U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
|Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright||September 17, 2009|
SEC. GATES: Good morning.
First, before starting on today's announcement, I'd like to acknowledge the loss of six Italian soldiers and a number of civilians in a bombing attack in Kabul. Our condolences go out to the families of those killed and to the Italian and Afghan people.
This week, the president, on the recommendation and advice of his national security team and our senior military leadership, decided to change the architecture of our ballistic missile defense in Europe, a change I believe will enhance our ability to respond to the most immediate threats to the continent, as well as future threats.
First, some background. On December 27th, 2006, I recommended that President Bush initiate a Europe-based, missile-defense system that would put in advanced radar in the Czech Republic and 10 ground- based interceptors in Poland. At the time, this was considered the best way to protect the United States and our European allies from the growing threat posed by Iran's development of longer-range ballistic missiles.
Since then, two important developments have prompted a reassessment of our approach in Europe. First, a change in our intelligence community's 2006 view of the Iranian threat: The intelligence community now assesses that the threat from Iran's short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, such as the Shahab-3, is developing more rapidly than previously projected. This poses an increased and more immediate threat to our forces on the European continent, as well as to our allies.
On the other hand, our intelligence assessment also now assesses that the threat of potential Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities has been slower to develop than was estimated in 2006.
The second development relates to our technology. Over the last few years, we have made great strides with missile defense, particularly in our ability to counter short-and-medium-range missiles. We now have proven capabilities to intercept these ballistic missiles with land-and-sea-based interceptors supported by much-improved sensors.
These capabilities offer a variety of options to detect, track and shoot down enemy missiles. This allows us to deploy a distributive sensor network rather than a single fixed site, like the kind slated for the Czech Republic, enabling greater survivability and adaptability.
We have also improved the Standard Missile 3, the SM-3, which has had eight successful flight tests since 2007. These tests have amply demonstrated the SM-3's capability and have given us greater confidence in the system and its future.
Based on these two factors, we have now the opportunity to deploy new sensors and interceptors, in northern and southern Europe, that near-term can provide missile defense coverage against more immediate threats from Iran or others.
In the initial stage, we will deploy Aegis ships equipped with SM-3 interceptors, which provide the flexibility to move interceptors from one region to another if needed.
The second phase, about 2015, will involve fielding upgraded, land-based SM-3s. Consultations have begun with allies, starting with Poland and the Czech Republic, about hosting a land-based version of the SM-3 and other components of the system. Basing some interceptors on land will provide additional coverage and save costs compared to a purely sea-based approach.
Over time, this architecture is designed to continually incorporate new and more effective technologies, as well as more interceptors, expanding the range of coverage, improving our ability to knock down multiple targets and increasing the survivability of the overall system.
This approach also provides us with greater flexibility to adapt to developing threats and evolving technologies. For example, although the Iranian long-range missile threat is not as immediate as we previously thought, this system will allow us to incorporate future defensive capabilities against such threats, as they develop.
Perhaps most important, though, we can now field initial elements of the system to protect our forces in Europe and our allies roughly six to seven years earlier than the previous plan, a fact made more relevant by continued delays in the Czech and Polish ratification processes that have caused repeated slips in the timeline.
I would also note that plans to cover most of Europe and add to the defense of the U.S. homeland will continue on about the same schedule as before. As the president has said very clearly, as long as the Iranian threat persists, we will pursue proven and cost- effective missile defenses.
Today the Department of Defense is briefing the Congress and our NATO allies about this plan. One of our guiding principles for missile defense remains the involvement and support of our allies and partners. We will continue to rely on our allies and work with them to develop a system that most effectively defends against very real and growing threats.
Those who say we are scrapping missile defense in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting the reality of what we are doing. The security of Europe has been a vital national interest of the United States for my entire career. The circumstances, borders and threats may have changed, but that commitment continues. I believe this new approach provides a better missile defense capability for our forces in Europe, for our European allies and eventually for our homeland than the program I recommended almost three years ago. It is more adapted to the threat we see developing and takes advantage of new technical capabilities available to us today.
With that, let me now turn to General Cartwright, who has been deeply involved in the development of this proposal, for a more detailed presentation of it.
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: Thank you.
