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Secretary Mattis & Gen Dunford brief the NDAA

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS: Well, good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for being here this morning.

In January of this year, the Department of Defense released its National Defense Strategy. It was the first of its kind in a decade. And in it, we outlined the department's strategic priorities and the guidance that we wanted to give our departments below us for the budget request, tying the budgets to the strategy itself.

Today, thanks to strong bipartisan support in Congress and resulted in $717 billion budget authorization for 2019. And our military continues to grow stronger, more lethal, more agile, and certainly more deployable than a year ago.

I cannot thank Congress without expressing my respect for Senator McCain, for his steadfast courage and his service, and my deepest condolences to his family for the loss of a man who represented all of the ideals America stands for.

Senator John McCain was a man who served his country honorably as a naval officer, as a defiant prisoner of war standing with his brothers in arms until all returned home together, and as a leader in Congress, including as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In all he did, Senator McCain never lost sight of our shared purpose in defense of freedom, for in his words, and I quote, "A shared purpose does not claim our identity. It enlarges -- on the contrary-- it enlarges your sense of self."

So our nation has lost a great patriot and our military lost one of our most ardent supporters.

The fiscal year '19 National Defense Authorization Act is named for Senator McCain and it meets all of DOD's critical needs. The earliest passage in the legislative calendar, this marks the first time since 1977 we had this Act signed so early.

We had 87 percent of the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate voting in favor of it. This demonstrates that the defense of our Republic enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support.

And now that Congress has done our -- its part -- and we are grateful to the American taxpayers -- it's now DOD's duty to spend the funds responsibly as we rebuild readiness and invest in critical capabilities for future defense. We will be rigorously examining our spending plans and our audit, DOD's first, is in full swing.

As we have stated before, we are witnessing a world that is awash in change, and maintaining readiness in the face of looming threats is a responsibility that we owe the next generation.

Today I want to show how DOD is working to meet those challenges. We're going to put our activities into a strategic framework that we have provided in the National Defense Strategy and we have three lines of effort. The first one is increasing lethality. The second line of effort is strengthening our alliances and building new partnerships internationally. And finally, reforming the way the department does business to get the best use of the dollars.

First, on building a more lethal force, we have no room for complacency in any domain. We recognize cyberspace and outer space as warfighting domains on par with air, land and sea. And these two domains, cyberspace and outer space, were made contested domains by the actions of others, so as a result we have elevated Cyber Command to full combatant command status and we have worked with Congress and the White House to define the evolving space problem that we confront.

Now we are implementing the National Defense Authorization Act and its provision for unified space command, in line with the president's vision for needed Space Force, while revising our vision for defending our assets in space and revising antiquated space acquisition processes. We are working now with Congress on our way ahead with regard to needed legislation for a separate department.

In other adaptations, we've established a Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to experiment new concepts while drawing synergy from separate programs for this potentially game-changing capability. We have created the Close Combat Lethality Task Force to accelerate the fielding of advanced equipment and to train our warfighters at the speed of relevance for the battlefield they confront.

We have released our Nuclear Posture Review outlining the necessary steps we are taking to strengthen America's nuclear deterrents so these weapons are never used, nuclear war being a war that cannot be won and must never be fought.

And at the same time we are working with the Department of State to determine how to advance arms control where possible.

We have implemented new standards to improve deployability of our forces so they are ready to fight and win at any time across any domain.

Current and future readiness will be enhanced by this focus we have on enhancing advanced lethality.

My travel schedule indicates just how seriously I take our second line of effort, strengthening alliances and partnerships. I have visited 57 countries so far as secretary of defense.

Our goal is to improve consultation, cooperation and burden-sharing so we can best deter the threats and the competition I mentioned earlier, because we are stronger alongside like-minded nations.

I recently returned from South America, where I met with leaders in Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Colombia. And I'm reminded that, despite the problems we admittedly face here in our hemisphere, we are fortunate to see increasingly an island of democratic stability and growing prosperity in an unstable world, from Ottawa to Santiago and Buenos Aires.

There are exceptions, and we know them: Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua. Even Castro knows now that the Cuban model doesn't work even for Cuba any more, or for anyone else, as Venezuela's Maduro is finding out.

But democracy is working, and we will be continuing to work with our friends from Ottawa to the southern tip of South America, for cooperation is critical for realizing the shared vision of democracy, prosperity and security.

We are working with Colombia, Ecuador and others to schedule our hospital ship, the U.S. Naval Ship Comfort, to help our friends dealing with millions of poor Venezuelans fleeing their country, as we witness the human cost of Maduro's increasingly isolated regime. And we will stand with those people and our friends.

