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Department of Defense Press Briefing on the Navy

May 2, 2018
Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer; Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John M. Richardson; Marine Corps Commandant General Robert B. Neller

SECRETARY RICHARD V. SPENCER:  How are you all today?  Excellent.

Before I begin, I'd like to take a quick moment to make an announcement:  that the Navy's newest San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship will be named after Medal of Honor winner Captain Richard M. McCool Jr., United States Navy.

Captain McCool's a unique person in that he -- he served in the trifecta, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam.  He was presented the Medal of Honor for his bravery under fire during the Battle of Okinawa.

And I believe this ship serves as a real testimony and a testament to our commitment of growing the fleet and our partnership with America.  We definitely look forward to laying keel and getting this ship out onto the high seas.

Ladies and gentlemen here today -- and I want to thank you for coming to hear about the state of your Department of the Navy.

I'm here with two people that I want to tell you over the last nine months have truly become business partners as we face the challenges and the requirements of Title 10, General Neller and Admiral Richardson.

A few months ago, as you all know, Congress reached a bipartisan agreement that addressed the president's budget request.  We are very much aware that it stretched everyone to the limits of comfort, but it shows that we really can accomplish goals when needed.

I will tell you that we will smartly walk out on allocating those resources appropriated by Congress.  And we'll focus that in alignment, as you'll see, with the National Defense Strategy.

As we're here before you today, 94,000 sailors and Marines are deployed around the globe, ensuring maritime lanes of commerce remain free and open, ensuring the access to global commons, and protecting American citizens abroad and protecting our national interests.

They're on duty 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  They depend on and appreciate the full support of Americans as they fulfill their duty.

As directed by the 2018 National Defense Strategy, we're building a model of a more lethal, resilient and agile force, capable of deterring and defeating any enemy in this age of, as we know it, renewed power competition.

We're determined to increase our competitive advantage over our adversaries by focusing on people, capabilities and process.

The ability to accomplish our mission relies on people.  Over 800,000 sailors and Marines, both active duty and reserve, our civilian teammates and their families comprise this team.

We'll continue to build a more lethal, agile, talented and innovative workforce as we go forward.  We will recruit, train and retain the best we have in our -- been of -- (inaudible), pardon me.  Our people are the foundation of everything we do, so we're committed, absolutely committed to building the strongest foundation possible.

Along with having the best warfighters in the world, we must also continue to provide them the capabilities and capacities needed to fight tonight.  We're investing in modernization of key capabilities, new technologies every single day.  We're building the Navy the nation needs and the Marine Corps of the future.

We're building a more lethal and ready Navy-Marine Corps team by focusing on process improvement.  We'll ensure that our processes are value-add, and efficiently supporting our war fighter as our core competency.  We are internalizing the lessons learned across all facets of the Naval enterprise as we refine our processes going forward.  We'll use every acquisition authority given to us by Congress to grow this Navy-Marine Corps team.  We're working in partnership with industry to deliver maximum efficiency and value to the American taxpayers.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Department of Navy is ready, able and lethal.  We're working with a sense of urgency.  My team and I are committed to continuing to deliver combat-ready forces capable of meeting and defeating the challenges of today and tomorrow.

We look forward to your questions.

Q:  Thank you.

General Neller, a little over a year ago we saw you when you were talking about the Marines United scandal that had hit the Marine Corps.  Last week there -- we found that there's been an increase in sexual assaults in the Marine Corps.  I was wondering if you could talk about the last year.  What changes, what improvements, or what has the Marine Corps done to address these problems?  And do you think enough has been done?  What more do you think you have to do to get at this?

GENERAL ROBERT B. NELLER:  I appreciate reminding me about the last time I was in this room.

So after the events, and the hearings and all that, and the article, we formed a task force, because we recognized that we had some informational issues, we had some policy issues, and we had to make sure that everybody understood what the -- what the rules of the road were.

So that task force remains in effect.  We don't have the ability, nor the legal authority to monitor social media.  But, you know, for me, going out and talking to thousands of Marines, and telling them what had happened, and what the expectation of the American people is for them, as U.S. Marines, to make in every Marine, from myself down to every Marine who joins, sign a, what we call a Page 11; something administrative in your record book that you acknowledge that you've read the policy, and you know what the rules are.  Therefore, if you violate those rules, you're potentially subject to violation of the UCMJ; to talking to different groups; to making sure the commanders understood what their responsibilities were; to change in fourth phase of recruit training; to give young Marines some time to practice being Marines before they got out there.  So I could go on.

