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Department of Defense Press Briefing on U.S. Pacific Command's Area of Responsibility by Admiral Locklear in the Pentagon Briefing Room

By Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear, III | Sept. 25, 2014

ADM. SAMUEL LOCKLEAR: Well, aloha. Thank you for taking a few minutes to have some questions for me today. As you know, I'm the Pacific commander, responsible for the U.S. military engagement for the Indo-Asia Pacific, covers about a little over 52 percent of the globe and 36 nations.

And so I'm sure you have plenty of questions. I'm standing by to take those. Thank you.

Q: Would you please talk a little bit about the Islamic state blow-back in your AOR. There's a story out today from Reuters talking about Al Qaida-linked militants in the Philippines threatening to kill some German hostages over actions against the Islamic state. There's questions about recruitment of militants from Asia that are heading over to that region.

Could you talk a little bit about that? And also about the arms embargo with Vietnam -- steps that might be taken soon to ease that, what kinds of weapons sales would you be looking at initially?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, on the question of ISIL and foreign fighters from the Asia-Pacific, it certainly is an issue that we're paying very close attention to today. We're working very closely with Central Command to ensure that we can sense and understand from their perspective the flow of foreign fighters or aspiring foreign fighters that may be coming out of the Indo-Asia Pacific region.

Our estimations today is there's probably been about 1,000 potential aspiring fighters that have moved from this region, based on kind of our overall assessment. That number could -- could get larger as we go forward, but certainly that's about the size or the magnitude that we perceive at this point in time.

So, what we're doing is we're working very closely with our allies and our partners, continuing to have a robust dialogue about how we sense and understand and share information about this particularly difficult problem. But I can assure you it remains high on our list of things to think about as we -- as we look at the future security environment in this vast region.

Now, on the issue of -- that you've been talking about from a lifting of arms embargo on Vietnam, I'm well aware of the dialogue that's happening between our governments, or of the potential possibility of doing that, the dialogue that will be occurring inside of our own country and our own -- within our own leadership here.

And those decisions on how -- what, how much and who will be doing -- haven't been made yet, to my knowledge. However, it has been my perspective as a military commander that -- that where we are with our relationship with Vietnam, that it would be a positive thing to consider the lifting of some of those restrictions that might allow us to provide better support to the country of Vietnam, that's in a very important region of the world, that has a significant interest in this part of this world, that has requirements to improve its own security and its own maritime domain awareness and situational awareness.

So we look forward to hearing the decisions made by the governments. And I'm standing by to support those, as necessary.

STAFF: Lalit?

Q: Thank you, admiral. Just quick to follow up. You said one thousand foreign fighters from this region has gone to the fighting for ISIL. Do you know how many of them are from India? Do you have any estimate?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: I don't have a breakdown in front of me now, Lalit. I would say that the thousand number is a general number as we kind of scoop together what we've been hearing reported from the various countries in the region. So, it's about a thousand.

Q: Secondly, on India itself, after the formation of the new government, the secretary went to India last month. The prime minister is coming here next week, and next month the new defense minister is coming -- coming to the Pentagon for meetings.

So can you give us a sense to what's happening on the defense side of the India and U.S.?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Yeah. Well, certainly we're very much looking forward to the prime minister's visit here. I think his official visit will be next week. That's a big milestone for both of our countries.

You know, when I took this position, we -- we had a stated rebalance to the Asia-Pacific. And one of the central tenets of the Asia rebalance was for us to continue to develop a long-term lasting security relationship, a strategic relationship which includes security relationship, with India.

And we've been embarked on that now through the past administration and through now, the prime minister, Modi's, administration.

I thought it was a great sign that -- that Secretary Hagel -- Hagel -- went right off -- right early after Prime Minister Modi came into office, and that started the dialogue, I think, very positive for us.

Now, we've had a very good relationship between our militaries, both -- in all service lanes, army, navy, air force -- for a number of -- in fact, the last couple decades. And that relationship has been growing as we work together either bilaterally or multilaterally.

So I think that all of what we're seeing portends well for the security relationship, the strategic relationship, between our two nations.

You know, one of the central focuses early on has been the defense trade initiatives, which will allow us to cooperate with each other on defense articles that would work for both of our security interests, in favor of both of those.

So I'm very optimistic.

