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

Presenter: Deborah Lee James, Secretary of the Air Force; General Mark A. Welsh III, Air Force Chief of Staff August 24, 2015

Department of Defense Press Briefing by Secretary James and Gen. Welsh on the State of the Air Force in the Pentagon Press Briefing Room

STAFF: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Mike Caldwell, deputy director of public affairs for the United States Air Force, and we'll get started here in about one minute.

Thank you for joining us today for the state of the Air Force press briefing. It's been about seven months since our last press briefing, so we thought it would be a good time to get you caught up on what we've been doing over those last seven months.

Secretary James and General Welsh will be here today to take your questions. Secretary James will start with a short opening question, opening statement, and then they'll both take your questions afterwards.

We have about 45 minutes today, so please, when you ask your question, please state your name and your affiliation first, and limit -- limit your follow up, so we can make sure we get through everybody today.

And with that, Secretary James.


Thank you so much, Mike, and thanks to all of you for joining us this afternoon. I'd like to begin with just a few words about Airman First Class Spencer Stone.

Last Friday, as you know, evil arrived in the form of a heavily armed gunman on a high-speed passenger train in Europe, a gunman who brandished an AK-47, hundreds of bullets, a Luger pistol, and a box cutter. What the gunman didn't expect, however, was a confrontation with our very own Captain America. And believe it or not, that is what Airman Stone's friends nicknamed him during Air Force technical training.

So in a split second Airman Stone and Specialist Alek Skarlatos, Mr. Anthony Sadler, and British businessman, Mr. Chris Norman leapt into action, they subdued the gunman, and they saved lives.

And had it not been for this heroic quartet, I'm quite sure that today we would be sitting here discussing a bloodbath instead of what, in fact, we are going to discuss.

So American airmen bind themselves to a set of core values, which are integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all that we do.

Airman Stone and his friends personified service before self: no question about it. Their fearlessness, courage, and selflessness should inspire all of us, and thanks to them, no one died on that high-speed European train on Friday.

Now as you know this morning, French President Francois Hollande honored Airman Stone and his traveling companions with the French Legion of Honor. And today, we are pleased to inform you that Airman Stone's unit will be nominating him for the Airman's Medal, which is the highest medal for non-combat bravery that we in the Air Force can bestow.

Now I, too, along with others, had a chance to speak with Airman Stone earlier today to thank him, to congratulate him on a job well done, and to see how he was doing. And equally important in my mind, I also had a chance to speak to his mom, to check up on him and see how she thought he was doing. And she in fact confirmed that he's doing quite well physically, but he needs some rest after all this has happened over the last several days.

So I think we can all agree Airman Stone is certainly due that well-deserved rest.

Now, as I think back over the last year, the Air Force's story has been one of high operations tempo, and indeed, many many operations that we have participated in around the world.

We truly are and will remain an Air Force in demand. We participated in humanitarian relief in Nepal. We responded to an Ebola outbreak in West Africa. We've maintained our on-going commitments in Afghanistan, as well as to our Pacific partners. We've stood watch on the Korean peninsula, and we've reassured our allies in Europe in the face of a resurgent Russia.

And indeed, Russia's military activity in the Ukraine continues to be of great concern to us and to our European allies. And I think Secretary of Defense Carter put it quite well last week when he said that our approach to Russia needs to be strong and it needs to be balanced.

Now, rotational forces and training exercises help us maintain our strong and balanced approach, and we will certainly be continuing these in the future. For the Air Force, an F-22 deployment is certainly on the strong side of the coin, and so today, we are announcing that we will very soon deploy F-22s to Europe to support combatant commander requirements, and as part of the European reassurance initiative.

Airmen who are a part of this inaugural F-22 training deployment will train with our joint partners and our NATO allies across Europe as part of our continued effort to assure our allies and demonstrate our commitments to security and stability of Europe. But for operational security reasons, we cannot share with you the exact dates or the locations of this deployment.

Now, turning to the fight against ISIL, which of course has been another big story for our Air Force over the past year, we are now about one year in to Operation Inherent Resolve. And we've said from the start that this would be a multi-year fight that would require political, economic, and military actions.

