June 12, 2017: Telephonic Press Briefing with Lieutenant General Richard M. Clark Commander, 3rd Air Force

Lieutenant General Richard M. Clark

Commander, 3rd Air Force

Ramstein Air Base, Germany

Telephonic Briefing

June 12, 2017


Moderator:  Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State.  I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from across Europe and to thank all of you for joining this discussion.

Today, we are very pleased to be joined by Lieutenant General Richard M. Clark, Commander, 3rd Air Force, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.  Lieutenant General Clark looks forward to discussing the U.S. Air Force strategic bombers temporarily deployed to RAF Fairford, UK, and the unique capabilities that the bombers bring to force posture in Europe.  He will also discuss their participation in the current joint and multinational exercises Arctic Challenge, Saber Strike, and BALTOPS.  We thank you, Lieutenant General Clark, for taking the time to join us today.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Lieutenant General Clark, and then we will turn to your questions.  We will try to get to as many as we can during the time that we have, which is approximately 30 minutes.  As a reminder, today’s call is on the record.

With that, I will turn it over to Lieutenant General Clark.

Lieutenant General Clark:  Thank you, Kathy.  I appreciate your efforts to pull this together and thank everybody who’s on the line.  It’s great for us to be back here in the UK.  Our hosts here at RAF Fairford have just been awesome, and the hospitality of our friends in the Royal Air Force is always exceptional, and it really is a testament to the special relationship of our two great nations.  So we’re grateful.

I’m also thankful and humbled that Charge’ d’Affaires Lukens joined us earlier today.  His presence at this deployment and to visit with our airmen was really a testament to the international relationships that we have, our shared commitment to peace and security and prosperity here in the region.  So again, a special thanks to him for taking the time out of his schedule to be here.

Today is a historic day, though, because we have the full complement of the U.S. strategic bomber force in the European theater for the very first time.  Combined, it’s an all-star lineup of our eight bombers.  Roughly 600 airmen and they represent the core mission of Global Strike, and they bring a highly potent capability to Europe

Now while they’re here, our bombers will integrate with U.S. and allied forces to showcase the strength and interoperability of our joint coalition team.  They’ll participate in multinational exercises like Arctic Challenge, Saber Strike and BALTOPS in order to demonstrate how our team of allies can rapidly amass at a time and location of our choosing to deter and defend against any possible aggression.

The bombers that we have really confirm the credibility of our forces to address a global security environment that is really very diverse and more uncertain than at any other time in our history.  And I just want to highlight each of the three bombers that we have present here at Fairford, just for your awareness.

First, we have the B-52.  They’re coming from the 2nd Bomb Wing in Louisiana in the United States.  It’s a long range conventional and nuclear bomber that can perform a variety of missions.  The B-52 can fly at altitudes reaching 50,000 feet; has an unrefueled combat range in excess of 8,000 miles; and can carry enormous loads of precision-guided ordnance to bring lethal effect to any point on the globe.

The second bomber we have is our B-1s.  They’re from the 28th Bomb Wing in South Dakota.  They have the largest payload of both guided and unguided weapons of any aircraft in our U.S. Air Force inventory.  It’s a multi-mission aircraft, supersonic, highly maneuverable, and it can rapidly deliver a wide variety of munitions against any adversary anywhere at any time.

And then finally, our B-2s, our stealth bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing in Missouri, has about a 7,000-mile unrefueled radius and is capable of bringing massive firepower to strike targets at a moment’s notice with little or no detection.  It’s low observable or stealth characteristics, as we call it, give it the ability to penetrate sophisticated defenses and threaten an enemy’s most valuable and heavily defended targets.

Each of these amazing aircraft possess its own unique characteristics and capabilities, but together, this trio, along with the bomber airmen who maintain and operate them, operate robust, flexible, lethal and reliable capability that remains a critical component of global security.

U.S. Strategic Command forces are on watch 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for our nation and its allies.  Bomber deployments and operations like today provide valuable training for our airmen to familiarize themselves with different geographic areas of operation.

Also, these deployments are necessary to ensure our readiness, and they validate the vigilance of our global strike capability.

The simultaneous presence of these three bombers in the European theater highlights our confidence and investment in these exercises.  Additionally, they underscore our commitment to support our NATO and European allies to ready and posture forces focused on deterring conflict.

This phenomenal deployment of combat air power is the visual manifestation of the adage, you don’t have to be anywhere -correction-  You don’t have to be everywhere at once, as long as you can be anywhere at a moment’s notice.

So again, that concludes my prepared comments but I’m ready to take any questions.  And again, I want to thank you for joining us today.

Moderator:  Thank you for those remarks, Lieutenant General Clark.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.

Our first question will go to Jennifer Svan from Stars and Stripes.

Media:  Hi, General Clark.  How are you today?

Lieutenant General Clark:  I am very good.  How are you?

Media:  I’m doing well.  Thank you.

