Remarks by Secretary Carter at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
February 4, 2016

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER:  Hi, everyone.  Thanks for being here today.  A special thanks to General Silveria over there for hosting me today.  But what a wonderful place Nellis is, and what an amazing contribution it makes.

And the reason to come here is to recognize that it happens to be budget week in Washington, so that’s another reason to signify the central importance of Nellis and — in today’s Air Force.

What the Air Force — we’re asking the Air Force to do — what I’m asking them to do — the president is asking them to do in his strategy, the secretary of the Air Force, Deb James, chief of staff of the Air Force, Mark Welsh — all of us — is to maintain a very high level of readiness.

And that you get from Nellis.  No other range is like it.  No other range can — brings airmen up to the level of proficiency that it is possible to practice here.

At — no other range allows, also, for our Air Force to train in a way that we have to today, which is — the phrase is “full-spectrum,” but what it means is for missions all the way to defeating ISIL now up to potentially being in a conflict with higher-end adversaries — more technologically advanced threats in the future.

We have to be ready for it all, and with respect to those future high-end threats, this is the only test range where you can bring it all together — not only all the kinds of aircraft that you see on the ramps out there, but the satellites you don’t see and the cyber that you don’t see.

And in today’s world, all of that is brought together only here at Nellis.  So it’s an enormously important installation.  That is reflected in our budget, where we’re adding $1 billion more for training of this kind over the next five years in the Air Force budget.

That’s going to support no fewer than 34 major exercises — the Red Flag and Green Flag exercises.  So that’s a tempo of intense activity that is incredibly important, but we’ll use this range to its fullest extent.  And we’re also, by the way, investing in these training ranges so that they will continue in the future to be the very best training ranges.

    As far as maintenance is concerned, you’re in a maintenance hangar right now.  I think that’s important, because the way you keep readiness is training crew proficiencies, but also maintenance.  So the guys who are here that I got the opportunity to talk to earlier today who are maintaining these aircraft — that is absolutely critical.  

                We are adding funds, also, in the Air Force budget, to grow manpower in the maintenance area, because we need more maintainers, given the high operations tempo, to keep our Air Force aircraft ready.  

So we’re doing all this at the same time that we’re modernizing the Air Force, so you’ll see in the future new aircraft here on the ramps.  You see the F-35.  You see — you’ll see shortly the KC-46 — the new tanker — and one day, maybe you’ll see — but maybe we won’t show — a new bomber.  

And then there are other things you also won’t see, because we like to have some surprises, also, for potential adversaries.  But they fly around and they train here as well.

So it’s a wonderful and extremely important installation, and at a time when we are setting a new direction for our — for — strategically, where the Air Force is a key part of that new direction, and where we’re allocating our defense dollars to implement that strategy, this is a place where it all comes together.

And I was — I’ve had the opportunity to talk to our wonderful airmen here about it.  So that’s why I’m here, and now I’m ready to take any questions.  You want to…

STAFF:  Kristina?

Q:  Thank you.  Mr. Secretary, here, we have Great Britain and Australia training within the Red Flag exercises.  They’ve been good partners with — on the ISIS fight.

Saudi Arabia, today, said they’d be willing to send military assistance — willing to send ground forces into Syria.  Would that be helpful?  What’s your response to that?

SEC. CARTER:  Yes.  I’ve seen those — those reports.  I look forward to discussing that kind of contribution with Saudi Arabia and, by the way, 25 other nations, next week, in Brussels.

The Saudi government has indicated willingness to do more in the fight against ISIL, even as the United States, of course, has very much indicated our desire to accelerate the campaign to defeat ISIL.

We’ll do that better, and it’ll be easier to sustain the defeat, and it’ll be, also, easier to accomplish all the nonmilitary aspects of the defeat, if other countries that are part of the coalition accelerate their efforts at the same time.

So that kind of news is very welcome.  I look forward to discussing that with the Saudi defense minister next week — that and other kinds of contributions that Saudi Arabia can make.

I should mention also Saudi Arabia has indicated a willingness to take the lead in marshaling some Muslim-majority countries — that was because of the understandable fact that the — it’s going to be the local population in Syria and Iraq that is going to sustain the defeat of ISIL, and the Saudis indicated that they and — and other countries would be best positioned to help make those arrangements.

