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Gaggle by Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan While En Route to Tampa, Fla.

March 28, 2019
Acting Secretary Of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan

(Transcript begins in progress) 

ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE PATRICK SHANAHAN:  Give you maybe a -- sometimes it's easier to give you – some, some summaries.  Let me just maybe start with, you know, my visit that characterized the visits.  The -- you know, when I was spending my time, it was first to meet a lot of Admiral Faller’s staff and have them brief me in their  perspective areas of responsibility.

And then we talked about Chinese influence and behavior in the region, so again, just a – a level setting, and that was really -- think of that as a tactical briefing really, by country.  The bulk of our discussions were around the implementation of the National Defense Strategy, I want to just kind of describe to you the nature of those discussions.

It's too easy to spend all of your time just looking at information, that's -- that's not the role -- it's not what I'm driving with SOUTHCOM [U.S. Southern Command], it's how do we actually go about the execution.  So the way I decompose this -- and this is the basis in which the conversations were occurring -- the major elements of the strategy are geography, capability and capacity.

So as we work through this, it really becomes about choices.  What are the priorities geographically?  What are the capabilities we have to develop, and then what's the capacity, whether it's a new capability or existing capabilities that we have?

The discussion is on this framework so that when SOUTHCOM can describe that, then we can go about integrating it with our local campaign for China.  So the discussion we have is stop looking at this through a geographic lens but through a global lens, but then we balance based on his priorities, but the priorities have to be balanced within the region and then across the globe.  

And this discussion was about how we set the priorities and then where I've been spending time with Admiral Faller, Admiral Davidson and others, including the services, that -- how do we do this integration exercise?

And traditionally in the department, it's been by geography or by region and then we're really shifting to OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense], the services, which have never traditionally played in that role, and then more broadly, the group of combatant commanders looking through the China lens.

Maybe -- so when you think about being able to do the -- we have a framework, the prioritization, the integration, now comes the exercise of resourcing, which a lot of you were talking about yesterday.  How do you go about doing the resourcing?

Part of it becomes the integrated set of priorities, then it becomes how much do you actually want to dedicate and then how much is flexible?  And that's really where this concept of dynamic force employment was put in place.

So our discussions really ended up with some resourcing conversations.  This was as much about meeting the team and getting an understanding the operations down there, but more importantly, kind of setting the foundation for these other conversations that we're having.

I thought I would maybe -- I was thinking about your questions yesterday on the ASAT [anti-satellite] test and there are always very important details about what happened -- what does that mean if -- when I think about the test itself, it really speaks to why we need to stand up Space Command.  Think about the importance now of rules of engagement, authorities, the tactics, techniques and procedures.  So with Space Command, with the contested – with space being a contested environment, we've had a real shift.  I mean, that was -- yesterday was -- or two days ago was evidence of that  and  how are they waking up every day thinking about what is operating and protecting in a contested environment look like.

The other thing that I was going to maybe kind of add to was, that people ask me about, you know, priorities.  It's not about what really big -- what's more important is when you look from a department standpoint how to have the biggest impact, the fastest is Space Command can have the biggest impact fastest.  The Space Development Agency is vital, because if you're not developing things that are inherently resilient, then you're living in the past.  So the Space Development Agency represents the fundamental shift, to being, you know, stronger, more resilient, more redundant, more competitive in space.

The most critical piece from an enduring standpoint of growing space is the Space Force creating the advocacy and the planning and the organization that consistently sustains us over time.  I mean, that's -- when I think of the Space Force and that test, that was really kind of what was running through my mind. 

You've got -- how about some questions?

Q:  Well, at least on the ASAT tests, I mean, the Indians are saying that they think this debris will come back -- will be gone, will come back into the atmosphere, burn up within 45 days.  Is that consistent with what you understand?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yeah, my understanding is I don't know about the particular timeframe there, but in terms of, you know, threats to other objects, that's consistent with what I've heard.

Q:  That it will burn up in the atmosphere.   So it won't be a lasting kind of China scenario.  

SEC. SHANAHAN:  That's my understanding.

Q:  And then on the issue of Space Command, I mean, we're going to have General Hyten testifying at 10:00 and he's already started, or he will start soon.  You know, what is the -- he would probably say that they were already looking at, you know -- that a lot of the issues from ASAT tests are things that they were already consumed with years ago, ever since that -- that big China test.  Which is over a decade ago now.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Remember, the U.S. Space Command was already -- this isn't like a new structure.  This is really returning back to where we were, really, in 2000, and I think the organization, you know, so many of the, you know, resourcing and skills are resident.  This is really more about, now how do you adapt to the fact that it's no longer a sanctuary.  This is really a change of mission that we will -- when you think of it now being contested, there's all that important  doctrine work with respect those rules of engagement and the authority (inaudible).  That's why having that stand alone, where every day you wake up and you address this, because that environment has changed so rapidly.  You know, these things take so much time.  We don't want anything to stand in the way of developing that kind of protective capability.

STAFF:  (inaudible) we’re at like 11 minutes here, we’re getting ready to land.  Let's get one from Aaron here. 

Q:  Just on Space Force, I mean, when are we going to get the name of the -- your choice of the leadership on Space Force?


SEC. SHANAHAN: We already have it.  

Q:  So are you considering a uniformed member of the Navy?  Because people have said we don’t want it to just be Air Force. 

SEC. SHANAHAN:  We have a good plan.  We have a good plan.

Q:  What's soon?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  We have a good plan.

Q:  Weeks?  Weeks?  Month?  Five days, four days?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Weeks, not months. 

Q:  Okay. Thank you.

Q:  (inaudible) SOUTHCOM


Q:  The Russians are saying today that none of the troops they sent to Venezuela are going to be operational.  I'm just wondering if -- if you have any thoughts on the Russian deployment to Venezuela and whether or not they -- they pose a security risk there.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Russia's always -- Not sure I always believe what they say.

Q:  (inaudible) Thanks, fair enough.