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News Briefings

DoD News Briefing


Thursday, January 20, 2000 - 1:52 p.m. EST
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

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Q: Ken, on National Missile Defense, is there any consideration being given to delay the decision about the deployment from the target of this summer, based on the progress so far on the tests?

Mr. Bacon: I think it would be premature to think about changing the schedule at this stage. We've always known that we had three tests before the Deployment Readiness Review, which is scheduled for June. We have done two of those tests and we have one left to do.

Right now, we are in the process of evaluating the outcome of the Tuesday test, trying to figure out what went right and what went wrong, and focusing on what went wrong, how to fix it so it doesn't go wrong the next time. As you know from yesterday, we think that the leading problem was the malfunction of some infrared sensors. Those sensors worked in the previous test; they apparently didn't work in this test. So the question is why? They were the same system. So when we figure that out, if this in fact is the problem -- and remember, all our results are still preliminary and we won't have a clear idea of what happened until massive amounts of data are reviewed, when we find that out, we'll try to fix the problem. If we think we can fix the problem, it's possible that the next test won't be delayed.

Right now, no decision has been made to change the date of the next test. That's scheduled for April or May -- late April or early May. If that test goes off on schedule, and if the results are good, I wouldn't anticipate that there'd be a delay in the Defense [sic] Readiness Review.

And that's scheduled for June.

But there are a lot of "ifs" in there. And I think we have to be governed by the findings, by really the science of the operation and the technology. And we'll take it from there. We are not going to rush ahead if we don't understand what the problems are and if we don't think we have a good solution.

Yes?

Q: Ken, what went right? I take it most systems functioned perfectly, and it was just a minimal failure at the end. Is that correct?

Mr. Bacon: Well, it was a minimal failure at the end, but this is a system that has to work. And although when deployed, it will be deployed in a way to give us several shots at incoming target, we want to increase our chances by having every single one work as well as expected.

So we think that the battle management control system worked; at least the early indications are that it did work. And the significant part of this test was that that, the crucial battle management control system, was integrated for the first time into the test. And it appears that that did work as expected or as predicted.

It appears that the radars worked as predicted. So those are two good signs. It appears that most of the interceptor systems worked as predicted, but not for the final seconds of the flight, and that was the problem. So now we have to figure out what caused the problem and how to fix it.

Yes, Jim?

Q: There are pretty clear and obvious political benefits to making these decisions after three tests. But what's not clear to me is what the technical -- what is magical about the technology, about what you will know after three tests, that drives a decision in June rather than after four tests or 10 tests or something? What's special about three?

Mr. Bacon: There are a lot of judgment calls built into this. But you have to remember that we are building this system in the first place because we face a threat. And it takes a long while to develop, build, and deploy such a system. And we want to get going on that schedule, as soon as possible, because one of the lessons we learned from the Rumsfeld Commission, and other studies, is that there is a threat and the threat is nearer-term than we once thought.

So we want to be ready. And it's just a matter of working out a schedule that we think meets our national security needs. We think we're on that schedule.

But we've made no bones about the fact that it's an extremely demanding and challenging schedule. And it's one that requires an awful lot of hard work on the basic technology of this difficult system.

So I think it's premature to think about slipping the schedule at this stage, because we're -- work through in a very professional fashion the problems we've got, try to solve them, and keep to the schedule, if we can.

Q: But probably, Ken -- probably the better way to ask that is, how can you recommend with some confidence -- with some confidence -- that this program will work after only three tasks -- a very expensive program? I mean, if the Congress has demanded that you prove the F-22 is viable before going ahead with production on it, how can you recommend with some confidence that it's going to work after only three?

Mr. Bacon: Well, this is --

Q: It's a very expensive program.

Mr. Bacon: Well, this is a judgment that we will have to make at the appropriate time. But based on the best knowledge of the people who are running the program, we think that if this test schedule works, if we can maintain the current schedule -- in other words, get the third test done in April or May -- and if it works out, that will give us enough confidence in the major elements of the system to decide to go forward.

Now if -- and that is something we've known was a challenge from the very beginning. It's no less of a challenge now. It's no more of a challenge now. As I said, there's an element of judgment in this, and the people who are putting this program together think that three tests will give them a good foundation for making a deployment readiness recommendation.

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Roberto?

Q: Yeah. Could I go back to the missile defense for a second? Have you received any of the results of the 48-hour review, and if so, do they indicate anything different than what we heard yesterday?

