Transcript

Performing the Duties of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities Victorino Mercado Media Engagement on Landmine Policy

Jan. 31, 2020
Victorino Mercado, Performing the Duties of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities

STAFF:  All right.  So right now, you're going to speak -- be speaking with Performing the Duties of Acting -- Assistant Secretary of Defense, Strategy, Plans and Policy* Victorino Mercado...

(CROSSTALK)

MR. MERCADO:  Hi, everybody.

STAFF:  He's going to do an introduction, we're going to do question and answers, typical one question, one follow-up, since we have a big turnout, to make sure everyone gets a chance to ask something.  If we have extra time, then we'll do another round.

MR. MERCADO:  OK.  Hey, hey, good afternoon.  I'm glad all of you can join us.  I think the topic we're -- we're going to discuss is the change in anti-personnel landmine policy. 

And I already know that much has been written already, but a couple of things that are important.  The White House press release, which was just released -- and does everybody have that?  OK.  And also the DOD press release, as well as the policy itself, everybody should have a copy of that, and hopefully you've had a chance to review that.

And we've gone to great lengths to try to anticipate questions, you know, about the change in policy.  So at the back of the press release, there are some questions and answers that have been teed up, to at least give people an understanding of the change in policy.  Because landmines -- anti-personnel landmines are -- it's a very emotional subject.

Before I get started, I want to give you a little bit of my background, so you know where I'm coming from.  I am the assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities.  So I'll touch a little bit on the strategy, but more on the plans and capabilities side.

And I've been back in DOD for about a year.  And previously, I directed maritime ops in the Pacific, you know, from intel, planning and operations for the Pacific Fleet, for about two years.  A couple of jobs before that, I directed -- I was the vice director for plans in Central Command.  So Syria, the Middle East and all of that.

So I come from -- come at this topic from a number of angles, so I want you to understand that when I start giving you my sense, my knowledge of the policy and where my perspective is coming from.

So this actually started around 2017, May.  We had just published the National Defense Strategy.  If you remember, the National Defense Strategy, it talks about the return to great power competition.  And even today, under Secretary Esper, we are really hard at implementing our National Defense Strategy.

When we looked at the strategy, when we look at great power competition, some things come to the fore.  It talks about -- you know, we are the greatest military in the world, but that advantage is diminishing, as we know. 

So there are some strategic imbalances that we needed to address.  And anti-personnel landmines is a capability that we really need to study. So then-Secretary Mattis chartered the department, the Joint Staff and OSD, to start a detailed review of the policy from all aspects.

That policy was reviewed, from capability gaps, risk to mission, risk to force, political, military, all of that.  And it ran the course for about a year. OK?  And bottom line, when we looked at that -- and you look at the technology that's available today.

And we're not talking about what you see on TV, the legacy, you know, landmines that you see that have really wreaked havoc, and we're still, as you know -- in -- with the State Department, there's still a huge demining operation that's in every continent with the exception of Africa and Antarctica.

And so we are still committed to that, and I think the U.S. is -- remains the largest supporter of demining across the world, so we're still committed to that.

But when you look at the imbalance and you look at -- I look at it from a plans-capability standpoint, because the previous policy allowed anti-personnel landmines only on the Korean Peninsula. 

But you look at other contingencies that we have to be prepared to -- to go against or to plan for.  First of all, you want to deter conflict, obviously.  But, you know, failing that, it's the job of the Department of Defense to plan, and plan accordingly to win. And we will win, but it's a matter of risk.  If you accept risks, there's risk to force, risk to mission, and that risk can be embodied in a lengthy conflict.

So, if you look at the capabilities that we are restricting our forces from, and one of them is anti-personnel landmines, OK?  And I'm talking about the new capability, the ability to accurately place landmines, the ability to have them self-destruct, self-deactivate to a very high degree of certainty.

Now, when they looked at that, the level of certainty is six in one million.  So when you take that into account, and you say that we can do both.  We can go back to giving our soldiers, Marines this capability, which may be decisive in a future conflict; and at the same time, be absolutely committed to reducing and limiting civilian casualties, then why wouldn't we do that?

