News

28 November 1997

TRANSCRIPT: BRIEFING BY GEN. HABIGER, HEAD OF STRATEGIC COMMAND

(Discusses visit to Russian nuclear weapons storage site) (4290)



Washington -- General Eugene Habiger, commander-in-chief of the
Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, recently gave
a briefing about his visit to Russia to learn about the security of
the Russian nuclear force. Habiger met with General Igor Sergeyev,
Russia's minister of defense, and was shown a nuclear weapons storage
site at a missile base at Kostroma -- the first non-Russian "to ever
go into a nuclear weapons storage area and to see how they keep their
nuclear weapons secure and safe."


In a press briefing November 4, Habiger said, "We have a lot more work
to do, a lot more transparency, a lot more details, but from my
observations I was impressed and have confidence that the Russians,
from what I saw at that one base, have a program which is ensuring the
safe, secure processes involved regarding nuclear weapons."


He acknowledged that he had seen only one facility during his visit,
which the Russians said "was very representative of the missile bases
in Russia."


Habiger added, "If what I saw was representative, yes, I have
confidence in the safety and security of their nuclear weapons
stockpile. They are deadly serious about this."


He hopes that within the next few weeks a team of Russian security
specialists "will come to one of our missile bases and see in depth
the procedures and the technical applications we use in our nuclear
weapons storage areas, and [General Colonel Yakoulev,
commander-in-chief of the Rocket Forces] has agreed that he would host
a similar team from my headquarters to do exactly the same thing."


Following is the DOD transcript of General Habiger's briefing:



(Begin transcript)



U.S. DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

November 4, 1997



Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Command

Press Conference



MODERATOR: Good afternoon. It gives me great pleasure to welcome
General Eugene Habiger, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic
Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. One interesting thing
about the general's career, which is filled with interesting things,
is that he actually started as an Army enlisted man for four years
before he shifted over to the Air Force, where obviously he has risen
to great heights. He has been at STRATCOM for several years, and he is
in charge of our strategic nuclear forces.


General Habiger just came back from a trip to Russia, where at the
request of Secretary Cohen, he paid particular attention to questions
involving the security of the Russian nuclear force. These discussions
followed discussions that he had initiated with General Sergeyev at
Offutt when he visited here, I believe, in the spring, and he will
talk to you about his discussions with General [Igor] Sergeyev --
first, in General Sergeyev's capacity as commander of the Strategic
Rocket Force, and now in his capacity as Minister of Defense in
Russia. General Habiger.


GENERAL HABIGER: Thanks very much, Ken. It's an honor and a privilege
for me to be here. I've just experienced something that I never
thought possible, because as a Cold War warrior, I spent most of my
adult life sitting alert with B-52 bombers, and for a period of five
days last week, the Russians showed me a great deal about specifically
their strategic rocket forces from their command and control to
allowing me to be the first, as I understand it, non-Russian to ever
go into a nuclear weapons storage area and to see how they keep their
nuclear weapons secure and safe.


Let me back up and expand a little bit about what Ken said. I first
met General Sergeyev in October of last year, when Dr. Perry, then
Secretary of Defense, asked me to accompany him to Moscow for some
high-level talks. I met General Sergeyev privately for about one hour
before the meeting with the principals. We got along well. I extended
an invitation to him to come visit me at Strategic Command at Offutt
Air Force Base, Nebraska, and in late-March, early April of this year
he did come. I spent six days with him, 10 to 12 hours a day, and we
talked a lot. I showed him a missile base. I showed him my
headquarters in some depth, and I took him to one of our nuclear
weapons storage facilities at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne,
Wyoming.