So when I was briefed the other day by the OSD Task Force on Sexual Assault, obviously, we were aware that we'd had a slight increase over the previous year.  And you have to decide, what are the metrics you're going to measure in improvement?  So they were actually saying this is good; that more people are reporting, because to me, the metric is, do Marines have confidence in their chain of command?  And do they believe that the potential of a retribution goes down?  So that's what we're trying to measure.

So are we where we want to be?  No.  If that number continues to go up, then I have to decide, we have to decide if that's because we are -- we still can't improve our behavior and our discipline, or it's because people are reporting.  Because by all accounts, everyone believes this is a well-underreported event.

So am I happy where we are?  It's been a year.  I mean, we're trying to change a culture that didn't start a year ago, and social media is something that's across the country.  I'm not responsible for the rest of the country, but I think we should all be concerned with some of the negative things that happen on social media.

So we continue to monitor it.  We still continue to pay attention.  We continue to hold people accountable, no matter what their rank or status is.

And that's the bottom line.  We're all accountable and if we're aware of an allegation, we're going to investigate it.  And if it's substantiated, the individuals involved will be held accountable.

MR. SPENCER:  I'm going to add a punctuation on that, because I think this is a tremendously important issue.

Having been here only for nine months, I can tell you that we do hold ourselves in a higher level than the American public, because we are the military that represents the country going forward.

But having seen the resources and the products that we have in place to battle this cancerous issue, I will entertain sharing that with any college, university or company that wants to see what we're doing, because I believe we have one of the best products out there.

Q:  Just a quick follow up:  Do you know if either the Navy or the Marine Corps has disciplined anyone under the new social-media policies that were put together last year?

GEN. NELLER: Yes.  I can get you the numbers.  But I mean, this isn't about, you know, counting coup or hanging scalps.  I mean this -- what you want is to make people understand is, hey, look, this is about respect.  It's about recognition of -- of a Marine is a Marine.  You're evaluated based on your performance as a Marine.

But just in the civilian world, you know, there are behaviors that are going on out there that -- (inaudible) -- sometimes.  And we recruit from the American people.

And we have to teach people that there's a -- we have a different standard for your behavior and your conduct.  And if they don't understand it, then they're going to have to be held accountable and if necessary, they're going to leave.

ADMIRAL JOHN M. RICHARDSON:  Yes, I'll just jump on a bit; same thing with the Navy.  It's really -- the accountability part is certainly one of the aspects of this.

But there is a cultural change that we're trying to create, where if you're going to depend on your teammate, your shipmate for your life, that's the thing that should really drive behavior, mutual respect.

We've really aimed our signature behavior program at the small unit level, small unit leaders.  That's where we think there's going to be potential for a lot of progress, and so that's -- just completely support the commandant's approach there.

Q:  Thanks, Captain.  So last week, Vice Admiral Aucoin raised some issues in a proceedings article concerning the CR [comprehensive review] and SRR [strategic readiness review], and some of the shortcomings that he felt weren't adequately addressed.

And I don't want to raise those concerns here, but what I do want to ask is, setting aside the concerns, what does it say about the system that your leaders seem to operate under if they feel like they have to wait until their retirement-grade determination to speak out about issues like this that they care about?  It feels like if there were issues that weren't addressed by the CR or the SRR,that his input, and perhaps input earlier on might have led to something.  But it doesn't seem like he did until -- he waited until his retirement.

MR. SPENCER:  Let me answer your question, then I'll also have the CNO weigh in if he desires.

If you heard my three priorities, they're people, capabilities and process.  And if you've heard me make any of my presentations under people, people who are facing off issues have the best solutions.  They should bring them forward.  That is the standard that we're operating under right now.

The fact of the matter is everyone has responsibilities to do what they can within their areas of responsibility.  And we expect people to affect that.

ADM. RICHARDSON:  I think I see it the same way.  There's nothing that I'm aware of that would have prohibited him from speaking up.

In fact, you know, he had plenty of opportunity when he was in command to -- you know, we read that article and really there wasn't a whole lot new that isn't covered by the CR and SRR, and so I think we're in a pretty good spot there.

Q:  Do you think the culture somehow limits or discourages senior officers from speaking out publicly at the very least about issues like this?

[Unknown]:  No, I don't think so.

MR. SPENCER:  Not at all.