So, again, my perspective is not only my knowledge of plans -- my son is in the military, I know lots of young Marines and Army -- I think you know them, too.  So why would we not give them that capability, that could potentially lead to victory as well as shorten conflicts?  And at the same time, again, be committed to the safety of civilians and preclude that level.

The other part is, with the policy we had in place, we didn't have the deterrent value.  Because one of the things you know, when you study how you plan for a conflict, do you really need to employ landmines or mines?  What happens when you threaten to deploy mines, and not do it?

So, that would cause the adversary to have to take pause and say, do I need to clear this field or not?  Can you get the mission impact without even deploying a significant amount of mines?  One thing we used to say is, OK, if something blows up and then you claim you have a minefield, then they have to take pause.  That could give you that tactical and operational advantage.

Under the previous policy, you didn't even have that deterrent value.  So, again, you know, this is something that started when Secretary Mattis directed an internal review, it went through legal, it went through a number of things. OK, and after that, when it came to its conclusion, which some of this, I outlined to you today.

You know, then we had to develop the policy.  And the policy is fairly simple.  It is, we will -- we will only do non-persistent landmines.  That's different.  Our potential adversaries have thousands of persistent mines; we do not.  Even in the -- the Convention for Conventional Weapons, there is a provision to use persistent mines, as long as you do certain things, you take certain safeguards.  We are not going to do that.

They have to be able to self-destruct or self-deactivate. There is a standard out there of 30 days; we could do it in hours; we can do it in -- you know, minutes, hours, a couple of weeks.  You know, that's where the technology is today.  So why couldn't we leverage that and give it to our commanders to plan for?

And the threshold for using this is still very high, like it is in Korea, at the four-star level.  And oh, by the way, all of the plans have to be reviewed in the Department of Defense, and ultimately approved by the Secretary of Defense.  So, again -- and when you go through it, if they do their mission analysis, and the terrain does not lend itself to the need to use anti-personnel land mines, then they don't have to.

But, again, now we have at least a deterrent value, and now we can turn on our industries to start developing and -- developing, you know, landmines, you know, that are even more reliable, or other capabilities, other area avoidance capabilities that we can use.

So anyways, I will pause there and then open it up to any question that you may have.

Q:  Yeah, the -- you mentioned the White House...

STAFF:  I'm sorry, so sorry.  Can you just introduce yourself...

Q:  Yeah, I'm Bob Burns from AP

MR. MERCADO:  Hey, Bob.

Q:  Hey.  The White House statement says the policy authorizes combatant commanders in exceptional circumstances, to -- to use these.  What does that mean, what are the exceptional circumstances?

MR. MERCADO:  See, I look at it for planning, I look at it -- we plan for everything, as you know, from the smallest contingency.  And a lot of our plans are for, you know, significant conflict. OK? So this -- this allows the commanders to plan, and then weave them into their war plan, based on the terrain and the mission.

So, you know, like I said before, they could choose not to use it.  But, again, it's all about limiting casualties.  If you can do it in a -- in a responsible manner and when, OK, I think the most -- the worst case is if you could lose.

Q:  What you described doesn't sound exceptional, it sounds like the norm that you would plan for -- I'm just trying to understand what the circumstances are.

MR. MERCADO:  Well, I would say war is exceptional, I guess is what I'm saying.  I hate to be very broad about that.  But, you know, we have day-to-day operations, what we call phase zero operations, if you like the term, "phasing."

When you -- when you walk through the phases, when you get into no-kidding conflict, very kinetic operations, that's an exceptional circumstance, is when you have to put troops in harm's way, that's an exceptional circumstance.

So I'm -- I'm somewhat general, but from my standpoint as a planner, when I'm trying to plan a conflict and plan for success and mitigate casualties, that to me is exceptional, the fact that you have to go into conflict is exceptional.

Q:  So a major conflict -- a major -- major combat?

MR. MERCADO:  Yes.

Q:  And it has to be approved by a four-star?

