November 17 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - November 17, 2011

      JOHN CASEY (president, General Dynamics Electric Boat): Good afternoon, everyone. It's great to see all of you out here today to great Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

     I would like to mention four of the guests that came this morning to help us welcome the secretary: my boss, Phebe Novakovic, from GD Marine Systems; her boss, Jay Johnson, our chairman of the board at General Dynamics; our congressman, Joe Courtney from Connecticut here; and our lieutenant governor, Nancy Wyman. I want y'all to give them a round of applause -- (inaudible) -- would you please? (Applause.)

     You know, as the nation's defense budget comes under increasing scrutiny, we're fortunate to have such a capable and experienced secretary of defense. Since arriving at Electric Boat this afternoon, Secretary Panetta has toured Mississippi behind me with members of our EB team and the ship's crew. We're working together to deliver this ship about one year ahead of schedule and about $50 million under its target cost.

     Mr. Secretary, on behalf of everyone here, I want to express our sincere appreciation for your interest in all of us at Electric Boat. It's a privilege to have you here at our shipyard, and we're grateful for your offer to take questions, which I'm sure you all have many of -- but for your offer to take question from our employees at the conclusion of your remarks.

     So now it's a great pleasure that I introduce a lifelong public servant, the 23rd secretary of defense, Leon Panetta. (Applause.)

     SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: Thanks. Thanks very much, John.

     I can't tell you what an honor it is for me to have a chance to come up here to Groton and recognize the fact that this is the submarine capital of the world. (Cheers, applause.) It's the home of our submarine force. It's the original home of the Nautilus. And it is, from my point of view, one of -- one of the very important elements of our national defense. What you guys are doing and the work that you're doing is absolutely essential to our ability to keep our country safe.

     And I thank you for that. I thank you for your service, for your work, for your dedication and for your commitment. The -- this kind of work simply could not happen without your skills and your dedication, and I -- and I just can't tell you how much I appreciate that.

     I want to thank Congressman Courtney for being here.

     Lieutenant Governor, good to see you. (Applause.)

     The reality is that, you know, your delegation has put up a good fight. You're talking to somebody who went through the BRAC process. In my district back in California, I had a post called Fort Ord, California. And it represented about 25 percent of my local economy. So we had to go through BRAC, and unfortunately, BRAC shut it down. And I went through the hell of having to figure out what do I do to try to protect the economy of my local community. Fortunately, we were able to do it. We located a campus there, and it's doing fine. But I wouldn't wish going through BRAC on anybody. It's a son of a bitch to try to go through that process.

     The reality is that your delegation, I know, put up a great fight for something that is very important to our national defense, and I commend them for the support that they provide. This is -- this is, as I said -- especially looking at it from my point of view as secretary of defense, this is absolutely essential. And so I really -- I want to thank the delegation for their support and for their willingness to go to bat when it's important to try to protect a facility like this.

     This is a -- you know, this is a challenging time. In many ways, we're at a turning point in terms of our national defense. We've been through 10 years of war, and the reality is that, you know, after 10 years of war, we're beginning to see the results of a lot of sacrifice on the part of our men and women in uniform, but on the part of all of the -- all of the people who are part of our national defense.

     Now, the reality is that, you know, by the end of this year we're going to draw down our forces, all of our combat forces in Iraq. The mission there was to establish an Iraq that could govern and defend and secure itself, and we have accomplished that mission. Now it's up to Iraq to be able to secure and govern itself. We'll give them assistance, we'll continue to work with them, but the reality is that, you know, they're on the right track.

     In Afghanistan, we're hoping that we can move in the same direction. We weakened the Taliban. We've had the lowest violence levels in Afghanistan in five years. We're beginning to secure key areas of that country. We're developing an Afghan army, an Afghan police. We are moving in the right direction. A lot of work to be done, but hopefully by the end of 2014 we'll be able to again have an Afghanistan that can govern and secure itself.

     With regards to Libya, we just came out of the Libya mission, a NATO mission that was very successful in taking down Gadhafi and giving Libya back to the Libyan people.

      And on terrorism, which is the very reason that many of us are here, because we're fighting terrorism since 9/11, the reality is we've decimated al-Qaida's leadership. In my old job at the CIA, working with the military, we were able to go after their leadership and they continue to go after their leadership. The reality is we have taken down key people, including bin Laden and others, and the result of that is that this country is safer by virtue of what we've been able to do. (Applause.)

     We need to keep the pressure on. We need to make sure that we don't give up. These guys are still at it. Whether it's Pakistan, whether it's Yemen, whether it's Somalia, whether it's North Africa, we've got to keep the pressure up and make damn sure that they never again are able to attack this country. And that's what we're doing.

     So when you look at it, the reality is we -- you know, as a result of 10 years of war, we're moving in the right direction because of the sacrifice of a lot of people who've put their lives on the line.

     There are still threats out there. We face threats from Iran; we face threats from North Korea; we face threats from cyber. This is a whole new world in which cyber-warfare is a reality. It's the battlefield of the future. We face the threats from rising powers -- China, India, others -- that we have to always be aware of and try to make sure that we always have sufficient force protection out there in the Pacific to make sure they know we're never going anywhere. In addition to that, we've got a Middle East that remains in turmoil. We're always going to have to respond to the challenges in that part of the world as well. So when you look at the world that we're dealing with, we still have a lot of threats.

     And add to that the challenge of now having to reduce the defense budget. We've got a huge deficit in this country, and I've been given a number of about $450 billion-plus to reduce the defense budget by. And I've always felt an obligation that we have a responsibility to do our share in that effort. And as a result of that, I'm working with the service chiefs, working with the undersecretaries to decide how we do that.

     There are four guidelines for me. Number one, when I go through that process, we are going to maintain the best military in the world. We're the strongest military in the world today. We're going to remain the best military in the world. (Applause.)

     Secondly, I am not going to hollow out this force. I'm not going to hollow out the force. Coming out of World War II, coming out of Korea, coming out of the Vietnam War, coming out of the fall of the Soviet Union, the problem was that cuts were made across the board, and the result was we weakened defense across the board. We hollowed out the force. We are not going to do that. We're going to learn the lessons from the past.

     So it means we have to look at every area within the defense budget, decide what's needed, what's not needed, look at efficiencies, look at where we can be able to achieve savings, and do it in a way that, most importantly -- and this is the key point -- we cannot break faith with people who have served in the military.

     Men and women in the military have put their lives on the line time and time again. They've deployed time and time again. We owe them the benefits that we promised them. And I've said whatever savings we achieve, we're going to grandfather people's benefits so they don't -- they get the benefits that we promised them. (Applause.)

     Now, the most important element that I also have to protect is the industrial base in this country. We cannot have a strong defense for the United States without protecting this industrial base. I need to be able in this country to produce our ships, to produce our submarines, to produce our planes, to produce our fighter planes, to produce our tanks, to produce what we need for the military. I don't need to rely on another country; we've got to rely on the United States to do that. (Cheers, whistles, applause.)

     That means that one of the commitments I've made as we go through this budget process: as I said, we absolutely have to protect our industrial base. And that means, you know, as we work through it -- and you guys have done a great job here -- being able to cut costs, being able to produce submarines on a -- on a more rapid path. And I thank you for that. That's the kind of partnership we need.

     So, you know, our national defense obviously depends on those brave men and women who have put their lives on the line time and time again. But I have to tell you something: You, too, are the patriots that I need to depend on. Your skills, your capabilities, what you're able to do, that is an important resource that we have to protect for the future.

     So that's why I'm here. I'm here to thank you for your service and thank you for your dedication.

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