During this period, our airmen have executed nearly 70 percent of the strikes against ISIL. We've flown more than 48,000 sorties, supporting operations in Iraq and in Syria. And we've made good progress on our strategy of deny, disrupt, ultimately looking towards defeat of ISIL. Thanks to air power, we denied ISIL's advances, and we've completely disrupted their tactics, techniques, and procedures. And in my opinion, had it not been for air power, ISIL might well have overrun an even larger swathe of Iraqi territory and made even greater gains in Syria than was the case.

Instead, over time we have pushed them back. The coalition has halted or eliminated ISIL's presence in roughly 25 to 30 percent of populated areas in Iraq compared to a year ago, and denied ISIL's ability to operate freely in those areas. We've killed thousands of enemy fighters, destroyed ISIL command and control buildings, leveled logistics facilities, and attacked sources of revenue, particularly modular oil refineries. And we've also delivered important humanitarian relief to besieged populations.

The precision that we have used in this campaign is unprecedented in the history of warfare, and it means that we have minimized the loss of innocent life. And we've accomplished all of this with an enemy that wraps itself around the civilian populations who thinks nothing of killing anyone who is not them, and we've done this in a relentless fashion, 24/7, 365.

Now air power can and has done a lot of things, but it cannot hold territory and it cannot govern territory. And this is of course where the Iraqi military, the Peshmerga, the Free Syrians, and the Iraqi government comes in, and where building partner capacity is critical to the way forward.

I want to conclude by saying that we're the greatest Air Force on the planet because first and foremost of our airmen. America expects an Air Force that can fly, fight, and win against any adversary, and this will only occur by properly investing in our airmen and in our capabilities.

So we once again call upon the Congress to make these investments by permanently lifting the sequester and passing a defense authorization bill and a defense appropriation bill that funds our base budget to the president's budget level and gives us some reasonable degree of predictability, flexibility, and stability that we need in order to efficiently answer the nation's call.

So again, I thank you all for joining us today, and we open it up to your questions.

And let's start with you, Tony Capaccio.

Do you have a question? Good.

Q: You said we're standing watch in Korea. That's a hot subject, obviously. General Welsh, or both of you, what generally is some of the assets that you have in the region? Have you been given any -- any instructions from the national command authority to put your most sensitive assets, like the B-2 or B-1 on alert?

SEC. JAMES: Please.

GENERAL MARK WELSH: We are in the process right now deploying three B-2s on a scheduled rotation to Andersen Air Base in Guam. That's coming up in the near future.

We have had the continuous bomber presence, I think you know, Tony, going in Guam for some time now. That will continue. We continue to have airmen stationed on the Korean peninsula who are there full time who are ready for whatever might happen, and they're ready every day. And there has been nothing additional beyond that.

Q: Speaking of bombers I need to ask the secretary, the Air Force for two consecutive years put into the Congress erroneous information on the 10-year bomber plan. It was $38 billion last year, $58 billion this year, and the Air Force tells me that it was a mistake, it's really $41 billion.

How did that happen, ma'am, and why should the public have any confidence in your cost figures when you do finally unveil the bomber program in the winter?

SEC. JAMES: So there has been no change in the costing factors over the last two years. As you said, Tony, it was a mistake. It was a regrettable mistake. It occurred in part because of human error and in part because of process error, meaning a couple of our people got the figures wrong and the process of coordination was not fully carried out in this case. Coordination, of course, means other people are providing a check and balance and looking at the numbers, so that's typically how something like this would get caught.

So we've counseled the people, we've tightened up the process. It's been corrected with the Congress. The key thing is there has been no change in those cost figures and we regret the error. Yes, please.

Q: Hi, I'm Bob (inaudible). I'm with U.S. News and World Report.

Madam Secretary, on the award that you're planning to give to this airman, I wonder if there was ever any consideration for giving him an award for valor? And if not -- if that hadn't been discussed before whether if it comes out that the attacker did have any kind of association with a group like ISIS or Al Qaida whether that would be reconsidered.

SEC. JAMES: Would you take that one please?

GEN. WELSH: There was consideration for it, but for a noncombat award, this is the highest one we can give to an airman that puts his life at risk to help or save another.

