Defense Department Press Briefing with Rear Adm. Kirby from the Pentagon, Jan. 29, 2014

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—January 29, 2014.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY:  Good afternoon.  I’m going to — let me just — a couple of announcements here, and then we’ll get right at it.  Today, as many of you know, Secretary Hagel is going to travel to Europe to meet with defense leaders there and also attend the 50th Munich Security Conference.  He will first travel to Warsaw, Poland, to meet with senior Polish officials.  Poland has been a steadfast ally of the United States, and Secretary Hagel will thank them for supporting our efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere and also express support for Poland’s efforts to modernize their defense establishment.

He will also visit Powidz Air Base in Central Poland, where U.S. and Polish troops are working together to further Polish and regional security.  The secretary will then make a very brief visit to the area of Kiszkow, Poland, where his mother’s grandparents were married before immigrating to the United States.

From Poland, Secretary Hagel will travel to Munich, where on Saturday he will make a joint presentation at the Munich Security Conference with Secretary of State John Kerry on the importance of transatlantic cooperation.  While there, he will also have the opportunity to meet with a number of his foreign counterparts and will be returning to Washington later that evening.

Let me also now turn to another issue that is of enormous concern to the secretary, and that’s the readiness of our nuclear forces.  As you know, Secretary Hagel considers the health of our nuclear enterprise a top national security priority.  This morning, as he said he would do, he convened a meeting of key stakeholders in the nuclear enterprise to address the personnel challenges that have recently come to light in the nuclear force, and this is a meeting that he himself had called for, as you know, last week.

It was a candid and wide-ranging discussion of the types of challenges that are faced by people who work in the nuclear enterprise, and the secretary — as I think all the participants found it a very useful discussion.  This morning’s meeting was but one of a series of steps that he directed to renew this department’s focus on the health of our nuclear enterprise, and there will be further measures enacted in the coming weeks and months.

And I think one of the things that they left the meeting with, he made very clear that he wants to have those kinds of meetings on a more regular basis.  Nobody in the room could remember the last time that all the leaders in the nuclear enterprise had gathered in an informal setting like that, in one room, so the secretary made it clear at the end of the meeting that he intends to do these on a regular basis.

And then one last — one last announcement to make.  He did speak this morning, called Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu to reiterate our commitment to providing any security assistance Russia may seek or want for the Olympics in Sochi.  As you know, the State Department has the lead for coordinating all support requests with our Russian partners and that Russia retains the lead for security for the Olympics. 

But he reiterated this department’s firm commitment to support in any way possible — any way that would be acceptable to the Russian government.  He believes that the minister and the Russian government are taking the security threats seriously there at the Olympics and the two leaders agreed to maintain through subordinate military commands some sort of regular open dialogue as the Olympics draw near and as they — and as they progress.

So with that, I’ll take any questions.  Lita?

Q:  John, one question and then two little follow-ups on your comment.

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  So, three questions?

Q:  Three questions.  

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Go ahead.

Q:  OK.  The two small ones, the easy ones, one, was there any due-outs or any directives by the secretary during the meeting this morning that he asked them to come back to him with anything in the future?  Did the Russian defense minister ask for anything in this phone call?  

And then sort of the question, Afghanistan.  President Karzai put out a statement today saying he was happy to see the timelines have been set aside in the request for a bilateral security agreement signing.  Have all timelines been set aside?  Does the U.S. now no longer have a timeline for the signing of the BSA?  Or because Secretary Hagel at some point in recent weeks had suggested that he really wanted something by the time he went to Brussels, to the NATO conference.

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  OK.  Let’s see if I can take them in order, if I can remember them correctly.  There was no specific due-out requested by the secretary as a result of this morning’s meeting.  It really was — it was the first time that these leaders had had a chance to get together.  They — all of them had an opportunity to talk about their view, their perspective on the health of the nuclear enterprise and in particular in their — their particular part of that enterprise.

There were lots of good ideas floated about things that need to be considered and looked at by everybody, not just by the United States Air Force.  Secretary James had a chance to provide the group with her view, based on her trip last week and some of the things that she learned.  

But, no, no specific due-out, except as I said at the opening, the secretary at the end just we — nobody was planning for him to do this, but he — he just said that this has been a great session and I want to have more of them.  So if there’s a due-out, I guess it would be that, that we’re going to schedule these things on some sort of a regular basis, because I think everybody found it quite useful.