Q:  Thank you, gentlemen, very much for giving this presentation.

And my question has to do with the long war that this country's been in since 9/11.  And it's specifically a question for General Neller.  How do you -- we've been fighting this war now 17 years -- long time -- how do you understand the enemy that we're fighting?  We call it radical Islam or the global jihad.  Do you see -- people tend to think of it as one is Islamic or a few Islamic characters and their crazy followers.  But do you see intelligence agencies involved in that?  And specifically, are intelligence agencies involved in radical Islam using and covertly supporting these people?

And specifically in regards to ISIS, there was a very interesting article Fin the German magazine "Der Spiegel" about three years ago, which argued that -- which -- which said that the core of ISIS is the former Iraqi regime, with this Islamic overlay.  Is that something you would agree with, or you have a different perspective?

GEN. NELLER:  I left Iraq in 2007.  And clearly the ISIS, al-Qaida, Iraq that we fought there did include former Saddam personnel.  I can't tell you what they -- what it is now.

And -- and I don't think -- it's not this -- I mean, I -- I think you've got to look by country, by country.  What's going on in the Philippines, what's going on in Afghanistan, what's going on in Iraq, what's going on Yemen, what's going on in Somalia, what's going on Nigeria, Libya, Chad, Niger, Syria, Europe?

It's not this -- there's not a single, you know, thing other than them, whoever these people are -- whether they're criminals, whether they are believers, that they use Islam as, you know, (inaudible) Islam's being violated.  This is my personal opinion.  And that, therefore, you should come and help us because you're -- you know, you're not being given the opportunity to worship or whatever, or your lands being occupied.  So at the end of the day, that's very interesting.

And all I know is based on the information that we see, there's people out there that want to come to this country and hurt us.

Q:  Do you think if the United States did more in terms of its information operations and the way it presents this -- the threat, say, regarding ISIS, to emphasize that they're former Iraqi regime officials involved?  If you, say, you live in France and you go join ISIS, you are, in fact, cannon fodder for these former Iraqi regime elements, if that would be a good approach --

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. NELLER:  I think that people are already -- I think -- I'm not going to -- I don't know what the French information policy is, or the German information, or the Italian, or the Spanish or the Belgian, who all have significant populations that came from this part of the world.

But I believe they all use that as a, say, hey look, these people are not telling you the truth.  You're not going to go there.  And the many people that have come back have publicly stated that.  And they're on the news, and they're saying, hey, you -- this is not a true story; you're not there.  This -- this -- they're using Islam to -- to deceive you and take advantage of you.

So I believe that's what's happening.  But we also have to have -- if you're going to be on -- on the information highway, you have to have something that somebody's going to read.  We've all -- we, as Americans, we've tried very, very hard to message the populations to tell them, you know, what we believe is to their advantage, that we're not there -- we don't want their land, we're not going to stay, we're not there to take anything; we're here to give you an opportunity to live in peace.  But they have to be able to believe that.  And there's always a counter-narrative.

So the information fight goes on every day, and we're continuing to try to be as effective as we can in that -- in space.  We're probably going to have a hard time being as effective as we'd like, but we're still fighting that fight.

Q:  (inaudible) -- for Admiral Richardson, and also the secretary.

Admiral, back in November after the ship accidents in the Pacific, you were asked, were you worried there were too many officers out in the fleet who simply don't know how to drive a ship?  And you said, we're doing these "ready for sea" assessments to determine that exactly.  So six months later, what did you learn from these assessments?  Are there any problems with the basics?

ADM. RICHARDSON:  Well, I'll tell you what, whenever you look at something this close, you'll always see areas of improvement, right, and some more improvement.  And I think that the steps and the measures laid out in what is sort of a comprehensive plan that includes not only the results from and recommendations from the individual investigations into each one of those incidents, but also the systemic investigation we did by virtue of the comprehensive review.  And then the strategic readiness review that the secretary did.  We also rolled in all the GAO reports and, you know, pretty much everything that we could get our arms around into a single, comprehensive plan.

When you look at all of that, there's always ways that you can improve.  So we're looking at individual training over the course of the career of those surface-warfare officers.  We're looking at -- and that starts with, you know, their initial basic course.  Looking to improve that through more, I guess, challenging scenarios and simulators, give them more chance to drive.  And that goes up through command, right?  And with increasing levels of difficulty, and also increasingly levels -- increasingly difficult assessments along the way.