I think that’s a very positive contribution as well.  You know, I could mention the Dutch indicating in the last week or so their willingness to join in the counter-ISIL campaign in Syria.  They’ve previously done it in Iraq.

So you see others stepping up, and the reason why I’m going to Brussels next week is to bring the full weight of the coalition behind accelerating the defeat of ISIL.

STAFF:  Austin?

Q:  Sir, do you believe that there needs to be a new campaign against ISIL opened up in Libya?  And can you describe the scope of military options that are being explored on that?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, we — we’re looking and monitoring events in Libya very closely.  We haven’t made any decisions  in the military sense.  But we are watching.

And the concern there is that Libya not get on a glide slope to the kind of situation that we find elsewhere, where ISIL in a politically disturbed environment seizes a foothold, gathers a piece of territory from which it’s able to tyrannize people and plot operations elsewhere.

That’s the situation we want to avoid in Libya.  Of course the main thing going on there now is the political settlement that the United Nations is trying to broker there, because most Libyans don’t want foreigners there.  They don’t want the ISIL people coming in there.  Libyans are very proud people.

But they’re divided among themselves politically.  So the important objective right now that our folks are — where it’s not a military objective, but it’s an important one — is to help the Libyans come together, put their government back together, take their country over, and at that point, we have indicated a willingness, along with a number of other countries, to help them secure the country.

By the way, I should say the Italians have indicated that they would take the lead in that, rather than the United States, which is fine with us.  We’ve indicated we’d support them.  A number of other countries have said the same thing.

But Italy is right there across the Mediterranean from Libya, has a lot of historical contacts with Libya, and so I’m grateful that the Italians have — have indicated a willingness to take the lead there.

But right now, the action is political, and — but we are watching it very closely, and with concern, because you see ISIL trying to seize a foothold there.

STAFF:  Keith?

Q:  Mr, Secretary, what’s — what’s in store, specifically, in the budget request for Nellis and Creech Air Force bases in terms of operations, personnel, assets, any cuts, any advances?

SEC. CARTER:  It’s — it’s mostly advances here.  I can’t be too specific with you because the president hasn’t actually released the budget yet.  He will next week, and you’ll get all the details, but I gave you the gist of it.

This place is incredibly important to our Air Force, now and in the future.  Therefore, you can expect increased investments in the quality of the range, in the intensity of the training, the number of exercises conducted here, the variety of aircraft that will be coming here and will need to be maintained here.

So this is a critical place.  It’s going to stay a critical place, and it’s going to get budgetary priority.  The key is readiness.  That’s the key to the Air Force today and tomorrow.

And it’s here and only here where all aspects of combat readiness can be tested, from this hangar, which is — emphasizes combat search and rescue, if, God forbid, a pilot is down, right out to the flight line there, where there are fighters, there are tankers, there are reconnaissance aircraft.

There’s everything here.  So the — the details will come out next week, but we are making new investments — I mentioned specifically about $1 billion more in training over the next five years.  That’s — that’s — that’s, by the way, relative to what we planned last year, which is always — already substantial.  So that’s an increase.

So that gives you a sense of the direction.  It’s more emphasis, more priority, and obviously, more funding.

STAFF:  Got time for one more.  (inaudible)

Q:  I was hoping to get on North Korea — (inaudible) — radar — (inaudible).  And the Japanese — (inaudible) — said that they could eventually — you know, shoot down any debris that’s coming their way.  (inaudible) — standing by to help with that — (inaudible)?

SEC. CARTER:  The — with respect to our own surveillance, we will, as we always do, watch carefully.  If there’s a launch, track the launch, have our missile defense assets positioned and ready.

The Japanese and the South Koreans have made that same indication in the case of past launches.  So I don’t think you’ll see anything that’s different in our responses.  We have a strong — both surveillance response and defensive response every time the North Koreans do something with ballistic missiles.

So it’s — it’s unfortunately something that we — we think about a lot, we plan a lot about, and we and our close allies, the Japanese and the South Koreans, are ready for.

STAFF:  Thanks, everybody.

SEC. CARTER:  All right.  Thanks, everybody.


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