There was no specific request made in the phone call this morning with the Russian minister of defense.  And there was no specific offer of assistance made by Secretary Hagel.  It was — it was — I would describe it more as a check-in call.  I think that the two just wanted the opportunity to talk a little bit. 

Secretary Hagel wanted to make sure that the minister knew how serious we were about an offer of support and — like I said, at the — at the end of my statement there, they both agreed that some sort of regular exchange and dialogue between the two militaries throughout the period of the Olympics would be a good idea, so they’re working the details of that.  I don’t know how that’s going to actually happen or who’s going to be on the phone with whom, but they did agree that some sort of constant frequent dialogue or at least the opportunity to have that immediate dialogue through the Olympics would be helpful for both sides.

And then on Afghanistan, I did not see President Karzai’s statement, but I can tell you that there’s been no change in our position that, first of all, the bilateral security agreement negotiations have concluded.  There’s nothing more to negotiate on this.  We continue to maintain our position that we need it signed as soon as possible.  There’s no firm deadline on that.  We need it as soon as possible, or otherwise we’re going to have to begin planning for a complete withdrawal.  So there’s been no change in our position on that.  

And then to your point on the defense ministerials, the secretary still believes that it would be enormously helpful if, by the time he meets at the defense ministerials next month, if — if the issue of the bilateral security agreement can be concluded, it’ll just make that session all the more useful and productive for everybody.  

And it’s important to remember that this — this agreement isn’t — we aren’t the only benefactors of having an agreement, the United States that is.  The international community, our NATO allies, our partners also gain from having some certainty here in terms of the bilateral security agreement.


Q:  This is on Afghanistan — I actually have a question on Korea — but on Afghanistan, you said that, you know, it would be nice to have an agreement by the time the ministerial happened…


REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I didn’t say nice to have.  I said the secretary believes it would be enormously helpful if by the time we get to Brussels, that agreement…

Q:  (OFF-MIKE) deadline.  You know, is there — is there really no deadline — that seemed to be what Karzai was suggesting in his statement.  And then…

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Again, I haven’t seen the president’s statements.  We’re not issuing a deadline.  I can speak for the Pentagon.  The Pentagon’s not issuing a deadline to the Karzai administration on when we want the agreement signed.  We’ve been very clear and very consistently clear that we want it as soon as possible or we’re going to have to start to begin that kind of planning.

Q:  And on Korea, there was a story out of Korea — the Korea Times, I believe, had a story saying that the U.S. was going to scale back its drills this year, that there was going to be no carrier presence, that there was going to be no strategic bombers used in the drills, and that this might be tied to conciliatory gestures by the North.  Could you comment on that?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah.  First of all, these are annual exercises, and we do them every year with our allies in South Korea.  They’re very useful exercises.  And as you well know, Phil, that we exercise all the time in the military, and exercise scenarios change, and they should change, because you don’t want to get too much muscle memory here.

So without getting into the details of this particular exercise, because it hasn’t been announced, the units that are participating in the dates and all that.  That’s still coming.  But I can tell you that there will be an exercise this year.  We’re looking forward to the exercise.  And we’re confident that whatever units participate in whatever scenario that we’re testing out, it’s going to be a robust demonstration of the strength of the alliance and the interoperability between our two militaries.

And I’d remind you that — I mean, as I understand it, somebody’s saying, well, there’s no carrier in this exercise.  And, again, without confirming or denying what units are going to be in it, there were no carriers in the exercise last year.  So I’m not sure where the hyperbole is coming from.  We’re looking forward to this exercise.  We’re going to have a good time.  And I think we’re going to learn a lot from each other as we always do.


Q:  Admiral, last night, the president cited defense contractors specifically in the part of his speech where he talked about raising the minimum wage for people who work for the federal government.  Do you have any sense about what that will mean for the Pentagon budget or how many it could affect across the world of people who work on bases as security guards or in chow halls and places like that?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No, I’m afraid I don’t.  I mean, I certainly saw the president’s speech, as well, and — but I don’t have any — I don’t have any details on exactly what that means for our defense contractors.