That was the first time that a Russian has ever been in one of our
weapons storage areas, and he saw first-hand the procedures and the
processes we go through to ensure that our nuclear weapons are safe
and secure. He was impressed. During the ministerials a few weeks ago
at Maastricht, Secretary of Defense Cohen and now Minister of Defense
Sergeyev met, and Secretary Cohen asked what General Sergeyev's view
was of the safety and security of their nuclear weapons; and, as I
recall, General Sergeyev said that his nuclear weapons were as safe
and secure as those in the United States. Secretary Cohen said, Well,
General Habiger is going to be visiting you here within the next few
weeks. Could you perhaps show him how you go about doing that? and
General Sergeyev said yes.


I was already scheduled to be in Russia to do some visits, not
expecting at that time to actually go into a nuclear weapons storage
site. On Friday, two weeks ago, that's exactly what I did. I went to a
nuclear weapons storage site at a road-mobile SS-24, rail-mobile SS-24
missile base at Kostroma, which is a little over 300 kilometers
northeast of Moscow. I was taken in the facility. I was shown the
security.


I went into a nuclear weapons storage bunker and saw an operational
nuclear weapon. Actually, there were eight of them on an SS-24
missile, upper-stage missile. I went in to talk to the security people
who were guarding the facility, as a matter of fact, and every one of
my questions was answered. And I was shown a lot of things that I was
impressed with. For example, in the United States we have a two-person
policy involving nuclear weapons. In other words, you have to have a
minimum of two people in order to get close to a nuclear weapon. In
Russia it's a three-person policy.


In the United States we have a thing called a personnel reliability
program, where we monitor our people medically for any kind of
abnormal behavior that would make them unstable around nuclear
weapons. The Russians do not have a program that's exactly like ours,
but they have a similar program. Before missile crew members or before
security personnel go on their alert tours, which are three- or
four-day cycles, they are personally interviewed by a medical doctor
and a psychologist.


I actually saw a demonstration of the capability of their security
forces. It was not something that was planned; it was something that I
asked for at the spur of the moment, and I was very impressed with
these nine young men, the security force that was tasked with guarding
this particular facility. The detachment of nine individuals was
commanded by a senior lieutenant, all very professional. They knew
what they were doing.


Now, the caveat I would give you is that I saw one facility. Was it
representative? I'd like to think so. They made it very clear that the
facility I was in at Kostroma was very representative of the missile
bases in Russia. As a result of what I saw, I had further discussions
with General Colonel Yakoulev, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the
Rocket Forces, who replaced General Sergeyev, and we agreed to
exchange security specialists from our respective commands; and
hopefully within the next few weeks a team of four or five of his
security people will come to one of our missile bases and see in depth
the procedures and the technical applications we use in our nuclear
weapons storage areas, and he has agreed that he would host a similar
team from my headquarters to do exactly the same thing.


We also agreed that we would establish a shadow program where we would
take the equivalent of a wing commander, and squadron commander, a
flight commander, and a missile crew member from one of his missile
bases to come to the United States and shadow their respective
counterparts for a one-week period -- meetings, fitness center, dining
facilities, everything -- and then he would reciprocate with a team
from my command.


I saw, for example, on the down side, we tend to use high-technology
devices much more than the Russians do. For example, we use television
sensors, low-light television cameras to monitor certain areas. The
Russians have not made that capital investment. Manpower is relatively
inexpensive for them, and they use more eyeballs, if you will. I
specifically asked if they use things like night-vision goggles, and I
was assured that they do. During the course of this little exercise,
when I asked what would you do if this were to happen, the two-star,
Russian Strategic Rocket Forces general who was accompanying me
directed them to show me exactly what they would do, and they went to
the extremes of not only getting their weapons out, but issuing the
ammunition and then pulling out an armored personnel carrier that was
in a garage right behind the facility where the troops were bedded
down. An experience that I was impressed with.


We have a lot more work to do, a lot more transparency, a lot more
details, but from my observations I was impressed and have confidence
that the Russians, from what I saw at that one base, have a program
which is ensuring the safe, secure processes involved regarding
nuclear weapons.


