Pentagon Spokesman's Regular Briefing
DEFENSE DEPARTMENT REGULAR BRIEFING
BRIEFER: KENNETH BACON, SPOKESMAN
PENTAGON BRIEFING ROOM, ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA
1:31 P.M. EST TUESDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2000
Q: Ken, is the SECDEF as assured or as confident as Marine leaders
that the V-22 program is still safe and kicking? And has he received a
request from the commandant to form a blue-ribbon commission to look
over the whole program?
MR. BACON: Well, the Secretary is in the process of appointing a
blue-ribbon commission to look at the Osprey program. He will talk to
the commandant personally about this tonight. The commandant will join
him in Los Angeles, and they'll have a discussion about this. But this
is something that started this - that the Secretary started this
morning. The commandant certainly supports this move, and it will be
-- it will provide an opportunity to look at the entire program.
Obviously, the Secretary has stayed informed. The commandant has kept
him informed about the program. He followed it closely as a member of
Congress and certainly now, as Secretary of Defense. And he is
determined to make sure that the program is as safe and as effective
and cost-effective as possible.
Q: How would you characterize his level of concern?
MR. BACON: Well, first of all, he's concerned any time soldiers,
sailors, airmen, and Marines die in training accidents or other
accidents. And the military, as you learned directly from Lieutenant
General McCorkle, has a very vigorous process for studying accidents,
what caused them, and squeezing as many lessons out of every accident
I think in the V-22 case, it's not a plane that affects just the
Marines. The Air Force plans to use it. The Special Forces plan to use
the V-22 as well. So the Secretary wants to have a bunch of experts
look at the whole program. I think that he wants to assure himself
that the program is as good as it can be, and I'm sure that this panel
will do that. The Marines, of course, themselves want to assure
themselves that the program is as strong as it can be, and that's one
of the reasons they're taking the steps that Lt. Gen. McCorkle
explained this morning.
Q: These outside experts are Pentagon people or who?
MR. BACON: Well, they haven't been appointed yet, and I think I'll
wait until they are appointed before speculating as to who they'll be.
Q: I was just wonder whether he wants an outside, independent, so to
speak, viewpoint, or whether he wants the military itself to look at
MR. BACON: I think they will be - they are likely to include at least
some outside people with extensive military experience.
Q: Would they meet in Washington?
MR. BACON: Yes.
Q: Is it the crash that prompted this, or is it the crash plus the
OT&E report plus --
MR. BACON: I think it's a combination of all those.
Q: And who initiated the idea for a blue ribbon, the commandant or the
MR. BACON: It's hard to know. I think they both had the idea at the
same time. But certainly this process started in the Secretary's
office this morning. I didn't talk to the commandant early in the day,
but the commandant certainly believes this is the way to go.
Q: You know there's a STOVL version of the Joint Strike Fighter, and I
wondered if this inquiry could be broadened to that, because if
there's something endemic about the technology of this STOVL-type
aircraft, it would seem to be relevant. Is that on the scope for this
MR. BACON: Well, the Joint Strike Fighter is a jet, and this is a
propeller plane. I think the physics are quite different. The
mechanics are clearly different. This will focus only on the Osprey,
the V-22, the panel that the Secretary's in the process of putting
together. So - and obviously the V-22 is much further advanced in
development now than the Joint Strike Fighter is.
Q: Yeah, but there is a lot of commonality in the AVA's early
problems, and they hopefully had applied those to the Joint Strike
Vertical flight is vertical flight, and there's a lot of commonality
there. It would seem to be relevant to look at the Joint Strike
Fighter in the same inquiry. But it's not on the scope? It's not on
MR. BACON: It's not on the scope.
Q: Ken, could you succinctly put the mission of the blue- ribbon
commission that has be named?
MR. BACON: Well, it doesn't have a charter yet, but obviously it will
be to pull together a group of technical experts to review the
performance, combat capability, safety, maintainability, cost of the
program. But the focus will be on performance, safety, and
Q: Will the Secretary tell the Navy not to go ahead with any kind of
procurement decision until after the blue-ribbon panel is done?