As well, we're also looking in the fleet-concentration areas to supplement that individual training with team training, right, so that you get a chance to see how that particular bridge team operates.  And so you're always going to sort of see ways you can improve.  This is exactly along those lines.  We're working very closely with the fleets, with the private sector, and those folks who can provide that technology.  And also the Congress to make sure that we get the funding to do that through the FYDP, so.

Q:  Did you find any common problems, common themes in any of these shortfalls or training?  What exactly was it?  Were they getting to the ship too early before they were actually well trained?

ADM. RICHARDSON:  I think that we found that -- yeah, I think we could find -- we found that we could do a little bit more in terms of giving them some basic ship-driving skills before they report as a junior officer.

Q:  Why wouldn't they have done that?

ADM. RICHARDSON:  What's that?

Q:  Why wasn't that done?

ADM. RICHARDSON:  Well, it's -- it's -- what do you mean?  It's being done right now.

Q:  Basic ship driving.

ADM. RICHARDSON:  Well, you know, it's like I said, every time you look, you look for areas where you can improve, and we found some.  I mean, it's not like we hadn't looked at that and had done an assessment.  At that time, we thought what we were doing was appropriate.

Since then, we've learned that we can probably do a little bit more. Technology has advanced, those sorts of things.  So it's really this spirit of continuing improvement and opportunity that we're looking at.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, you want to add to this?

MR. SPENCER:  Yes, sure.  If you look at what the CNO just said about what we corralled in to look at it, it was 140 or so recommendations, observations, steerage.  We think we boiled it down to about 110 or so, or 111, that we wanted to actually enact.

We've enacted 20 of them, 78 percent.  These are not -- a lot of them are immediate remedies, but just to make sure we manage expectations, a lot of these are cultural shifts, and one of them is the continuing learning that we really have to culturally get at.  This isn't a one time, wow, now we're going to have someone driving ship for five hours before they show up.  This is going to be, wow, let's start with five; maybe it goes down to four; maybe it goes up to eight.  We're going to continually be in the learning process of what we can do to correct the root causes.

Q:  Thank you.

A question for each of the Joint Chiefs, if I could please.

Admiral, we -- we -- we've seen some pretty ugly allegations on Rear Admiral Jackson over the last couple of weeks.  A lot of it's not substantiated at this point, and Secretary Mattis suggested that the I.G. might look at what to do with this over the last couple days.  From a Navy perspective, do you see yourself referring this to Navy I.G.?

And for the general, please, there's a new book out, and there's been a lot of discussion over the last couple years that kind of debate whether or not to fully gender-integrate Parris Island.  Where do you stand on that at this point?  I mean, is there any -- any thought of changing things up, or further integrating where we are now?

ADM. RICHARDSON:  I guess I'll go first.

The way that this happens, by virtue of Admiral Jackson being a flag officer, the default organization would be DOD I.G. to look at those.  And so we're at the beginning stages of getting that done.

GEN. NELLER:  We train our recruits by platoons, and there's a federal statute that says you live with your same gender.  Our drill instructors stay with their recruits 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the entire time they're there.  So I'm not considering having men and women live together in an open squad bay.  And I'm not considering having Marine recruits fall out, and go from one platoon to another.  We train by platoon.

So if you want to come down to Parris Island, I will show you that after the first phase of training, which lasts about three weeks, male and female platoons do almost 65 to 70 percent of their training together, whether it be the rifle range, whether it be swim qualification, or whether it be their fitness tests, whether it be going to the battle skills training at the field training division, whether it be the crucible, and the last, now fourth phase, where they're actually sitting in classroom where we will have them sitting next to each other, because that's what happens the rest of the time.

So we do this because this is the way we believe is the most effective way to make Marines.

We don't do it in any other reason.  We don't do it to disadvantage women.  And, quite frankly, we do it to advantage women.  We want them focused on learning how to be a Marine.

And so the answer to your question, am I considering any changes right now?  No.

Q:  I have another CR and SRR question for you two.

One of the issues that came up was the length of time that some of the ships had spent forward-deployed in the FDNF [Forward Deployed Naval Forces] fleet.  I understand that about half of them have been there longer than 10 years, and one as long as 23 years.

So I was wondering, in the aftermath of both of those reports, how you guys are looking at essentially bringing some of those ships back State-side; kind of what the readiness concerns are.

And also, if you could just update generally on the C.R. and S.R.R. implementation.

