Military

U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell February 19, 2008

DoD News Briefing with Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon


MR. MORRELL: Hey, good afternoon.

Q Afternoon.

MR. MORRELL: Thank you all for coming today. A brief opening statement. Then I'll be glad to take your questions.

Tomorrow morning Secretary Gates embarks on a nine-day trip around the world. Along the way he will be visiting Pacific Command in Hawaii, participating in the annual AUSMIN talks in Australia, and discussing security matters with his counterparts in Indonesia, India and Turkey.

You will note he departs on the same day the space shuttle is scheduled to land. As the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Cartwright, briefed you last week, touchdown of the Atlantis opens the window of opportunity for the military to shoot down that rapidly decaying U.S. intelligence satellite. General Cartwright and the commander of Strategic Command, General Chilton, supported by a slew of other experts across the military services and indeed the U.S. government, are evaluating the situation and will advise the secretary when they have a shot to take.

Secretary Gates has been empowered by President Bush to order the shootdown, and based upon the advice he gets, he is prepared to do so from the road, if necessary.

Within an hour of the missile being launched, we plan to issue a written statement notifying you, and within hours after that, General Cartwright will hold a news conference here at the Pentagon to brief you on our initial assessment of the operation.

However, you should know that it may take a day or more to determine if the hydrazine tank has been destroyed, thereby alleviating most of the danger posed by this falling satellite.

And with that, I'll be glad to take your questions. I was going to lead off with the birthday girl, Kristin Roberts, but she's nowhere to be found. So how about Reuters, nonetheless?

Q Actually, Geoff, I was wondering, could you tell us how confident Secretary Gates is in the ability of this latent system to shoot down the satellite, given that it is flying much faster than the kind of target that it usually acquires and that the target itself apparently doesn't provide the kind of heat generation that an ICBM would.

MR. MORRELL: I -- that question is inviting me down a slippery slope, I think. I want to take issue with a couple of things in the question, and yet I'm not an expert on this matter, so I hesitate to do so, including the notion that it's actually a harder target for this missile to strike. I do not believe it's traveling faster, but again, I don't think I should weigh into this -- wade into this.

I think what we ought to do is this. You have a briefing that went -- that was lengthy last week from General Cartwright in which a number of these questions were addressed to him. I think I should let that briefing stand. That said, I will tell you this: We plan on providing another briefing for you tomorrow on the process which we are about to undertake, including what kind of access, if any, we can provide to you all for covering this shoot-down if and when it takes place.

But I don't, David, want to get into a situation today from up here in which I go into the particulars and the technical aspects of this.

I will say this. I think the secretary shares the confidence his commanders have. And as it was expressed to you last week by General Cartwright, they have a high confidence that this engagement will indeed be successful. And I think Secretary Gates shares that confidence.

Luis?

Q Geoff, when was the Defense Department tasked with coming up with a potential scenario where they could shoot down this satellite? Was it early January? I mean, was this tasked to where there was feasibility done --

MR. MORRELL: This issue, Luis, was first -- this first became an issue in early January. I'm not going to -- I don't want to get into a situation where I'm talking about when it was officially tasked, but I can tell you this became an issue for the United States government in early January.

Q And at that point, did you gather the contractors and task them with putting together software changes that enabled this scenario?

MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I really think those are good questions -- were good questions for General Cartwright, and they may be good questions for the briefer we provide you tomorrow to get into the process and perhaps into some of the particulars like that, although I really -- I don't want to turn tomorrow's briefing into part two of what was provided last week. This is really to sort of look forward and to tell you about the process that we're about to engage in.

David?

Q There's this notice to mariners out there, puts this window Wednesday night, our time. Is that simply the first time after the shuttle lands that the satellite would come within range, or is that the time the Navy intends to take the first shot?

MR. MORRELL: I think, as we discussed last week with General Cartwright and the NASA administrator and Ambassador Jeffrey, the window of opportunity, as I just mentioned, opens as soon as the shuttle is safely on the ground. At that point, we begin to look at when is the best time to take a shot to bring down this dying satellite. You noted the NOTAM, the notice to airmen and mariners, that went out today. That is a standard notice that goes out in advance of an operation of this sort. It will -- it's a 24-hour notice, so it may take place within that 24 hours.