Mr. Bacon: I haven't. And of course, 48 hours isn't over.

Q: Secondly, when you talked about the third test and the -- if it succeeds, you'll find a basis for a favorable decision, have the terms of success been defined fully yet?

Mr. Bacon: Well, the ballistic missile defense organization has said that their minimum standards for recommending a move forward would be two hit-to-kill tests, one of which is an integrated systems test. We've had one hit-to-kill test and we've got one more test left. So we'll have to see what happens. I just -- the point I'm trying to make is I think it's too early to prejudge the program based -- Just as it was too early based on the test last October, the successful test, to say everything is fine, this program is going ahead with no problems, it's too early to say, based on Tuesday's test, that the program is deeply troubled or flawed. We don't know that. And we still have one more test, and that will be a very important test, obviously.

Yes, Steve?

Q: On the security concerns you mentioned the demand for this program. Should we understand that basically the question that will be on the table in the next few months is whether to make a decision to go ahead or whether to delay the program; that the option of simply scuttling the program is probably not one that's going to be considered at this point?

Mr. Bacon: Well, this is a decision, obviously, that the president has to make, and I'm going to be the last person to prejudge his decision or to try to give him the terms for making the decision. But remember, this is a program that has considerable congressional support because of the perceived threat, and it has considerable support in this building because of the perceived threat. So we'll have to weigh a whole series of factors. One clearly is, can we do it: is the technology there; will the program work? The second is the threat: has the threat changed, has it gotten worse; has it gotten -- has the threat increased or decreased? He'll obviously have to look at the cost of the program and look at whether the schedule as laid out by the Defense Department is a reasonable schedule. Those are a number -- and clearly, the president will have to look at the diplomatic implications of moving ahead with this program.

And that involves where discussions with the Russians stand, as well as where discussions with our allies and other countries stand. So those are all factors that the president will have to weigh.

But what got us into this program in the first place was the, I think, irrefutable fact that countries that are unfriendly to us are working very hard to build delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction. Whether they are North Korea, whether it's Iraq, whether it's Iran, we know that there are countries working very hard to build ballistic missile systems.

And that's why we are working hard to develop, first, theater ballistic missile defenses for our troops in the Gulf, or in Asia or elsewhere, and a national missile defense system, to protect us against a very limited potential attack from one of these unfriendly nations.

So I don't think the threat has gone away; I don't think it has diminished. But it's always possible that we could end up having certain diplomatic breakthroughs or new intelligence assessments that would give us a different view of the threat. And these are the factors that the president and his team will have to weigh, after he gets a Deployment Readiness Review from the Defense Department.

Q: But realistically -- I mean, if we just talk about the DOD recommendation, basically the options are: Let's go ahead, or let's push back the date for this decision. I mean, those are probably the options that will be considered.

Mr. Bacon: Yeah. I think that we have made a major commitment to this program. We see it as an important defense program. And that's why we put so much time and money into what is a very technologically challenging program.

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Q: You mentioned earlier on the NMD that the threat has not gone away and has not decreased, leaving open the possibility that it might have increased. Is there any new assessment that the threat is more serious in the last few weeks, few months than --

Mr. Bacon: I'm not aware that any expected developments have taken place -- unexpected developments -- I'm not aware that there have been any unexpected developments or progress.

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Q: Ken, could I go back into the area of rogue nations with the potential missile threat to the United States?

Question one is: Is North Korea, Iraq and Iran, are those the only three nations you would consider rogue nations that might threaten the U.S.? Or could there be --

Mr. Bacon: I think we have to be alert to threats from a range of nations and also from non-national actors, such as terrorists.

Q: "Such as terrorists"? That's what I was going to ask.

Mr. Bacon: I answered the question for you. (Laughter.) It shows how responsive we are here at the Pentagon. (Laughter.)

Q: Excellent. Thanks.

And then finally I would ask, of the three types of weapons of mass destruction, is it really feasible -- a real possibility that biological and chemical weapons would be placed on an ICBM and used against the U.S., or is it more likely that a nuclear weapon would be the weapon of choice?

Mr. Bacon: I think it's much easier to weaponize chemical or biological agents than it is to make a nuclear weapon. And because it's much easier to do that, we can't rule out that that would be a chosen way to attack the United States, should somebody try to do that. Obviously, we take every step we can to discourage these attacks.

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