Media Availability with Secretary Carter at MCAS Miramar, California

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  I'll leave all the time for questions.  I said what I had to say.  But just to repeat for San Diego and for Miramar the importance of my being here is a reflection of the importance of them to our security future.

And that is reflected in the budget that we will be submitting -- the president will be submitting to Congress in a week-and-a-half.  So I wanted to give our fantastic marines here and our sailors down in San Diego an idea of what that budget contains and what it means for them.

Q:  (OFF-MIC) 

SEC. CARTER:  Hi.  

Q:  (OFF-MIC) 

SEC. CARTER:  The question was about North Korea, which does say it's poised to launch a space vehicle.  We have long expressed the concern about North Korea's missile program as well as its nuclear weapons program, and the two of those in combination.

And the question is, what are we doing about that?  And we're -- two things.  Principally, the first is very specifically on missile defense, we're investing a lot in missile defense.  

And to your question, are we doing more?  Yes, we are continually improving.  And particularly increasing both the number and the quality of the ballistic missile interceptors here in the United States that would protect the United States if, down the road, North Korea succeeded in combining a missile of intercontinental range with a nuclear warhead.  

We have to protect ourselves in that situation.  And we will with missile defense.  

The second thing we do, of course, is deter attack on the Korean Peninsula and against our Japanese allies in the region, as well as the United States.  And for that reason, as I mentioned earlier today, we, that is, U.S. forces, remain poised to, the phrase goes, "fight tonight" on the Korean Peninsula.

Not something any of us want to do.  And I told the marines today that if, God forbid, there were conflict on the Korean Peninsula, the marines would play a role in that.  

But principally with respect to the missile (INAUDIBLE), it's missile defense.  And we are doing more.  

Q:  (OFF-MIC) 

SEC. CARTER:  No, at the moment, no.  That calculus is -- stands.  But we're are right now -- but that does represent an increase over the number that are there.  But that's in our plan.  Our plan is to increase it.  That plan has not changed.  

But the modernization of the interceptors, the improvement in the interceptors is also going on.  That's also important in terms of their performance.  

Q:  (OFF-MIC) 

SEC. CARTER:  Yes.  A very important question.  It was about maintenance opportunities, particularly at home stations like this, for the Marine Corps.  That's a big emphasis of myself.  It's a big one of our commandant, General Neller.  

One of the reasons why he thought that this would be an excellent place for me to come, to signify that.  And that has been one of the emphases of this visit.  

There are two ways you can address readiness.  One is to increase the dollars that go to training itself.  I explained earlier how we're doing at Twenty-nine Palms, as just one example for full spectrum.

Another is to increase the maintenance of existing airframes, like some of those you see around you here today.  That's both at facilities like this, and it's at depots.  And in both of those cases, we're adding funding in the FY17 budget specifically to make up some maintenance shortfalls and delays in the past.  That will be importance to folks here.  

And finally, and very importantly, also relevant to folks here, is that older aircraft are more difficult, they're expensive to maintain.  And so the older ones we're finding we have to spend more and more effort maintaining.  

One of the ways of dealing with that is to buy their replacements.  So you see the F-35B here today.  And we are, again, in the '17 budget, buying more F-35s than we had planned to for the Navy and Marine Corps.  

So we're accelerating that buy.  And we're also, by the way, accelerating -- or enhancing our buy of FA-18s.  Again, with the same idea that will have a big impact upon maintenance.

So it's a big theme of this budget for the Marine Corps.  It's one of General Neller's top priorities.  And I completely concur with him in that regard.  And as I explained to these fantastic marines here today, it's especially important to the Marines as it is to all the services.  

But for the Marines, readiness is their stock and trade.  We count on them to be highly ready.

Q:  (OFF-MIC) 

SEC. CARTER:  High speed .  

Q:  (OFF-MIC)

SEC. CARTER:  The goal there, this is -- the question was about maternity leave.  The goal is to retain quality people.  So it's part of the competitive fight for talent that we, as an all-volunteer force, have to be embarked in.  

And if all our data and our surveys indicated that consideration of family matters, and the ability to, where possible, reconcile the profession of arms and our necessities for national security with the ability of our service-members to have a family and plan a family and all that, that where we could accommodate that, it would have a big impact on retention.  So force effectiveness through retention, that's the objective.  

Now then you have to consider in the case of mothers, the duration.  And we thought very hard about that, and the two considerations are, on the one hand, the more maternity leave, the easier it makes things for mothers who want to take that maternity leave.

And on the other hand, there are impacts on readiness, obviously.  And we have to take them seriously.  We thought, and we concluded, and we did a lot of work on this, 12 weeks is the right number.  

It's -- for all the services, it's important that it be uniform across services.  That is a very long leave by the standards of the other -- of our other companies, very generous.  It puts us in the upper quartile of, for example, Fortune 100 companies.

I think that's where we belong because we're looking for really good people for our military.  But that is why we arrived at that number.  That is the right number to be at.  I -- when I say though that for marines or sailors who, in the time between last summer and our just department-wide decision, made their plans, that is, pregnancy plans, based upon the 18-month, we'll grandfather it for them.  

Now you said about men.  Oh, I'm sorry.  One other thing which is important also, which is, at 12 weeks there's considerable medical data suggesting that 12 weeks is good for mothers to take that much time.  So there is a kind of medical consideration in there too.  So all the data brought you to 12.  

Now you say, how about dads?  And we thought about the same thing there too.  And, again, we tried to balance.  We want dads to take that time.  We want them to feel that they can take that time.  We want them to support their families.  

Lord knows for any of us who have children there is plenty of work to do in the early weeks.  On the other hand, there is a readiness impact there.  And, of course, at this -- men outnumber women in our force, and so the readiness multiplier associated with every additional week of leave is very large.

And so when we balance those two things, we decided to increase paternal leave from 11 days to 14  days, which is an important increase.  And it signifies that we recognize that being a father is of consequence, and consequence to the family, therefore to us, ultimately.

That was as far as we could go at this time in consideration of everything else.  

Q:  (OFF-MIC)

SEC. CARTER:  Well, I've made the decision about women in our military that all of our specialties should be opened up to women.  I think that's the right decision for the force.  

The civil service is a matter of the law.  It stands to reason from what I just said that I think Congress ought to take up this question.  It is in their hands.  It's not for me -- it's not my decision.  

But it stands to reason that they should take this up because I, and the decision that I am able to make as secretary of defense, have made my decision.  

MODERATOR:  Thanks, everyone.  Appreciate it.