Q: You mentioned first, again, going back to the thousand fighters, how do they get out of that area, from that area? Because, you know, the part of the world, it's very difficult to fly out of -- like it's very easy to fly out of Europe if you have a European passport, and, you know, but from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, it's very -- so, but there is a very strong human smuggling ring. So do you think that was used? Or was it legal?

Are you going to request these countries to put any kind of checks at their airports, anything extra you are?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, how they would actually get to Europe, I'd only be speculating as of right now.

I can tell you that I believe most of them have been recruited via social media. Social media appears to be the place where ISIL has been and that type organization and Al Qaida have been particularly effective at reaching out and finding these people who would have a tendency to want to go toward a terrorist organization.

So, how they actually got there, I believe that your -- your overall assessment that it's somehow hard to move around globally is not correct. I think that true globalization and the interdependencies we have through business and commerce and everything else, that it's relatively easy for someone who wants to to be able to move to a region such as Syria or Iraq, to get involved, if they think about it and they are enabled and they have the ability for someone to provide them the resources to get there.

So, we are working with all of our partners and allies to see how we harden our own countries and the region and the world against a threat like ISIL that -- that knows no boundaries, knows no state boundaries, knows no legal boundaries, that operates stateless.

Q: Admiral, there have been a number of reports of risky air intercepts in the Pacific recently. I note that you and a lot of your colleagues in -- in the Defense Department have invested a lot of time trying to work with the Chinese to open up lines of communications, prevent misunderstandings that could lead to bad situations like this. Are you surprised or disappointed that these risky air intercepts keep happening in spite of that?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, I am disappointed. Am I surprised? I'm not necessarily surprised. I think that you know, when I look at it, not to -- I mean these are very serious things. So, and we must take them seriously between any nations where these occur, but the vast majority of interactions between U.S. and, in this case, Chinese either ships or airplanes are done safely and professionally, the vast majority. It's those outliers that concern us in that insuring that both of our -- both sides of military leadership have good visibility on why it occurred, when it occurred, how it occurred, and how we prevent it from happening.

So, you know, we have developed over time a -- mechanisms with the Chinese to be able to discuss our -- these type of issues with each other. It's a consulted agreement that we have. And that meets periodically. And we bring these forward in those, and we have a pretty direct dialog about what we saw was unsafe and how they interpreted it as being unsafe. And since the last one occurred, we haven't had any more.

Does it mean we won't have another one? I hope we don't. But if we do, we will have a mechanism to address it. We have mechanisms and will be forthright about it.

Q: But you've also seen more encounters at sea that concern you in terms of safety.

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, generally, we have more encounters at sea these days because the PLA navy is more active. It's larger, and it's more active. So, just by mathematics, you're going to see them out and about in different areas more. And that doesn't bother me.

But, we do have a lot of interactions and most of them are good. In fact, some of them are in multilateral forums we're exercising together, such as they did back in the RIMPAC exercise. As you know, at the Western Pacific Chiefs of the Navy Conference that was held in Beijing this year, all the Navy chiefs that went to that, including our CNO, which is John Greenert, signed a -- it's called a CUES. You'll have to give them the exact -- what that means. But it's a close encounter protocol that allows not only just the U.S. and PLA navy to operate, but any navies that encounter each other on how you respect each other's rights and privileges and sovereignty at sea.

Q: On Ebola, we've been told that it's going to be about 3,000 people, personnel, that it can't all come from AFRICOM. There's just not enough support. Have you been talking to people about giving -- having people from Pacific Command, go to help with the Ebola fight, to have those discussions been made yet? Where are we?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, in my command, I have a fleet surgeon that's a two star Navy admiral who coordinates broadly across all of OSD, across our -- the interagency, and helps us understand how we can best support.

If there's a need for us to send people from Pacific Command to help in the Ebola containment in Africa, then we would do that. We have not been asked to do that yet.

Q: Admiral, Secretary Hagel recently nominated your successor. So, as you're approaching the end of your tenure, looking back, can you talk about how the security environment in the PACOM AOR has changed? Are things more volatile and dangerous now, or do you think things have improved?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, it's a great question. It's probably something we could have about a three-hour discussion on. I would say the good news is that, in general, peace and prosperity has been maintained in the Asia-Pacific, in general.

Now, there's a lot of -- been a lot of changes in that environment. North Korea continues to be extremely dangerous, and I don't see an end state at this point in time for North Korea. You know, certainly we want them to be denuclearized, and we want peace and prosperity on the Korean peninsula.