MR. SPENCER:  You want to start with that?

ADM. RICHARDSON:  Sure.  xb

We had already decided before the CR or SRR early last year that, you know, that that plan was starting to show some weaknesses already.  So we had already decided to rotate them back, Megan, in terms of about every eight years, so nobody'll be deployed.

Now, it'll take us some time to transition into that so that we get onto this eight-year cycle, but we'll do that as briskly as possible.

And we're really seeing that some of the deep maintenance issues, we're -- we're having trouble addressing those at the -- (inaudible).  They're an absolutely superb work -- working team, you know, but just it's hard to get into the -- some of the deeper maintenance.

Q:  Is there a plan in place to get those older ships back?

ADM. RICHARDSON:  There is, yeah.

Q:  I would like to ask you, how do you assess Iran's behavior in the Persian Gulf in the recent months -- month?  Have you seen any unsafe, unprofessional actions by the Iranian navy?

ADM. RICHARDSON:  We've seen generally fewer proactive actions by the Iranians in the Persian Gulf recently.

Q:  The last few months or?

ADM. RICHARDSON:  Yes, the last six months or so.

Q:  All right, thank you.

Q:  Thanks.

Sir, the Pentagon today announced that it was going to ban mobile phones from two Chinese companies.  What were your recommendations on this, and why did you make those recommendations?

MR. SPENCER:  Well, the mobile phone ban was more due to location devices than anything else, the ability to be located.  You know I think you probably heard the story that -- concerning Chinese manufacturers that we talked about during the testimony period, which was a contract that we left that we put a hold on.  That addresses more Chinese manufacturers than it does the cell phone issue, but it's more a location-device concern and a listening-device concern.

Q:  Would it be fair to extrapolate the -- the idea that perhaps there's other devices like this that's not necessarily Chinese companies, but devices generally that they would -- we talked about Fitbit earlier here in the Pentagon.  There hasn't been a decision on -- on that.  But generally throughout the -- would that be fair?

MR. SPENCER:  That would be a fair assessment.

Q:  OK, thank you.

Q:  Sir, I wanted to follow up on Joe's question in regards to Iranian activity -- (inaudible).  What do you attribute -- what do you attribute that drop to?  Is it -- is it a cause of the current debate that's going on regarding the nuclear deal?  Are there others in play here, why you're seeing this sort of drop?  And I have a second -- a follow-up question for General Neller.

ADM. RICHARDSON:  Yes, it'd be pure speculation, and so I just responded to behavior that I see.

Q:  OK, General Neller, with regards to Afghanistan, with the annual fighting season about to start, your forces in Southern Afghanistan, there were some incidents this week.  What's your sort of take on how do you sort of see things playing out under the new strategy by the White House?  And you know, what sort of measures can be taken on the ground to sort of implement that more effectively?

GEN. NELLER:  I don't like talking about the Marines in Afghanistan, because I don't want to draw any more attention to them, because you and I know that they've been reasonably effective tactically.  But -- so -- but that's -- that's a small part of it.

I mean, at the end of the day, back to the long-war discussion, there's got to be a political settlement.  And all of the efforts to reconcile with the Taliban through the Afghan government I -- I think we all fully support, because at the end of the day, you know, they're fighting us, they have their agenda.  We're there to support the Afghan government.  And they're going to have to be convinced or decide on their own that there's a better way to do this.

I mean, they've been fighting, what, 40 years?  And -- so we're hopeful that, you know, we can support the Afghan military and the governor in Helmand, and the local police and the national police, and that we can create a secure environment so that the Afghans can have an election, and that possibly there will be enough -- there'll be a significant enough programs, so that those Taliban who think there might be a better way to live their lives than continue to have their young men get killed, and being led by people that aren't even there in the fight, that live in other countries, and that are convincing them that this is the right thing to do, when really all they're doing is making money on drugs.

I mean, we talk about you know the -- the terrorists call themselves -- you know, they're the freedom fighters, they're the Mujaheddin -- they're not.  They're criminals.  I think the Arabic word is "takfiri."  They're apostates.  They hide behind Islam.  They sell drugs.  They kill innocent people.  That's not what Islam is

The Afghan Army and the -- the American -- we're the -- we're the Mujahideen.  We're the Mujahideen.  That's the message.

And maybe they'll get tired of this and they'll decide that there's a better way, and then we can move on to something else.

Q:  Thank you.  Tara Copp, Military Times.

