Department of Defense Press Briefing by Secretary James and Gen. Goldfein on the State of the Air Force in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein


 

STAFF: Secretary James and General Goldfein, our new chief of staff, will make a few comments, and then we'll jump right into questions.

 

Secretary James?

 

SECRETARY OF THE AIR FORCE, DEBORAH LEE JAMES:  Thank you very much, General Thomas.

 

And good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us on these dog days of August.

 

I am so delighted to be here with our 21st chief of staff of the Air Force, General Dave Goldfein. I think we actually won the lottery when he agreed to be our chief of staff and he's certainly hit the ground running. And I'm going to yield to him in just a couple of moments to share some of his thoughts from his first month on the job and also about our globally engaged Air Force.

 

But first I want to touch upon a few issues that are affecting us right here at home in Washington, specifically some of the budget challenges associated with a long-term continuing resolution.

 

And then I also want to give you a quick update on our RPA, Remotely Piloted Aircraft "get well plan," and as well as a couple of other initiatives.

 

First, a long-term CR – I want to say we certainly hope that is not the case. We know the congressional staff is working hard, even while their members are back at home this summer.

 

But we are hearing that either a six-month CR or a one year CR is a possibility, and I want to explain why this would be a bad deal for the U.S. Air Force.

 

First of all, more than 60 Air Force acquisition new starts and upgrades could be affected, including those to existing platforms like the MQ-9 Reaper, and the C-130, and the B-2, and the B-52, all of these systems require upgrades.

 

Number two, the production of Joint Direct Attack Munitions known as JDAMs, would be limited to the FY16 quantity, which we feel is unacceptable, particularly in light of current operations against Daesh and other extremists around the world.

 

Number three, KC-46 production would be capped at 12 aircraft, vice the 15 in our 17 budget, which would delay operational fielding of this platform.

 

Number four, the B-21 would be capped at FY16 levels, which would slow everything down and risk a long-term deterrent capability, which we hope to have in the 2020 decade time-frame.

 

Number five, there are many MILCON projects that would be affected, including projects associated with the down of the F-35, a new recruit dormitory, and important missile maintenance facilities.

 

So overall, a long-term CR would fund the Air Force at about $1.3 billion less than the amount we requested in FY17, and would cause as you can see many, many perturbations in our system.

 

Let me now shift to the number one capability that our combatant commanders ask of the United States Air Force – combatant commanders all around the world – and that is the role of ISR; Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. Specifically, what we are doing in the world of our RPA's to try to lessen some of the strain and improve quality of life.

 

General Goldfein and I were just recently at the Creech Air Force base, and the bottom line I would share with you with respect to our "get well plan," is that it is proceeding at pace. It is not all done yet, but there is a lot going on – a lot in process.

 

We are well on the way to having 100 percent manning at our training units. And of course, having all of those instructors in the schoolhouse means that we are going to be producing more RPA pilots, and, indeed, we already are. We have roughly doubled the undergraduate and graduate pilot output in this arena from FY15 to FY17, so that's a good start.

 

Producing more pilots of course means a better quality of life for all of our RPA airmen because it will give them more family time and more opportunities to pursue developmental opportunities.

 

Meanwhile, we have mobilized additional guard units, and they are flying right alongside their active-duty and Reserve counterparts, with an additional three air combat controls which the Guard is now providing.

 

We are also providing more contractor support for non-strike missions. This fall, we will release candidate bases for locating a new wing of RPA airmen, at up to two locations. One will host an operations group with mission control elements, and the other will potentially host a full MQ-9 wing. Because you see, building additional locations where our people can rotate to is another aspect of our "quality of life plan."

 

Finally, we are pleased to announce that no later than October 1, we will pay a $35,000 RPA pilot retention bonus for those who are at the end of their active-duty service commitment, and who of course agree to stay with us.

 

Now, this $35,000 per year level is up from the current $25,000 per year level, and all RPA pilots who are flying today will be eligible for this bonus. And there will be more details to follow on this one.