But that particular security issue remains kind of foremost in my mind, particularly as we look at the potential, you know, weaponization of nuclear material and the ability to put these things on -- on road-mobile missile systems that -- that will make us all take a second look and say, "Well, what's this all about?"

Certainly the -- the growing influence of China in the security environment, and how they have been -- you know, the transparency of China, our ability to -- to continue a good military-to-military dialogue with them, and for us to be able to continue to address the friction areas that we have with them in a way that leads to continued peace and prosperity rather than a conflict.

And -- and I'd say we've been able to do that. I mean, the history will look back on the last three years and say, "Yeah, it was a pretty peaceful time in the Pacific," not without controversy, not without turmoil, not without friction. But hey, you're not gonna get that ever in the future. I mean, the world is just too big and too interconnected and too complex to think that we're just all gonna -- you know, all the problems and all the friction and all the competition will -- in the world will go away. The competition is only gonna get greater.

So building security mechanisms that can -- that can withstand that competition and can flex to provide a security environment that prevents it from getting out of control will be particularly important in the Asia-Pacific since the Asia-Pacific is the most militarized part of the world. So the stakes are pretty high from -- ensuring that it stays peaceful.

Q: Admiral, what are some areas that there's still mistrust, there's still disagreement between the U.S.-Chinese militaries and there -- there's more -- more likely to be, you know, misjudgment and, you know, some incident like the -- what happened last -- last -- last month? So what are -- are there any efforts being done by the both parties to improve those? And how are those dialogues going, coming along?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Yeah, well, I think the -- the military, in general, don't distrust each other. I mean, we don't have that kind of inter-personal relationship. I mean, we -- the distrust that would come would be because of the -- the policies that we execute based on the policies of our own individual governments.

And so, there are -- that's where you have to look to see where the frictions are. And so, there, you know, differences in opinion among our -- at the highest levels of our different governments about freedom of navigation, about EEZs [exclusive economic zone], about establishing the ADIZs [air defense identification zone], and those types of things that -- that have popped out.

So we haven't solved those differences, but we have -- I think, have -- have -- are continuing a dialogue that lets us understand how to manage the friction that's caused by those differences.

I mean, in -- you know, in -- in simple terms, the U.S. believes that the security environment in the Asia-Pacific has been good for everybody in the Asia-Pacific for the last 10, 15, 20 -- I mean, you know, five or six decades, and that that environment -- and that environment was based on our solid alliances that we have, our forward presence, and that -- that the ability for every nation to, in that area, to rise has -- has depended on that security environment being like it has been, and that that needs to continue, in general, into the future.

I believe that the Chinese would tell you that they believe that that security architecture is not -- not the one that they see is best in their favor and they'd like for to be adjusted. So this would be the dialogue that has to go on in the coming decades.

Q: Talking about personal -- just to follow up, talking about personal interactions, how would you characterize your interactions with your counterparts in the Asia-Pacific?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: I would say they are professional. They're frank and friendly.

Q: And just one more. There's some reports in China saying that U.S. submarines are increasingly active in the East China Sea and South China Sea. Why is that?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: I haven't read those reports, and I wouldn't comment on -- if I have -- I have -- I didn't -- haven't read those reports.

Q: Admiral, to get back to -- to -- to Vietnam, obviously, decisions are pending.

Talk about the scope of that relationship, including the arm sales. I mean, presumably, we're not doing, you know -- going to do Reforger-type exercises and sell them, you know, high-end weaponry.

But you know, what's -- what's sort of the reasonable expectations for what you hope the U.S.-Vietnam relationship can develop to, rather than, you know, some kind of (inaudible) alliance? Don't think it's in the cards.

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, I mean, first of all, I'd say we're the nascent, early stages of talking about, you know, what type of military assistance we'd provide to Vietnam and why.

And to have that dialogue in a different way, you -- you have to have the discussion about whether you can provide them lethal aid or not.

So that dialogue's still going on, and that decision has really yet to be made.

A lot of it will depend on what the Vietnamese government desires from the United States. They have many partners and many neighbors, and they have many -- and they have a growing number of security concerns.

I think all the nations in the Indo-Asia Pacific have -- have grown more aware of the security environment and the security requirements and the situational awareness that they need, particularly in their maritime and air domain.

You know, many of these countries, through -- through history, have been inward-looking countries, and now they have to look outward, because of globalization and because the impact of energy and food sources on their prosperity that may lie off their shores.