What I'd like to do is kind of step down through some of the elements of this capability and this architecture as it develops and give you a sense of how we're thinking about it.
Most of this work has emanated from the congressionally directed Ballistic Missile Defense Review that is a part of our QDR analysis.
One thing that has not changed is the set of priorities that we started with, which is the defense of the homeland first, defense of our deployed forces, and then friends and allies.
It is consistent with the budget decisions that we took in both '09 and in '10 as we moved forward associated with missile defense and the capabilities that we wanted to have there. And some of these decisions started back in the Bush administration as we started to shift the priority and the weight of our effort towards the deployed forces after we fielded the initial ground-based interceptors up in Alaska and out in California.
The review and the accompanying analysis has moved us, based on the threat, principally, but also on the opportunities that technology has availed to us, to shift the architecture and enhance it. Okay? This is not a moving away of the defense of the homeland and the capabilities of the ground-based interceptor. But what it is is an acknowledgement that there are capabilities out there that are able to, one, address the threat that has really emerged versus the threat that we initially postulated would be what we would call most dangerous, which is the threat to the United States, but the fact that the Iranians are starting to field, as have the South -- I'm sorry, North Koreans, capabilities associated with intermediate- and medium- range and short-range ballistic missiles, in numbers that are substantially larger than could be addressed by 40 or 10 ground-based interceptors. We're talking about hundreds. And the ability to go after these raids was one of the driving factors tactically that had to be addressed, both for our deployed forces and for those nations that are threatened by those missiles.
And so this enhanced architecture we put together associated with Europe is also an architecture that is globally deployable and is the same architecture that you would find if you went now to Japan, South Korea, facing the North Korean threat and the ground-based interceptors that defend against that. We're also looking at this architecture with an initial deployment that occurred earlier this year with the ground-based radar that went into Israel.
So this is an architecture that is globally exportable, but we're going to focus today on the European aspect of that architecture.
It is adaptable. In other words, one of the realities of life is the enemy gets a vote. And if they don't emerge the same way that you planned five and 10 years ahead of time, if you can't adapt, you're left disadvantaged. This system gives us a much more significant and robust capability to adapt to the threat as it actually emerges versus what we would like it to emerge as. Okay?
Elements of the system. We generally break them down in three ways. The command and control, which is probably the most leveraging capability we have and gets the least notoriety, so to speak, but the ability to network systems together in a way that makes the whole substantially greater than any one of the elements is at the heart of this command-and-control system.
And I'll talk a little bit more about that as I get into this.
The sensors. One of the key activities here is the rapid advancement of our sensor technologies. And so heretofore when we started with the ground-based interceptor, we were focused on large terrestrial radars that were basically left over from the Cold War, based up in the northern part of the world; that would see.
And if you look at the world from on top, which is the way a missile looks at it, things fly directly across the poles. So these radars were aligned up there in the Cold War to defend us against incoming ICBMs. We modified those radars, updated their processors, so that they -- they are still part of the system.
But we've also added mobile and re-locatable radars: the X-band radar that is in Japan, the X-band radar that we currently have deployed to Israel, one that will be probably deployed someplace in Europe, to be part of this European lay down. That system has proved to be very, very effective and very capable.
The second is the mobile radars both on Aegis, the organic radar, to the Patriot system and also the sea-based X-band that is currently deployed out in the Pacific. These are all mobile systems that can move, to wherever the threat actually emanates and to wherever it is that we feel we need to defend ourselves. And that's an important aspect.
The one piece that we have not had up until now is the airborne layer. And part of this program is to bring in an airborne layer of sensors that will add to the redundancy, survivability and efficiency of the overall system. And that work is ongoing now, was part of our '09 budget and '10 budget submissions, will likely start to emanate itself in real capability probably in the '12 to '13 time frame.
And it is very promising technology that we're working on. And then we have our space-based sensors. All of this is netted together to give us the adaptability we believe we'll need to have.
The last piece in this triad of capability is the weapons. And everybody pretty much knows the capabilities of the Patriot system. It's been out there. It's well deployed. It's globally deployed.
Many countries have procured it, use it for their defenses. It is a point defense system. You would put this at critical infrastructure, a facility like an airport or a port, to defend that area.
