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DoD News Briefing January 5, 1999

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
January 05, 1999

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing room. Thank you, Ivan. That's very cherry of you. Thank you for that. Happy New Year to you all as well.

Let me bring you up to date on the coalition efforts to enforce the no-fly zone over Iraq. As you know, no-fly zones in the north and the south cover about 60% of Iraqi air space. These zones are patrolled by U.S. and British planes on a regular basis. And in the last two weeks or so, Saddam Hussein has been violating these no-fly zones with some regularity. These no-fly zones that were set up pursuant to United Nations Security Council resolutions that were designed to prevent Saddam Hussein from using his forces to attack his own people, using his air forces to attack his own people and from using his air forces to threaten his neighbors. And we have been policing the no-fly zone in the north above the 36th Parallel since 1991 and been policing below the 33rd Parallel, first it was the 32nd, now the 33rd Parallel since 1992.

Early this morning, and I want to preface this by saying the assessment of these missions is still ongoing in southwest Asia where the pilots are being debriefed and their films are being reviewed, and the information that the pilots are providing both verbally and from their films is being combined with other information we've assembled. So, the analysis is ongoing and some of these facts may be subject to change. But let me give them to you as best I have them now.

There were two incidents. The first occurred at approximately 2:15 this morning, Eastern Standard Time. It occurred to the southwest of Baghdad. A U.S. F-15, two U.S. F-15s, were illuminated by Iraqi MIG 25s and they responded by firing air-to-air missiles. The second incident occurred at approximately 2:30 in the morning Eastern Standard Time to the southeast of Baghdad. Both of these occurred when Iraqi planes had dipped below the 33rd Parallel. Two MIG 25s engaged two F-14s flying off the carrier Vinson, and they responded by firing missiles at the Iraqi planes. The Iraqi planes, when they saw that they were engaged and being fired upon, turned sharply and beat a hasty retreat out of the no-fly zone, and the U.S. planes returned safely to their bases.

And in sum, that was the incident. I'd be glad to take your questions.


QAbout how many Iraqi planes were involved? And did the -- the way the Iraqi planes flew, was there an apparent attempt to trap U.S. planes?

AWell, that certainly is a suspicion. We're always suspicious of so-called SAM traps or other types of efforts to trap our planes by luring them over surface-to-air missiles or luring them into a trap where one plane will lure one of our planes closer to another opposing plane and get fired at from different angles.

Our pilots are trained to deal with those traps, and they're very aware of the risk they may face, and they're, as I say, trained hard to avoid those. But let me say we don't know exactly what's going on here. In the broad sense, it does appear that Saddam Hussein is frustrated and maybe even desperate after Desert Fox. Our analysis of that, of those raids, is continuing. But from everything we know, it appears that the raids caught him totally by surprise and were more damaging than we initially anticipated. They seemed to have set him back and generated some unrest within Iraq. There seems also to be perhaps more degradation of basic infrastructure. We hear anecdotal reports of longer and more frequent brown-outs now than before. But much of this information is anecdotal. And we don't have a clear picture of what's going on in Iraq. But it does appear that Saddam is frustrated because he hasn't been able to win a lot of support from neighboring Arab countries. He has not been able to win the support he hoped for from the U.N. Security Council to promote his goal of escaping the sanctions. He doesn't seem to be any closer to that. This type of challenge that were seeing in the no-fly zone could be, could be I say, a sign of that frustration. We can't psychoanalyze him, so we'll just have to wait and see what events produce.

QJust briefly, how many planes violated the southern zone?

AThere were, we believe, in the southern no-fly zone today a total of eight violations. And that may have involved as many as 13 to 15 planes, Iraqi planes.

QWhat do you mean by violations?

AWhat I mean is, typically, they dart into the no-fly zone, which means they fly below the 33rd Parallel. Some of these are longer than that. Some are in -- sometimes they go for a minute or two, or they may go for as long 10 or 20 minutes. Some of these violations -- many of them, have been taking place -- particularly the deeper ones, have been taking place at times they know our planes are not up flying over southern Iraq. Almost all of these violations have taken place in the southern no-fly zone as opposed to the northern no-fly zone. Many of them take place at times that our planes are not in the air.

QYou've got 13 planes but only eight violations, does that mean not all the planes crossed --

AI'm sorry. I believe there were eight instances where they crossed. Some of the planes may have crossed, some may have stayed back. I don't have a complete picture of what happened.