Our neighbors clearly want closer relations with us, and we will work with them to realize our shared vision for the region.

We are also bolstering relationships across the Atlantic. As we look to the lessons of the past, as we look back at the National Security Council's policy paper from 1953, where it said, "Freedom and security of the free nations is a direct and essential contribution to the maintenance of our own freedom and security." Went on to say that "building up the strength, cohesion and common determination of the free world benefits all."

Last month, at NATO's summit, we reinforced that message. And it yielded tangible results. Discussions were candid and they went to the heart of burden-sharing issues. Several of my counterparts told me it was the most productive meeting they'd attended.

All 29 members now are spending more on defense in NATO. No longer is the question one of reducing defense budgets, as it was since the fall of the Berlin Wall until in to the 2000s. No longer is the question of whether to spend more. The only questions now are how much to increase, and by when. All recommitted to spending 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024.

We also gained unity, ladies and gentlemen, on the needed command structure that we had to reform. Our two new headquarters, one of them hosted by Germany and one that'll be hosted in Norfolk.

And we also gained full commitment to what we call the four 30s: 30 air squadrons, 30 naval ships, 30 combat battalions, all available to fight within 30 days. That is a well-established and quantifiable goal now.

We also received commitments of a plus-up of over 1,000 non-U.S. coalition allied forces to the NATO-led Afghanistan mission.

Looking the Indo-Pacific, we are bolstering existing alliances while forging new partnerships among like-minded nations.

Twenty-five nations participated in this year's RIMPAC exercise hosted by the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the largest naval exercise in the world. It was emblematic of the refreshed military relationships in that the Chilean navy commanded the maritime element and this is the first time a Latin American country, in the history of this exercise, has done so.

We also continue to work closely with allies as our diplomats lead the effort to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. We keep a clear-eyed view of the challenges, working together in support of the unanimous U.N. Security Council resolutions to economically sanction the DPRK. The sanction enforcement patrols today are international patrols.

We continue to build stronger friendships across the region and all of our actions reinforce the vision of a free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific, where nations large and small are free from coercion.

In South Asia we continue to work by, with and through allies and partners in pursuit of peace, and two additional countries have now joined the NATO-led campaign in Afghanistan as partner nations. That's United Arab Emirates and Qatar. And 32 of the 39 nations which have already committed forces to the mission agreed to either increase or sustain the current force levels through 2019.

We are fully supporting Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation efforts, and hard fighting is going on to convince the Taliban they must negotiate.

A recent statement by a Taliban leader made specific mention of negotiations as a way to bring, and I quote here, "an end to the war," unquote. This one of the most forward-leaning statements made yet by a Taliban supreme leader, even as they conduct attacks designed to garner press attention, costing lives, and they are now stripped, however, of any religious guise for an inhumane campaign against the Afghan people.

Clerical groups in Saudi Arabia, Kabul, Jakarta have of all encouraged the ceasefire efforts, and -- as they are showing a way to end the war through this Afghan-led reconciliation process.

In the Mideast, the Defeat-ISIS Coalition continues to make strides, liberated ISIS-held territory in Iraq and diminished the physical caliphate in Syria. I believe that ISIS is down now to less than 2 percent of the land they once controlled, even as we recognize the fight is not over.

As we strengthen our partnerships abroad, the department is also looking inward to reform how we do business, and that is our third line of effort.

We understand we cannot have lasting security for our country without solvency. We are conducting the first audit in the department's history and I want that audit to find problems. It's the only way we will be all the craft effective solutions. This ensures we uphold the trust that Congress and the American people have placed in us to spend their tax dollars wisely.

In other reform efforts, DOD has realized nearly $4 billion in savings in FY '18, so we can apply it to more lethality. We initiated the repeal of several hundred unnecessary regulations across the department, enhancing our efficiency and making it easier for industry to work with us and without compromising performance or accountability.

We embraced and finalized the congressionally-directed split between our acquisition and sustainment and our research and engineering offices, to ensure our warfighters have the technology and equipment they need both on the battlefields of today as well as tomorrow.

The bottom line, DOD is making significant progress along our three strategic lines of effort. Our strategic framework is proving applicable across our far-flung department's operations, and we will continue to drive results in the months and years ahead.

On a couple of other issues, on MAVNI, this is the program, ladies and gentlemen, designed to enlist immigrants with needed skills. The issues with the program are not about immigration, they are about national security. We need and want every qualified patriot willing to serve and able to serve.