MR. MERCADO:  Has to be approved by a four-star.

Q:  And by the Secretary of Defense, is that right?

MR. MERCADO:  The plan -- ultimate plan has to be approved by the Secretary of Defense.

Q:  OK, thanks.

STAFF:  Idrees.

Q:  The White House statement mentions that the U.S. troops have been put at a severe -- quote-unquote, "severe" disadvantage because of the policy -- or the previous policy.  Can you point to any specific example in the past four years, where U.S. troops felt that they were at a severe disadvantage, and where they said, you know, if we had landmines, this really would have turned out quite different?

MR. MERCADO:  No, I think it's a matter of risk -- I think it's a matter of risk.

Q:  ... that it's a severe disadvantage cause that's their word.

MR. MERCADO:  Well -- well it is a disadvantage.  For example, if -- if -- again, if you have two competitors/adversaries and like I said earlier, that -- our -- our advantage over potential adversaries is -- is -- is minimized, you know, it's getting smaller.

So it's a little bit different, I think, from previous time, previous policy, the adversaries they were facing; it wasn't a focus on, like, great power competition, and now we're -- we're -- we see ourselves that -- over that time after decades of -- of being in Iraq -- Iraq and Afghanistan and now we have to re-look at what our mission is, what we owe the -- owe the United States government and the people, is that we have to be prepared for great power competition and that level of conflict.

So without that in the previous -- when you talk about risk and the -- our disadvantage before, going against a -- a near peer power -- and we -- we do not allow our forces, our commanders to employ a capability, when they do and they have thousands, and so I think we'll win.  The cost and the risk is much greater.

So if we can now level the playing field -- but I would say increase our advantage and employ this capability in our planning then looking forward we are in a much better situation in -- in relation to the adversaries.

Q:  So you're talking about Russia and China, it sounds like.

Q:  Yeah, go ahead.

Q:  Is that right?

MR. MERCADO:  Well, I mean, we're -- we're talking about near peer competitors, yes.

Q:  OK.

Q:  Sylvie from AFP.  You said that we can start developing them.  Does it mean that you don't have these land mines ...

MR. MERCADO:  We have certain -- we have the Gator mine that's being used in -- in Korea.  I mean, we have other mines of various capabilities and various deliveries.  Some you deliver, you know, locally, others by artillery, others by helicopter.

So we have some of these mines, and right now some of the -- the mines that we do have are only based on the previous policy, we're only allowed to use them in Korea.

Q:  So what is the timeline for developing the new technologies?

MR. MERCADO:  Well I think we -- we've been compliant with the policy.  So right now, I think when the President canceled the policy and delegated to the Secretary of Defense, now we can start down that road.

So I think we have what we have in our inventory right now and the previous policy precluded us from doing much.  So now we're allowed to do it.

STAFF:  And Gordon?

Q:  Just to clarify, though, so it wouldn't be used necessarily on the ground in, like Afghanistan, cause that's not a near peer -- I mean, we -- could it be -- it seems like it could be effective on the ground.

I have another question actually but this is -- this is to clarify Bob's.  Like, could it be used in other theaters that are not necessarily near peer -- Syria, Afghanistan?

MR. MERCADO:  Yeah, I think that's where, again, we try -- since I've been in a -- in a -- in a COCOM [combatant command] staff, you know, and now if I get a capability that I now could employ if I think it would lend to mission success, then I have to develop that plan, and then ultimately a four star commander has to say, "I need this, I -- it's an exceptional circumstance, there's no other alternative likely," and then -- and that plan will have to come up and be reviewed.  It'll be reviewed by my office and ultimately approved by the Secretary of Defense.

So I'm trying not to -- again, now we have a tool, it's like the -- any other conventional weapon so now that's why it's delegated to the Secretary of Defense, who now has -- has the control over conventional weapons.  And we treat it just like anything else.

Q:  But that was a -- so my real question is this, is, you know, obviously the traditional mines that are, you know, buried and maim and kill innocents, including kids; these are different, as you point out, but I just want to make sure I understand, like, just because they can self-destruct or whatever within 30 days, how does that mitigate necessarily that innocents wouldn't be injured or killed?