 

Turning to our other pilots for a moment, we are still working with the Congress to update the retention I just reported on was the RPA pilots, but we need additional authority for other pilots as well.

 

We need this authority now specifically because we need to address a number of shortfalls, the most important of which at the moment is the 700 fighter pilot shortfall that we are facing by the end of this year with 1,000 fighter pilots which we are projected to be short in just a couple of years from now.

 

Why is this so? Well, the airlines are forecasted to be hiring a lot more. They already are. We also need to increase our pilot production, and soon we will announce the standup of new F-16 training units. We expect to select candidate locations for us to two new training locations by the end of December 2016.

 

And in the meantime, we intend to augment up to two of our existing training units to jumpstart pilot production by the end of September 2017.

 

So, back to compensation now for just a moment. We're working with Congress also to ensure that basic allowance for housing, which is a key factor in total compensation for military members, that this remains robust and does not change substantially for our airmen.

 

There is a proposed change on Capitol Hill that could reduce overall compensation and disproportionately affect our dual military couples and members who are living together. And we really think we need to get that fixed for all of our airmen.

 

Finally, I want to say, money is important, but it is not everything. It is not the be all and end all. As you've heard me say repeatedly, quality of life, quality of the work environment, these are also important factors.

 

And so, to that end, we will soon announce ways that we will reduce assigned additional duties to give airmen some of their precious time back. This, I want to emphasize will be a first step, and it's going to be followed up by a review of computer-based training and other ancillary requirements that take up a lot of our airmen's time at present.

 

And with that, I am very pleased to yield to General Goldfein.

 

GENERAL DAVID GOLDFEIN, AIR FORCE CHIEF OF STAFF: Thank you, ma'am. I learned to work side-by-side with you as we lead the 660,000 Active, Guard and Reserve and civilian airmen that make up the world's greatest Air Force.

 

Also, thank you to the Pentagon press corps. This is the first of, I hope, many engagements with you to help tell the story of your Air Force and the incredible who deliver global -- global vigilance, reach and power for the joint team every day.

 

In the five weeks since Secretary James swore me in as the 21st chief of staff, I've had the opportunity to travel to the U.K., Hawaii, seven U.S. bases to meet airmen and their families.

 

Along the way, we've promoted new commanders of Pacific Air Forces, Air Force Reserve Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, and welcome General Steve Wilson as the 39th vice chief of staff.

 

Tomorrow, I get the opportunity to promote our newest four star, General Tod Wolters, as he takes command of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and becomes NATO's air chief. Followed by an extensive visit across the Middle East to see our warriors in action as they lead the fight against Daesh.

 

Your Air Force is fully engaged in providing air power solutions to counter aggressive activity from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and violent extremists, while we simultaneously stand watch over the nation's nuclear enterprise, manage space constellations, operate in cyber, and set strip alert to defend the homeland from attack.

 

We operate from a capsule below the surface, to a combat controller on the surface, to a cockpit above the surface, to the outer reaches of space.

 

We're everywhere. Air power has become the oxygen the joint team breathes. Have it, you don't even think about. Don't have it, it's all you think about. Air superiority, ISR, space, lift are just a few examples.

 

As Secretary James outlined, we do all of this despite financial uncertainty and the risk of sequestration still looming on the horizon. Make no mistake, we will be unable to execute the defense strategic guidance and perform these missions to the level the nation requires if we return to a sequestered budget.

 

Despite the uncertainty ahead, however, I'm optimistic about the future of the Air Force for one reason. Our airmen, who continue to deliver 24/7, 365. I'm proud to serve as their Chief and I'm honored to work side by side with Secretary James as the 21st Chief in the 21st century. Thank you.

 

Q:  Hi, thanks for doing this.

 

A question about how some of this that you – some of the concerns you talked about is affecting the operations that are ongoing? Recently, the president authorized new, more sustained air operations in Libya. Can you talk about how these budget and other shortage concerns are affecting your day to day operations? How is the pilot shortfall of 7000 affecting this and where do you see the impact most strongly?