QDo you have the results of what happened from the firings of the U.S. missiles? Was there any damage done to the Iraqi planes, and did they in any way, shape or form return fire? You've talked about them engaging the U.S. aircraft. What do you mean by that?

AIn the first case, I pointed out that to the best of our information, the F-15s were illuminated by the radar in the Iraqi MIG 25s. When this happened, they immediately fired missiles. They fired Sparrow missiles and AMRAM missiles back. This was the first incident that occurred in the southwest, southwest of Baghdad. The second case, I'm not exactly sure how the engagement took place. But F-14s saw -- two F-14s saw planes over the no-fly zone boundary within the no-fly zone and they fired two Phoenix missiles. In both cases, the Iraqi planes turned quickly and escaped. They quickly left the no-fly zone, and they escaped without being shot down. The American planes returned safely to their bases.

QThere was a report --

AYes, there is a report that a MIG 23 crashed before landing, perhaps because it ran out of gas. We believe that to be the case, but we do not have certainty on that right now.

QTotal number of missiles fired?

AThere were six missiles fired.

QThe F-15s, for instance, carry the AMRAM and you said the Sparrow. The AMRAM, according to our facts on file, is a $300,000 plus missile. We've been told in the past it was an extremely accurate medium range missile with a range of 30 to 50 miles. Why did all these missiles miss? I mean, maybe one was understandable, but to have six missiles miss their targets -- is the Pentagon concerned?

AOur missiles are extremely accurate. And they're the best there are. But the fact of the matter is air-to-air combat is an extremely engaging and demanding type of war. And when planes are notified that they're under fire, they turn quickly and change their direction very quickly, their altitude perhaps, very quickly and leave. I don't know a number of things about this engagement that I would have to know to be able to answer that question precisely. But of course, one of the issues is distance, the range between the planes when the missiles are fired, how much time the missile has to reach the plane and how much time the opposing plane has to turn around and go in the other direction, which of course, makes it much more difficult or perhaps impossible for the missile to catch up. Even though the missiles are faster than the planes, if they have to close a very large distance before they run out of fuel, they may not be able to do that.

QWhy does Saddam have any MIGs to use at all? Were they not targeted in the Desert Fox operation? And why does he have any zone that's his own -- why isn't the whole country a no-fly zone?

AWell, first of all, Iraq is a large country. It's around the size of California. And there are many places to disperse aircraft. As you know, during Desert Storm, he sent some of his aircraft to Iran, which turned out to be a bad mistake, because he didn't get them back. Many of the aircraft were shot down, and many of were bombed, but not all of them. He does have a small, aging air force. Many of his planes, the MIG 21s, MIG 23s came into service in the '70s. They're quite an old design. We don't think that he's been able to get spare parts and keep them in flying shape as much as he'd like to. But he's been able to secret these planes over the years. And therefore, he does have an air force. And he works hard at trying to do what he can to keep that air force flying.

Secondly, we believe that the northern no-fly zone above the 36th Parallel and the southern no-fly zone below the 33rd Parallel give us adequate space to prevent him from doing what the U.N. resolutions are designed to block, and that is attacking his people and minority groups such as the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south, the Marsh Arabs, etc. And they're also designed to prevent him from flying against his neighbors.

Yes, Brian.

QFollowing Desert Fox, the Secretary said that if Saddam showed evidence of rebuilding some of the targeted sites, that that would warrant another series of air strikes. Can you give us a sense if whether this cat and mouse game continues if that is grounds to go after some of these SAMs [in] another Desert Fox like operation.

AWell, we already have gone after some of the SAMs. We did, at the end of December, strike two SAM sites. One of the consequences of that is that he has been much less aggressive in using his SAMs than he was before the end of December. He has not turned on those radars to illuminate our planes. The SAMs don't seem to be an active part or as active a part of his air defense system now as they were before we went against two SAM sites at the end of December. What he does -- he has made up for his relative passivity with the SAMs by being more aggressive with his airplanes. And as I said, we are being very careful not to be lured into traps that he may be setting up for us. But we are also being aggressive in protecting the no-fly zones, and I think that what happened today is an example of that. We are willing to go after his planes when they challenge our planes or when we encounter his planes.