I mean, and — to a large degree, the defense — these are private employees of private companies, and certainly we would not legislate to the defense contractors, you know — you know, how they compensate their people, but I think the president was very clear about what his expectations are.

Q:  Admiral?


Q:  I have a question on Iraq.  Could you give us an update about the status of the U.S. military assistance to the Iraqi forces?  As you may know, the Senate cleared the way to deliver the Apaches to the Iraqi force.  Do you know when this is going to happen?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, congressional notification has just taken place, as you know, with respect to the Apache helicopters, and as well with hellfire missiles and other small arms.  So there’s a 30-day review process right now while — while Congress reviews these.  That’s where we are right now.  And then when we get on the other side of it, you know, we’ll have probably a little bit better sense of timing, but I can tell you that, at least with respect to the Apaches, I mean, it — assuming that we — you know, the Congress approves after this 30 days, that it’ll be many months before, you know, they’re actually on the ground.  I mean, that’s not the kind of thing, you know, you can get over there too quickly.

But we’re committed to doing this.  And the State Department runs this program.  We’re committed to supporting that.  And we need to let the congressional process go on.

Q:  Just a quick follow-up, anything on the training mission in Jordan?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No, I have nothing to announce on a training mission in Jordan.  That’s a better question to be put to the Iraqi government and the Jordanian government.  We have — as you know, we have a very small number of advisers there who work out of the embassy in an advisory capacity.

And — but the issue of whether or not Iraqi security forces train outside the country is really for that government to work out with — and I know the Jordanian government has said that they’re willing to host that, and that’s really a discussion for those two governments to have.


Q:  Can you go back for a minute, Admiral, to the phone call with the Russian minister?


Q:  You said a couple of things here.  You said that Secretary Hagel offered to provide any security assistance and now this regular check-in call up to and through the games.  My question is, what has happened to make both of these things now agenda items?  Because previously, you have only talked about supporting the State Department if there was a request for you to assist the State Department in evacuating Americans out of Sochi.  Providing security assistance means you are offering military assistance for during the games.  Are you now acknowledging IED jamming?  What are you talking about…

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No, I’m not acknowledging any such thing.  In fact, I said at the opening that all support would go through the State Department.  Nothing has changed about the fact that any security assistance that we may provide would all be coordinated through the State Department and that the Russian government retains lead for security.

So I’m not admitting any such thing.  All I’m saying is that they — they had a good discussion about maintaining the dialogue and to staying in touch with — the two militaries staying in touch, as we get through — as we get up and through the Olympics.

Q:  What has — what led — this is different than just a check-in phone call.  You said that the secretary — Secretary Hagel — was offering to provide any security assistance.  So what has led him now — previously, it was for evacuation of Americans.  What is the status of the discussions about IED sharing?  What kind of security assistance are you thinking of providing to the Russians?  And what led to this plus the perceived need for a regular check-in during the games?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  OK, let’s — let’s unpack that, because there’s a lot there.  First, I would say there was no government-to-government discussion about the evacuation of Americans.  This was all based on press reporting and speculation by some unnamed officials that we were, you know, putting two ships in the Black Sea because we were going to evacuate Americans.  That was never a topic of specific discussion between — no, let me finish…


REAR ADM. KIRBY: . between — between — well, when he was asked up here he said, would you be ready to do that?  And he said we would have the appropriate arrangements, because we had had discussions with the Russian government, military-to-military discussions before about keeping the dialogue open, and that’s all that happened today, was another discussion that he had with the minister of defense.  It’s not like this is the first time they’ve spoken, certainly not the first time that the two of them have addressed the issue of the Olympics.

He felt that, as we’re now a week away, it’s a good idea to give them a call and just reiterate our willingness to help, if needed and if feasible and if accepted, and then just to — for the two to promise that, you know, we’ll try to keep the two militaries in touch.  It doesn’t always have to be Secretary Hagel and Minister Shoygu talking.  It could be good enough to have just lower-level military officers, general officers talking on a frequent basis.

There was no specific mention of any specific type of assistance or technology or capability.  Didn’t come up.  

Q:  Can I just ask you briefly two other subjects?  Can you tell us — bring us up to date for the record on the U.S. military mission in Somalia over the weekend?  And also have you received any request from any governors for storm assistance through the national — federalization of the National Guard?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  About the winter storm down South?  Is that what you’re referring to?  I’m not aware — let me take that for the record, Barb.  I’m not aware of any requests by — by governors for National Guard assets, but I will get back to you on that.  That’s a good question.  