We are looking at the potential, if this is characterized by the law enforcement investigation in France as a terrorist-related event, we will look at the precedent established in the Fort Hood incident to look at whether we can award the Purple Heart as well.

Q: And general, a follow-up on a separate topic, you're about to become the most experienced joint chief on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I wonder what kind of advice you're planning to offer to your new colleagues this fall?

GEN. WELSH: Well, I think they should be terrified by what you just said. (Laughter.) No, I think be themselves, tell the truth all the time as you believe it and just understand that everything changes. Do what's best for your people. No change, they all know how to do that, by the way. I'm not telling them anything new. Yes, ma'am?

Q: General Welsh, can I ask you a couple of things? First on the F-22, if it's part of the European reassurance initiative, then straight up, is this not a message that the Air Force is delivering to Putin and the Russians? And then I wanted to ask you a UAV question if I may.

GEN. WELSH: Yes ma'am. I would tell you the F-22 deploying to Europe is just a continuation of deploying it everywhere we can to train with our partners. We're going to be doing a training deployment, we'll operate with a number of different air forces.

We'll get the F-22 into facilities that we would potentially use in a conflict in Europe, things like the bases where we do aviation attachments, to places where we do air policing missions. They'll train with some of our European partners. They're there primarily for an exercise, training with our European partners.

So this is a natural evolution in bringing our best air-to-air capability in to train with partners who have been long and trusted ones.

Q: If I could ask you about UAV missions. Could you talk a little bit about how you and the other services, in fact -- because you would be aware of this -- are having to increasingly potentially rely on contractors to help you and conduct UAV missions, and in particular ISR missions, since contract personnel are not supposed to engage in intelligence gathering activities.

How is all of this working? How are you making that happen since that's not a role for contractors? Do you anticipate them actually getting into providing -- through those ISR missions providing you targeting information?

GEN. WELSH: We have used contractors in the intelligence business and in the ISR business for a long time. That's not a new concept, it's not -- it does not require new approvals. What we're talking about doing is expanding right now the use of contractors to actually operate government-owned systems for the near term until we can get our training pipeline mature enough that it can sustain the load over time.

That's what we're talking about in the current plus-up for contractors assisting us in the ISR business. We don't anticipate at all that they would be involved in kinetic activity or direct targeting of forces on the ground. They would be doing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Yes sir?

Q: Jamie McIntyre with Al-Jazeera America. I wanted to ask you about what is apparently the most beloved aircraft in the Air Force inventory, the A-10. I heard -- I heard that there may be a demonstration or exercise in the future that puts the A-10 directly against the F-35 and demonstrating the ability to perform close air support. Can you -- is that true? Is there going to be some sort of head-to-head demonstration to show what the F-35 can do compared to the A-10?

GEN. WELSH: I think that would be a silly exercise. So I don't know anything about that. The F-35's mission in the close air support arena will be to do high-threat close air support in a contested environment that the A-10 will not be able to survive in. That will be the role of the F-35, and it will not be able to do that until it's fully mission capable in our full operational capability at age 2021 and beyond.

So the idea that the F-35 is going to walk in the door next year when it becomes IOC and take over for the A-10 is just silly. It's never been our intention and we have never said that. And so that's not a plan. I would eventually -- certainly like to have a capability that replaces the A-10 that does the low-threat CAS work in an even better way than the A-10 has been able to. I mean, we should be trying to get better as an Air Force. I'm worried about future CAS, not past CAS.

Q: Are you -- has -- madam secretary, are you -- has there been any change or are you confident that you will eventually be able to retire the A-10, or does it look like it will continue to be funded against your desires for some time to come?

SEC. JAMES: Well, the key thing is we have to be able to move on in terms of our capability and to modernize our Air Force. And if we had billions and billions and billions of additional dollars over and above the president's budget level -- and I will remind you we are struggling to get the president's budget level approved -- but if we had billions more, we would love to maintain the A-10, we would love to have thousands of additional airmen in our -- in our Air Force. We would love to have lots of additional things, but in a budget constrained environment this is one of the tough choices that we had to make for the sake of moving forward and modernizing. Yes?

Q: Yes. (inaudible) with Inside the Air Force. To follow on to the question about the LRSB cost projection error, I guess does the error require any changes to your process for reporting those numbers or for gathering that information?