My first question is, can you tell me, is there any operational or functional purpose to bringing all three types of bombers to one theater?  Or is it mostly for, just for a show of force?  Can you talk a little bit about that?

Lieutenant General Clark:  Yeah, that’s a great question.  In some ways it is a show of force because there are going to be times in conflict to where we’re going to need the complement of all three of those bombers at once.  So by bringing them to the same location, we’re able to sort of forge that interoperability so that they understand what it takes to really operate together.

Operationally, both the B-1 and the B-52 are participating in BALTOPS and Saber Strike at the same time.  So again, they’re both participants in the exercise.  And though the B-2 is not directly participating in those exercises, they still work that interoperability here at Fairford so that they can understand where some synergies can be gained potentially; how they can work together to deploy more effectively.  So it really gives us a good idea of how to use our entire bomber force together for that synergy that we need.

Media:  And can you talk about how long the aircraft will be staying?  Is that something that’s public information right now?

Lieutenant General Clark:  Sure.  The total amount of time that they’ll be here, for the B-2s it’s a shorter amount of time.  The B-1s and the B-52s, their total time will be about three to three and a half weeks, and that will allow them to complete their full participation in both of the exercises, the BALTOPS and Saber Strike, and then allow them to redeploy after all training is complete.


Media:  And I have a couple more questions, but I can get back in the queue if that’s necessary.

Moderator:  Yes, if you could, because we do have a couple of participants waiting to ask questions.

Media:  All right, great.  Thank you.

Moderator:  All right, thank you.

So our next question comes to us from Victor Oleynik from Metro Newspaper in Russia.

Media:  Hello, General Clark.  Thank you very much for this briefing.

My first question is, are those accidents of American military aviation with Russian jets in the sky dangerous?

Lieutenant General Clark:  Yes, sir.  Victor, can you repeat that question?  It just came in a little broken.  We had some static on the line during your —

Media:  No problem. So I just want to know if those accidents of American military aviation with Russian jets in the sky are dangerous?  A few days ago, for example, American bomber was followed by Russian jets.  So is it safe in the military world or it can be dangerous for both countries?

Lieutenant General Clark:  Okay, Victor, yeah.  I do understand your question, and I think you’re regarding to some of the intercepts of our bombers by Russian jets.

To this point, the intercepts have been safe and professional, and not created any kind of a hazard to our bombers nor to the Russian fighters.  It is standard practice in international waters for these types of intercepts to occur.  Our air crew are trained to handle these types of intercepts, and it appears that the Russian air crew are trained to conduct them.  And I think as long as they remain that way, that this won’t be a problem.  And it is somewhat of a standard practice.  And in some ways I think it benefits both crews to be able to work through this and offer some level of training.

So to this point, it has not been a problem.


Moderator:  Thank you for that.  Our next question is a pre-submitted question from a journalist at Maclean’s Magazine in Canada.  Mr. Abel asks, what if anything has changed in the mission and morale since January 20th?  He’d ask that you comment on that, if you could.  Thank you.

Lieutenant General Clark:  Since January 20th there really have been no significant changes in our mission and morale.  We, in the military, I think the question is referring to the date of the inauguration of President Trump.  That’s the only thing that I can think of that changed in our country on that date that comes to mind.  So I’m assuming that’s what he’s referring to.

And honestly, we in the military, we serve to support and defend the constitution of the United States, and the Commander-in-Chief is our commander, and we’re used to serving different commanders at different points in our career.  So this was a change in Commander-in-Chief.  It didn’t affect our morale, and we continue to serve under President Trump just as we did under President Obama.

So from my perspective, I have noted really no change in morale, and our mission continues to move forward.  There will certainly be adjustments in the mission I think, as President Trump’s vision and objectives flow down to the force, but in general, no significant changes that have altered the way that we do business.


Moderator:  Thank you.

For our next question, we will turn to Christian Brøndum who is from Defense Watch in Denmark.

Media:  Hello, General.  Thank you for letting me in on this briefing.

I would like to expand a bit on the former two questions.  One, I would like to know if you have seen any change in the, say the welcome you’ve had from Russian aircraft compared to earlier years?  Has it been any change in flight patterns and general reception?

And the next question, if I may ask wo questions here, is I’m quite sure you’re aware of the discussion in Europe of the American perception of the NATO Alliance commitment to the Article 5.  Does your mission have any impact on that discussion, do you think?

Lieutenant General Clark:  Thank you, Christian, for both of those questions.  I’ll address the first one.

As far as any change in the types of intercepts that we’ve had from Russian aircraft, we haven’t had, there’s not any change at all.  Again, as long as they’re safe and professional, then we don’t really have an issue with that.  And as they have been in the past, these intercepts continue to be safe and professional.  So I would say that the general answer to that question is no.  No real change at all, and we’ll just continue to operate as we have and as those intercepts continue to occur, as long as they’re safe and professional, we’ll keep on moving in that direction.