We recently did an in-depth look at the aviation accidents across the services, and the Navy and the Marine Corps really bore the brunt of the -- the biggest increases in accidents.  After that, we heard from multiple families that there were concerns that both the -- both the Navy and the Marine Corps continue to put their aviators in the air without the proper flight-training hours with, you know, aircraft that aren't fully ready.

What can you say to those families that really wonder if there's an "I can't say no," you know, culture in both the Navy and the Marine Corps that continues to send aviators out even if they're not ready or their aircraft aren't ready?

ADM. RICHARDSON:  I'll speak for the Navy.  We don't -- there -- there -- these are controlled by strict regulations.  We're not violating any of those regulations.  Those aircraft that we send pilots up in are fully certified to fly.  The pilots that are -- we send in to fly them are fully certified for the missions that they conduct.

And so now -- you know, we have been adjusting flight hours.  Those are back on the rise, I know, with the increased readiness, but we're not -- we're not sending people into the air in aircraft or pilots that are unprepared for the missions that they take.

MR. SPENCER:  And let's look at the data.  The data that you're talking about, accidents include As, Bs, and Cs.  As is not that -- you -- we look at 5-year average, we're not out of the norm at all.  Cs we're up.  Is that a leading indicator that we should be looking at?  Most definitely.

ADM. RICHARDSON:  Cs being the more minor accidents.

MR. SPENCER:  Cs -- taking for granted, you know, no, yes, exactly, it's a -- it's a dollar-weighted lower - the least amount of damage -- towing accidents, things like that.  I can only reverberate what the CNO said when it comes to the training and the clearance.

GEN. NELLER:  We're flying more, and so we can't get better if we don't fly more.  The aircraft we're flying, they're been certified, and they're ready to go.  We're not flying aircraft that aren't safe.

And if there's an issue, you know, there's procedure that they're trained to do to try to get to a safe place.  And we've had a number of precautionary landings, and that's what I expect them to do.  I'd rather have a precautionary landing than a -- a mishap.

So -- but -- so that -- I can show you the numbers are up, I mean, every model -- model-type series, and there was a story out there today that that's just the forward-deployed forces.  It's not.  I went back and checked.  Actually, the home-station forces are flying, in some cases, more than the forward-deployed forces.

So -- and why is that?  Well, because for the last two years we finally got sustained, consistent funding, and we got a parts stream.  The number-one reason aircraft are not ready is because they're short parts.  And now we're starting to get the parts.

And so we're in the middle of -- the Marine Corps is in the middle of transitioning every model-type series aircraft we have.  So there's a training period when you're flying a new airplane, except the CH-53, which hopefully we'll transition to the K here in the next couple years.

So we know we need to fly more.  We know we need to have a consistent parts support.  And we're working through all of that.

So last year we had a horrible year.  We had a horrible year.  And my heart goes out to the families that lost a -- a Marine, or in one case we had a sailor and 15 Marines on a C-130.  And those families were all briefed. (sic)  They were told the reason, what we believed happened in that particular mishap, just like the families were told in every other mishap we had where we lost a life.

And some -- like the 53 we had at El Centro the other day, we don't know yet.  We recovered what we could of the airplane, we got it in a hangar in Miramar, and we're trying to figure out what happened.

But -- so we're trying to get it -- we're trying to get better.  We're trying to improve.  We're trying to fly more.  And right now, we're doing that.

And so, we're -- we're being as safe as we can.  As the secretary and the CNO mentioned, the Class Cs, the kind of minor stuff that doesn't cause a -- normally, it doesn't cause -- cause loss of life, that's reducing the number of airplanes we have, and that's the stuff we've got to fix, too, because we want to be able to fly more, because if we fly more, we should become more skilled, and we should have fewer Class As.

MR. SPENCER:  But just to make sure that you all understand something here, filling up a parts bin does not happen in one fiscal-year cycle.  We need to send a signal to industry that we need the parts on a consistent basis, so they make the investments to make the parts.  And that's the most important takeaway here, is we have to have consistent funding to do our mission in the most effective and efficient manner.

Q:  General, if I could just follow up, you mentioned the KC-130 from last year.  Today, there's another C-130 that crashed -- (inaudible), an Air Force asset.

In general, can we attributed this uptick in accidents to a lack of funding?

We hear that a lot on Capitol Hill, and I understand that some of these investigations are ongoing, especially all these helicopters that we -- we lost in March and April.  What's the correlation there?  And can you, sort of, weigh out what you guys think the lack of funding had to do with it?