 

Is it Iraq, is it Syria, is it more reliance off ships and the Marines for Libya? Where is the more specific impact on the daily airstrike operation?

 

SEC. JAMES:  So, maybe I could begin and then, chief, please jump in.

 

So, the first thing I want to say, Lita, is I am so extremely proud of our airmen because regardless of how much strain there is, regardless of what they're asked to do, they step up time and time again. The types of strains that we are speaking of are frequent deployments, a lot of family separation, and then even when they come home, frequently, they immediately have to go off to a major exercise to try to train up again for the high-end fight.

 

So, it's the busiest Air Force that I have certainly ever seen in my 35 years of working on defense matters, but they are doing it.

 

In terms of what is the specific impact on operations of Libya, I will tell you that we have known for some time that we were going to go wherever the cancerous ISIL and other violent extremists would spread. And, particularly in areas of failed states or lawless states. And Libya certainly counts in that category, this is not surprising, at least not to those of us who are tracking this very closely.

 

We have done some strikes in Libya before and so this is an opportunity to give a push to some of those ground -- local ground forces on the ground as they attempt to contain and, hopefully, snuff out the forces near Sirte. So, they are doing it, there is strain, the ammunition, all of that is holding because we put our best forces forward.

 

GEN. GOLDFEIN: And I'll just add, if I could, I'll give you a vignette.

 

This is what two weeks in the life of the Lakenheath Wing Commander looked like, not so long ago. So, week one, he deployed a squadron on short notice to Incirlik and 24 hours after arrival, they were attacking Daesh in northern Syria.

 

In the second week, he actually employed the second squadron against a strike in Libya against a high value target.  24 hours after the aircraft returned to home, a nuclear surety inspection team arrived to give them – a major nuclear surety inspection team arrived to give them a major nuclear surety inspection.

 

That's the kind of OPTEMPO, at the point of, where do we absorb those impacts and very often to be able to get the level of readiness we need forward to be able to engage where the combatant commanders need us the most and the quickest we end up absorbing that risk in home station.

 

And for the Secretary and I, to build on her point, it's our ability to ensure that we are simultaneously ready for not only the continual fight that we're involved in against violent extremism. But also as the secretary of defense has laid out, there are four other global challenges that we have to ready for as an Air Force: China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and that's where we absorb some of our risk.

 

Q:  As a follow-up, do you see though the Libya fight being absorbed more by the Navy and Marines than the Air Force, or do you think the Air Force will be more involved there, both in terms of strikes and also that additional ISR that – and maybe you can update with what are the caps there and sort of caps for the Air Force strength?

 

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Yes, ma'am, I would say it's going to be a combined arms – it is a combined arms engagement, which means that all services are engaged.

 

The combatant commander and specifically the joint task force commanders, use all four components as required. Sometimes together, sometimes individually, as all that's part of his campaign plan.

 

So I don't predict that you're going to see one particular component that will be more or less engaged now. And in fact, we're the most joint force that we've been in our history, today.

 

And in terms of where we're operating out of, that would be a detail that I wouldn't get into.

 

Q:  How many caps?

 

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Oh, that we have right now?

 

Q:  Yes sir.

 

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Right now we've got – depending on how you measure – we’ve got approximately 60 that we're at. But you know we've also – supporting some government owned contractor operated CAPS as well. And right now we've got four of those and we're growing towards 10.

 

Q:  To follow-up, you mentioned Incirlik. I mean how confident are you that you'll continue to be able to operate out of Incirlik given all the political turmoil in the wake of last month's failed coup?

 

SEC. JAMES:  Well, I would say Phil that there certainly has been a lot of turmoil but we certainly condemn in the strongest possible terms the attempted coup. We're beyond that now, of course many thousands of people have been arrested and we of course defer to the government of Turkey as to who needs to be arrested, who needs to be punished for this action.