QYou mentioned that this appeared to be part frustration on the part of Saddam, but really what it looks like is active defiance. He said he's not going to abide by the no-fly zone because he thinks they're imposed by the U.S. and not the United Nations. Is another explanation for this that Saddam is climbing out of the box which the administration claims that he's still in?

AI see no sign that he's climbing out of that box. Quite the opposite. For him, for Saddam Hussein, defiance frequently is his only strategy. He certainly has not been working in a way that would allow him to rebuild his country or to help his people. Nor has he been following a policy that would make it possible for the U.N. to remove the sanctions or some of these no-fly zones that have been erected pursuant to the U.N. resolutions. It is very difficult to psychoanalyze Saddam Hussein, but some of this evidence looks like desperation. He has tried at times in the past, '97 was one, '93. There have been periods in the past when he has challenged the no-fly zone. There's been a period of challenges, and these challenges have not succeeded. And then he has retreated to a non-threatening posture. We're going through a period of challenge. We're responding to those challenges, and we'll continue to respond to those challenges.

QPlanes on the ground as well as in the air if this continues? Frankly, there's some in this building and outside the building, including former Marine Corps Gen. Butch Neal, who are reporting that they believe Saddam wants to capture an American pilot or air crew and hold them hostage. Can I get your comments on that?

AFirst, responding to the second question, he may well want to do that. It would be a grave mistake on his part if he did that. Responding to your first question, I think I'll leave the future vague. We have a variety of options. We've shown that we're willing to use force and significant force quickly and by surprise at the time of our own choosing, and that remains an option on the table.

QYou mentioned the signs of instability. Can you give us any better idea what you're talking about when you say there're some signs of increased instability?

AWell, certainly, there seems to have been some recent assassinations that have taken place in Iraq. At least we've seen reports of these assassinations. Now, sometime our information out of Iraq is frequently anecdotal, and it may take us a while to verify the accuracy of it. But we've seen reports of increased assassinations. Assassination, of course, is one of Saddam's management styles. It's one of his management philosophies, so we expect to see them from time to time. But we have seen a number of assassinations recently. There have been anecdotal reports about increased opposition within the country. We don't know how seriously to take those at this time. As I said, we've seen reports of brown outs, some reductions in services. We see some reports, anecdotal to be sure, but some reports that confidence in his -- popular confidence in his military and defense apparatus has been shaken because of its inability to protect the country. And I would say what's happened today is another example of his air force's inability to protect themselves or the country.

QCan you give us a sense of how close to the 33rd Parallel this was? And are U.S. planes flying farther north than they have been?

AWe fly a variety of mission profiles. Some go closer to the 33rd than others. I don't know exactly how far below the 33rd the planes were at the time the incidents occurred.

QAre U.S. planes flying farther north than they have been?

AAs I said, we fly a variety of profiles, and we vary those profiles. We, on a regular basis, do fly close to the 33rd. But I can tell you that we particularly vary our flight profiles.

QIf our planes are attacked, are they allowed to pursue beyond the Parallel, or is that a safe zone for Saddam's air force?

AOur planes, without getting into the specifics of the rules of engagement, are allowed to do what they need to do to protect themselves and to reinforce -- to enforce the no-fly zone.

Q (Inaudible) unrest within the military itself?

AThere have been some anecdotal reports. We don't know how seriously to take these reports about unrest within the military. As I say, much of this information is anecdotal. Much of it requires more time to verify. And as you can well understand, we don't exactly have a lot of friends in Iraq's military who are reporting to us, nor do their newspapers report with the same alacrity that you report about the mood of our military.

QFollow up on both the distance question and his air force. On the distance question, are you at least able to say that the planes that were fired upon were within the range that the missiles have from the U.S. --

AI do not know that to be the case because I don't know these precise details at this time. I assume they were in the range. The way the radars are set up, there are circles, and you know where the plane is in relationship to the missile's range at the time the missile is fired. But remember what happens here. As soon -- the Iraqi planes, like our planes, have radar detectors. And they can detect when they're being targeted by radar, and they can detect when the missile is homing in on them. And as soon as they detect that, they immediately change course. And the fastest, the best way to change course is to do a very fast U-turn and start going back in the other direction. So even though they can't fly as fast as the missile goes, they are basically moving away from the missile initially. The easiest type of air-to-air engagement is where two planes are coming at each other and you fire directly at the plane. But most pilots are trained to avoid that. So they make a very sharp turn and fly away from the missile. They can also change their altitude and do other things. They can throw out chaff. So it's not an easy type of engagement. It looks easy in the movies, but it's not easy in real life.