And then also, this was a -- this was a report that was delivered to Congress, you know, externally, but how are those numbers used internally within the Air Force, and were they used for planning purposes or internal decisions about, you know, planning for the LRS-B program?

SEC. JAMES: So we have notified the Congress of the error. We've also notified them that we are counseling the people involved and that we have tightened up on the process of coordination to make sure that something like this doesn't occur again.

And in addition, we have cautioned, double-checked the other figures that were contained in that report on other programs just to verify that everything else was correct. And we do believe all the other numbers to be correct.

Q: Okay. And then how does the Air Force view those figures internally? Are they used to make decisions -- planning, and just what are the implications for the Air Force internally about having -- these inaccurate, you know, figures for two years?

SEC. JAMES: The mistake was a regrettable error, but it's been corrected, and so it's not going to affect us internally.

Q: And it hasn't though?

SEC. JAMES: No. And we do make these projections, of course, because we have our five-year program and we are trying to do strategic planning beyond that point as well. And so having a notion of what things are going to cost into the future 10 years, 20 years and so forth, this is part of what we do in our strategic planning process.

GEN. WELSH: We were surprised by the number when we saw it as well, once it was pointed out to us that the number looked like it had grown because we've been using the same number. It has not changed.

So our internal documents actually are -- it's drawn from two things, a five-year POM that's submitted each year and then long-range projections, cost estimates, et cetera that are revised.

The five-year number last year and this year was reported accurately. It was captured exactly accurately. That's what we're using on the air staff, and the updated projections and cost estimates are where the confusion came in. We didn't properly coordinate, as the boss mentioned, and get those numbers added to the five-year number in the last two years.

Q: So following up on the long-range bomber, we do have to ask you when you think you might be awarding it and where you are in that process.

But I wanted to ask you as well about what the implications would be of a CR and whether you -- since that program has already sort of technically begun -- whether this constitutes a new start when you start the new phase of the program or whether you would be exempted from this sort of rule if you have to get it wavered to be able to proceed with the program?

SEC. JAMES: The long-range strike bomber contract will be awarded soon. We will do it when we are ready. The key thing is to make sure that we are doing it correctly, and so that's why -- that is what we're doing, is making sure that we get this done correctly. So that's point number one.

Q: We heard that (off mic) put off until October.

SEC. JAMES: I can just say it'll be soon. It'll be soon, and we will do it when we are ready.

And I'm sorry, Andrea. Would you repeat the other part of your question?

Q: What -- what the impact would be if you don't get a budget, whether you can proceed with the program or whether you have to do some kind of special waiver.

SEC. JAMES: If we don't get a budget, it's going to affect lots and lots of programs. Under a CR, of course, there are no new starts.

Now, as you point out, this has been funded to a certain degree already. I'm not sure that this one would be considered a new start. Matter of fact, I believe it wouldn't. But there would be other new starts that would be impacted.

We estimate rough order of magnitude that there might be as many as 50 programs, many of them smaller programs, but nonetheless 50 programs that would fall under that category of a new start, which could not be done under a full-year CR.

The other point, I would say, is a full-year CR would provide for our Air Force, really for our military, even less money than the sequestration-level budget would provide.

So all around, that would be a bad deal, and we need to get the full-up appropriation and the full-up authorization passed at roughly the president's budget level. That's what we need.

Q: Madam secretary?


Q: I wonder if can both give us an update on opening up combat jobs to women, particularly JTACs, air controllers and -- and pararescue jumpers.

I know back in April, you had 100 women and 100 men volunteers down at Lackland looking to see if you had the right standards for a lot of these jobs. If you could give us an update on that.

And also, do you both believe that these combat jobs will open to women by next year?

SEC. JAMES: We currently have seven career specialties that are still closed to women. We, of course, are the most open at the moment of all the services, having the majority of our jobs open, but there are still seven that are not open, and they relate to the special-operations world for the most part.

So as you reference, what we have been doing is, we have been working on establishing gender-neutral and operationally and occupationally relevant standards, and once we have them in place, it certainly would be my anticipation that we would be in a position to open up these jobs to women in the future.