Then there is the SM-3, which has proven itself in the testing and which we are now fielding in larger numbers. It is a more capable area-defense weapon. It is more aligned with trying to take care of a general area like the area from Philadelphia down to Washington, D.C., for an analogy.
And the THAAD -- which has just started to finish its testing -- its first operational deployments will begin this year to the European theater, and we'll do that operational flash development deployment to make sure that we wring this system out. But it is by all measures successful in its testing, and we're getting ready to move on to deployment of that system.
And then there's the ground-based interceptor, which is the large missile that we've put in the ground in Alaska and in Vandenberg, California, to defend the homeland against ICBM-type threats, sophisticated-type threats.
So all of those three make up the capabilities that we have in the system today. The phases that the secretary introduced that we're going to work our way through will allow us to be adaptable and to allow us to field tested systems when they're needed, where they're needed, rather than a pre-planned lay down that locks us in to any particular capability and threat that may well change over time, because one thing I'm relatively sure of is the threat will change. I mean, we have a thinking adversary, and we have to acknowledge that.
The first phase starts in 2011 and really, actually, has already started. But this is the deployment of the Patriot systems, which are out there today. This is the deployment of the SM-3 system, Block I, Mod A, but this is the system we have today. We've had eight good tests. It is the same system we used to shoot down the satellite. It is a very efficient and a very effective system with a long heritage of R&D and knowledge about it.
That system we have started to deploy to the eastern Mediterranean already, and we will begin to deploy that in larger numbers. When we marry that up with the sensors, that will give us the ability to defend critical infrastructure, defend our four deployed forces in Europe and in the Mediterranean as we move forward. That is scheduled for 2011 to be fully in place, okay?
As we move in to the second phase, which, as the secretary said, is somewhere around the 2015 time frame, we expect to have an upgrade to the SM-3 Block IA, which will be called the SM-3 Block IB. We're a little bit anal about this, but that's the way we laid it out.
That capability, along with better sensors -- and the beginning deployment of these airborne sensors, should they manifest themselves in the way we think they will -- will allow us to move from a relatively small area -- and I talked about Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. -- this would be at least three times larger, based on the ability of the missile and the sensor packages to address the threats that are out there.
So we get a much larger deployment capability. And we'll also bring in the first phase of land-based SM-3. And land-based SM-3 is something that we have today. We have the systems at our test facilities. It's no surprise. We do most of our testing on the land anyway. This is not a stretch. But we'll put together the system in a deployable configuration so that we can move it forward to places like Europe. Okay?
In 2018, we expect to see the next iteration, and that's a little bit further out. And what we're looking for in 2018 is the emergence of the SM-3 Block II, a substantially larger, more capable missile that will deploy both on our ships and ashore. And that missile will allow us, in probably no more than three locations, to be able to cover the entire land mass of Europe, okay, against intermediate- and short-range ballistic missiles, okay. And that's a substantial improvement on where we are. That's an R&D effort.
So at the same time, we're continuing the effort that we have ongoing today on the ground-based interceptor, which is to build a two-stage capability. Those tests will -- are funded, and will continue. So we'll have two ways to address this threat. We believe the leverage will be in the SM-3 as it emerges, that it will be the more effective killer. But until we know that, we are not abandoning the work that we are doing with the ground-based interceptor. Okay?
The last piece of this -- and this is reaching out pretty far into the future, but we're talking 2020 -- is a land-based SM-3 Block IIA, now B, okay? And B is an even more energetic capability that will have a substantial capability to intercept intercontinental ballistic missile type capabilities emanating from Iran. So this gets at additional coverage beyond the ground-based interceptor of the United States and of Europe against intermediate ballistic missiles or intercontinental ballistic missiles.
That technology is still out there and still to be proven, and we cannot abandon or scrap the capabilities that we have today in the ground-based interceptor; nor do we intend to. But if these new technologies prove out, what they have that the current system doesn't have is the ability to get at what we call raid size. But we built the original system on the idea of a rogue-nation threat: three to five missiles that could come from either North Korea or Iran. The reality is, we're dealing with hundreds of missiles in the IRBM and medium-range capabilities, and the likelihood of more than just four or five has to be considered now as we start to build this system out.