 

Incirlik is a key location. Turkey overall is a very, very important ally. I would simply report within the first week or so, I had the opportunity to speak with the base commander and he reported to me that our team at Incirlik had been treated with the utmost of professionalism. In fact, we spoke to one of the even higher level commanders just the other day and he reiterated that point that that has been ongoing.

 

Turkey has been a good ally. They have an effective air force but of course it's concerning because with so many members of the leadership gone, it's going to take them time to grow new leaders and replace so it remains to be seen what happens next. But obviously they're our ally, we stand with them, they're an effective air force and Incirlik is an important location for our joint fight.

 

Let me see if we can come over here, how about back in the back there, please sir? Yes.

 

Q:  Yes. I'm interested in the fighter pilot short fall. If you can talk a little bit about, what is the universe of fighter pilots in the air force now? So 700 short fall would be what percentage and what needs to be done in terms of pay or other benefits to retain them? How much does a – what are the real incentives for the fighter pilots to leave? Is it just pay, how much are they getting in the private sector and what can you do in conjunction with the airlines above them?

 

SEC. JAMES:  I'm going to yield to my chief fighter pilot for this one.

 

(LAUGHTER)

 

GEN. GOLDFEIN: So for me it's a combination of quality of service and quality of life.

 

And the reality is we've been through this before. Airlines have been in hiring mode before, and we’ve had to work our way through that, so this one is no different.

 

But what's added to this is we're coming out of, for the Air Force, 25, 26 years of continual combat, and so the force has been engaged at a much higher level. That translates to a lot more time from home and all of the uncertainty that goes with that.

 

So in terms on how the secretary and I are looking to attack this, it is really is a combined quality of service, quality of life. Quality of life has to do with what the secretary talked about, which is aviation bonus, how do we get that up to the point to where if we can remove some financial burdens and provide some incentive, our studies have shown that the force will respond.

 

But we do need to change the levels that we're authorized to pay because we haven't changed those in years. In fact, we've got to make sure that we remain competitive.

 

There's another part of quality life that’s equally important and that’s the Air Force is a family. And we take care of each other and there's a culture in the Air Force such that when an airman is deployed, we take care of that family and that doesn't happen always in the private sector. And so, ensuring that we continue to take of each other with those non-kind-of financial issues are really important. I add those two up to as quality of life.

 

But quality of service is about being the very best you can be at whatever profession you've chosen within the Air Force or any other service. And the reality is, pilots who don't fly, maintainers who don't maintain, controllers who don't control are not going to stay with the company because we're not allowing them to be the very best they can be.

 

So for me, as a new chief, it's about a balance between quality of service and quality of life, and that the secretary attacked those both together, I'm confident we'll be successful.

 

Q:  Pat Host from Defense Daily.

 

Secretary James, the Air Force put out its latest RFI for excess ICBM motors last week. I'm wondering if you have received permission from the president to move forward with this effort?

 

SEC. JAMES:  We have not. So this is a request for information, so we literally are requesting information. We have been asked to look at this arena of the excess ICBM motors by the Congress, and although the bills have not yet become law, we're getting a jump start on the task.

 

But no, we do not have any change in law or policy which would swing it one way or another, we're simply trying to become better informed.

 

Tony?

 

Q:  Speaking of ICBMs, can you give a status of the ground based strategic defense – deterrence program? There's a DAB last week, August 3rd, that is, was very short. Apparently, they went back to the Air Force and said, "Try to find a way to fund this."

 

Can you give a sense what some of the issues are? And when is a current cost estimate of the program? Two years ago, it was pegged at $62.3 billion, what is it today?

 

And for General Goldfein, back in March, General Carlisle said you had a shortage of about 511 pilots. So it's – now it's grown to 700, it's going to grown to a 1,000 in a year or so. Is there a crisis here in morale in the – the pilot – the manned aircraft community? I mean, it seems like a major jump. You said you've done – you’ve been there before. It just seems like a large jump. But first on the ICBM.

