I don't think it's ready, if I've still got questions, if I don't think it's persuasive, if  I don't think it's -- you know, we got three legs of the triad.  Does each one need to exist?  

Within each leg, there's different weapons, does each need to be there?  Are they stabilizing weapons, are they necessary?  You know, just because we had them 30 years ago -- do we still need them?

I want to make certain that, as this comes back -- and I -- every time they come see me, I send out more questions, and they get answered.  And pretty soon, you're narrowing the areas of non-quantifiable uncertainty.  And as you get that, then you can start making judgment calls that make sense.

So I'm still in the narrowing part of that.  So they know -- I mean, I've got people working on it full-time.  And so it's their mission, but I'm not going to set a date I want it complete.  And -- but it -- it's coming, I mean, it's not -- you're not far off, I'll tell you that right now.  But it's not -- I'm not going to give them a firm date.  It's when I'm satisfied that it's answered the question.

Q:  Do you still see it on the table, to take away a leg as a cost-savings mechanism?

SEC. MATTIS:  Not as a cost-savings mechanism.  There's a way to do cost-saving within even a triad.  But I think what is most important is, in a deterrent, you can leave no doubt at all that -- don't try it, because it won't work, you can't take us out.  

So it wouldn't be for cost-saving.  It would be that we can maintain the deterrent with that level of uncertainty, but from an aggressor.  (inaudible) -- maybe with that level of certainty, they can't take us out.  

And if I can do that, then I'll do that with whatever is necessary, but no extra -- this isn't something where you need more.  You just need the deterrent.

What you want is "impossible."  You want the enemy to look at it and say, "This is impossible to take out in a first strike, and the retaliation is such that we don't want to do it."  That's how a deterrent works.

Q:  So you -- so you will also factor in how to pay for it, though, right?  I mean, that's got to be a part of this, as well.

SEC. MATTIS:  Say -- say that again, Paul.

Q:  You're going to factor in how to pay for it as well, right?

SEC. MATTIS:  Well, I mean, how to pay for it, you know, we'll take to the Congress.  America can afford survival.  So -- but you've got to have a persuasive argument with the Congress.  They represent the people.  They represent the purse strings.  They -- basically it's their responsibility under the Constitution to sustain our military.  And so I've got to be able to persuade them that this is what needs to be done.

Q:  But there’s some concern, sir, that -- that  -- with the different plans – there’s going to be – there’s going to be some overlap in funding the nuclear infrastructure, as well as some of the conventional military operation – is there anything going to happen in the next decade?

SEC. MATTIS:  Oh, yeah.

Q:  Do you have to prioritize that with them?

SEC. MATTIS:  Do I what?

Q:  Do you have to prioritize one or the other?

SEC. MATTIS:  Oh, sure, we'll -- we'll be prioritizing, but not one or the other.  I mean, you break it out.  You decide how do you maintain the deterrent? How do you keep the conventional forces?  If I was to sum up the challenge we face right now in the U.S. military, it's how do you maintain a nuclear deterrent, safe and effective so those weapons are never used. At the same time maintain a decisive conventional force because as expensive as that is, it's much less expensive than having to fight a conventional war because someone thought you were weak. But at the same time, having your regular warfare capability as we see what we face.

I think that is the challenge that we face.  So the priorities would be across all those elements.  How do you balance that?

Q:  Should there be -- Bob Work, back a few years ago had referenced this. Should there possible be an alternate funding method for these nuclear weapons –

Q:  funding them outside the defense budget outside the defense budget, perhaps?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah.  This goes to your question:  Should there be an alternative funding mechanism?  This is something we'll have to go to Congress and see how they want to go forward, and the president's OMB people will work with us to propose what we think is the best idea.  Then Congress in their coequal status, holding the purse strings, they'll have to determine, you know, what's the best way to go about doing this.

Q:  You said that a bit like you were kind of sold on the triad, but maybe as you were narrowing it down looking at different issues within the triad.  Is that a fair read of what you just said?  I just want to make sure that I’m understanding it correctly.

Do you have any doubts about whether the triad is necessary?  But right now, you're looking within the triad --


Q: To see what’s necessary. 

SEC. MATTIS:  I -- I also have looked at -- I have questioned the triad, and I cannot solve the deterrent problem reducing it from a triad.  If I want to send the most compelling message, I have been persuaded that the triad in its framework is -- is the right way to go.