What you can do with an SM-3 in affordability and in deployment and dispersal is substantially greater for larger numbers of missiles than we what we have with a ground-based interceptor. A single Aegis can carry a hundred-plus or minus a few, depending on their mission configuration, of the SM-3. So this is a substantial addressal of the proliferation of the threat that we're seeing emerge. If it doesn't emerge, we don't have to build them all, but if it does, we're ready to basically go after it.
And so we've put in place an architecture here that allows us to be adaptable. It is a global architecture.
Let me cover just a couple more things.
First, cost, one of the questions that gets answered. A Patriot costs you about $3.3 million per missile, okay, and there's other ground pieces to this, et cetera, but the missile itself.
The THAAD missile's about $9 million.
The SM-3 that we're talking about here in the Block I configuration, about $9-1/2 (million), $10 million. We estimate that the newer missiles that we would develop in the future would be in the neighborhood of $13 (million) to $15 million, around.
The ground-based interceptor that's in the ground today is about $70 million.
So you do not want to go after large numbers with the very expensive missiles, unless it's absolutely essential. What we need is an approach that allows us to build the layers in a way that allows us to defend both what we think we're going to have to defend today and what might be fundamentally different as we move to the future.
Second thing: This system allows us to do burden-sharing. The Patriot system is deployed all over the world, to many countries, okay, not owned by the United States; in other words, purchased by those countries. The Aegis system is the same way. Many countries have the Aegis system. So we can modify those systems, upgrade them, keep them up with the technology much cheaper than we can do this buying it ourselves. So we have a capability for burden-sharing.
In the R&D side of the equation, as we look at this SM-3, Block II, we estimate that R&D effort is going to probably cost us about $3-1/2 billion. The Japanese government has already kicked in over a billion dollars towards that investment. And that investment will net us a capability that is far beyond just worrying about the Pacific and the Japanese. This is a significant opportunity to work in a global construct to both field and fund and maintain this capability in a way that we had not been able to do in the past.
The other piece here is the integration. We don't necessarily need to have all American systems. We're right now integrating the Israeli Arrow system into this capability. We are looking at other partners, both in the sensor and the weapons side, because it does not have to be just American weapons and just American sensors.
That's the beauty of this command-and-control suite. And so that gives us the opportunity to leverage our investments, in a way that we did not have with the solely GBI system.
The last piece that I'll talk to here is, like I said when I started, this is consistent with the budgets that we submitted in '09 and '10. We'll have this debate as we submit the '11 budget.
And that's part of the reason for the timing now, is to make sure that that debate is allowed to occur, that we can inform the Congress and the American people and our allies and give them choices, about the way we move forward.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q I noticed that neither of you said the word Russia in your opening remarks. Can you say to what extent the hope for a better relationship with Russia and Russia's cooperation, in any future sanctions regime or other attempt to counter the Iranian missile threat, to what extent that was a factor in making this change?
SEC. GATES: I think General Cartwright sat in on all the deputies meetings. I sat in on all the principals meetings and the meetings with the president.
The decisions -- the decisions on this were driven, I would say, almost exclusively by the changed intelligence assessment and the enhanced technology. It really was a zero-based look at both the threat and our capability to deal with it.
Now, that said, I think that first of all, the Russians are probably not going to be pleased that we are continuing with missile defense efforts in Europe. But at the same time, there are two changes in this architecture that should allay some of their, what we think, unfounded concerns.
One is their concern that the radar that was going into the Czech Republic looked deep into Russia and actually could monitor the launches of their ICBMs as well. So that's one.
The second is, the Russians believed, despite our best efforts to dissuade them, that the ground-based interceptors in Poland could be fitted with nuclear weapons and become an offensive weapon like a Pershing and a weapon for which they would have virtually no warning time.
The move to the SM-3s, while enhancing our capabilities, that's also a weapon that they simply cannot at least rationally argue bears any kind of a threat to Russia. So those -- and we are very interested, as I have talked to the Russians for the last two years -- we are very interested in having them partner with us. Their Armavir radar in the southern part of Russia could be integrated into this network and could be very effective in helping us, with respect to giving even greater coverage to potential Iranian missile launches.
Q Mr. Secretary, what do you think of the people and governments of Poland and the Czech Republic who invested a lot of political capital in trying to sell the old system to their people, and who are already talking about feeling let down in a certain sense by this change?