MR. MERCADO:  Well, I think there's certain requirements that you have to know that where they are and you're responsible for that minefield after you ...

Q:  You or the commander ...

MR. MERCADO:  ... the commander.  So I think, you know, all of that comes into play and -- and also other -- other provisions in the -- in the protocol for CCW is, like, signs - things like that.  So all of the -- we -- we still are required to take the same mitigation measures to avoid civilian casualties as -- as we had in the past.

STAFF:  Ryan.

Q:  Can I -- can I just ask -- so Ryan Browne with CNN -- can I -- can I just ask one follow up onto Sylvia's question first?  The -- the current mines in the inventory that have been kept since -- for the Korea scenario previously, did they have the 30 day self-destruct deactivation?

MR. MERCADO:  Right -- right now, the mines in our inventory -- and I -- I -- you know, what I -- what I know right now is, first of all, we don't have any persistent mines.  We have zero -- we don't maintain.  The only in the policy you'll see we main -- we can maintain some persistent mining -- mines to allow research and development to help demining operations.

So other than that, we have no persistent mines.  Every mine that we carry has to be non-persistent with those features.

Q:  Great.  And then the question I had about the -- can -- a lot of people think mines -- it's been so long since they've been part of the U.S. operations, so can you help me -- I mean, these contingencies, can you kind of describe a contingency where this would be a useful asset to the U.S. military to have?

MR. MERCADO:  You know, God, you know, I’d like, we mentioned potential competitors, right?  You -- you -- you -- certain geography, places, you know, in -- in -- in Europe or other places, you know, where you are now, like -- again, I have to say, we -- we -- our business is trying deter -- deter conflict, but we are required and -- and it's our job, to plan for and win using the capabilities -- that we have and mitigate risk.

So, you know, God, I -- you know, every time you talk about a great power war with one of the powers today, that's always sensitive; so you could just take a look at today's modern warfare and multi-domain fight that could happen in any number of places, whether it is the Baltics or whether it is any number of -- and I hate to go into locations because when I look at this -- is a capability that -- that heretofore we have denied our -- our men and women from taking it and planning and do that level of -- of analysis.

See I am not now there in EUCOM.  However, the discussions I had with them previous to , is if we had this capability, we can actually now shape the battle space. We can create areas for the enemy to avoid.  Right now, they did not have -- before, they did not have that capability.

So rather than, you know, concentrating on specific adversaries on that, there's a number -- who -- who knows where the adversary's going -- who it's going to be in -- in five to 10 years from now, but at least now we have removed the restriction on our forces; and I think technology allows us to do that.

If we weren't -- if -- if we weren't comfortable that the technology would be there, that we can do both, that we can mitigate the risk to our forces and ensure that we minimize civilian casualties, then we wouldn't probably put this policy in place.

STAFF:  Luis.

Q:  Hi, I'm Luis Martinez with ABC.  Is the plan to replace the existing inventory with the new land mines that have a self-destruct capability like the Gator, or do you -- or you're more limited now in employing that capability ...

MR. MERCADO:  No, I -- I think part of it is we always monitor our stockpiles.  And, you know, as you know, things -- we -- we monitor reliability.  If we think something's not in -- it's not only mines, it's -- it's missiles, it's weapons.  If they're past due dates and their reliability's in question, we have to replace them.

And so now with -- with -- if we are allowed to do some more research and -- and development and improve on these capabilities and make them even better then -- then we should do that, but now we can engage in those kind of activities.

So I think the Gator is one.  I think, you know -- again, I'm not -- I'm not an expert on all of the different mine tools that we have.  Again, I know there are -- there are -- there is a variety of mines that we maintain in our inventory, but all are non-persistent and all have those kinds of features.

And again, like I said, as part of this analysis that Secretary Mattis directed, we looked at that and we looked at the reliability, and that's when they came out, you know, six in one million.  Pretty good.  Can we make it better?  We -- we can make it better.