It may require an additional NOTAM to go out. We have a pretty wide aperture in which to take this shot, and I think that the commanders who are evaluating this are looking at all the conditions that could impact this, to make sure that when we do take this shot, it can be as successful as possible.

Q Are we going to know in advance that the decision has been made to take a shot?

MR. MORRELL: I think the way I've outlined it in this opening statement pretty much sums up how we are going to notify you. We will notify you as quickly as possible after a shot has been taken and we hope that to be within an hour of the launch via a written statement issued from our office here at the Pentagon. And then we hope that within hours after that General Cartwright can be here at this podium briefing you on our initial assessment of things. We can probably tell you at that point whether or not there has been an intercept. The issue, though, is we may not be able to tell you at that point if indeed we have destroyed the tank, and that may require some additional time.

Q How far in advance do you have to make a decision on this pass whether to shoot?

MR. MORRELL: I'm not going to get into, David, the precise timing of how we're going about this operation. I think those matters are best, at this point, kept at a close hold. I think all the people who are -- I can tell you this. I will tell you this. The secretary was briefed today on the plan, given the fact that he leaves tomorrow on this around-the-world trip, so that we all have an agreed-upon series of steps that need to be taken for this launch to be given the go-ahead.

Q Is it hours, minutes?

MR. MORRELL: I'm sorry?

Q Hours, minutes, can you --

MR. MORRELL: You mean hours or minutes -- say it one more time?

Q Does the decision have to be made hours ahead of the actual event, or does it just have to be made minutes ahead?

MR. MORRELL: I would say there is a window of opportunity that is hours in duration that can be utilized.

Q Is it --

Q How many opportunities in a day are you going to have to take the shots?

MR. MORRELL: Not shots, Dave.

Q How many opportunities in a day are you going to have to take the shot or how often is the satellite orbiting the Earth over --

MR. MORRELL: Those are good technical questions for those more skilled than I am in this area. I'm just -- I'm not -- if I start getting into this, I'm going to find myself in a spot that I'm just not comfortable being in. I think -- hopefully when we get you together tomorrow with our process person, if there are additional issues that need to be addressed like this, he can take them up then.

Q Is it safe to say it won't happen before that briefing you're giving us tomorrow?

MR. MORRELL: (Chuckles.)

Go ahead, Pauline.

Q Aside from this mariners notice, is there any -- are there promises made to the international community about giving them notification before it happens?

MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, as we talked about last night, there has -- there have been a series of notifications that have gone out to nations around the world, to international organizations, so that they are well aware at this point of what the situation is that we're confronting and how we plan to address it. So I think everybody is up to date on what our thinking is and what our course of action is going to be, and we will do our best to keep them apprised of how it develops over the coming days.

Q And have you issued an official estimate on how much the operation will cost?

MR. MORRELL: I'm not -- I know we -- I know that was among the issues that General Cartwright was looking at. I didn't come to the podium today with that off-hand. I think when I last heard it -- and this is a range, so we'll have to get you a more precise number -- I think it was from $30 (million) to $40 million was what the operation would cost.

Q Just one? Using one missile?

MR. MORRELL: Well, that's a good question. That's why I hate to get into a situation like this, Pauline. Let's try to take this up tomorrow as well. But I think the operation using, you know, three boats -- and I think it would be totality of the operation. I think it would be reconfiguring the three missiles and having the three ships -- I think the initial estimates were, they would cost in excess of $30 million.

Q Is your understanding that the three ships -- will one of the missiles fire from each of the ships? As I understand -- look, let's assume that the first one misses, the second one misses -- I mean, we are talking about three individual ships that will shoot each one, or would they all come from one?

MR. MORRELL: Again, I'm just going to --

Q (Off mike.)

MR. MORRELL: Yeah. Not for me.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. MORRELL: Not for me.

Peter?

Q And a different topic -- (off mike).

MR. MORRELL: Any more? Any more on these?

Okay.