 

SEC. JAMES:  Well, I would say, Tony, that with respect to the – the exact cost estimate of today and whatnot, we – we’re going to have to get back to you on that one because I don't have that off the top of my head.

 

But I will say this, if there was something that we learned at the DAB when we recently went through it, is that the magnitude of this type of ICBM work, we have not collectively done it for more than 40 years. And so there is a level of complexity that has to be worked through. And so to that end, we are now engaged working with OSD offices to try to ensure that we all have a common understanding of the assumptions that we have to put down on paper in order to properly cost out the GBSD service cost position.

 

So as to the actual new service cost position, we don't have one yet. We're working that through.

 

As to verifying the number that you said a moment earlier, I'd have to get back to you, because I don't have that off the top of my head.

 

Q:  But in laymen's language, does that mean the program is on hold right now? Milestone A triggering it is on hold while you come up with better fidelity in terms of dollars and the requirements?

 

SEC. JAMES:  The RFP, I will remind you, has gone out. So, the program is not on hold. We owe some additional information. We all have to get on the same page as to how – what are the assumptions and how do we cost this going forward.

 

Again, we haven't done such a thing in 40 years, and so, we're all getting on the same page. That's the effort that's ongoing.

 

But the – the program is moving forward. The RFP went out.

 

Q:  But shouldn't that – should it have waited until DAB was completed until you sent out an RFP? It doesn't make sense in a way.

 

SEC. JAMES:  Well, this is TMRR, Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction. And so, this was well within the – the laws of acquisition that we sent the RFP out.

 

Yeah.

 

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Yeah, so the secretary and I actually penned an article, and then we simply stated that it is a crisis.

 

Now, having said that, here's the reason I believe it's a crisis: air superiority is not an American birthright. It's actually something you have to fight for and maintain.

 

And so, when we take a look at the number of the – what the Air Force does for the nation, which at the – at the foundational level is to gain control of and then exploit air and space for the joint team, we've got to have all of our aviators that are able to do that, and specifically fighter pilots because they're the ones that are leaving at a higher rate.

 

So, it is a crisis. The secretary and I are fully engaged; I do believe that quality of service will be equally important to everything we can do in quality of life. And so, if we take a balanced approach, I'm hoping that we can get these folks to stay.

 

SEC. JAMES:  Let's see. Please.

 

Q:  Hi, (inaudible) Flight Global.

 

SEC. JAMES:  Please.

 

Q:  Thanks. The Air Force just released the sources sought for Lot 23 of JDAM, and it said that the Air Force is surveying the market for alternative sources for JDAM.

 

And Lockheed recently had their dual-mode plus LGB – or sorry, guided missile, sorry – and they're positioning that as a possible JDAM alternative.

 

So, I'm wondering is the Air Force seriously considering an alternate source for JDAM right now, or are you confident that Boeing will be able to supply the number of JDAMs that you need through Lot 23?

 

SEC. JAMES:  We're keeping our options open, Leigh. This is a matter of getting more information, this is a matter of the high demand for the precision weapons.

 

And so, information can be power here. We want to know what else is out there, and then we'll make a final judgment call after that – after that time comes.

 

Q:  Can you elaborate real quick on those negotiations with Boeing earlier this year?  I understand there was some conversation about getting more production capacity out of existing facilities?

 

SEC. JAMES:  We are working with Boeing actively on that. We're – we’re working with other industry partners who are involved with ammunition and – and precision weapons as well.

 

But that's not to say that more couldn't also be helpful. And so, that's why we're at least exploring these other options.

 

Please, Brian.

 

Q:  Hi, Brian Everstine with Air Force magazine.

 

In a couple of weeks, it will be about six months since B-52s deployed to the CENTCOM area of operations. And when that deployment was announced, it was said that B-1 would come back in once they have received their upgrades.