MR. SPENCER:  I'll -- I'll go first here, and then defer, obviously, to the CNO and CMC.

But there is not enough data right now to tell you that there's an exact correlation.

I will make the observation that, one, we are training people to the requirements necessary.  Those additive hours that people have in the cockpit or doing their jobs are only going to help.  So now we have the funds to do that.

But that's kind of a brilliant flash of the obvious comment.  I don't have data to give you a direct correlation.

GEN. NELLER:  I mean, I -- I'm not going to correlate.  I -- I don't know if there's -- there's two versions of the C-130.  I don't know what it was.  I don't know what happened.  I'm not going to speculate.

I think we have a pretty good idea of what happened to our airplane last year.  In that particular case, I'm not sure funding would have changed the outcome.  And I'm not going to talk about it because the family's just been informed (sic), and actually, we're coming up on the anniversary of that, and so -- but that was a -- a mechanical issue.

Q:  But -- but in general, you see -- you guys are saying that there's really no link between the -- because we hear this on Capitol Hill all the time, that it's the lack of funding that's causing these accidents.  And you guys are saying here there isn't the data.

GEN. NELLER:  No, I think -- I think the funding is affecting the number of airplanes that are ready, and the number of hours we can fly.

So, you know, we've been at this.  I mean, we didn't -- this just didn't happen overnight.  And so we -- when -- when was the budget control?  I'm not going to blame anybody on this, but when was the BCA -- what? 2012, 2013, 2011?  So we've been on CR eight out of the last nine years, and we get a government shutdown.  We didn't fund aviation readiness to the amount that we probably should have, because we -- the money was -- there was -- we were in this kind of financial fiscal reduction, OK?  There were decisions that were made.

So, you know, we've got a backlog of -- of maintenance.  We've got airplanes now coming out of depot.  And the secretary went down there.  There were some things going on at the depot, where we were getting the airplane back and it wasn't in a position where it could fly, and now we've corrected that.  But we -- that costs -- that costs some money.

And so -- and we're buying new airplanes.  And so, the newer planes, there's a higher level of readiness.

I mean, it's not a single thing.

And -- and for our pilots, if you've been a pilot -- you know, 20 years ago, if you were a -- a senior captain or a major, you probably had, I don't know, 1,200, 1,500 hours.  People that are senior captain or majors now, they've probably got 800 hours.

So there's not -- there's not one single thing.  There's not one single thing that's the -- you can't say, "It's because of this."  And there's -- and so we're looking at all these different things.

We need more hours, we need better parts support, we need new airplanes, we've got to improve our procedures, and we've got to stop doing stuff on the ground that causes us to lose otherwise perfectly good airplanes.

And we need to train, and it's a dangerous -- it's a dangerous business.

Q:  (Inaudible).  The U.S. has a significant naval presence in the Mediterranean.  And also the tensions around the -- (inaudible) -- is increasing, as you have seen.  There's an escalating tension between Israel and Iran inside Western Syria, and there's also a tension between Turks and Greeks around Cyprus.  So to what extent are you concerned that you might be caught up in an active conflict between Iran and Syria in western Iran and Israel in western Syria?  And then it's -- (inaudible) -- effect to you, and also to the -- the constant tension between the Turks and Greeks around -- in Cyprus?

ADM. RICHARDSON:  Yeah, well the Turks' and Greeks' situation is nothing new, I don't think.  And so we've been -- even inside of NATO, it's a dynamic that always needs attention.

But there is increasing activity and I would agree, there is some increasing tension in the Eastern Mediterranean.

It's one of the new dynamics in this -- the situation that the National Defense Strategy talks about in terms of a great power competition.  This is one of those manifestations.  And so we're watching that very closely.  By and large, the interactions between United States and foreign vessels have been safe and professional.

We want to make sure that we have these operational constructs in place to keep it that way as things, you know, get -- as you get more activity and potentially more tension, just want to make sure we're minimizing the opportunity or risk of miscalculation.

Q:  There were reports earlier today that the Navy is no longer going to announce when it fires its commanders.  So I'm wondering, Admiral, if you can walk us through your thinking on that.