Of course, I have not yet received the recommendations from the field, nor has the chief, so we're awaiting those. And then we in turn owe the secretary of defense our Air Force recommendations by around the first of October, and then we would anticipate a public announcement towards the end of the year, beginning the 1st of next year.

Q: (off mic) received any updates about this experience down at Lackland, how it's -- how's it going? Is it likely these jobs will open up, or is it still questionable?

SEC. JAMES: The -- the reports that I have received is that it is going well. The -- the team, which has been a team that has included people from the special-operations world, is establishing these standards that women appear to be doing well, some women, as well as some men, because these are hard standards, as you can imagine. The key thing is, we don't want to lower standards.

And so I'm optimistic about the outcome.


Q: General Welsh, if you would. John Tirpak, Air Force Magazine.

You're working on a bomber road map, and I wonder if you could clarify something. Is the new bomber going to be additive to the force, or does it replace something, and if it replaces something, which of the current bombers does it replace?

GEN. WELSH: Yeah, the new bomber would be intended to replace the B-52 and the B-1.

Q: And at what -- what period do you think that would that happen?

GEN. WELSH: Well, we would start to field the new bomber in the mid '20s, and -- and it would probably continue for 25 years or so, that's -- that's our rough guess, depending on production rates, et cetera, of the program.

But we would like to -- we -- we -- the B-52 and the B-1 will time out eventually. The B-52's going to try to make 100 years, but -- (Laughter.) -- we -- we really should question that.

Q: Is the bomber road map done?

GEN. WELSH: It's not finished, no.

Q: General, you had mentioned the B-52 is getting up there in age. The Air Force's fleet is the oldest it's been since the service has been independent.

Given all of the maintenance issues of keeping these aircraft going, is the Air Force approaching a point where combatant commanders won't have enough functioning aircraft to meet their needs?

GEN. WELSH: We're at the point today where we have trouble having enough functioning aircraft to keep our air crews trained. This is not a new problem. We have four fleets of airplanes that are over 50 years old.

So, I mean, the idea that we would -- we would run a Formula One or a NASCAR race with a car built in 1962 is -- is ridiculous, but we're going to war with airplanes built in 1962. We have got to modernize the Air Force. It's just an imperative.

Q: Secretary James, if there is a CR for an entire year, does that mean the Air Force will have to reduce its end strength?

SEC. JAMES: Certainly, our Air Force, we have requested end-strength increases, as you'll recall, and under a full-year CR, I believe we would not be able to increase our end strength.

So -- so we would be stuck in many, many ways, which is why, once again, we are calling upon Congress to lift sequestration and get us these bills as quickly as possible.

Q: Would you need to cut airmen as well?

SEC. JAMES: I don't believe so. I mean, I want you to know, we would be stressing the importance of not taking this out of our people. But as I mentioned, we'd be significantly down in terms of our dollars of where we need to be, and so everything would have to be looked at.

I, for one, would argue against end-strength reductions, but we certainly wouldn't get the increases.

GEN. WELSH: We do have quantity increases scheduled in '16 and aircraft procurements, like the KC-46, the F-35, the C-I-30 multi-year program and a few other things. Those would go away under a year-long CR. The quantity increases would not be allowable. There's a big impact of a -- of a continuing resolution anytime.

SEC. JAMES: Lady in the second row.

Q: Courtney McBride with Inside Defense.

I was just wondering if you could give us an update on the status of your budgeting for FY '17 and when you have to submit the POM and if you have a sense of how -- how this great level of uncertainty on the Hill really impacts your process for 2017?

SEC. JAMES: So of course, we're in the process of pulling all of that together right now. We're in the process of having discussions with OSD about a variety of our programs as is the Army and the Navy.

And this culminates toward the end of the year with the budget submission for next year probably going over in February. What I just described is kind of the normal -- the normal process. So we're -- we're in the midst of all that right now.


Q: (off mic)

I wanted to ask General Welsh a question about (inaudible) last decade, and that's whether or not the Air Force should be the executive agent for UAVs.

Now with the Army picking up a lot more of the strategic mission and contractors coming in the (inaudible), is it time to the debate again, and what do you personally think?

GEN. WELSH: (inaudible) Marcus. Nice socks, by the way. I like those. (Laughter.) You're rocking some good socks today.