Q:  OK.  And this is the first time you're saying that, right?  That you’ve come to that conclusion?

SEC. MATTIS:  No, I -- I think I said that in front of Congress some time ago.  Yeah.

Q:  OK.  


Q:  What about the new cruise missile? 

SEC. MATTIS:  Pardon?

Q:  The new cruise missile, the long-range standoff?  That's been a subject that’s--

SEC. MATTIS:  The Air Launched? --

Q:  Yeah, the replacement for that.  The Air Force just awarded a $900 million contract for development of a new one -- (inaudible).

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, that is to main -- yeah, (inaudible).

Q:  -- which I guess that it’s happening?

SEC. MATTIS:  That is to maintain it as an option. OK?  That's to maintain that -- that weapon as an option.  It is not a decision yet.  That will come out of a nuclear posture review.

Q:  You're not sold yet on that as a necessary … ?

SEC. MATTIS:  I wouldn't put it that way.  I'm looking at each element very critically.  Nothing -- nothing is going to just be, well, we approved the (inaudible) delivered weapons.  I want to look at each one.  I want to look at each part of the submarine effort.  I want to look at each part of the -- of the ICBM force.  And, you know, that -- that's what you do in a review.

It's a broad area review.  It's not a -- a narrow, specific review of one thing.  But in order to make it valid, you've got to look at the specifics inside.

Q:  Is it also a review of whether you have room to further reduce below the new START levels, to 1,550 weapons?  Is that being -- part of the review, those ?

SEC. MATTIS:  We'll look at the amount we need for -- for deterrent capability.  Again, it's to maintain the deterrent in a very compelling way that no one ever wants to use these weapons.

Q:  So the other two legs, meaning the Ohio replacement, the B-21 -- are you convinced that those are the way to go for those two legs of the triad?  Or does the posture review also question whether you need the full Ohio replacement -- (inaudible)?

SEC. MATTIS:  The -- the maritime part of the triad is the most survivable.  So I think that's the answer, if you see what I mean.  You know, absolutely we will maintain it.

Q:  Do you have an opinion on this -- low-yield nuclear weapons?  General Selva and some others have been talking about perhaps introducing a low-yield weapon -- that's saying, instead of, you know, destroy a city, take out a neighborhood or something like that.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, I -- I don't -- I don't want to get into that level of detail.  That's part of the review, what size weapons and all.  And so I really don't want to answer that.  My view is, these weapons are a deterrent.  OK

Q:  Can I ask a tiny question, just -- 

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah.  

Q:  -- is this trip – so we’re thinking about this conceptually -- is this more about, you know, the high-end Russia threat?  Is this more about the emerging threat with North Korea?  Is it all of the above?  How do you see this?

SEC. MATTIS:  Yeah, it's about the deterrent.  It is about the deterrent because -- how to put this -- when you're dealing with conflict, it is a fundamentally unpredictable phenomenon.  

So what you want in your combat systems, whether they be nuclear, conventional; whether it be a tank and how that tank, inside, is built, with firefighting inside it and all, or its radars and how we use them; you want redundancy, and you want something that has a built-in shock absorber to take technological surprise or tactical surprise in stride.

So this is about the deterrent force, and is it constructed to face unpredictable circumstances in the future.

Q:  Do you have any particular adversary that you're -- (off mic)?

SEC. MATTIS:  I'm sorry?

Q:  It's not about any particular adversary that -- 

SEC. MATTIS:  No, absolutely not.  No, it is not.

Q:  Thanks very much.

SEC. MATTIS:  Yes.  Do you -- were you -- were you trying to ask a question at the end?

Q:  I was actually -- I don't think we have you on the record on Afghanistan since the decision was made?

SEC. MATTIS:  You know, the president's decided on the strategy, and we're identifying all of the parts of that -- finalizing, I should say, because we had to put a lot of that stuff together in order to come up with the final decision.  

So we're finalizing all the parts of the strategy and what it looks like in terms of allies, in terms of the region, engagements, assessment criteria so we know how we're doing when we -- we're employing it.

And the -- you know, the reinforcements going in -- all those things are being finalized.  Matter of fact, I'm carrying some of it right now with me, to be reviewing.  

All right, well, thanks, folks.  Hopefully you have time for breakfast now.  I tell you, I don't -- don't want anybody cooking, I guarantee (inaudible).