Q I mean, with the Cuba question, when Fidel first fell sick, there was a lot talk and speculation about contingency planning, particularly for the issue of refugees and migration and this kind of thing. Do you have anything about what SOUTHCOM is up to or -- if anything, in terms of ships being moved, prepared, anything along those lines?

MR. MORRELL: I don't. I don't. I mean, I think that's -- you know, I think that's a question you could certainly pose to SOUTHCOM. If they are making any sort of preparations for any eventuality, it has not been shared with me. I think those questions -- I'll just head this off at the pass -- with regards to Cuba, I think, should be addressed to my colleague over at State. I think this is at this point not something that we here in this building are dealing with.

Q (Off mike.) (Laughter, cross talk.)

MR. MORRELL: (Off mike) – I can talk to you about the Adriatic conference, I was in that meeting.

Q (Off mike) -- pass off to State. The vote in Pakistan, the elections in Pakistan -- the secretary's watching -- reaction to or anything --

MR. MORRELL: No. No. If -- you know, if the secretary's had a reaction, we haven't spoken about it. I mean, I think that's, again, another one that State is best able to handle. I know that Secretary Rice has had a statement which I think sums up where we are on this. And we have a relationship with the government, with the institutions of Pakistan. Above all else, individuals are -- while we have enjoyed good relationships with individuals, the -- our relationship with the people of Pakistan is mainly through the institutions of their government, rather than the individuals that serve in them now.

But I'd direct you for more to State. Yeah. Al Pessin.

Q (Off mike) -- the Adriatic readout.

MR. MORRELL: Yeah. (Laughter.)

Q Only Voice of America.

MR. MORRELL: Wow. (Laughter.) There goes David Martin heading for the wings on the Adriatic readout. (Chuckles.)

The Defense ministers from Albania, Macedonia and Croatia all came in today to meet with Secretary Gates. I think they spent about a half an hour together. This is all part of the fourth annual U.S.- Adriatic Charter Defense Ministerial, although it's the first one that we have hosted here in the U.S.

Today's meeting is really a precursor to a slew of meetings that will take place at a level lower than the secretary tomorrow. I think they culminate with a breakfast on Thursday.

But, you know, they discussed relations between the four nations. Obviously they discussed NATO enlargement. They discussed the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are all countries that are certainly punching above their weight class when it comes to their contributions to those respective wars. And Kosovo did come up as well.

Q What was the substance of the Kosovo part?

MR. MORRELL: You know, I'm not going to get into the particulars of the discussion. I will give you sort of the broad parameters of what they discussed. You know, I think, you know, the main focus of the conversation was really updating the secretary on the measures that their respective militaries have taken to put themselves in position potentially to become members of the NATO alliance.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. MORRELL: Actually two of the ministers spoke English, and one used a translator.

(Cross talk, laughter.)

Q Did the topic of KFOR come up at all?

MR. MORRELL: KFOR, I mean, no, KFOR did not come up in the context of that discussion.

I mean, KFOR, as you know, is really not impacted by the declaration of independence by the Kosovars. It is, you know, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244 is not impacted by the declaration of independence. Therefore the Kosovo Force: Their mission remains as it has been, to provide a safe and secure environment, and to do so in an impartial and fair way. So our forces there, which represent about 10 percent of the 16,000 that are on the ground, will remain there, at least for the foreseeable future.

(Cross talk.)

Q For the Secretary’s trip to India this week, how rigorously is he prepared to press the Indian government to buy potential Lockheed or Boeing airplanes as part of their large fighter program? Their competition?

MR. MORRELL: The secretary is always an advocate for U.S. defense companies.

He believes that these nations are going to arm themselves, going to fortify themselves, and it's best that they do so with us, if possible. And so I would expect that to be a topic of conversation, but I do not trust that it will be the focus of our efforts there. The focus will be on sort of our shared security interests in the region and around the world.

Q One follow-up. Are you prepared to offer any other technological support to India, the sale of command and control aircraft or radar missile defense systems? Anything in particular beyond the airplane issue?

MR. MORRELL: Yeah. You know, Tony, I'm not familiar at this point with what exactly the entire agenda will be with the Indians when we sit down with them. So I'm not in a position to chat with you about that right now.