QOn the question of the Iraqi air force, was the air force targeted in December? Are there more planes than you thought there were? And where did these planes actually come from?

AThese planes came from a variety of bases and I can't -- look, it's very easy to disperse planes. And we knew that planes were dispersed when we attacked. Much of the air force had been dispersed. We had very specific targets. We think we were very successful against, or certainly acceptably successful against, some of the targets we were going after. We were going after certain helicopters, and we were going after certain other class of planes. And we think we were successful in that. We did not get all the planes. But it's very easy to disperse fighter planes and they did do that.

QHow many do you think remain?

AI think I'd have to look at some information before I can answer that. I think at any given time, Saddam Hussein probably has about 300 tactical planes, less than half of which are probably operational.

QWhere do they come from, you were about to say?

AI didn't say that. And I don't know. No, I don't know where they came from.

QWhen was the last time we fired on an Iraqi fixed wing aircraft prior to this incident? It was quite a while, wasn't it?

AThe last time we shot down a plane was, I believe, in December of 1992. I think that may have been the last air-to-air engagement. There have been a number -- on December 27th, 1992, an F-16 shot down a MIG 25. The other engagements were pretty much against SAM sites, as ones were at the end of December of this year. But coalition aircraft have destroyed SAM sites, for instance, on January 13th, 1993. Again, on April 18th, 1993, a coalition F-4-G destroyed an anti-aircraft position after begin illuminated by the site's radar. So most of the responses have been against anti-aircraft sites.

QThis is the third incident that's taken place. Is the patience with this kind of challenge, defiance from Iraq, unlimited, or at some point is the United States going to continue with more air strikes and missile --

AWell, as I said, we've shown our willingness to strike with surprise and force in the past, and that remains an option in the future. I think what today's incident showed was that we are willing to protect our aircraft and we're willing to enforce the no-fly zone. And we can do that with our planes in the area, and we can do it in other ways. We'll look at the facts as they evolve and decide what to do.

QYou said that the damage from Operation Desert Fox was even more extensive than you originally thought. You indicated that it was somehow greater. Can you just update us on the latest damage assessment based on what --

AWell, for instance, in the area of the weapons of mass destruction industry and particularly, the missile production facilities, we struck 12 facilities and hit all 12 facilities. We said earlier, Secretary Cohen said earlier, that we believe we set back their missile production facility by at least a year. We think it could now be as long as two years that it's been set back as we begin to analyze more carefully the pictures and other information we're getting. There are multiple reports that the Ministry of Industry and that the military industry generally have been very severely damaged and that documents and files have been destroyed, and it will take them a long while to rebuild. How long we don't know. It's that type of thing. I hope that we can give you a more detailed account of that sometime soon.

QWhen you say there have been anecdotal reports of possible unrest within the Iraqi military, do any of those reports deal with Republican Guard, or is [it] mainly just the overall army?

AI'm not an encyclopedia on all these reports, but I think they tend to deal with the normal army.

Yes, Tammy.

QGod, I wanted to ask a question for so long, I can't remember. (Laughter)

AI've never seen you short of questions.

QGiven that no-fly zone violations are not exactly a new thing for Saddam, as you pointed out, but it is fairly rare for us to conduct an air-to-air engagement. Does today's action signal a shift in U.S. policy? Either [in] rules of engagement or more aggressive enforcement of the no-fly zone?

AOur rules of engagement remain the same. And so this, from our standpoint, is business as usual enforcing the no-fly zone.

QWould the elimination of more of his military assets, especially his air resources, would that be a credible penalty or reaction by the U.S. forces?

ABill, this is the third question people have asked about what our plans are for the future. We have an ability to strike with surprise and force if we think that's necessary. We'll evaluate the situation as it goes on.