Two years ago, in 2016, an independent I.G. investigation raised security concerns with MAVNI applicants, resulting in the suspension of new applicants that year. DOD has been working diligently to complete the screens that were directed by the I.G. investigation for those already in the pipeline.

For the roughly 6,000 who have served, are currently serving, or have recently cleared the security process under MAVNI thus far, the U.S. military welcomes them as critical and valued members of our armed forces.

On Yemen, we support our partner Saudi Arabia's sovereign right to self-defense, and we recognize the end of the conflict requires a political solution. And both State Department and Department of Defense are working closely with the U.N. special envoy, Martin Griffiths, in that regard. We are also working closely with the coalition that is fighting to support the U.N.-recognized government in order to determine what went wrong with errant bombing attacks and prevent their recurrence.

With that, let me pass the mic to the chairman, to General Dunford, for an overview of what our men and women are doing around the world and how DOD is turning budget dollars into joint readiness and capability.

General Dunford?

GENERAL JOSEPH F. DUNFORD, JR: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

I'd like to begin by reinforcing the secretary's comments on Senator McCain. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

As a naval officer and as a member of Congress, he was a life-long and tireless advocate for the men and women of the U.S. military. While we mourn Senator McCain's passing, we'll be eternally grateful for his distinguished service and his courageous example.

Before we take your questions, I'll highlight some the ongoing operations and exercises across our geographic combatant commands.

Our priority in the Indo-Pacific Command is supporting the State Department-led diplomatic and economic efforts aimed at denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. 28,000 U.S. military personnel are stationed on the peninsula, demonstrating our commitment to the alliance and deterring North Korean aggression.

We're also conducting air and maritime operations to disrupt ship-to-ship transfers of fuel in violation of U.N. sanctions against the DPRK, and we're doing this in conjunction with allies and partners.

Across the Indo-Pacific Command, U.S. military forces work on a day-to-day basis with allies and partners to preserve the rules-based international order that's consistent with our interests.

Indo-Pacom also has exercise programs in 31 nations to train, advise and assist partner forces in internal security, counter-narcotics and counterterrorism operations.

In the Central Command, we remain focused on our mission in Afghanistan, the defeat-ISIS campaign in Iraq and Syria, and countering Iran's destabilizing influence across the region. Approximately 14,000 U.S. military personnel are deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom Sentinel and NATO's Operation Resolute Support.

Our primary mission remains countering terrorist threats to the United States. Our forces, alongside forces from 40 NATO and partner nations, were also training, advising and assisting over 300,000 Afghan forces who were responsible for security in Afghanistan.

In Iraq and Syria, we're operating as part of a 77-member Defeat-ISIS Coalition. In Syria, 2,000 U.S. and additional Coalition forces are working to enable the 50,000 Syrian Democratic Forces in clearing the remainder of ISIS in the Euphrates River Valley and then stabilizing those areas that have been cleared of ISIS.

In Iraq, the priority is supporting Iraqi security forces to ensure that the success they've had against ISIS is enduring.

In the European Command, we're enhancing our alliances and deterring Russian aggression through enhanced forward presence and other forced posture initiatives.

We also have a robust exercise and training program, enabled by the European Defense Initiative. This year, we've conducted 13 joint exercises in Europe in addition to a wide range of service-specific training and engagement.

In Africa Command, approximately 7,200 U.S. forces are supporting thousands more African military partners in providing for their own security and conducting counterterrorist operations against ISIS and al-Qaida affiliates.

Our efforts include developing security forces in Somalia, countering ISIS in Libya and supporting partners in the Sahel and Lake Chad regions.

In the U.S. Southern Command, we're also working to deepen our security relationships and addressing regional challenges and threats.

As the secretary mentioned, the U.S. Navy Hospital ship, Comfort, will soon deploy to relieve the pressure of increased population flows from Venezuela.

And finally, here at home the U.S. Northern Command has 1,600 DOD personnel and 33 aircraft working to suppress wildfires in the western states, while more than 2,000 Guardsmen are supporting Homeland Security on the southern border.

The Northern Command also provides around-the-clock ballistic missile defense while Americans and Canadians from the North American Air Defense Command defend our air space.

Even while meeting today's requirements, the combatant commanders and the services are adapting and innovating. Our efforts include a series of globally-integrated exercises and experiments to help shape the force we'll need to fight and win tomorrow.

In closing, I believe you can see that your men and women in uniform are busy and we're very proud of them, but we don't do any of this alone.

As the secretary said, we're grateful for Congress's support expressed in the bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act. And in all that we do, we work alongside our allies and partners, our source of strength. Thank you.