ADM. RICHARDSON:  Yes, you know, I don't think that at the end the practice much is going to change.  I think that's being overblown quite a bit.  The thing that we value most of all is a relationship with trust and confidence, both within the ranks, and you know, we have our sailors are part of that audience, and then certainly with the American people as well.  And so we wouldn't do anything to jeopardize that -- that relationship of trust and confidence.  And so I think there's, you know, perhaps being more made of that than -- than you'll see in practice.

Q:  I have a question for -- to admiral and general.  It's been a year since -- (inaudible) -- finally started.  So how do you -- when do you expect the construction's going to be over?  And at the same time, F.Y. '18 budget' -- (inaudible) -- the ground build-up.  So when's the -- it estimated due to start relocation -- (inaudible) -- Marines from Okinawa to Guam?

ADM. RICHARDSON:  I'll defer to the commandant on that.

GEN. NELLER:  Thank you.

(Laughter.)

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. NELLER:  The Futenma Replacement Facility has been delayed off and on because of a number of things.  Because of discussions between the -- the Japanese government and the prefecture of Okinawa, and the efforts of the governor to -- and he's -- I understand he's not well -- Governor Onaga, I wish him a speedy recovery.

So there have been environmental issues, there have been other legal issues, there have been approval landfill permits, but I believe that those things are finally resolved.

And so when I was there earlier this year, you could see that the work was ongoing.  There are still demonstrators there.  So that will go on.  And now there's -- we've had other issues in the Commonwealth of the Marianas and -- and the training area, because part of the understanding is Marines will go to -- would go to Guam if they were able to train.  And there are still some pending environmental issues there.

So that said, the bottom line is the agreement that we're going to reduce the number of Marines on Okinawa, that the Futenma Replacement Facility is going to be built at Schwab, that Marines are going to go to Guam, still remains the plan.

And the timeline obviously has slipped to the right, but we're committed to the plan, the announced principles, and we're finally starting to see a little bit of progress.

So as far as when the numbers will go down, it will depend on when there's facilities and training facilities for those Marines to use and occupy in Guam.  The Futenma Replacement Facility is going to take awhile.

Q:  Following up on that, how do you ensure -- you need to use Futenma until the construction's going to be done.  So how do you ensure the safety issues of Futenma Air -- Air Base?

GEN. NELLER:  Well, the Japanese government -- Futenma Air Base is very old.  It goes back to World War II.  And if you look at pictures, Futenma when it was built was -- there were no people living within several kilometers.  Now the cities around Futenma are right up to the fence.

So it would be helpful if the people that lived around there didn't point lasers at our airplanes, or fly kites or balloons in the flight paths, because that way we would have a better assurance that they would be safe.  We want everybody to be safe.

We're there because of a treaty with the government of Japan to assure the defense of Japan.  And so, we're -- we are happy to leave Futenma when we have a place to leave to go to.  Until then, we'll continue to operate and be as safe as we can.

And that's why if our -- our aircrews know that if they have a problem, they're instructed to land in a safe place, secure their airplane, and then we'll fix the airplane if there's a problem.

And so, I would ask the Okinawan people to understand that we're doing this for the safety of our aircrew and for their safety.  And they should be -- and I would ask their consideration.

I know -- I've lived on Okinawa before with my family.  And I know the great majority of Okinawan people appreciate the American presence there, and that the great, great majority of us are good neighbors and we're good friends.  And we'll continue to do our very best to be good neighbors throughout Japan.

STAFF:  Last question.

Q:  Thank you.  Hopefully, a quick one on transgender.

Since the policy was changed at OSD, we've heard from I think all the Joint Chiefs some different -- I'll paraphrase -- version of, "Do you know what?  There was -- there were no problems with transgender troops, to unit cohesion or to the mission."

And so, there's been some commentary recently that -- that suggests there was -- that OSD did not take the recommendations of the chiefs on that issue.

I just wondered if you wanted to address those -- that commentary.  Is that accurate?  Is there another way to characterize it from your perspective?

MR. SPENCER:  I think we've been fairly unwavering in our facts that any patriot that wants to serve and qualifies under the requirements that are at hand has a place in our services.

Right now we have a legal system in place that is entertaining all the arguments.  And until those arguments are concluded, really, I don't have anything else to address in that regard.

Q:  Thank you.  Appreciate it.  Thank you.

MR. SPENCER:  Thank you.

Eds. note:  [Eds: Gen. Neller was referring to the MV-22 investigation that recently completed. The C-130 investigation is not yet complete; the families have not been notified. They will be told the reason and what we believed happened in that particular mishap.]