QWere these planes fired on? Excuse me. Were these planes fired on because they illuminated the American jets or because they were in the no-fly zone? You have not fired on planes in the no-fly zone [which], as you say, [has] frequently been violated in the last --

AAs I say, many of these violations in the past, the standard violation... First of all, most of the time, there aren't violations. I would have to say since 1992 in the southern no-fly zone, Saddam Hussein has basically honored the terms of the no-fly zones. When there have been violations, they have tended to be darting in and out of the no-fly zone, just darting over the 33rd and then coming out again. In the last couple of weeks, his violations have become more aggressive. They've become longer and they've become deeper. Some of these violations, in fact, many of them, particularly the deep ones, have occurred at times when he knows our planes are not in the no-fly zone and therefore, we don't have planes in the air to challenge them.

QWhat's the point of that then?

AYou'll have to ask Saddam Hussein that.

QBut you gave him a motive, which is frustration. Can you -- I'm missing a link there. Why do you think it's frustration? What is this tactic and how will that alleviate or what do you think he means to cause by this, especially if you're not up there? He's, you know, being provocative when you're not even around.

AI can't speculate on why he does something that doesn't appear to make sense.

QWhat do you mean when you say frustration or desperation? To do what? To achieve what? Why not just show that he can do this, like Bill suggested, later and that you won't hit any -- call you on promises made in the past to be stricter with him and more aggressive with him?

AI think that he was frustrated by his miscalculation over Desert Fox. I don't think he expected to be attacked. I think that after he was attacked, he expected a rallying around, a rallying of support to his cause and that has not happened. It has not happened among Arab leaders, and it has not happened on the U.N. Security Council. I think he is no closer to his goals today than he was before Desert Fox. In fact, he's farther away from his goals. He's no closer to getting the sanctions removed. He's no closer to achieving control of his air space again; he's farther away from that. I don't know why he's doing what he's doing. The easiest way for him to achieve what he wants, the easiest -- and that is the lifting of the sanctions is to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions. That's the best way for him to help his people. It's the best way for him to get [out] from under being patrolled by foreign forces. He refuses to do that. You should ask him why he refuses to do that.

Q [Was this] perhaps a game of chicken by some macho pilots and missile guys on the ground, or do you think all of this is orchestrated by Saddam and his hierarchy?

AIt's not our experience that there are a lot of freelancers in the Iraqi military, so my sense is that these are people operating under instruction.

QCould you be a little more specific on what missiles we fired? You mentioned the AMRAM and the Sparrow. The Navy planes don't carry those by my recollection.

AThe Navy planes fired two Phoenix missiles, AIM 54s. I don't know whether one was fired by each plane. I think they can carry as many as six each. But I don't know how many they were carrying or whether each plane fired or one fired two. One Sparrow AIM 7 was fired by an F-15 and three AMRAMs or AIM 120's were fired by F-15s. And I don't know how many of these were fired by which planes.

QI'd like to follow up again on a question that was asked a minute ago about the sequence of this. The first incident, you said [was], with American planes being painted. Is that what actually precipitated the incident? And were the Iraqi planes at that time in the no-fly zone, or were they just over the 33rd Parallel? My question being would they have been able to go away unmolested by the United States had they not --

AI can't answer that question because I don't know how close the planes were. But the fact is they were, at that time -- they were in the no-fly zone. They illuminated the F-15s, and then they left very quickly. These were separate incidents. They took place fairly far apart, so they weren't right next to each other. And therefore, it's hard to know until we do [whether] in fact, we may never know whether they were related, in other words, planned, they planned to do this at two separate places at approximately the same time or whether they were complete separate incidents.

QBut only 15 minutes apart from what you're telling us.

AAbout 15 minutes apart. The time's probably -- all these things are subject to revision.

QHow many miles apart -- that was a.m. our time, 2:15 a.m.?

ARight. Hold on here. How many miles apart. It looks like they could have been about 100 kilometers apart. 82.5 miles is about right.

QYou said the purpose of the no-fly zone is to prevent Saddam Hussein using the aircraft to A, threaten or suppress his own people or B, threaten his neighbors. Is there any evidence during the last couple of weeks of more aggressive flying [in] the no-fly zone that he has really done anything militarily significant to do either of those two things, that is oppress his own people or threaten his neighbors?

AWell, we do not have evidence that he's been more aggressive in threatening his neighbors. We have seen over the last six weeks evidence or reports of mass arrests in the Baghdad area and throughout the southern no-fly zone of the Shi'a religious minorities. We have also seen some destruction of and burning, destruction of irrigation systems and burning in a swamp area where the Shi'a opposition live. So there has been in the last few weeks some action against Shiites. Now, also, as was reported in the press, there was an assassination attempt against an Iraqi official in the Shi'a area. These may be just reprisals against that assassination attempt, which failed, or they could be part of another campaign.