So again, we -- the -- we have to monitor our stockpiles, as we do -- as we do every weapon and, you know, I -- I used to be a weapons officer, too, so you monitor the -- maintenance due dates and things, and I was in the acquisition side where you had to test its cradle of grave, from, you know, development all the way to maintenance all the way to the grave, where you need to replace it.

So all of that comes into play.

Q:  So you're not just limiting yourself to the use of the self-destruct mines?

MR. MERCADO:  No, all of them have to be -- have to have that capability -- self-destructs and -- and self-deactivating, all of them.  So, you know, can we make it even more refined?  I told you we can do it in hours, days, right now, weeks.  Even though the standard is 30 days, we -- we -- we're even more refined.

And we've committed not to use persistent at all.  So ...

STAFF:  Caitlin.

Q:  Yeah, just two clarifying questions I think are important for our audiences.  You said that the use of these is for "when any -- when troops are in harm's way, that's an exceptional circumstance," and then follow up, you said for me -- then you said "major conflict with a near peer," and then you kind of went back down and said "any time, you don't want to kind of, like, remove that from the capability of a commander to decide and plan for it when they determine it."

So are you saying that these mines are only going to be used in a great power competition conflict between two nation states, or are you saying that any time commanders believe that soldiers and Marines are going to be in harm's way and these are necessary, they can be used?

I'm just trying to ...

MR. MERCADO:  Yeah, no, I -- no, I understand what -- what you're getting at because ...

Q:  ... my follow up, too, is the scenario, how are these being used?  Is this being used for, you know, protection of a base, an outpost during an operation; are they, like, going to carry them around on a patrol?  Like, could you give a scenario, as well?

(CROSSTALK)

MR. MERCADO:  Well, you -- you – you’ve touched on just about everything, because pre- -- heretofore, we couldn't even write plans that included this capability.  So, you know, I -- I -- we have wonderful four-star combatant commanders and that's where the authority lies.

Q:  Right.

MR. MERCADO:  So in -- in -- during every situation, you do what you call an Intelligence Preparation of the Environment, and you understand all aspects – pol, mil intel, and then you go through your mission analysis and you look at what it would take to plan to achieve the objective.

And from my standpoint, again I'm not the four-star commander, but they will review that situation.  And when you talk about what the most extreme case is, that is a major theater war -- or being prepared to do that.  And I'd say that's an easy case.

Q:  But what about less than a major conflict right -- like, right now.  Like Afghanistan, would we use them in Afghanistan, because soldiers are in harm's way?  Would we use them in Niger?  Would we use them in Kenya?  Would we use them in Syria?  When they're in harm's way, would a combatant commander say, hey, I want to use them to protect my forces and to deter people from attacking them?  But they're not in a near-peer conflict.  Are you saying that's on the table?

MR. MERCADO:  Yeah, you see, right now I'm not there.  From what I see right now, I don't see that.  So...

Q:  Right.

MR. MERCADO:  ... but again, I'm not the four-star commander.

Q:  You don't see them...

Q:  You don't see them using them in Afghanistan or...

MR. MERCADO:  Right, I don't see that right now.

Q:  ... OK.

MR. MERCADO:  You know, because again, this was under the guise of implementing our National Defense Strategy and -- great power.  But...

Q:  We're still fighting wars elsewhere, though.

MR. MERCADO:  ... But we're still fighting wars. 

Q:  Right, right.

MR. MERCADO:  But you know, if you are faced with a decision it's at a very high level.  And the useful application of a mine could save lives and minimize -- whilst minimizing civilian casualties and you can control that greatly.  And should you consider it, or should you not consider it? 

So it's back to your -- you know, you're very -- you're asking a very complex question, when now we've just rescinded a , and now we have this ability to take a very good, exquisite capability today and see how we can best use it. 

MR. MERCADO:  So I'm not -- I'm -- I don't want to try -- to try to, you know, corner our commanders into...

Q:  I understand.

MR. MERCADO:  ... what you can or cannot do.  Because I found in my career that every situation is different; but -- but -- but you always, in every case, whether it – in operation we do -- we always look at collateral damage and decisions are made on that.  You know, you want zero, and mines are a part of that equation.