The -- I don't -- I don't think the -- the debate would be helpful or really particularly useful right now.

You know, the debate was contentious when we had it in whenever it was -- 2008, 2010, somewhere in that time frame, and it was -- it was contentious, it was divisive, and it was not helpful, in my view.

Whether it was an important subject at the time or not, it was not a helpful debate. I don't think the debate would be much different right now than it was then. And for that reason alone, I don't think it's necessary.

We have worked very closely together as uniformed services to put an architecture in place, to put training for analysts, training for (inaudible) specialists in place so that we can operate in a joint way on a battlefield, and we've been doing it remarkably well for the last 12 years or so.

And I think we've made some tremendous progress, so I don't see the divisions that would be helped immensely by going through this debate right now. There's enough going on. That's my personal opinion.

Q: I have a quick follow-up on a separate subject.

Just wanted to get both of your reactions to the latest reports that Boeing has yet another problem with the new tanker and whether or not any of the cost projections for that have changed.

SEC. JAMES: So, personally, of course, it was disappointing news that this additional delay has occurred. However, Boeing continues to believe that they will -- they will make their key contractual requirement, which is to deliver to us 18 aircraft by August of 2017, so that is the most important parameter, and they still believe that they will make that.

Now, we're in the process of going over the schedule again to see whether we can see our way clear on that as well. Certainly, the margin in the schedule is all but gone at this point.

So the other thing that we'll be taking a look at is, would there be any operational impacts? Should they not make that August of 2017 contractual deadline, would that have any operational impacts on us, and if so, would there be any contractual considerations that we should look at.

So all of that, we're -- we're looking into, and again, it's a disappointing delay, but they still believe that they will make the contractual deadline.

As far as any cost overruns, as you know, those will not be borne by the government.

Q: (off mic)

SEC. JAMES: Yes, Jennifer?

Q: I'd like to ask you and General Welsh about Iran, and how confident are you that if you were asked to -- how viable is a military option should the Iran deal fall apart? How comfortable are you if you are asked to carry out a military option?

And separately, in terms of North Korea, there's been a lot of developments on the peninsula. Are you seeing any worrisome developments in terms of their nuclear program, their ballistic missile program and how close are they to being able to field a missile that could reach the United States?

SEC. JAMES: You want to take that one?

GEN. WELSH: Let me start with Iran, our job, Jennifer, is to be ready. The job of U.S. Central Command is to be ready for any contingency that might occur in the gulf and I think there's been an awful lot of time, interest and resources paid to any potential problem that could arise. And so I'm confident that the United States military acting under the right policy guidance would -- would be able to complete the mission that was assigned.

Now we've got an awful lot of great leaders in U.S. Central Command and in the region who I think are very, very capable of getting that job done.

In Korea, I think there's a lot of worrisome things about Korea, but I don't think any of it's new news. I don't know where they are relative to developing nuclear weapon or mating it with a delivery system. I don't know exactly what their intentions are with ballistic missile -- ballistic missile strike capabilities, but we know where they're going toward -- where they're moving towards and so we have to ready for that eventuality as well.

I think that if you talk to General Scaparrotti at U.S. Forces Korea, he would -- he would tell you in great detail all of his preparations to counter each of the things you just mentioned. I think it's something we have to pay a lot of attention to and I think we do each and every day.

Q: As far as you know, do they have a missile that is capable of reaching the U.S. right now?

GEN. WELSH: They may have a missile that's capable of reaching the West Coast, and I'm talking -- this is from newspaper articles, I -- I don't track this day-to-day, but whether they have the capability to do anything other than fire the missile is beyond my understanding. Certainly, they have a missile that can reach Hawaii or U.S. facilities in the Pacific, so that's really what we're most worried about.

Yeah, Colin?

Q: (off mic) a joint Air Force I.C. command center is being built for satellites, you've already got the JSPOC. In the event of an apparent attack, who would command those assets and could you give us some idea how that debate's going?

SEC. JAMES: You want to do the command?

GEN. WELSH: The -- the -- the discussion, I wouldn't call it a debate as much as a discussion, involves both the secretary and deputy secretary of defense. The secretary of the Air Force is the executive agent for space, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, and commander of Air Force Space Command have been the lead voices along with policy experts from across the government, the National Security Council, the Department of Defense, and the White House.