QYou meant 82 miles.

AIt was 100 kilometers, which I believe is around 82 miles. And I want to be -- these distances are approximate.

QSaddam Hussein is very protective of his aircraft and has been during the war. What's their operational tempo narrow band that is not within the no-fly zone? Do they --

A62 miles.

QDo they normally sortie in the free area because he is very protective of his aircraft and suddenly have them --

AThat's one of the -- he doesn't have a robust defense industry. He purchases these aircraft and he can't purchase them now. That's one of the mysteries -- why is he putting his aircraft at risk? When he put his SAMs, when he saw that his SAMs were at risk because we were targeting them at the end of December, he stopped putting them at risk. I don't know what his policy is right now. I can't explain why he's doing what he's doing.

QDoes the U.S. have the capability to protect or help the Shiites better from being murdered?

AThe whole point of the no-fly zone is to help protect them. But the no-fly zone can't do everything. It protects them from air attack.

QDoes the U.S. or allied technical means in any sort pick up the planes as they were leaving the ground? And do you know how long they were in the air before they engaged the Iraqi planes --

AI don't know the answers to those questions.

QWere there any F-1 Mirages involved in these incidents?

AThere were F-1 Mirages involved in no-fly zone violations.

QClarify a few things. Do you have a MIG count on the first engagement. And also, I thought you said it was a MIG-23 that you guys believed went down.


QSo was that not involved in either of those engagements?

AWe think that was unrelated to these engagements, but I'm not -- that's one of the things we're still trying to figure out.

QMight have been incursion otherwise, was unrelated to the shooting?

AWell, this is one of the things we're trying to figure out. But I can't tell you right now what the role of the MIG 23 was.

Q (Inaudible) last two weeks?

ANo, last night there were eight violations.

QThe MIG count for the first incident.


QWas there any observation MIG-23 either by our pilots or by AWACS?

AYes, there was observation.

QDid they see a chute?

AI'm sorry?

QDid they see a parachute?

A [For] the MIG-23 that crashed, we speculate that it ran out of fuel and the guy just didn't get to the airfield.

QGoing into an airfield --

AThat's our best information at this time.

QDon't know whether he ejected or not?

ANo. I don't know.

QThere's some speculation that the Iraqi pilots take to the air without enough fuel to leave the country. Is there anything to that?

AWell, there have been reports of defections in the past in Iraqi aircraft. So it could well be part of Saddam Hussein's military management philosophy to send his airplanes up with too little fuel. If, in fact, this pilot ran out of gas, that may be the explanation, but I don't think we know at this stage. It's just speculation.

QDid you say that since December, he's no longer putting his SAMs at risk? What are you seeing? Is he putting them back in hiding?

ANo, but he's not turning them on. He's not turning on the radar so we can target them.

QDo you see a lot of movement of these mobile batteries or are they pretty much staying put?

AWell, he spends a lot of time moving his missiles around. I'm not aware that that's been more aggressive recently. But movements aren't uncommon.

QSince Desert Fox, have you seen any evidence of any rebuilding in the target areas that you struck in Desert Fox?

ANot that I'm aware of, no.

QOn that same subject, you keep talking about, when you're talking about Desert Fox, attacks on the WMD industry. But the only thing we've ever heard about is basically delivery, missile --

AIt's mainly --

QI want to no is there anything else other than the "drones of death" --

A "Anthrax air force?"

Q "Anthrax air force" and the missile engine plant and the fabrication plant and the R&D plant, is there anything else other than those delivery things that was targeted that really is the, quote, "weapons of mass destruction industry"?

AWe've been through that all before. We generally targeted delivery vehicles as we all know because of the wonderful briefings by our British allies. We did aggressively target the "drones of death", "the anthrax air force", the L-29's. And we aggressively targeted some helicopters. But generally, we targeted delivery vehicles or delivery systems.

QKen, our reporter on the Carl Vinson was aware of this encounter when the F-14s returned to the aircraft carrier but wasn't permitted to report it for about eight hours after that. Was that a result of an order from the Pentagon to hold off on the reporting? And if so, what was the idea behind that?