And so you know, we're particularly interested in helping them understand, where we can, what's going on in their backyard and how they can better manage it. So I think that's kind of where we're starting.

Q: Hi. Jen Judson with Politico.

I'm wondering if -- if you can -- if you can still devote what you need to the Asia-Pacific pivot, given what's going on with ISIL and so much attention and devoting so much money towards that.

Could you give me a sense of whether you think we can move forward --

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Yeah, that's a great question, and there's always this kind of fear that -- that we're -- the United States kind of only go from one place to the next.

You know, from a military perspective, even as a campaign like ISIL would be going on, our ability to remain forward and do the things we need to do in the Pacific will be -- will not be affected in any significant way.

I mean, it could be around the edges, you know, a type of surveillance airplane or an individual type of person, we might assume, but in general, I would discount that as any particular -- any particular concern.

Now to the degree that our senior leadership is involved, I mean, we're going to have APEC here pretty soon. We're going to have the East Asia Summit here, in Asia. We're going to have the G-20 all be in Asia.

So it's not like the world has just kind of walked away because of the Middle East. That's not true.

And certainly, the U.S. Joint Force, even in times of -- of sequestration, which we've been -- we've been struggling through, is still a global force, and -- and it's capable of -- of -- of pursuing the U.S. interest and the rebalance in the way that we've articulated.

So I ask people, on the military side to the rebalance in the Asia-Pacific, when they say, "Well, you can't keep it up," I say, "Well, what is it we said we were going to do and we haven't done"? And I don't think we can find anything.

Q: Paul Shinkman with U.S. News, sir.

Some -- some senior officials have said that we're at war with ISIS in Syria and Iraq. All have admitted that this is probably going to be something that goes on for years.

Shouldn't there, though, be a shift from a strategy, like the Pacific rebalance that was announced well before this threat took place? Shouldn't there be a shift of some of those resources back to this new war?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, I think it depends on the size and the complexity of it. I mean, if -- if we have 1,000 foreign fighters coming from here then this becomes a global perspective. You have to look at it in that direction rather than regionally.

So you know, I don't know that thinking we're going to move massive amounts of forces from the Asia-Pacific to be able to deal with a land campaign in Syria or Iraq that's against 30,000 or 40,000 very dangerous terrorists.

But it's -- it's -- it's different in scales of security issues. I mean, there's -- you know, you just don't go from one security issue to the other; you have to, as a -- as a world power, as a -- as a global security environment, even all nations have to look at all aspects of it.

And the Asia-Pacific will remain important to the United States forever. That was part of -- that was really the message in the rebalance, I think, was not only to the people in Asia but to the -- to the American people and to military leaders, that, hey, you know, the future -- much of the future security of the United States, our interests, will be tied to what happens in the Asia-Pacific.

So even with a threat like ISIL, we will -- we cannot walk away from our responsibilities in the Asia-Pacific. And as the president just mentioned in his speech at the U.N., we won't.

Q: (inaudible) -- can you, you know, is it realistic that you will, you know, balance to the Asia-Pacific, will maintain all the presence in the -- (inaudible)?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, we've been through a couple of tough years of sequestration. And as what I just told you, I don't think there's something I said two years ago that we were going to do to rebalance that we haven't done.

Q: Admiral, could you talk a bit about the enhanced defense cooperation with the Philippines and what bases you're looking to base forces out of, and how you're going to cooperate with them?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, it's a great question. You know, we've been having a good dialogue with our Filipino allies for the last couple of years since I've been in this job, about how we would go forward with helping them improve their defense capability and helping us improve the alliance as we move forward in this alliance into this 21st century, and what types of things we could do to be able to improve humanitarian, disaster response for them, other contingency response, how can we assist them in the CT world, counterterrorism world.

And then part of that was for us to look at not U.S. bases in the Pacific. Let me reiterate again, the U.S. has no desire nor plans to build any U.S. bases anywhere else in the world. The plan with our Filipino allies was to look at where would we might be able to put a shared facility, where we would assist them in those facilities, and allow us to access jointly together with them, to be able to address the number of things that are necessary to address in the -- in their buildup of their defense capability.

So we haven't, you know, there's been no real dialogue yet about places that we'd do this. It's still very much -- you know, we're in the follow of the Filipinos here. It is their country and they have to -- they have made the initial movements to -- to start forward on this agreement. We like what we see. It's broad and general at this point in time and we will continue to have good dialogue I think in the future about where those places are.