And so I think what's going on right now, where the Air Force is principally involved, is we are trying to help, through Air Force Base Command, put together the command and control architecture that you would use to bring together the greater intelligence community and the greater space community to be able to respond appropriately as a nation if space became a battle space.

How do you keep system resilient? How do you keep systems operating? How do you develop redundancy? How do you develop alternative paths for data, communications, intelligence, et cetera? And how can you do that as a full enterprise, as a nation, not just as a single service or even as a single war fighting command?

And so that's -- that's the effort that's going on right now. All the pieces are there, we just have to figure out how to fit them together and make sure the authorities are clear, and that's going to be the difficult part of this.

Q: Okay. I was going to say as -- can you say if we might see member of the intelligence community commanding military assets for example?

GEN. WELSH: Yeah, I don't. I personally don't see that happening, but there's going to have to be a clear set of authorities decided upon, debated and agreed upon eventually by all the people who participate. If nothing else, Colin, we need to have visibility into what the owners of these assets are doing under the circumstances of any particular future scenario.

SEC. JAMES: And the idea of this new center that you referenced, Collin, is to get that unity of effort and get that closer coordination and collaboration. So that's the idea of the new center.

Tom VandenBrook? I think you had a question?

Q: (off mic) could you tell us a bit on the F-22. You mentioned that it's being fielded in response to requirements from commanders in the region. Can you talk about what those requirements are?

SEC. JAMES: Well, of course as part of the European Reassurance Initiative, we have stepped it up in a more substantial way with respect to rotational forces, training exercises and the like. So these sorts of deployments allow us to train and operate with our allies, get more experience in European terrain, and so this is in that vein. It will --

Q: (off mic) specific to the F-22 that the commanders were (inaudible)?

SEC. JAMES: It's an air-to-air capability. You want to talk a little bit about the capability?

GEN. WELSH: Yes ma'am. We have allies in Europe who have advanced capabilities for -- who -- to the Eurofighter as just an example. We have aircraft with very advanced capabilities, and we need, and they would like for us to be able to interoperate in multiple-type scenarios. And so being able to train side-by-side with them and do that kind of training is really, really important to us, and that's what this is for.

Yes sir?

Q: Brian Everstine with Air Force Magazine. I just wanted to follow up on the F-35. About this time next year, you're hoping to have IOC, and I was wondering if you can give an update on the personnel side of things. Have you been able to free up enough maintainers to get Hill up and running for IOC? How many more airmen are you looking to bring into that career field?

GEN. WELSH: We have enough airmen identified and intending to make the IOC date. The IOC date has never been a concern for the maintenance side of the House. Its full operational capability is the problem.

Can we fully bed down all the planned units between now and 2021, and do we have enough maintainers to do that? And unless we either get a plus-up of our top line of people in the Air Force or we divest some other platform to take maintenance folks from, we don't have enough people.

And so we -- for IOC, this is not a problem. We will get to IOC next year.

Q: Follow-up question?

GEN. WELSH: Yes sir.

Q: Philip Schwartz with the Air Force Times. I wanted to ask about the helmets that pilots are supposed to be wearing while they're piloting the F-35. There's been reports placing the cost of each helmet at between $400,000 and $800,000, and at the same time, there's been reports -- including some memos from inside Lockheed -- saying that some of the capabilities for the helmet are not where officials want them to be.

What is the actual cost of the helmet, and do you feel that cost is adequate for the capabilities that it's providing for the airmen?

SEC. JAMES: I personally don't have that. I was going to say we can provide the cost for --

GEN. WELSH: Yeah, Philip, I don't know the exact cost. I've read the same articles you've read. I just don't know the specific cost.

The new generation three helmet, the first one, has just been delivered, and so a lot of this will -- is going to depend on the development of that helmet, what the time lines are for it, how soon can we buy how many of them before we determine a completely final cost for this when it gets into production.

The helmet is much more than a helmet, the helmet is a work space. It's an interpretation of the battle space, it's situational awareness. This is a -- calling this thing a helmet is really -- we've got to come up with a new word. (Laughter.)