SEC. GATES: Well, I -- as the president mentioned in his remarks, he's talked to both prime ministers. Michele Flournoy is in Poland and the Czech Republic today, talking to their governments. And I must say, based on the very brief accounts I've gotten, they have been reasonably positive about this.
We are very interested in -- as I indicated in my remarks, in continuing to work with the Czech Republic, in terms of a piece of this architecture. And we are eager to go forward with the framework agreement with the Czechs on this, that would allow that. Clearly, what this represents is, if the Poles are interested in going forward, it meets their concerns about having this capability in Poland. And so I think that this is actually an enhanced opportunity for -- particularly the Polish government, but it also offers opportunities for the Czech Republic as well.
Q Well, because you did mention that there could still be the deployment of an X-Band radar in Europe as part of this. Do you know where that would be? Could it still be in the Czech Republic?
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: It's probably more likely to be in The Caucasus that we would base that, because it's to get the early tracks. So that likely would be more down in The Caucasus.
Q A question for you, Mr. Gates, and then for General Cartwright. A lot of people are going to be wondering why should we trust the intelligence assessments that you're laying out today, when the intelligence community got it so wrong in the buildup to the war in Iraq. What can you tell them?
And to General Cartwright, roughly how many Aegis vessels will be deployed to the Mediterranean or the Gulf area on a rotating regular basis?
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I think the important thing is to go back to what General Cartwright was saying and what I said in my opening statement. This gives us some capability very soon.
The other alternative gave us no capability until later in the decade. So if there were going to be a breakout scenario, we would have no hedge before 2017, 2018, with the original program that I approved in December of '06. This gives us at least some capability early on and then an increasingly enhanced capability through this entire period. So the notion -- I mean, the fact is, this gives us many more options than the original program gave, which is one of the reasons that I felt very strongly in support of it.
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: And I think, I mean, along the same lines, I mean, I'm relatively sure that the intelligence estimates will be wrong if we've got a good adversary, so the intent here is to develop a system that sufficient agility to accommodate that. That would be point one.
The second -- to your question, our deployment scheme in and around Europe for the Aegis capability in 2011 is really one that meters against the threat, how it emerges. So how many do we need, and in what areas? What's going on in Europe? What is the political situation? In other words, is there a threat against a particular country, et cetera?
But on a day-in, day-out basis, we're looking probably for what we would call a 2.0 presence, maybe a 3.0 presence, so three ships at any given time in and around the Mediterranean and the North Sea, et cetera, to protect areas of interest, and then we would surge additional ships. And part of what's in the budget is to get us a sufficient number of ships to allow us to have a global deployment of this capability on a constant basis, with a surge capacity to any one theater at a time.
SEC. GATES: And I would remind you that the FY '10 budget contains the funds to convert six additional ships to Aegis capability.
Q (Do you see it as ?) 24, (roughly, doing this ?)?
SEC. GATES: I don't remember.
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: It's somewhere in -- 24, 27 is where we've done that.
Q On Afghanistan --
SEC. GATES: Let me -- let's do several more on missile defense and then I'll come -- if there's time left.
Q Yes. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Israel was mentioned a couple of times earlier.
It's no secret that here in Washington, there is concern that Israel, fearing an existential threat, might attack Iran pre-emptively to stop its nuclear program.
Since we don't really understand the lay down and scope of this, would this system in some way be used, by the administration, to say to Israel, you will be protected, please do not attack Iran.
SEC. GATES: Well, clearly one of the elements of our efforts, with the Israelis, is to enhance their missile defense capabilities principally against the Iranian threat. And clearly the more we do, in this area, we hope that it will reassure them that perhaps there's a little more time here.
We are all concerned about Iran running out the clock on us on their nuclear program. And, but our view is, there is still time for diplomacy and, I might say, sanctions to persuade the Iranians that their security will be diminished, by going down the track of nuclear weapons, rather than enhanced.
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: Could I just add on to that? Just because I think the issue here is much broader than just Israel.
I mean, if this system emerges the way we think it is, if the testing bears out, what you really are doing here is providing another form of deterrence, credible deterrence, that is an alternative to an offensive-only capability.