 

But since then, B-1s have started the rotation in the Pacific, and General Brown, when he had AFCENT, said, it took a while for infrastructure to build up, for B-52s to start to operate at a high operations tempo. Is the plan still for B-1s to come back in on the short-term, or will this be a B-52 operation for the foreseeable future?

 

GEN. GOLDFEIN: So, I was the air component commander in CENTCOM from 2011 to 2013, and was actually working with countries over there to be able to support the B-52.

 

This issue, of course, was the wider wingspan -- sort of required widening the taxiways, widening the runways.

 

Once that was complete, we began rotations of B-52s in the country. Our plan right now is to – is to continue having a bomber presence, and it will be a combination of a B-1 and B-52 rotation.

 

And so, General Rand, who is our air – our global strike command – commander is working now in terms of – with CENTCOM and General Votel – to ensure that we have a continual presence there. And you'll see both B-1s – and you'll see B-1s rotating it with B-52s. And you'll see that happen as we manage the bomber force, not only in CENTCOM, but also what we're doing in the Pacific.

 

You know, right now, we have all three bombers in Guam for the first time, exercising there in the Pacific. So, we're managing the bomber force not only for what we push forward, but also what we do from a global strike perspective from the United States.

 

Q:  So, there's all three in the Pacific. Is there a possibility of all three in CENTCOM?

 

GEN. GOLDFEIN: I doubt it. And I say that only based on what the bomber contributes to the joint fight. And I don't see in the current operational tempo the requirement for more than one bomber squadron to be there at one time.

 

SEC. JAMES:  I see Gordon in the back there.

 

Q:  Thank you. Back to the CAPs and the drones.

 

It's a real quick question. One is, General, you said that – I think with the – GOCO, I think with the CAPs, you – you’re at four CAPs now on top of the normal 60, get to 10 . Can you update us on when you think you'll get to the 10?

 

But the broader question also is, you know, obviously, we all hear about the kind of, you know, rotation with the manned four, these things. If OSD comes back to the Air Force and says, "hey, can you do more than the 60 plus the 10, are you as a community kind of stabilized? Are you in a position to even consider doing that?

 

GEN. GOLDFEIN: So, right now, we're in accordance with the get well plan, which was built.

 

As – as you may know, you know, from 2001 until now, we have been in a continual surge operation. And just about the time we thought were going to stabilize and – and get the community a little bit healthier, we got requests from a combatant commander for adding more CAPs. And so, it was in – it has been in pretty much full after-burner the entire time.

 

So, now, based on the fact that we ended up with a challenge of water in, water out. Meaning we had folks locked up in the enterprise for so long, our projections were – if we didn't stabilize and get this to a mature weapons system, we were going to have more folks leave the – the enterprise than we can train to bring in.

 

So, the secretary of defense supported us to cap us and stop at 60 CAPs, and allow us to then build up the instructor force, that they could double – like the secretary says – the number of the pilot force. And he has been very supportive of allowing us to stay on track.

 

We get to that point at approximately 19, and then at 19, given the demand sitting on the COCOMs, I predict we will get additional demand for more CAPs. But between now and then, we're hoping to hold the line to get this weapons system healthy.

 

Q:  (Inaudible) I'm sorry. So this 70, then, 60 plus 10 by 2019?

 

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Right.

 

SEC. JAMES:  OK. Let's see – please.

 

Q:  Thank you. I want to get back to some of you comments on the home station training.

 

One of the things you've noted is that the – a reason pilots might leave is because pilots don't fly; they don't get the chance to fly.

 

Could you talk about non-deployed training availability right now for pilots? How many hours are they getting a month in the air, and some of the F-16, F-15 platforms?

 

GEN. GOLDFEIN: Yeah, I'll put in perspective of just what Captain Goldfein flew when – when I was growing up as a young F-16 pilot.

 

On average, I would go to three flag exercises a year, plus I would do a rotation with the National Training Center with the Army. And that would be a normal battle rhythm.