I was also exposed to their command centers, from the national-level
command center down to the command center in a road-mobile missile and
also a rail-mobile missile, and at all levels and saw the individuals
on duty, talked to them, asked them questions. Every question I asked
was answered in depth, and the thing that struck me about going into
their command and control center is that they are very much geared to
a fail-safe mode. And what I mean by that is that any one of the
command centers, from the national level down to the unit level, can
inhibit the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.


Well, ladies and gentlemen, that pretty much wraps up in a brief
overview my experience, and I open it up for questions. Yes, sir?


Q: General, you said that you were impressed, especially with the one
site that you inspected, but you haven't said do you believe, or do
you think that the nuclear weapons there are as safe as they are here,
like Sergeyev said?


A: Well, as I said, I saw one site, and I was assured by General
Yakoulev, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Rocket Forces, and
General Kirillov, who is the Commander of the 27th Rocket Army, who
accompanied me on this leg of the trip, that what I saw was
representative. And if what I saw was representative, yes, I have
confidence in the safety and security of their nuclear weapons
stockpile. They are deadly serious about this. This is a very valuable
resource. It is something that in the wrong hands would be a very
dangerous resource, and they go to great lengths. The security
personnel, I was told, and just from what I saw, I would tend to
believe, that they are elite. They call themselves the 10-Alpha Force.
They are regularly tested by an anti-terrorist group that comes around
to these kinds of facilities and attempt penetration.


Q: Did you hear any complaints from any of these soldiers about not
getting paid or any of the typical things you hear?


A: No, sir.  No, sir.



Yes, sir?



Q: Did you have any discussion of submarine-launched nuclear weapons?


A: No, sir, and that's one of the things we need to -- when I gave my
debrief to the secretary, we need to now start looking at the
long-range aviation, the bomber folks, and the submarine folks to make
sure that these kinds of measures are in place at the other
nuclear-weapon legs of their triad.


Q: They didn't brief you at all on that?



A: Sir, the Russians, the structure is a little different. As the
Commander-in-Chief of Strategic Command, I've got all three legs of
our triad. In Russia General Deyenkin is the chief of staff of the Air
Force, he's got the bomber leg; General Yakoulev has got the missile
leg; and then you've got a navy admiral in charge of the subs, and
that will be the next step, obviously.


Q: What is your impression of their submarine operations, from your
point of view? Did you look at it or do you have an idea or a feeling
for it?


A: Yes, sir. Their submarine force is getting smaller, dramatically
smaller and will continue to get smaller over the next few years. From
what I see, and I look at this very carefully, they ensure that their
submarines are full-up arounds, if you will, and that's kind of a
wrong pun, but fully capable, and the crews are fully trained before
they allow them to go to sea. Yes, sir?


Q: General, did you inquire with the Russians about these tactical
nuclear weapons that General Lebed, Dr. Yablokov have talked about
possibly being out of control or unaccounted for? And did you talk to
the Russians about the possibility of doing inspections with them on
those types of weapons as well as strategic?


A: Good question. No, I did not address that issue specifically with
them. I did ask them, however, about the accountability of the
weapons. In other words, how did they know they had all of their
weapons where they are supposed to? And I got back a very comforting
response. At the wing level there is a section called the 6th
Directorate, and it's a shop of three or four officers, and their sole
function is to make sure they know where every nuclear weapon in that
wing is. At the Rocket Army level there is a similar kind of
organization.


At the Headquarters, Strategic Rocket Forces, there is a 6th
Directorate, and then, for whatever reason, the Ministry of Defense is
called the 12th Directorate, and their sole function is this
accountability issue. General Yakoulev was very open to me. As a
matter of fact, we spent almost three hours just talking one-on-one
with a Russian interpreter. General Yakoulev showed me, for example,
his computer screen, which is tied to a local area network, and he
sees the equivalent of up to top-secret information. Now, I do not
speak Russian, do not read Russian, and when he showed me what was on
his computer screen, it was in Russian, but he told me what was on
there, and as a very senior officer in the Russian military, I
believed him. He showed me, for example, the page that listed the
whereabouts of every nuclear weapon in his command. Whenever a nuclear
weapon in his command is worked on, that data is presented to him in
his computer. It's updated daily at 6 o'clock in the morning.