STAFF:  Paul.

Q:  I'm Paul Sonne with the Washington Post.

MR. MERCADO:  Hey, Paul.

Q:  I was trying to figure out -- so if the technology is so good that it's a one in 6 million chance...

MR. MERCADO:  Six in 1 million.

Q:  ... Sorry, six in 1 million chance that...

MR. MERCADO:  Difference.

Q:  ... And six -- that's a six in 1 million chance what?  That it goes wrong ...

MR. MERCADO:  It's reliable.  It's -- it -- the self-destruct -- the self-deactivation mechanisms will work.

Q:  Will work.  And so if it's that reliable, presumably it was that reliable five years ago when the Obama administration put this policy in place.  So, why did the Obama administration...

MR. MERCADO:  I don't know.  I don't know that that's the case, but, OK.

Q:  So I guess, why, if we had all, you know, non-persistent mines back then and the technology was also good enough, for some reason they thought that this would still pose a danger. 

MR. MERCADO:  You know, I think that...

Q:  Is there some reason why they?

MR. MERCADO:  ... Well, I – I -- don't -- I wasn't there.  I was on active-duty.

Q:  Yes.

MR. MERCADO:  I think the strategic environment has changed greatly.

Q:  OK.

MR. MERCADO:  I think, you know, we used mines in Iraq, right?

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  Gulf War?

MR. MERCADO:  Not now.  Sorry.  I’m talking about a previous strategic environment, you know, back year -- lots of years.  Sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

MR. MERCADO:  Thank you very much.  But you know, the strategic environment has changed since then, so I don't -- I don't make judgments on any previous administration or not.  I just know people at the time make the right decisions based on the facts that they are given in the strategic environment.

I will say right now, based on, again, our National Defense Strategy and Secretary Mattis and what he directed, that the environment has changed and we see that in everything that Secretary Esper has tasked us to do to be able to regain readiness to be able to reset ourselves for great power competition, because we have been so mired into some of these other wars and contingencies.

Q:  And then one just to...

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  ...Can I just follow-up on that quickly?

MR. MERCADO:  Yes.

Q:  Just one thing I think everyone's getting at, is that you're pointing out that the environment has changed and there is a review of various authorities as a result of a possibility...

MR. MERCADO:  Yes.

Q:  ... of having a conflict with Russia and China.  But I think it would be helpful for readers to understand in what scenario mines might ever come into that.  People don't really understand how they're used...

MR. MERCADO:  I know, that's -- that's the same question.

Q:  ... Yes, and I understand you don't want to say, well, what if Russia were invading Estonia and we wanted to block off the border, because that gets specific.  But I think -- I think -- or if China were invading Taiwan.  I mean, there has to be some sort of somewhat-concrete scenario in which people can understand why something that is seen as pretty dangerous is going to be used again.

MR. MERCADO:  Yes, in my business -- planning business, you know, there's no absolutes.  I mean, you want an absolute, but there's no absolute.  So...

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  We're not asking for a...

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  ... looking for a theoretical example.

Q:  ... totally example, not -- doesn't bind anybody, just an example.

MR. MERCADO:  ... I can -- I -- generally speaking, I can think of more scenarios that do not require landmines than scenarios that do.

Q:  Then you probably shouldn't do this, right?

MR. MERCADO:  What?

Q:  Then you probably shouldn't do it.

MR. MERCADO:  Right.  So if -- if...

Q:  So -- but then why change the authority, if that's the case?

MR. MERCADO:  ... Right.  So if they're -- well, that's why the authority is left where it ought to be, at the four-star commander level.

Q:  OK.

MR. MERCADO:  And that's why I say contingency ops and things always come in for a review, and are approved by the Secretary of Defense.

Q:  Right.

MR. MERCADO:  So, the threshold for deciding that a situation could require it is held at a very, very senior level, which is the four-star combatant commander; no one below them, OK? And then after that it'll be reviewed and approved by the Secretary of Defense.  The plan now; so, you know, like I said. 