 

That all played out for me personally on the first night and the first day of Desert Storm, when I, along with all my rest of my fellow fighter pilots got into combat for the very first time. And our leader at the time was a combat veteran from Vietnam, and he was the only one in the formation that had ever flown combat. The rest of us were green.

 

And so we were a little uncertain about how we were going to perform.

 

And I remember him calling out like it was a walk in the park, you know, "there's triple-A" – the anti-aircraft fire, and we all stared at it. And he said, "Yeah, there's a surface-to-air missile," and we all just stared at it.

 

And then we heard splash, MIG-29, and I saw an aircraft hit the dirt, and I thought, well, I'd not seen that before. But here's what I had seen. Every radio call, every visual in the formation, everything I saw I realized I'd seen it all before, at Nellis – this is just like Red Flag.

 

And that moment, I can tell you, the confidence that came over my cockpit and so many others that says, OK, we can do this; we know how to do this. And we went in and we destroyed the target.

 

Today's pilot, based on the size of the force, the age of the force, and the continued OPTEMPO demand in Central Command, is getting about half of that. And so that's why I say, you know, we're able to maintain a higher state of readiness forward where the combatant commanders need it, but the bill-payer is the home station.

 

And so that's where I'm – I'm a believer that morale and readiness are absolutely linked. And where we have high readiness, we have reasonably high morale. The quality of service is high. And where we have low readiness, we have our largest morale issues. So that's where the secretary and I are committed to make sure we attack this from both fronts.

 

Q:  (inaudible) available of how many flight hours a month that the nondeployed units are getting?

 

GEN. GOLDFEIN: I don't, because it would be specific to weapons systems, but we can get you that.

 

Q:  (inaudible) a few questions.

 

First of all, you rolled out a should schedule last year during AFA. It's been almost a year now. Can you give us just a quick update on how you think that initiative is going? What lessons you've learned? And how you can apply that moving forward on programs like GBSD, LRSO, even something like TX?

 

And then my second question, KC-46. When are we going to see a milestone C decision?

 

SEC. JAMES:  So, let me start with KC-46. The KC-46 -- the key meeting for that is going to happen later on this month. So, we believe that the aircraft has met all of the wickets that are required to meet milestone C, but of course it remains to be seen. So I'll say stay tuned on that.

 

And with respect to should schedule, if you'll permit me, let me come back to you on that, and also perhaps a fuller update on those bending the cost curve initiatives that we announced a year ago.

 

Q:  (inaudible) followup on KC-46, then. What – if you've met all the wickets for KC-46 production decision, what – what are you waiting on then in the meeting?

 

SEC. JAMES:  Well, we have to go through the formal meeting. We have to present it to Mr. Kendall. He has to have the opportunity to ask questions. Others may have input. So, we'll see how that goes, and then hopefully we will shortly thereafter get the decision.

 

Please, back here.

 

Q:  Courtney Albon with Inside the Air Force.

 

I had a quick followup and then a question on (inaudible) earlier question.

 

First, you were talking about some of the C.R. implications, and you mentioned the KC-46. Have you done any analysis to determine how a lesser production rate would impact the RAA decision? Would that push the schedule back even further on RAA?

 

And then separately, I know Congress in FY15 and FY16 fenced off some funding for the weather system follow-on program. And you wrote a letter last month to the Senate Armed Services Committee asking that that funding be released even before some of the reporting requirements are met, so that you can meet some of the contractual requirements that you have for WSF development.

 

Can you talk about have those funds been released? I know there is some urgency there. And what are the implications there if they're not?

 

SEC. JAMES:  I believe the funds have been released but please just permit me to make sure that the action that I think has been taken has in fact been taken, and that would permit partial funding on the pathway to the weather system follow-on. So that's the first question.

 

With respect to the KC-46, I have not done the in depth analysis. I'll have to go back to my acquisition people.

