Media Availability with Secretary Carter at Naval Air Station, China Lake, California

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Hi, everyone. First of all, great appreciation to my hosts here at this excellent facility. And the tremendous high-quality of the scientific and engineering work going on here.

The reason I came here, other than to take a look at some of these very important programs that we’re doing, is it’s a reflection of one of the themes that will be -- you’ll see again and again and again when we release our budget, which is an emphasis on high-end capabilities and making sure that we once again, as we reach this inflection point strategically as a country, which is reflected in this budget that the president will be submitting in two weeks, as we reach that inflection point that we’re making the investments in keeping ahead of our principal potential antagonists who have high-end capability, that we retain that American edge.

And for the Navy here, the naval facility, that means making sure that their ships and their aircraft are lethal, that they have the best weapons. It is important that you have ships and aircraft that have the very best weapons. The very best sensors, the very most sophisticated sensors, the very most survivable designs in their sensors.

And I can’t talk about everything I saw here, but they all are in that same direction of high-end capability and increasing and really multiplying the capability of our individual ships and aircraft and actually submarines for that matter also. So that we have not only the best platforms, but they have the highest-end capability.

The -- a few -- again, I can’t describe everything we saw today. But that’s actually a sign. We like to surprise people. And so some of our opponents will find themselves surprised when this stuff gets into the field, which is going to be very soon.

I should also say that this place signifies the critical importance of our science and technology base. And as you know, one of the other things in our budget is increasing our R&D spending, consistent with our determination to remain innovative.

And you see the innovative people here. I should say of all generations, including some great engineers who have been here a long time and have all that tremendous experience, and some young engineers who are just feeling the incredible appeal of the mission of being part of national security, being part of defense.

That’s something, as you know, that I think is incredibly important to our future. And it’s our great magnet is for young people to feel that they’re doing something of great consequence. And we saw some of those folks here today.

You’ll see more of these details in the budget. You obviously won’t see all the details from the things that we want to be surprising about.

I did bring a few illustrative items of programs that China Lake is involved in that are going to be represented in the budget and what actions we’re taking to make sure we’re making investments in weapons and sensors and capabilities, as well as in our important platform programs.

So a Tomahawk, to give an example. Tomahawk is something which is flown from the ocean right in here to China Lake to be tested. So this part is -- this place has been part of that program from the very beginning.

That’s a program that’s constantly evolving in every way, the characteristics of that missile. But we need to make sure we fill the tubes on our submarines and our surface ships with the very best and the newest. And lots of Tomahawks, because we expend them over time.

We want to diversify the kinds of targets that they can hit, from land attack, which is probably how you first met the Tomahawk many years ago, to an anti-ship version so that we continue to diversify our suite of anti-ship missiles. Again, in the spirit of making everything we have lethal.

And in that connection, the number there is about $2 billion. That’s a lot of money, $2 billion over the FYDP for Tomahawk. That’ll buy 4,000 Tomahawks, plus fund the development of these advanced capabilities, which adds life to them as well as capability.

Another thing I ought to mention also relevant to this place is LRASM, the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile. Same deal, lethality. The lethality of our Navy. That’s about $927 million over the FYDP, almost $1 billion. Big, big, big money for munitions, very important.

Another one is (the AARGM-ER), which of course is the anti-radiation homing missile. And to strike enemy air defenses. That’s going to be $418 million over the FYDP.

I just cite these numbers. They’re just a few things plucked from the budget. Obviously we’ll give you the entirety of the budget in a little while.

But the point is that these are large investments in the strategic future at the high end, aimed at making sure that our systems have the greatest capability, the greatest lethality in this case, of anybody else.

And that’s going to be important as we focus once again on the full spectrum of threats I described this morning all the way from ISIL, which we need to defeat and will, right up through those who we hope never become antagonists of the United States, but are clearly competitors. And therefore in the spirit of deterrence, we need to make sure we have capability against.

So that’s kind of the reason why we’re here. It’s a wonderful place to be. I want to thank the leadership here. It’s heartening to see so many great scientists and engineers working on something so important, and very successful programs.