MR. BACON: Well, right now the Marines have requested that, and --
Q: Well, but they've requested it until they know what caused the
crash. Will Secretary Cohen request --
MR. BACON: I don't anticipate that the panel, which is yet to be set
up and yet to have a charter, so I can't talk about it with great
specificity - but nevertheless I don't anticipate that this will be a
study that will take a long time. I think the Secretary will propose a
-- after some consultation with experts, will propose a fairly quick,
intensive study of the V-22 program. It's clearly at a crucial phase
right now. And the Marines need more lift, they need modern lift, and
so everybody wants to get this done as quickly as possible.
I think it'll be - in a way, he will give it the same instructions
that he gave the Cole commission. He will say: "Work as diligently and
as expeditiously as possible, but take the time necessary to get the
job done. However, we hope you can get it done as quickly as
Q: And if the Navy makes a decision before then?
MR. BACON: Well, I don't think we'll speculate about hypotheticals
right now. The Marines have asked them not to go ahead with the
low-rate initial production decision at this stage, and the Marines
will obviously take some time to sort out what happened. And I think
that the schedule will come together appropriately.
Q: Flights have been stopped indefinitely or till when?
MR. BACON: Well, I mean, they have been stopped by the Marine Corps
until they more information.
Lieutenant General McCorkle explained that at great length this
morning, and if you weren't there, you ought to read the transcript
rather than repeat it.
Q: Is it safe to say that the Secretary remains an enthusiast of the
V-22, or has his doubts, like his predecessor did?
MR. BACON: The Secretary has supported the V-22. He clearly wants a
plane that can perform. He clearly wants a plane that is safe and
reliable, and part of the purpose of this panel will be to make sure
that those milestones are met.
Q: Ken, why is this panel being started now, a week before this
Milestone decision was going to be made? You've got a whole process
within the building that's supposed to look over the program and
approve it step by step, through the Milestone process. Why now, on
the eve of this huge production decision --
MR. BACON: Well, first of all, the production decision has been
delayed at the request of the Marine Corps. Second, I think that the
answer is very obvious. There was a devastating crash last night in
which four Marines died, and everybody wants to make sure that the
program is running as well as it can. And the Secretary thinks that in
the wake of the crash and the wake of the Coyle Report, it's just a
good idea to have some experts review the program from outside the
Marine Corps, from outside the Navy. So that's what he's in the
process of doing, in consultation --
Q: (Off mike) - 19 Marines died in April, and you didn't have this
kind of review. It went through the normal acquisition process. This
is somewhat confounding, why you're doing it now and why you didn't do
it in April after that larger, more tragic crash.
MR. BACON: Right now, of course, we have no idea of what caused this
latest crash, but in light of - looking at everything in toto, the
Secretary believes it's a good idea to have some outside experts look
at the program.
Q: Ken, you just said everybody wants to make sure the program is
running as well as it can. Isn't that adopting the Marine Corps line
that, Well, there may be something wrong here, or this is a troubled
program, but we have faith in it. Is the question here whether the
program ought to be operating at all, as opposed to whether it ought
to be operating well?
MR. BACON: I think you're all leaping to conclusions. The reason you
have a review is to find out - is to assure yourself of where the
program is, and that's what the Secretary has set out to do. And when
the panel is set up and when there is a charter for the panel, we'll
have more to say about it, but the panel has not been set up yet.
Q: Can you bracket, ballpark, when you would establish the commission,
how many members would be on it, and roughly --
MR. BACON: No, I can't do any of those things. I would think it'd have
a relatively small number of members. I think it'll probably be set up
this week. It's only Tuesday. I would hope that it would be set up
relatively soon and, as I said, I'm sure the Secretary will ask the
panel to report as quickly as possible, but they will need a certain
amount of time to bring themselves up to speed.
We will have people who are technical experts, and they'll have to go
through a lot of very detailed information.