And that's got to register. It has registered in the Pacific, as you've seen by the investments of the South Koreans and the Japanese, in response to North Korea. So this is broader than just Israel, for the same reasons that the secretary talked to.
Q Can you explain why X-band radar in the Caucasus might be more -- less of a threat to Russia than the Czech radar? And what is -- by 2011, how many medium-range missiles from Iran could they conceivably launch toward Europe? Is this just one or two? Or are we in the hundreds?
SEC. GATES: On the capabilities of the X-band radar, the history major will defer to the general. (Laughter.)
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: On the X-band radar, what we're trying to get -- the first question really has to do with Russia and their perception of a threat, from the radar that would have been in the Czech Republic.
And that radar is an omni-directional radar. In other words, it sees 360 degrees. And it has a very deep peering capability into Russia.
And the worry would be that we would be able then to see very early the launches if Russia were launching their ICBMs and that could be perceived as destabilizing. The X-band radar is a single directional. In other words, when you put it down, it points in a single direction. And it will be very clear that it is pointing south towards Iran.
What you want to do is get that radar as close as you can to be able to get the initial launches and understand where the missiles are going, whether they are just tests or whether they are threatening. And so the X-band radar gives you that capability very quickly.
Q Mr. Secretary, as we know, the Iranian ballistic missiles pose also a threat to the Gulf, to the Arab countries of -- in the Gulf. How this new architecture would affect your defense strategy in the Gulf region?
SEC. GATES: I don't want to get into it in too much detail, but the reality is we are working both on a bilateral and a multilateral basis in the Gulf to establish the same kind of regional missile defense that would protect our facilities out there as well as our friends and allies. I've addressed this issue two years running in Manama, in meetings of defense ministers before the Manama conferences. And I would say -- and we already have Patriots out there and we have Aegis ships out there.
So -- and we are looking at -- we have very strong bilateral relationships in developing missile defense with several of the countries in the Gulf. And now what we're encouraging is to layer on top of that multilateral cooperation as well.
Q Mr. Secretary, you mentioned before that Michele Flournoy will be in Europe as part of this roll-out. Can you talk about when and how Russia was informed of these changes and what their reaction was?
SEC. GATES: I don't know the answer to that.
Q (Off mike) -- ask a little bit more about the architecture, specifically. You mentioned the SM-3 Block IA and B to start. I'm curious, how many sites will you need to start with the IA and IB? And will Czechoslovakia -- or the Czech Republic and Poland be part of that, or will they have to wait till the II comes on board? And is that an optimal location for either of those systems, architecturally?
GEN. CARTWRIGHT: Initially -- and it's the IB that we would start with, the land-based system, so about the 2015 time frame. And it's actually relatively agnostic to the where. And so the Czech Republic, Poland, are both candidates.
It's certainly something that they have to have a say in, though, as to whether we go there. There are other candidates in that region, and then obviously deeper into Europe, that would be good sites for the SM-3.
So the good news is, it really is not as particular about exactly where it's located. So you've got a wide range of choices. Any of those countries have the opportunity to participate in it. And then, even if we, let's say, had three countries that wanted it, and only needed one, the general construct is, each box will have about eight missiles, so we can move this around and disperse it even more, for greater survivability and for a better assurance of our allies that they are in fact protected.
Okay, we have time for one more on missile defense and then --
Q If I could just --
SEC. GATES: No -- (laughs) -- and then, we'll take a couple on other subjects. Yeah.
Q Mr. Secretary, the plan you just announced may have sense from the U.S. perspective, but for many people in Poland and for Polish government, the most important part of missile defense program was the presence of U.S. military in Poland. And now you're offering Poland another five, seven years of talks. Polish government invested a lot in promoting missile defense in Poland. It was the U.S. government that pressed Poland to agree to host the missile defense. What would you say to those who invested their lot in this program in Poland? And another question, have you --
SEC. GATES: Well, one at a time --
Q Have you consulted this new approach with the governments of Poland and Czech Republic --
SEC. GATES: Yes.
Q -- before?
SEC. GATES: Yes. The answer that I would give to Poles asking that question is, we still want to partner with Poland. We still want Poland to go forward with the ratification of the agreements that we have with them, including the SOFA. We would prefer to put the SM-3s in Poland, in place of the GBI -- the ground-based interceptors. That will still involve a presence of the U.S.