But, you know, the -- I guess the best -- considering there are no absolutes, the best I can do is say, there are many more operations -- most of the operations that I've been exposed to; have participated in the past; and when I look at all the plans that I've been involved with, many more don't require it than would. 

But now, we have the opportunity, should the judgment at a very senior level deem it as the best way when you -- because you always do COA developments, right, course of action developments.  You get a -- you get a nasty problem, you do the mission analysis that I talked about. 

You develop various COAs with various risks associated with that, and those are presented to the senior leader and he gets to pick.  And the only person who can pick the COA is a four-star combatant commander. Should it -- should it recommend that the best way to get at the risk equation is using anti-personnel land mines.

STAFF:  Jim, then Jeff.  Go ahead, Jim.

Q:  Hi.  Jim Garamone, DOD News.

MR. MERCADO:  Hey, Jim.

Q:  Presumably, you spoke to Marines, and soldiers, and I guess all service members who would -- who would use mines, what did they tell you about -- about the capability and the need for the capability?

MR. MERCADO:  I talked to -- I talked to -- when I knew this was still being staffed and being worked -- and I've been in the job for about a year like I said, when I make a trip -- and I went on a to trip to Army Forces Europe, and I just talked about that. And like I said earlier in my initial remarks; and they said, that is the -- that gives them the ability to shape the battlespace, to mitigate some of the risk to force that they have to accept right now, just in a planning standpoint.

So we got to -- got to understand that this is from a planning standpoint, because they didn't have that ability to -- to plan and use and employ that in the -- under the previous policy.

So when I talk -- and I only talk to the more senior folks, I haven't talked to -- I haven't talked to my son or his Marine roommate, you know, at the Naval Academy, and maybe I will, you know?  When I -- when I leave here.  I think they're skiing right now, crazy kid.  And maybe I'll have that discussion.

So what I talked to is, is to leadership, three-star level and above.  And -- and I was told directly.  I said, what if -- and he said, that would give us the chance to shape the battlespace that we have to -- and shaping the battlespace, you know, that gives you that advantage.  If you don't have the advantage, and he's using mines and things like that, then it's not a fair fight.

Q:  And back in the bad old days of the Soviets, placing minefields along the East German and Czech border was a -- was to channelize the Soviet...

MR. MERCADO:  Yeah.

Q:  ... formations as they came across, so they would only go in those areas where there was a (inaudible).  And the same sort of things in Korea, right?

MR. MERCADO:  Right.  You can take a situation where, in the early stages, we could be extremely outnumbered. OK? And by adding this capability and to be able to shape that battlespace, that's an enormous equalizer that could allow more forces to flow in.  So, previously, we did not have the ability to do that, and had to accept that risk.

STAFF:  Jeff, last question.

Q:  Thank you.  Just so I understand, the Gators you described that are currently in the inventory, do all of them have the ability to be disarmed or destroyed after 30 days, and they have a backup device?

MR. MERCADO:  Yes.

Q:  All...

MR. MERCADO:  And -- the challenge with the Gators, when you look at that, there's an anti-vehicle landmine component, and an anti-personnel landmine component because you dismount and things like that. 

So it gets -- that's why, you know, you really got the previous policy really created some dilemmas, you know?  Because there's a component.  So this actually just kind of standardizes things, and yes, they are non-persistent and they do have the capability to do that level of destruction.

Q:  And as a very quick follow-up, you had mentioned the failure rate was something like six...

MR. MERCADO:  Six in one million, I remember that because of Six Million Dollar Man, I'm an old guy from...

Q:  One in six million or six in one million?

MR. MERCADO:  Six in one million.  That's when you said -- one in six million, I said, that's a little bit different.

Q:  Now, I'm really bad at math, but I thought an issue in 2014 is, the DOD was unable to get the failure rate down to 1%.  Six in one million sounds a lot more than 1%.

STAFF:  No, that was cluster munitions.

Q:  That's cluster munitions?

STAFF:  Yeah, you're talking about cost in munitions.