I’m sorry.  And the first one was…

Q:  Somalia.

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Somalia.  I think, as you all know, and we’ve — and we’ve said that there was a coordinated operation in southern Somalia over the weekend, targeted at an Al Qaida/Al-Shabaab leader.  We’re still assessing the results of that operation, and I have nothing more for that — on that today.


Q:  Last night, the president said he’d like to see Gitmo closed by the end of 2014.  Do you think that’s a reasonable, realistic, feasible timeline?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  The commander-in-chief made it very clear what his intentions are, and this — we respond to the commander-in-chief and his directions.

Q:  And, second of all, just to follow up on Joe’s question, there were discussions of sending U.S. troops to Jordan to train Iraqi soldiers.  Are there any plans in place to do so yet?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I’m not aware of any plans to do so, no.  Again, this is — this is really a discussion between the government of Iraq and the government of Jordan.

Yeah, John?

Q:  Admiral Kirby, going back to the nuclear issue that Secretary Hagel just initiated, the review, I guess the Air Force has 60 days to come up with an action plan.  And then after that, are there any timelines as to when different initiatives that flow from this will actually be implemented?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, it’s not just the Air Force.  He wants all the leaders in the nuclear enterprise to develop an action plan.  Actually, that tasking went specifically to the secretary of the Air Force and the secretary of the Navy, so both services are to work on this action plan, because they both own the nuclear enterprise.

And you’re right; it is 60 days when he wants to see that work.  But I — you know, the work’s just begun, so I don’t really have anything more on it, and I would be loathe right now to characterize what it’s going to look like.  I suspect that it certainly will have a list of tasks that they believe — that need to be accomplished or checked or maintained, and then some recommendations moving forward, but, again, we’re just — we’re just now starting on this, and I just don’t have anything more on it right now.


Q:  So is there a sense coming out of this meeting that the problems in the Air Force are sort of systemic, there are personnel problems that go beyond the cheating that we’ve seen at Malmstrom or that’s been alleged at Malmstrom?  Was that what Secretary James briefed?  Does she have a sense of a wider set of personnel problems that need to be addressed here, both in the Air Force and the Navy?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, I don’t want to speak for Secretary James, but I think the general consensus in the room was that we all need to accept the reality that there probably are systemic issues in the personnel growth and development inside the nuclear mission.  

Now, exactly what they are and how to address them, well, that’s what they — that’s what they spent the bulk of the two hours talking about.  But I think there was a general recognition that, yes, there are systemic issues and, yes, we need to start trying to solve them.

Q:  And just to follow up, did those issues include widespread cheating, as Secretary Hagel sort of implied in some comments last week?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  The — you mean a recognition that there is — sort of a bona fide declaration?


REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No, I don’t — I didn’t — I didn’t hear any of that, that anybody was saying that there’s — that cheating itself, that the cheating issue is by design widespread or — there was some sort of definite nature on that.  It’s clearly a problem.  There’s no question about that.

And as you may have heard Secretary James acknowledged this morning, that the numbers have gone up in the cheating investigation.  So they’re taking that very seriously, and it’s absolutely a problem, but we didn’t — I didn’t pick up a sense that cheating itself is a systemic issue.  I think what — I think…


Q:  … you mean it’s a problem between this set of 60 or however many it is Air Force officers at this one base?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  No, I mean, you know, I’m talking about in the ICBM force.  That said, though, and what the discussion did get to is, are there cultural problems — at least inside the ICBM force, are there cultural problems that make it easier to cheat or make people — make people feel more compelled to do it?  And are there — are there deeper cultural issues?  And I think that they believe that that’s a question worth exploring, that there very well may be.

Yeah, Courtney?

Q:  Do you know how many of these people are still under suspension (OFF-MIKE)

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I don’t.  I mean, hang on a second.  I’m — I might have something.  So there are six people left to test.  So they’re getting very close to the end of the re-test.  Pass rate is still above 95 percent and in line with historical averages.

There’s not been — since the last time I updated you, I think I said there were 22 failures.  There have still only been 22 failures.  That’s the latest.  Does that — does that answer your question?