AFirst of all, our plan was to allow this to be reported first by CNN from the Vinson. And you've revealed our plan to the world. We did ask the reporter out of respect for operational security not to report anything until the planes had completed their mission. And there were planes flying in the air in missions, I believe, until about quarter of 9:00 our time this morning. So although this incident did occur early in the morning, we did not want any reporting until after all the planes were out of Iraqi air space and hopefully back to their bases. For better or for worse, but for reasons you can understand as well as I, the information did not hold and it ended up leaking from this building I believe around 8:00. So, I don't think that that's an accurate description. But you can describe it any way you want. For operational reasons, which are very common in the way we deal with members of the press who go aboard ships, we ask that certain reports be withheld until missions are complete.

QWere there any violations after the shooting?

AThat is an interesting question, and I'm not sure I can answer. Generally, it appears that there were not, but I'd have to check. As I said, these were separated, and I'd really have to put down a time chart, which I don't currently have here. But it looks as if there were -- that they basically ended around this time, but I need to check that further.

QCan you tell us the locations of where they took off from and where they crossed --

AI've been asked that, and my map isn't precise enough to say that.

QHas there been any kind of claims on the part of the Iraqis about how many of our planes they shot down or the typical propaganda that they pass out?

ANot that I've seen. You'd probably be more aware of those than I would.

QOn that subject, is it correct that there were no casualties in Desert Fox or today and no equipment damaged, no U.S. or British equipment damaged? Is that correct?

AThere were no American or British casualties, and to the best of my knowledge, there was no equipment damage. But there may have been -- I don't know that for a fact, but I'm not aware that any equipment was damaged.

QNew subject.

AAre we through with this? Hold on just a second.

QCongressman Dana Rohrabacher traveled last month to the Spratly Islands, went over Mischief Reef. And he photographed some Chinese warships in waters off there and said that the Chinese were building military facilities. Is the Pentagon aware of any kind of Chinese military buildup around Mischief Reef or on the Spratlys?

AWe're aware of the Congressman's trip, obviously. And I have nothing more to say about it than that.

QWhy not?

ABecause I don't know the answer to your question.

QWell, could you take the question --

AI'll see what we can find out.

QIs it disturbing that the Chinese have tank-carrying ships 130 miles from the Philippines, 800 miles from their own shores? Is that disturbing? Is that not forward deployment?

AWell, we have appealed to all parties in the Spratly dispute to show restraint, and we repeat that appeal at every opportunity. So I'll repeat it today.

QCan you bring us up to speed on where the budget stands now, particularly in outlays? Have we reached a decision? Are we still playing with the numbers here and the pluses and minuses? What kind of a dump can you tell us now?

AWell, I can't really go beyond what the President said on Saturday. There will be an increase in defense spending proposed in Fiscal [Year] 2000. It will be a turn around that Secretary Cohen has worked for for really the last six or seven months, because he realized that our forces were being stretched too thin. And we need to pay more attention to personnel compensation, more attention to readiness, and we need to make sure that we stay on track toward boosting procurement to $60 billion dollars a year. And I believe that this new budget will do that. It will stay on the track toward $60 billion dollars a year in procurement. It will increase military pay and reform the pension system, and it will provide more money for spare parts, flying hours, training and other readiness elements.

QLooking at outlays yet?

ANo. It's not time to announce the budget.

QDoes the Pentagon advocate to your knowledge any replenishment of the Tomahawk and cruise missile arsenal that's depleted in Desert Fox? Has there been any request that's gone over?

AI'm not aware that that's the case. I think were looking to the next generation.

QYou have any indication of how this money's going to be broken out as far as so much for pay, so much for spares? What about modernization and new equipment? Is this going to be platforms or upgrades or what? Do you have any kind of breakout like that yet?

AThere will be some additions to procurement. There will be some acceleration of R&D, but beyond that, I can't give you specifics on what the breakdown is or the systems. This is all for later this month or early next month when the budget actually comes out.

Yes, Brian.

QSort of a related question. Over the holidays, there was a report --I think it was "Defense Daily" -- that the Secretary was considering delaying the deployment decision for national missile defense. He soon after denied that, but he did say he would have some sort of announcement regarding NMD in the coming weeks. Is that still the plan or --

AAt the appropriate time, we will have an announcement about National Missile Defense.

QWill that be with the release of the budget or separate?

AIt will be at the appropriate time.

QThank you.

AYou're welcome.

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