Q: General, there's been some concerns among pilots that I've spoken with that the helmet might be getting almost too complicated and that airmen need to be able to look through things with their own eyes as opposed to looking at screens.

Is there any concern at the Air Force about that?

GEN. WELSH: Well, all I'll tell you is this. All the -- all the people flying the airplane, from the time I came into this job three years ago and started asking about the problems I kept hearing about with the helmet, not a single one of them has said yeah, I don't want to use it.

It's pretty -- it's a pretty incredibly capability, and they adapt very quickly to it.

STAFF: We have time for one more question.

Q: Good afternoon. Senior Airman Hailey Haux with Public Affairs. The Department of Defense has received a great deal of attention concerning sexual assault. Are there any new developments on the sexual assault prevention front?

SEC. JAMES: Yes. We will be announcing and putting out some guidelines, later on today as a matter of fact, opening up the services that our SARCs can provide, opening those services up to civilians in the Air Force. So of course, right now, it's restricted to military personnel, and we want to be able to have civilians who are victims of sexual assault also be able to go talk to SARCs, get referrals that SARCs can put them in touch with the right helping agencies and so forth, so that is a new development.

GEN. WELSH: I bet the boss would take one more question, wouldn't you, boss?

SEC. JAMES: We'll take one more.

GEN. WELSH: But can I -- can I do one thing that I've never had a chance to do before? Just amuse me for just a minute. My wife Betty is over there. She's never watched a press conference. And having the opportunity to introduce her in Pentagon press room, this rocks. (Laughter.) Betty, would you wave to everybody? These are the people who tell the story of the Department of Defense, and they rock too. Thank you.

Q: For better or worse.

GEN. WELSH: We'll go to the back row. Thank you.

Q: General, can you tell us how soon those B-2s will be arriving in Guam?

GEN. WELSH: No sir. This --


-- the actual deployment timing is all classified.

Q: And just to follow up on that 22, can you describe what kind of targets, particularly Russian targets, that it would be used against if a potential conflict arises?

GEN. WELSH: No sir. (Laughter.) Any target that's out there.

Q: (off mic) Airman Stone, is there any talk about giving him a Bronze Star (inaudible) device, Silver Star, something -- a higher valor award?

GEN. WELSH: Not now. This is not a combat action, so it doesn't qualify right now, as we see it.

Okay, last one really.

Q: Thanks, general.

Earlier in this discussion, you said there's been about 48,000 sorties, and based on the reports that we've had over Operation Inherent Resolve, about 7,000 of those have been air strikes. Could you talk to us and provide us a little context between the difference? That would make it like maybe one in six, one in eight missions has resulted in an airstrike.

Earlier, we'd heard it was about one in four, and the Air Force took some criticism from Congress for that ratio. Could just tell us about what's the difference between the 7,000 and the 48,000?

GEN. WELSH: Well, some of the 48,000 is ISR sorties. Some of it is tanker sorties, about 14,000 or so tanker sorties. There's a large number of ISR sorties. I don't know the specific number. And -- and then there are a number of sorties where people take off with weapons on board to be ready to conduct a strike if a target is found, and we -- we call it dynamic targeting. It's not new. We've been doing it in Afghanistan, we did it in Iraq before we finished in Iraq the first time. We've been doing it in Afghanistan for the last several years. We used it in Libya. This is not a new approach.

It's all -- remember, we're not at war with Iraq. And so we don't want to drop bombs indiscriminately in Iraq and injure the citizens and destroy the property of the Iraqi people and Iraqi government, and so we have to have a target that we can validate. We have to go through our collateral damage estimate to make sure that we're not going to hurt anyone other than the intended target. And if we can't get through that in time, we bring the ordinance home, we try it again the next story.

I don't know any other way to approach this. I'll tell you this: all the coalition airmen have been remarkably disciplined about the way they have executed this, and we're very, very proud of their effort.

Q: Mind if I follow up?

Any updates on discussions with Turkey on establishing a second air base for combat search and rescue?

SEC. JAMES: The discussions with Turkey are ongoing. The OSD policy shop has the lead for that within the Department of Defense, but of course we're also working closely with the State Department on that.

Thank you all very much.


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