Q:  No, I was talking about the — the additional ones yesterday, the 30 or however many it was, plus the 34 initial.  So were there 64 people that are under suspension and not performing their duties right now?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I’m not at liberty to give out an exact number.  I can tell you that the number of those implicating in this — implicated in this cheating investigation has grown.  But without getting into the whole number, it has grown, and I think to some degree you would expect that as the investigation goes deeper and they ask more questions and they talk to more people.

It’s likely that some of those additional folks may be cleared after further investigation, and it’s also likely that some may have been cheating, some may have not cheated, but simply knew about it and didn’t say anything about it.  I mean, there’s a whole range here.  But, yes, the number has grown.  And, again, I think you would expect that, as an investigation unfolds.

Q:  Can I ask one about Russia, too?  Can you just give us any kind of a sense at all of why — what it was that Secretary Hagel felt that the Russian minister told him that made him feel like the Russians are doing such a good job at securing…


REAR ADM. KIRBY:  The Russian minister actually said it unsolicited, that we’re — you know, that we know, that we’re up for a challenge here, and we believe we’re ready for that challenge and we’re working this very, very hard.  I mean, he said as much.

Q:  So there weren’t specific that he pointed to and said we’re doing X, Y and Z?  He said…


Q:  He just gave him that assurance (inaudible)

Q:  Admiral (OFF-MIKE)

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Go ahead.


REAR ADM. KIRBY:  You guys decide.

Q:  Real quick.  Just a clarification.  The — the additional numbers, possible implication in cheating, is this limited as far as you know at this point to Malmstrom?  

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I don’t know.  I don’t know.  You’d have to check with the Air Force on that.  I’m not sure.  And I don’t think that’s — I don’t think that that’s their intent, to try to geographically limit this.  


Q:  Thank you.  My question is about the State Department.  U.S. and Pakistani officials met over the last two days at the State Department over strategic dialogue between the two countries.  What role the Pentagon or DoD played in that discussions?  

And, second, last night, president mentioned about the drone attacks.  That means no more drone attacks inside Pakistan?  That’s what Pakistan was always demanding, that before they opened routes for the — supply routes to Afghanistan, the U.S. must stop drone attacks against Pakistan.

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I’m not going to talk about specific operations.  I think the president was clear, he’s been clear about the need for a greater transparency about drone operations, and he was clear about that again last night.  Again, we followed the direction of the commander-in-chief, and we understand his direction quite clearly.

Yes, we — the Pakistani delegation did come here to meet with Secretary Hagel.  It was a good, wide-ranging discussion, as they always are with — with Pakistan.  And, you know, clearly there are lots of issues between us that we continue to need to talk about and work out — work through.  And I think that that discussion was helpful in that regard.

Q:  And then, finally, in terms of supply route now is going to open directly from U.S. to Afghanistan.

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I’m sorry.  Are you talking about the Torkham…

Q:  The supply route, yeah.

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  There are — there’s no traffic moving through the Torkham gates still, temporarily no traffic moving through there.  We obviously would like to see that traffic begin as soon as possible, because it is certainly cheaper to move retrograde material on the ground through the Torkham gate.

The Pakistani government has been very clear that they, too, would like to reopen it, but that they have, you know, the issue of protestors there that they’re dealing with.  And Secretary Hagel knows that they’re working this hard.

Retrograde continues nonetheless.  We’re able to get things out by air and through the northern routes.  It’s more expensive.  It’s a little bit more laborious, but we’re still able to do it, and General Dunford assures Secretary Hagel that the retrograde operation is proceeding apace.  Thank you.

Q:  What’s the major problem remains now for this — between the U.S. and Pakistan, as far as problems of this route and the supply into Afghanistan?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Look, I’m not going to stand up here and talk about every potential area where we don’t agree with the government of Pakistan.  I mean, countries, even good friends don’t always agree on everything, but we’re appreciative of the support that we’ve — that we’ve received from Pakistan.  This is a tough part of the world, tough regional issues, and it’s important that we keep talking, and we are.