And another thing that I was impressed with is that whenever the
Russian Rocket Forces move a weapon, whether it's 30 yards from a
bunker to a facility to do maintenance on from a missile field back to
the home base, which may be 30 or 40 miles, a minimum of a two-star on
the Rocket Forces staff approves that.


Q: So they are open to reciprocal accountability on at least their
strategic nukes. Is that correct?


A: Yes, sir. Now, that's one of the things that we are going to have
to, I think, start working with START III, is the tactical-nuke side
of the house. Yes, sir?


Q: How do you square that perceived candor with what some folks say is
a lack of candor on the Yamantal Mountain complex near Moscow, where
they haven't really ponied up a good answer for that?


A: Well, that's a dilemma. I've posed that question. I did not pose it
on this trip. I posed it earlier to -- I believe it was General
Sergeyev -- perhaps it was General Soluvtsov, who was the number-two
guy at the time. His response to me was it was a national crisis
control center; it had nothing to do with the military. We continue to
look at that facility very carefully, and --


Q: Do you believe that answer?



A: Based upon what I've seen, I would tend to not discount that
answer. Yes, sir?


Q: General, have you had any discussions with your counterpart on
nuclear modernization plans? As opposed to just the, you know, the
maintaining of the current --


A: In other words, modernization of their program. Just in terms of,
you know, they are building a new follow-on to their mobile missile.
It will be either road mobile or they can put it in silos. It will be
a START II-compliant, single warhead. The initial operational
capability of that missile has been slipped significantly over the
past two years, and I think it's just a matter of coming up with the
funds to get that system on the streets. Because of some very, very
wise investments, I do not see the United States even thinking about
having to modernize any of our forces until the year 2020.


Q: I just wanted to follow up on his. What's the new IOC on that
missile?


A: It depends on who you talk to. I'd say the middle of next year
sometime.


Q: And which one specifically is that?



A: The SS-27.



Q: And it was supposed to be two years previous.



A: Well, it depends on who you talk to. A year ago, then mid-year this
year, the end of this year. They just test-fired one here not to long
ago, a successful test. They are proceeding with the construction of a
silo to put it in. They have done some work on the transporter erector
launcher, the TEL. The program is going along well. They just laid the
keel for a new Borey-class, ballistic-missile submarine here last
fall, and we don't expect to see that operational until the year 2005
or so. Yes, sir?


Q: The 27 is the follow-on to the 25.



A: Yes, sir.



Q: Similar, road mobile?



A: Road mobile. The big difference is going to be in the TEL is going
to be a little more capable, better turning radius, that sort of
thing, and the missile will have some improvements. Yes, sir?


Q: General, just back to the tactical nuclear question for a minute.
Does the Strategic Rocket Forces control the tactical weapons?


A: No, sir.



Q: Okay. So the security conditions that you saw; is it possible that
they are not replicated in the command that oversees tactical weapons?


A: Yes, sir. It is conceivable, but from what I saw, if they are as
serious about what they were doing at their Strategic Rocket Forces
bases, it would seem to me that same mentality would (inaudible), but
I cannot guarantee that.


Q: And just to ask you a question about the other half of the
equation, too. Their security is perhaps as good as the U.S. or not,
but they also face different kinds of threats than the U.S., don't
they? I mean, is there a more likelihood of, say, organized crime
being able to procure a nuclear weapon? Has your command looked at
that problem?


A: From what I saw, if what I saw is representative of the Strategic
Rocket Forces, the chance of organized crime getting their hands on a
weapon out of their facilities would be extremely remote. I cannot
speak to other facilities, but it gets back to the point of under
START III we really need to start getting some transparency into their
tactical nuclear weapons stockpile. Yes, sir?


Q: The modernization program for them has focused on the land based
and now the submarines as well. Have they basically told you they are
giving up on the triad concept?