Q:  Oh, OK.  Thank you.  I defer to my colleague from The New York Times, who I think has a question.

STAFF:  I already called the last question, sir.  Do you want to...

MR. MERCADO:  OK, we can go one more.

Q:  Yeah, I just wondered, the prior administration ...

MR. MERCADO:  Unless -- unless I'm stumped...

Q:  Yeah, I'm John Ismay with The New York Times...

MR. MERCADO:  Hey, John.

Q:  ... and you -- the administration has rolled back restrictions on cluster munitions use …we've leaving… the INF [Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces] Treaty has -- you know, the United States has left that.  Now, we're engaging in new generations of anti-vehicle and anti-personnel landmines.  Is there any intent to bring back chemical, biological weapons?  Or to use small nuclear weapons, is that...

MR. MERCADO:  You know, I -- well...

Q:  ... because that's sort of the only place to go.

MR. MERCADO:  ... let me just talk to one of those aspects.  When I talk about strategic imbalances -- and I'll just talk to one of those things -- post-INF, OK?

Q:  The what?

MR. MERCADO:  The post-INF, where we withdrew...

Q:  OK.

MR. MERCADO:  ... from the -- post-INF Treaty.  And when you look at the systems when Russia -- and we gave them a chance, I think for years, for 2013, tried to get them back into compliance, and watched them fielding the SSC-8, I think it is, which was -- you know, if you look at the ranges, it was in violation.  So you can't have a treaty when only one person is complying.

So -- and then you look over on the China side, and I have a slide -- in fact, I used this slide before, when we talk to some of our partners -- and you look at the DF-21, 26, and who's to say that those could not be potentially dual-use?

And you look at some of the capabilities they are fielding, and then -- the way the slide has, shows what Russia's fielding, which are -- the ranges are in violation of the INF Treaty, and you look at what China is fielding, and they aren't even a party to that because they weren't there at the beginning.

And you look at what we have, which is zero...

Q:  Right, but for...

MR. MERCADO:  ... so -- but...

Q:  ... chemical, biological weapons...

MR. MERCADO:  ... it's back -- it's back to that...

Q:  ... other people have them, we've had them.  There are certainly justifications, that if you're outnumbered, these would be the things to use.  Or if you're trying to use them for area denial, that those are useful...

MR. MERCADO:  Yeah...

Q:  ... so why not use them as well?

MR. MERCADO:  ... I -- I think to generalize, it says that there's some trend here, that we're going to -- you know, to me, that's not the case.  I mean, the example I gave to you of the INF Treaty is to -- to get at these strategic imbalances.

Now, again, I'm not -- I'm not an expert on what we have on the chem-bio side, so that hasn't even come across my -- my desk as an issue.  So I wouldn't extrapolate to say that this portends something else, whatever.

What I'm talking about is, again, to give ourselves the capabilities that we need to mitigate some of that risk.  So I -- you know, trying to extrapolate this to other areas, I -- I have not even seen -- you know, I'm not prepared to even -- I -- I don't see that at all.  I only can talk to a couple of things that -- that I understand from -- and what we've been doing with regard to, say, post-INF is an example.

And this one, to me, is really extremely important from a planning standpoint.

(CROSSTALK) 

Q:  What was the attribution again?  Sorry.

STAFF:  It's on the record.

Q:  On the record.

Q:  On the record, all right.

(CROSSTALK)         

MR. MERCADO:  No, hey, thanks.  I think this is my first media roundtable ever, so -- but anyways, hey, I appreciate it, really appreciate what you do.  I think it is important.  Really, the -- the documents that you have there, we -- we really spent some time to make sure they are accurate and they try to answer as many questions as possible.   

Hopefully, I didn't -- you know, I helped review them and helped write them, they almost quotes from me as well.  At least the press release side.  The secretary, obviously, is the one who -- who approved the updated policy.

Thanks for what you do, really appreciate it.  You know, will I ever have to do one of these again, Candice?

STAFF:  Yes.

(Laughter)

 [*Eds. note:  the correct title of the office is Strategy, Plans and Capabilities]