So I won't go into those now, but we're having that ongoing dialogue; more to follow.

Q: Thank you, admiral. Rob Gentry with TV Asahi.

I wanted to follow up on one of your previous answers about the dialogue with China and the differences you mention on freedom of navigation, EEZs and ADIZ. Specifically on ADIZ, you said that as a group, these issues have not been solved. On the ADIZ, has there been any movement towards any common understanding on how China organizes, implements, operates their ADIZ at all? Or has there been no movement to this point?

And then, also one other question is: Do you have any -- any recent concerns about any interactions with Russian aircraft, either with U.S. forces or with -- with allies, specifically Japan or Korea, recently?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, on the ADIZ question specifically, to my knowledge, we haven't had any direct dialogue with the Chinese about the establishment of that ADIZ. And if you roll that back at the time, of course, the U.S. -- our position, once it was announced, was we don't recognize it. We, you know, militarily we don't conform to it. We don't today. It just doesn't enter in the dialogue of our discussions with the PLA. I think certainly at the military level, it doesn't enter into it.

You know, it was never about them establishing ADIZ because, you know, any country that has sovereign -- sovereignty -- values its sovereignty, you know, if they believe there's a need, could establish what they believe is an ADIZ. But the way you -- the protocol that you should follow to do that, particularly if you're in -- if it overlays an area of tension, which this one particularly did with their Japanese neighbors, is that they would have had a -- a dialogue in the diplomatic arena about doing this.

And it would have been -- I mean, we do -- we've done this -- we had ADIZ discussions between us and the Soviet Union in the Cold War about how you manage those. Because if you don't, what happens is you create friction. You create -- you create seams that -- where miscalculation can occur if you don't think through it.

And so that was the biggest problem was it wasn't well coordinated. It wasn't well announced. It wasn't well thought through. And then the question is: Well, why do you think you need one? Are you -- do you feel -- do you feel threatened?

And so those -- that dialogue never did occur. But, as far as I know, there hasn't been any further dialogue with the -- with the -- at least on the military side about that (inaudible) or any future ones they may contemplate.

STAFF: You get the last question.

Another question.

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Oh, I'm sorry.

Yeah, on the Russian question, certainly the return of the long-range aircraft flights that we haven't seen in -- in any significant number over the last decade or so is concerning. And it's something that we watch very carefully.

We -- we watch the exercise regime that Russia conducts. We watch their surveillance flights that they conduct in the -- in northeast Asia. And we're -- we're -- you know, they don't have a robust force on -- in the Pacific, neither a maritime or an air force at this stage. Whether they will upgrade that and make it larger in the long run, I don't have any idea. I haven't -- haven't talked to them.

But we are in good contact with EUCOM who kind of has the main view into Russia. But it's certainly something that we're watching. And it's something that has changed in the security environment, to some degree, in the last couple years.

If you'd asked me this question two years ago, it would have been a different answer than I just gave you.

Q: Why it is concerning?

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Well, it's because -- concerning because you have -- now you have, you know, basically kind of Cold War activity with long-range bombers that are, you know, flying in the direction of U.S. ADIZ from Russian soil.

And so, these are things that we have to be concerned about as military people. We have to think about them and what that would mean to the security of the region and the security of our own homeland.

Q: Right.

STAFF: Last one.

Q: Thank you. Sir, thank you very much for having this.

The 17th of September, the chief cabinet secretary Suga of Japanese cabinet, announced that the GOJ tried to stop the operation of Futenma Airbase in 2019. And my question is for the U.S. side, has it already been proposed by Japanese government?

And I'd like to ask your position on that.

ADM. LOCKLEAR: Yeah. Well, to my knowledge, it hasn't been proposed. It hasn't been proposed to me.

We've said consistently that -- first of all, that the Osprey MV-22 deployment to Okinawa, first of all, has been very successful, it's been very safe, and it has contributed significantly to the security environment in a number of ways.

And that for us to be able to fulfill our alliance responsibilities, that those MV-22s will need to operate at Futenma until there is an adequate replacement facility built at Camp Schwab, which is the direction that they're headed.

So, putting a timeline on it will -- has it -- will -- I assume if that that's asked it will be incumbent upon the expectation that -- that the replacement facility at Camp Schwab is completed and ready.

So, I can't comment on when that'll be, but my guess is that both countries would like for this to do that as fast as possible, and we hope that happens.

Okay. thank you, folks.

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