A: No, sir. They are doing a research and development program on a
new, air-launched cruise missile for their bombers.


Q: But they are not looking for a new platform -- not a new bomber, as
such, just a new --


A: No. You know, we've seen on occasions, for example, the Blackjack.
Apparently they have got some that are still undergoing construction
and should be rolling out of a plant here before too much longer.


Q: The new cruise missile; is that comparable to the AGM-129?



A: No.



Q: Better or not as good?



A: Just an entirely different concept.



Q: It sounds like there is a lot of building activity across all three
legs of the triad --


A: No, no, no, no, not a lot. They have not modern -- we made some
very wise investments back in the eighties with the B-2 bomber, the
B-1, the advanced cruise missile, the Ohio-class Trident submarine,
the D-5 missile. The Russians weren't modernizing their forces as we
were during that time frame, and what's happening is that the service
life of their systems is coming to an end, and that's one of the
reasons why, in my view, the Russians very much want to get down to
START III levels very quickly, because the SS-18, for example, which
is their heavy ICBM with 10 warheads, the thing is just flat, you
know, running out of service life.


Q: To follow up real quick, did you talk doctrine? There is some word
that Russians are thinking about adopting a policy of extended
deterrence, meaning first launch, first use on behalf of allies,
so-called allies.


A: We did not discuss that particular aspect. We discussed doctrine,
and we discussed arms control. We discussed stability, those kinds of
things, but not to that level.


Somebody who hasn't asked a question, I'll give you one shot.



Q: Did you talk about stockpile stewardship and specifically
comprehensive test ban, and, you know, we have a problem here about
keeping our nukes (inaudible) to the comprehensive test ban. What's
(inaudible) there?


A: Good question. I'm right in the heart of that fight because when
the president announced in August 1995 that we were going to proceed
down the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, he directed that the
Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Strategic Command would provide an
independent assessment. I did that last year for the first time, and
my assessment to my boss, the secretary of defense, was that our
stockpile was safe and reliable.


I just completed an assessment, and I have a team of civilian experts
who work on an advisory group for me pro bono. This group has been
around -- not the same people, but the concept has been around for
over 35 years. They have served the commander-in-chief, SAC, and now
STRATCOM. I've got a team of eight, very independent thinkers who are
previous weapon lab directors, weapon engineers, weapon designers, and
they have provided me their independent assessment, and I've gone into
this in great depth, and it's a year-by-year kind of thing. And as I
reported again to the secretary of defense this year, our nuclear
weapons stockpile is safe and reliable. And I will do that every year,
and whoever succeeds me will do the same thing.


Q: Just to clarify one thing you said earlier about the three person
as opposed to two in the United States, you said who get close to a
nuclear weapon. What you meant was to launch a nuclear weapon, did you
not?


A: No, sir. I'm talking about access to a nuclear weapon itself. The
launching of a nuclear weapon is very complicated. The controls are
very robust. There are a lot of safeguards built in. Trust me.


Q: You mean three guards or --



A: No, no. I'm talking about if you wanted to open up a bunker in a
Russian nuclear weapons storage area, at our sites you need two people
to go do that who understand what they are doing, whatever tasks they
are going to do. In Russia you need three people. And, oh, by the way,
in Russia when you open up that igloo, you have to have a written
order signed by the full colonel, who is the special technical unit
commander, whereas we don't have those specific kinds of requirements.


Q: Did the Russians express any concern to you of the possibility of a
Peacemaker-type scenario coming out of the mob, obtaining some kind of
tactical weapon?


A: No, not at all. As a matter of fact, they made it very clear to me
that they train to ensure that those kinds of things just wouldn't
happen. I need to see that movie, by the way.


Q: You were discussing military doctrine and nuclear doctrine. Have
you heard anything new or something which would worry you as the
commander of strategic forces?


A: No, not at all, not at all. Thanks for the opportunity to come talk
to you. Thank you.


(End transcript)