Peter?

Q Can we go back to the satellite? The memo out to maritime and pilots -- the reported details on is that it's sort of 4:30 local as to when the 24-hour kicks in and it's sort of to the west of Hawaii. Are there any other details you can give us about that memo that went out, at least compare notes?

MR. MORRELL: No. No, I know it went out, and I expect that if a shot is not taken within the 24 hours after that notice went out, there will likely be another NOTAM that goes out.

Q The one the went out, you don't have any details on?

Q But that NOTAM actually is a relatively specific time frame. I mean, it only goes until midnight Eastern Time, or like three or four hours --

MR. MORRELL: And if the shot is not taken within that window of opportunity, there likely will be another NOTAM which goes out with similar parameters.

Q But just to clarify on the time thing again, what you're saying is that at this moment, even though you have an idea of when you might take the first shot at it, no official decision has been made.

MR. MORRELL: That's correct. That -- I can assure you of that, unless something's changed in the last -- since I've come up to talk to you.

Q Who will make that decision?

MR. MORRELL: Who will make the decision on when to take the shot?

Q (Off mike.)

MR. MORRELL: Well, the secretary is authorized to make the decision to authorize taking the shot. He will be presented with the best assessment of General Chilton, the STRATCOM commander, and General Cartwright, who, as you know, is the former STRATCOM commander, now the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs. And based upon the guidance he's given by those two generals, the secretary will make a decision on whether or not to go with it. And --

Q Ultimately it rests on Secretary Gates to decide when to go.

MR. MORRELL: The president has made a decision about how he wants to deal with the threat, the potential threat, posed by this dying satellite and the hydrazine it carries in its tank.

Now, with that decision made, the secretary's the one who will decide if and when to pull the trigger, pardon the term, on the missile launch.

Okay. Tony.

Q On the missile launch itself, a lot of critics of missile defense will seize on a failure to hit the satellite as missile defense is flawed, and this is like a manhood test for missile defense in general.

Does the Pentagon see this at all linked to the ground-based and sea-based missile defense program you've developed in the last decade? Is this a prove-out again of that concept?

MR. MORRELL: There have been many successful missile defense tests to date, which lead us to believe that the system works, and that we should be building upon it. So we are taking this step, as General Cartwright made abundantly clear last week, not to test our anti-satellite capabilities. We did that in 1985. Been there, done that.

This test, or this operation rather, is designed to alleviate a threat to human beings on this planet. There is a large tank of hydrazine fuel, onboard that satellite, that would pose a significant threat to people within the immediate vicinity of it if it were to hit land. And so not wishing to take that risk, the president has asked, ordered this department to shoot down that satellite. And that is what we are now evaluating, and that's what the secretary will decide to do based upon the advice of the commanders.

Q Geoff, can you say whether the secretary will be at some sort of command center in Hawaii? Or will he be going about his normal business and using his communications capability to make that assessment and decision?

MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I would get you off the notion that it's necessarily in Hawaii. We've got a long trip. It's nine days long. It could take place really any time along that trip. So we have the means for the secretary to stay in touch for this or any other eventuality that could come up during that time. It's the nature of the job that he has to be within secure communications and have the ability to communicate orders back to here. And it's no different on this trip or any other.

Q Geoff, the notice to mariners -- who actually issues that?

MR. MORRELL: I don't know who issued that. It may have been -- it sounds like it was the Navy and the Air Force -- airmen and mariners -- or it may have been the Navy. I'm not -- I have not seen the NOTAM. I know it went out. But as to who issued it, I'm not familiar with it.

Yes, Jonathan?

Q Pardon me if we've gone over this, but if we've already taken down a satellite, why not use the same techniques that we did in 1985?

MR. MORRELL: Listen, you're talking -- this -- I majored in English and -- I majored in government and English. I'm not familiar with how we take down satellites.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. MORRELL: (Laughs.) All right, I think we've now devolved to the point where I should adjourn. Is that all right? Is everybody covered?

Q Thank you.

MR. MORELL: Thanks, guys.

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