 

But I believe that if certainly the quantity were to be delayed, that couldn't help but push back the RAA and the other thing that concerns me, would such an approach also reopen the contract? In other words if we couldn't purchase the same number that contractually we're supposed to, would that reopen the contract? That's a serious question because of course we do have favorable terms and we do not want to reopen the contract, change requirements in any way.

 

So again, I will have to go back and double check all of those matters. But the point being, a CR would cause us multiple perturbation and we really hope we our bills on time or nearly on time. Yes sir?

 

Q:  (Inaudible). My question is, there is some new reports comparing the Chinese new fighter jet J-20 to the U.S. F-35 and end of the (inaudible) T-50 and how would you evaluate the new Chinese fighter  jet, like J-20, and the J-31; and whether – you  know you saw how would development of this new fighter jet change the situation in South China Sea and the East China Sea?

 

GEN. GOLDFEIN: So I would tell you that as a first generation low observable pilot who flew the F-117, it's – that’s a more relevant comparison with first gen than fifth gen because the first generation low observable technology F-117 was reasonable one for one comparison against a J-20 or other aircraft because it was a platform centered discussion. When I took off in the F-117 I actually had a switch creatively named the stealth switch and when I pushed it, all my antennas stowed, all my radios turned off and the last thing I did before crossing the line was lower my seat to become a smaller target.

 

But the reality is that it was single domain, it was a closed system and it was a sequential way of applying air power because I was always going to be out in front of anybody else on the ground or at sea. The F-35, now since you're asking about F-35, J-20 is a completely different mindset. It starts talking in the network before the pilot even climbs the ladder. It starts comparing information, it starts placing symbology on the visor of the pilot.

 

That symbology is replicated not only in the displays but across the network of everywhere it's joined. So when we apply fifth generation technology, it's no longer about a platform, it's about a family of systems and it's about a network and that's what gives us an asymmetric advantage so that's why when I hear about an F-35 versus J-20, it's almost an irrelevant comparison because you really got to think about a network versus a network. This is combat in the information age.

 

So you're – I think you'll see us focusing far more on the family of systems and how we connect them together and far less on individual platforms.

 

SEC. JAMES:  One more, all right. There it is, please.

 

Q:  Lucas Tomlinson, Fox News. North Korea's launched a series of ballistic missiles and the last one went over 600 yards and I was wondering are you all seeing an increase in North Korea's capability?

 

SEC. JAMES:  We are certainly seeing an increase in missile launches and an increase in investing and testing, that's our belief based on our sources and based on what we know to be a fact.

 

And although these missile launches certainly appear to be in many cases, failures, meaning they don't actually reach a target and whatnot, I will tell you that technologists learn from even attempts that appear to be failures.

 

So this is very worrisome activity we believe in the United States.

 

GEN. GOLDFEIN: And all I would offer is we've certainly seen an increase in the claims of increased capability. I'm not so sure the intelligence would bear that out.

 

Q:  Are you surprised by the – how well the Russian Air Force has been able to perform in – in their year-long deployment to Syria?

 

GEN. GOLDFEIN: No, and I'll tell you why. For 50 years, we've been intercepting each other in international air space and one might ask why would we allow each other to close long – you know well inside of the lethal radius of a – of a missile with people in the back end – end of a large airplane on both sides that can't defend themselves?

 

Why in the world would we allow ourselves to do that?

 

It's because we've had standard rules of behavior that we've adhered to over time and so it's not surprising at all that Russia has a capable air force. I will tell you I am concerned, very concerned about recent Russian behavior in a couple of occasions where they're not showing themselves as the professional air force I have seen over the years.

 

And you've seen the examples of that, low passes over our ships, aggressive acts over our aircraft. You know, my message to my counterpart is I've seen the Russian Air Force in action, it's a professional force, and they're far better than that.

 

Q:  Have you had conversations with your counterpart?

 

GEN. GOLDFEIN: No.

 

Q:  OK, thank you.

 

SEC. JAMES:  Thank you.

 

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