They may be there earlier than they would have been with the ground-based interceptors, because, as I said, they would not become operational until probably 2017, 2018. We're talking about 2015 now. So I think that there are -- all of the same opportunities for partnership between the United States and Poland that existed under the previous program continue to exist under this program.
Q On Afghanistan and the McChrystal assessment, some are calling for it to be publicly released. It's now classified. I'm told that clearly some parts of that assessment are sensitive. But other parts clearly have been talked about by McChrystal openly in a number of interviews and others.
Can you explain to the American people why they can't get their own assessment from McChrystal about his views on Afghanistan?
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I think, there's been a lot of talk this week and the last two or three weeks about Afghanistan. And frankly from my standpoint, everybody ought to take a deep breath.
The president announced at the end of March -- when he announced his other decisions on Afghanistan and our strategy, he made very clear that after the elections in Afghanistan, we would reassess where we are and whether the strategy decisions that he made, at that time, continue to fit the situation that we face.
General McChrystal's assessment is part of that re-evaluation. And frankly I believe that the president deserves the right to absorb the assessment himself and have his questions and my questions and others' questions relating to the assessment answered before it's delivered.
It is for all practical purposes a pre-decisional document. And it was briefed on the Hill. And my understanding is, it will be made available on the Hill, if not passed out to everybody, so the people's representatives will have access to it.
And I think we just -- we need to understand that the decisions that the president faces are perhaps some of the most -- on Afghanistan are some of the most important he may face, in his presidency, about how we go forward there.
And this is a situation in which I think this decision process should not be rushed. If there are urgent needs, I've just authorized in the last 10 days or so, within the troop levels the president has approved, sending another 2,500 to 3,000 critical enablers that General McChrystal has asked for.
And I'm prepared to ask for the flexibility to send more enablers, if we need to, before the president makes a decision on whether or not to send significant additional combat troops.
But my view is, as the president said yesterday, it's important to make sure we've got the strategy right before we start talking the resource issue. And frankly, some of the questions we're asking are outside of General McChrystal's area of authority. They have to do with the political situation, they have to do with focus and so on. And so I think there's a sort of a sense of -- I felt a sense of building momentum that's sort of demanding a decision in days, if not a week or two. And I just think that, given the importance of the decisions that the president faces, we need to take our time and get this right.
Q Mr. Secretary --
Q On the resource issue, on McChrystal, some of us are told that McChrystal has completed his report on troop requests, the options for troop requests, and is awaiting Washington to ask for his request. What's your --
SEC. GATES: We're working -- we're working through the process by which we want that submitted.
Q Mr. Secretary, can I ask you something else? The president, of course, is about to award yet another Medal of Honor posthumously to a family of a soldier who died in an act of courage in the war. People, still, are getting very curious why, in awards in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is no living Medal of Honor recipient. What's your view? Has no one performed an act of courage worthy of the Medal of Honor, and lived through it?
SEC. GATES: This has been a source of real concern to me. And I would tell you, it was one of -- I think it was one of President Bush's real regrets, that he did not have the opportunity to honor a living Medal of Honor winner -- or recipient, I should say.
The -- we are looking at this. There are -- I would -- without getting into any details, there are some in process. But it is, as everybody knows, a very time-intensive, thorough process. But I would say that I've been told there are some living potential recipients that are -- that have been put forward.
Q Mr. Secretary --
Q Back to Afghanistan, if we can, the vice president said today in an interview the decision about troop levels will be made after all the present troops are in place, the civilians are in place and the election is determined -- solely focusing on the objective.
Is he right in saying that no decisions on troop levels will be made until after even the civilian surge is finished --
SEC. GATES: I don't --
Q -- which might be the beginning of the year?
SEC. GATES: I don't want to get into the timing. The president will make his decision when the questions that he has asked and the assessments that are going on have been completed. And I don't think anybody should put any conditions on that.
The troops he's already approved are almost all there at this point. The civilian surge is beginning to flow. It remains to be seen how long it will take to see the outcome of the election. But I would tell you there is no question that the -- that the nature of the election in Afghanistan has complicated the picture for us.
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