Q:  OK.  Is it fair to say the secretary is planning to expand his review of the medals and award system beyond the Distinguished Warfare Medal issues we talked about last spring?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yes, he is.  He wants — what he’s told the department that he wants to do is — now that we’re getting towards the end of the combat mission in Afghanistan, he wants to take a more holistic view of the awards process and the decoration process.  And he’s kicked that effort off.  I think that it will — we’re hoping to have that review process done by the end of this year, early 2015, but he wants a more holistic view here, rather than just looking at it, cherry-picking it with this device here or that ribbon there.  He wants to take a broader look at this.


REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yes, personnel and readiness is leading the effort, yes.

Q:  Just a quick follow-up on that.


Q:  Is there any consideration being given to offering nuclear launch officers new kinds of medals or awards or anything…

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Nothing that I’m aware of.  But, I mean, that’s a great question, John.  And that — frankly, that came up, as well, this morning, this idea of incentives and accolades, and — and what manifestations are there that show the people that work in this force that they’re — that they’re valued.

So I don’t have anything to announce today.  And this would be something that the Air Force would — you know, would have to speak to, should that decision be made.  But it was an issue of discussion, this idea of how do you — how do you reward the people that do this incredibly difficult work and make sure that they know that they’re valued and that we’re proud of them?

Yeah, Tony?

Q:  I had a budget question and then a program question.  Looking to the ’15 budget, now that the ’14 has been settled, what is the delta between $541 billion that the Pentagon was planning last year to ask for fiscal ’15, and after all the dust settles, what you have to cut out of that delta to reach the caps agreed to last month?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, look, Tony, you know, I’d love to be able to get into a discussion of numbers with you, but the budget hasn’t been submitted yet, and I’m — and I’m just not going to — I’m not going to talk about the details of a submission that hasn’t been made yet.

Q:  Well, I mean, I’m trying to get you on the record to illuminate a little bit.  You had — the figure last year, you had planned for ’15, there was a cap now of X.  You have to cut from last year’s number to now.  That’s a public figure…

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  So you’re talking about because of the — because of the bipartisan deal, so that — that — so this year, in ’14, we’re looking at cuts of about $31 billion.  Next year, it would be more than $40 billion.

Q:  More than $40 billion?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  More than $40 billion.

Q:  So that’s what you have to…

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Yeah, I’m sorry.

Q:  That’s what I’m looking at, not…



Q:  A specific program question.  The Pentagon’s test office came out with a report — public report today.  The secretary saw it on Friday.  There’s a section in there on the littoral combat ship, your old service’s ship…

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  I’m still in the Navy Tony 

Q:  But you’re purple up here.  And it was very critical of it.  It said there were numerous significant problems with the components to these mission modules that give it a combat capability.  Has the secretary seen the assessment?  And what impact is that having at all on his thinking about the future of the program, whether to buy the whole — all 52 of these vessels?

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  You’re right.  The report did get delivered to the secretary earlier this week.  I don’t know the degree to which he has read all of it.  It’s a pretty weighty document.  He appreciates the work that went into it, the work that Mr. Gilmore’s staff does every year to prepare that.  It’s a testing and evaluation review, not necessarily a programmatic review in that — in terms of making programmatic decisions or recommendations.

The secretary’s had numerous conversations with the Navy about the littoral combat ship.  As you know, he went out and visited Freedom.  He understands the value that — that small surface combatants can bring to the fleet.  And he’s aware that — of the challenges that the program has had, to include those with the mission modules.

But he’s also confident that the Navy has a good handle on the mission module issue and — and how they’re progressing with it.  This is a new idea, this idea of modularity.  Never been done before in any navy, so there’s going to be hiccups and challenges.  He’s — but he’s confident that the Navy’s working through those challenges and that the mission modules will — will get there.

Q:  What about the basic issue of survivability?  He says again in this report that the design of the ship does not enable it to be survivable in high-intensity conflict, high-intensity combat.  That strikes to a basic point of the ship irrespective of these mission modules, if the thing can’t survive on its own in combat, yet you’re spending a lot of money per ship.

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  Well, we’re still reviewing the report, so I’m not going to speculate about what he will or won’t think about the things that he’s reading this report.  Survivability is one of those factors in any warship that you have to consider.  And not every ship is as survivable in certain situations as others.  That’s why you have a fleet of so many different types of classes of ships.

And so we’re working our way through that and, you know, when we have something more, we’ll let you know.

Q:  OK.

REAR ADM. KIRBY:  All right, guys, I’m going to have to go.  Thank you very much.  Appreciate it.