So that let me stop and answer questions --

Q: Sir, Austin Wright from Politico. You’re framing your budget as prioritizing high-end war fighting and making tough choices to get to that. Besides the LCS, are there examples that you can show us of the tradeoffs that are involved in here of things that are on the losing end of that equation?

SEC. CARTER: (LAUGHTER). He’s persistent. We have made tradeoffs. And you’ll see when the whole budget comes out where we’ve made tradeoffs.

I will say that the -- I described this earlier today. We are making sure that we’re making the investments we need to do in modernization. We’re making sure we make the investments we need to make in training and readiness. We are making substantial investments in force structure as well, but there’s a balance there. And you’ll see that balance struck in every domain.

You mentioned ships. It’s going to be true in aircrafts. It’s going to be true in the Air Force as well as the Navy, true in the Army and so forth.

We have to balance and make sure that we have the best shape for -- in our military for the amount of money we have in our budget. That’s just a reality.

Q: Kristina Wong, The Hill. Thanks for doing this, sir.

SEC. CARTER: Sure. Thanks for being here.

Q: Two questions. The president -- sorry. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said the budget request doesn’t accommodate the $7 billion for the fight against ISIS and the $3.0 billion to deter Russia.

He’s obviously pushing for more OCO and saying that the request is a floor, not a ceiling. What is your -- what is your take on that? Is the OCO --

SEC. CARTER: Well, that number was set, as was our budget, in the bipartisan budget agreement, which was a coming together, which is necessary. And I’m glad it happened. And it’s a lot better than a continuing resolution.

Of both parties, both houses, the executive branch and the legislative branch. And they balanced all the things. And that is what we came up with. I’m glad that there is a bipartisan budget agreement.

As I said this morning, it’s in the nature of bipartisan -- a budget agreement that everybody comes behind. And by the way, it’s in the nature of budgeting in general that you have to make hard choices and you have to make hard tradeoffs.

With respect to the specific issue of OCO, let me just remind you, OCO is yes, there’s a number set in the bipartisan budget agreement. We respect that. We -- but, and this is an important but.

OCO is by definition a variable fund that depends upon what you do in the course of a year. And that’s been so for now a number of years when there’s been an OCO budget.

And some years the Department of Defense has ended up spending more than it originally asked for. And so asking for more. Sometimes it has ended up spending less and giving -- we’ve given back money to the Treasury as a consequence. That’s in the nature of not knowing exactly.

Now, obviously we have budgeted for an accelerated campaign against ISIL because we’re determined to do that. We think we’ll have all the opportunities that we can use that money on.

By opportunities I mean where we have, as we’re always looking for, people who can keep ISIL defeated once we’ve defeated ISIL. So, capable, motivated, local forces always. But where we have those opportunities in whatever domain they have where we think of new things like cyber, which we’re going after ISIL in, that we have the funding to do that.

And so the question I think implied is the same as in previous years where we’ll adjust, and we’ll respectfully ask the Congress. But Congress has always recognized reality.

They recognize reality when we spend -- when we need less than we said and they take the money away. And I don’t have a problem with that. But I would think that if we needed more they’d respect that as well. But we’ll just have to see.

But we asked for the amount that we think we’ll need given accelerated campaign against ISIL, given a quadrupled commitment to the European Reassurance Initiative, which is about the Russian challenge in Europe. And all of the other things that we can see in front of us. But there’ll be some things that we don’t see in front of us. And we’ll have to adjust.

Q: And then just very --

MODERATOR: OCO question real quick? Rebecca?

Q: Thank you. So because I’m from a local newspaper, the News Review, of course our focus is a little bit different because we think we have something very special in China Lake --

SEC. CARTER: You do.

Q: -- which is very unique. And part of our concern is being able to protect and promote and support the mission that we provide here. And I would like to know what you think China Lake’s role is if you’re talking about a future-focused strategy. You know future focus is kind of where we live. So what’s our place?

SEC. CARTER: I think you just answered the question. I think it’s a pretty bright place because you’re in the sweet spot of the strategic transition that we’re making, which is high end, high tech, heavily involved in the research and development part of our budget, which as I said, is one of many parts that is increasing, that are relevant to China Lake.

