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Off-camera Gaggle by Secretary Mattis at Mountain Home Air Force Base

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS: OK.  First of all on Vancouver, a little bit of a recap.  This was the diplomatic effort being focused on the DPRK by a number of nations under the Sending States’ Construct.  It was co-hosted by the U.S. Secretary of State, and of course, the -- the governmental host there was Minister Freeland, the minister of foreign affairs for Canada. What struck me there I was simply there to give the situation that we face, and to back up and reinforce all the diplomats because it's an international problem, it's a global problem.  And both the minister of national defense for Canada, Minister Sajjan, was there, and I. 


I spoke about the situation on the peninsula, and what we're doing to reinforce the diplomats, and then...


But the bottom line is, we were there to gain a full understanding the situation, share the diplomatic issues, and today, after I gave them the -- the, basically, the military situation and the military options, then they go to work, trying to solve this diplomatically.  That's what they're doing there today.  It's very business-like, very much a shared understanding of the situation among nations from, you know, all over Asia, Europe, Australia, all over Canada.  And so, now it's up to the diplomats as they continue working to see how they can carve out a way forward to a verifiable and irreversible nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.  That's where they're going.  That's a very, very positive meeting.


On the -- the next stop Mountain Home Air Force Base, they have a very, very big range complex in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon.  It includes Strike Eagle fighter squadrons, American, plus a Singaporean squadron.  And so, I'll be there to get an update.  When I go to make the base visits, I'm going there to hear unfiltered, what is the reality that they face.


The Department of Defense is a huge organization.  It's spread around the world.  And I need to go down and talk to the -- the squadron commanders, the guys who are fixing the airplanes, the pilots and people like that in order to stay in touch with their reality.  Not my reality, their reality.


And reports are good, and the Pentagon reports I get generally are very accurate.  But it's always good to get that reality of what's it like when you're out there trying to fix an airplane.  Are you getting the various parts you need in time?  Do you have enough people, the right kind of skills there?


So I'm looking at readiness but with a little more precision.  In this case, an Air Force Base with fighter squadrons.  And it's really interesting that we've got a Saudi -- oh, excuse me, a Singaporean squadron there because, again, besides building our own lethal force -- more lethal force and that’s why I need to know reality to them. We're also building more allies and partners.  Those are two coequal efforts that we've got right now.  So I could also get a -- a sense for how we're doing with this Singaporean Air Force that keeps some of its force here in the states where they have enough room to fly, maneuver, and of course gain the interoperability with the U.S. Air Force.  That's a big part of it.


But it's really to keep my finger on the pulse of the troops and their view of what's going on in their world.  It can get pretty remote the higher up you go in any organization, and this to connect with (inaudible).


Q:  Yes, sir.  (Inaudible).


SEC. MATTIS:  All right, yes.  Does that get to your question though, J.J., about why I go to these bases?


Q:  Yes, sir.  And I'd like to know, have you heard anything from the people you've spoken to on these trips that give you concern, have they communicated any concerns to you that rise above and beyond, I guess, what would be the normal that they would say to the Secretary of Defense?  Or is it more just the -- the usual needing this, needing that, or just -- I don't know?




Q:  Is there anything there that gives you any kind of concern?


SEC. MATTIS:  Because my -- it's a good question.  You've got me thinking here because my portfolio was so broad.  I'm responsible for anything the Department of Defense does or does not do.  And of course I'm responsible for all the recruiting, training, organizing.  Now -- now you think of that recruiting, training, organizing, there's just about nothing they can bring up to me that wouldn't be inside what I'd call my normal portfolio of my normal job.


But, that said, there are at times surprises because, for example, if I get an amalgamated report, I can't look at every squadron's readiness.  OK?  So I'll be off somewhere -- like, last month I did Guantanamo Bay.  I've been up in Afghanistan to a new outpost.  And it could be that everything's going great for overall, but that there's one place where it's not.  By going out and circulating around, I'll find that out.


So the surprises are usually inside my responsibility, but oftentimes show a discreet appreciation for what they're doing.  So I find, yes, it's going well overall.  But if you're at Guantanamo, where only once a month does a boat come in with supplies, and something breaks on day one of that month, you have 30 days.  OK?


Or up here at Idaho, they have one of the most critical ranges we have in the U.S. military for -- for -- for training.  A huge range, I mean it's -- it's -- we've got I don't know how many square miles it is.  I'll get it for you.  You know, it might be 1,000 square miles.  I mean, it's huge.  Yes, I'll -- I'll get the numbers for you.


But when you have that sort of thing too, are they having encroachment problems?  Now, you'd say, "Well that's not really under train, organize, and equip."  But if ranges that used to be out in the middle of nowhere, and people can drop bombs and fire artillery, and now you've got people who've moved near them -- you know, in the normal like Southern California.  You know, it could -- it could impact our training.  OK?  Not today, but down the road.  So probably not anything that's not under my portfolio.  It's a pretty broad portfolio.


Q:  Can I ask just one really quick follow-up?




Q:  So as far as readiness goes, do you believe that everything is where it should be?


SEC. MATTIS:  No.  No, we're never where we should be.  If we -- where we want to be is everyone's ready.  The fact is units that have just returned home from overseas duty and need time to -- to get back into training, fix their gear up, that sort of thing.  There's also years of sequestration, Budget Control Act, there's years of being on what's called C.R.’s, continuing resolutions.


 And in those cases, when I look for, "Are these troops doing everything they possibly can with what they've got available?"  Then it's my job to get them a broader issue.  I'll give you an example.  I've got squadrons that rate -- that just -- take -- pick a number.  And the squadrons can rate 20 airplanes or 10 airplanes, depending on what kind of airplane it is, or even four airplanes.


So let's just say it's a 10 airplane squadron.  In some cases, the airplane has actually worn-out, you cannot fix it.  The metal fatigued and the -- and the landing -- we've got too many landing, you know, something like that.  OK, so I need to buy a new airplane.  Unless I get the money to do that -- this went on for years, by the way, over the last administration, where those airplanes were not replaced.  So the maintainers may be doing everything they can, there to keep us having an airplane.


They rate 10. Their wartime mission called for 10.  They will not be able to maintain the sortie rate I want for Korea, with maybe four airplanes twice a day, if they don't have, you know, 10 airplanes in their squadron.  So, no, we're -- we're working on readiness right now.  What I look for though are these troops there doing everything they can.


Now, if they're missing troops, that's my problem.  If they're missing airplanes, that's my problem.  And I go back to the Pentagon and talk to the (inaudible) people.  What are we doing?  Can we get a plane out of the bone yard?  Can we -- a squadron being shut down because it looks like (inaudible).  So no, readiness is not where it needs to be.  I just look to see how they do.  If I couldn't do anything more if I was there, I'm not going to expect them to do more.  You know?


Q:  Just a quick follow-up, sir, on how specific you got with the diplomats on the kind of military options that are available?


SEC. MATTIS:  I got sufficiently specific to frame what I -- let me -- let me restart that.  I framed the military options and explained our readiness alongside the ROK and other forces to carry them out.  OK?  (Inaudible).


Q:  That at 30,000 feet though, or how great?


SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, I don't want to get -- there's a confidentially -- with the foreign ministers, that I think they need to be the ones who put that information out.  If -- if anyone's going to.