Munitions, the lethality of systems, sensors, everything you do here is part of the cutting edge not only strategically and technologically, but budgetarily as well. So I think the future of China Lake’s very bright. And that’s deserved because you do great work and you got great people here.

So it’s a good question. But I have only good things to say. That’s one of the reasons I came here.

Q: Sir --?

MODERATOR: We have time for two more. Tara?

Q: Thank you. Tara Copp, Stars and Stripes. Today General Campbell in his testimony on the Hill said unless something substantially changes with Atkins capability, 2016 is likely to be an even more violent year in Afghanistan than 2015.

And I was wondering, given his assessment, how likely it is that the 9,800 troops currently in Afghanistan would actually be drawn down to 5,500 by the end of the year. And you know how much violence --

SEC. CARTER: That’s our plan. But I think the critical thing General Campbell is pointing to is that the Afghan Security Forces, this is a critical year for the Afghan Security Forces because they will be, and we want them to be, and that’s the -- stronger than they were in the last year. Simply because now they’re going to have a better organization.

They’re going to have better training. They’re going to have more aircraft, better use of indirect fires, better command and control, all those things.

Because remember, the Afghan Security Forces are a force that we’re building. It’s not built yet. But that we’re building. It gets better every year.

Now at the same time, you can expect the Taliban to be more ambitious also this year. And I think that’s what he’s saying. And therefore, the intensity of combat, I leave it to General Campbell. But it stands to reason that that might be the case.

And but I think what’s important is the Afghans are fighting. And I’ll just say something that President Ghani has said to me in the past, which is that he grieves -- he always says, by the way, for which I really appreciate how much he appreciates our sacrifice, which is really nice to hear.

But he also says apropos, the Afghan losses over the last season, he said I grieve for them. On the other hand, they’re fighting. It shows that they’re fighting.

So you the Afghans are going to have to fight for control over Afghan territory. We’re there to help them do that. That’s our -- and they’re going to have to fight tough in this next season. So I think General Campbell’s absolutely right.

MODERATOR: We have time for one last question, a local question. John?

Q: Hi. John Bennett from the Daily Independent here in Ridgecrest.

One of the things that I know the Weapons Division here has had trouble with is recruiting journeymen. Or not so much the new scientists and engineers, but journeymen-level engineers.

SEC. CARTER: Sure.

Q: I was wondering if you have any thoughts on.

SEC. CARTER: Well, yes. I mean that’s true of every employer economy wide, so I don’t think you should feel particularly singled out here at China Lake. But it does have a lesson in there for us, which is that if we’re going to be competitive, which we have to be as an employer, we need to think about what makes us attractive as that employer.

So, we need to acquaint young people -- I know you’re asking about mid-career people. But young people earlier in their lives with the opportunities so that even if they don’t come in at that time, maybe later they will. Because they’ll be familiar with us.

They’ll be looking for that opportunity. They’ll see a posting of a job here. And they’ll say you know what, I remember what it was like to be part of that wonderful mission, which is defending our people, making a better world.

I mean that’s great, right? There’s no -- nothing more noble than you could wake up in the morning and be part of. And if they caught that bug, then some time in their -- later in their career maybe they’ll -- it’ll be rekindled and they’ll commit.

Now, for us, that means we need to be able to hire people at that level of skill and experience, which is going to require some more flexibility than we have. You’ve heard me talk about this before. And so that’s hiring high tech talent.

And let’s remember that scientists and engineers like me are people too. So we have families and everything. And so it matters that family life be compatible with government service. And something I’ve been addressing in the last week in our uniform.

And then the final thing I’d say is I never, ever forget how fantastic our civilians are. Whenever I talk about the fantastic people at the Department of Defense, I always say uniformed and civilian.

We have great, wonderful civilians who when you see them here, they’re an important part of the technological workforce. And you know that’s what makes the total force. And we depend upon.

By the way, we depend on the private sector also. And so the people who do work for us under contract, they’re part of the team too. And they’re necessary also to get that talent, that input in science and technology.

MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone. Appreciate it.

SEC. CARTER: Great. Thanks all --

Q: Thank you.

SEC. CARTER: -- very much.

MODERATOR: Thank you. OK.