As per your second question, and change to Article 5 with NATO, what I can say from a military standpoint and from the guidance that we have, is that our relationship with NATO has not changed.  And in fact I would say that the fact that we’re here participating in this exercise underscores our commitment to NATO and our allies to ensure that we are ready, that we are maintaining our interoperability and that we continue to train together so that we can respond as necessary under our commitments.

So I think the answer to your second question is, we continue to perform as we have in the past with respect to our NATO allies and our commitments under Article 5.


Moderator:  Thank you.

For our next question we will turn to Alina Anghel from B1 TV in Romania.  Ms. Anghel?

Media:  Thank you.

Lieutenant General Clark, thank you for your time and information presented to us.

My question is, was the presence of the three types of bombers triggered by a tangible threat?  Or is this presence something that happens on a regular basis just for training and reassurance of the allies?

Lieutenant General Clark:  That’s a good question.  There’s no tangible threat that drove this deployment.  In fact, I would say that we did a similar deployment in the Pacific region just less than a year ago.  But what it does do for us is it allows us, as I mentioned before, to fine tune the interoperability between all of our bombers.  Given the resource environment that we’re under, our, our opportunity to deploy the kinds of resources that we have, to employ in combat if we need to, are becoming more scarce.  So we have to make sure that we’re able to use them to the max extent possible and to gain the synergies that we need to.

These exercises that we’re doing are very transparent.  We’re not trying to respond to a particular threat.  We’re just trying to be prepared for any threat that may come our way.

So I would say that there is no tangible threat.  It’s just whatever threat may occur or may come our way, we want to be ready to respond to it.  If that answers your question.

Moderator:  Thank you.

For our next question we will turn to Allen Abel from Maclean’s Magazine in Canada.  Mr. Abel?

Media:  I just wanted to thank you for answering the question I submitted in writing.  And yes, of course, the January 20th was a reference to the President’s inauguration.

He has called from time to time NATO obsolete.  Do you take those comments at face value?  How do you view him when he says that?

Lieutenant General Clark:  Well, I think that’s in a political realm that I don’t necessarily participate in.  The perspective that I take this from is from the military perspective and from our Secretary of Defense on down, we have received no change in the guidance in how we operate with NATO.  So you know, at the political level I can’t really comment on that, but at the operational level, and with our own I guess execution of the guidance that we receive, it is the same as it has been since Article 5 was first established, and as far as we know and as far as we’re concerned, it’s going to continue to go that way.  So we’ll continue to participate in exercises like BALTOPS and Saber Strike to reinforce that partnership so that our allies know that when they need us to be there that we’re ready, that we’ll be there, and that we’ll be able to operate with them as necessary.  And that’s what these exercises are really all about.  It’s readiness and training, and we’re here to ensure that we’re able to do the things that we need to do.


Moderator:  Thank you.  We have time for just one more question and it will go to Jennifer Svan from Stars and Stripes.  Ms. Svan, back to you.

Media:  Hi again, General Clark.

Just two quick questions.  First, are you speaking from Fairford right now?

Lieutenant General Clark:  Yes, ma’am.  I am.

Media:  Okay.  And also, I’m wondering, the aircraft that deployed, are they armed or did they bring munitions?  And also, if you can just talk to the biggest challenge that the Air Force faces by bringing all three types of bombers to one location overseas.  Is it the refueling, the maintenance?

So I guess that was actually three questions, but thank you.

Lieutenant General Clark:  They’re all three good questions.

First, they are not armed.  They are strictly on a training mission and there were no live fire portions of the exercises that we’re participating in.

As far as the biggest challenge, to be honest, one of the biggest challenges is getting them here with the tanker support, the air refueling that is required for those bombers to travel across the ocean to get here.  That’s one of the bigger challenges that we face, and that’s always.

But also, just the logistics support here at Fairford is also something that we need to sort of fine tune to make sure that we can operate out of Fairford as we need to because we hope to be able to do more of that in the future.

Our crews are getting a great education and flying in the European theater, but really, all of our bomber crews are very experienced and able to operate at anywhere in the globe at any time.  So this is just an opportunity for them to hone those skills and to continue to get better at that.

But it’s really the logistics piece that we have to work on.  You know, one quote I heard one time was leave the warfighting to the amateurs and the logistics to the professionals.  And that’s the part that we really have to start honing in on, is that logistics piece and getting that right so we can get the bombers into the deployment locations that we need to.

So I would say the short answer to your question is it’s the logistics piece that’s really the toughest part of all of this.  But again, bringing all three bombers here at one time highlights some of the challenges that might have to face if we did have to deploy all of them to a single location.  So this has been a great opportunity for us.


Moderator:  Thank you.  Unfortunately, that was the last question that we have time for.  Lieutenant General Clark, did you have any closing words that you would like to offer?

Lieutenant General Clark:  No, first I want to thank everyone for your time.  Thank you for being here today and for your insightful questions.

And I do want to thank our UK hosts, both here at Fairford, but also within the Royal Air Force.  They have been, as always, and as I mentioned earlier, absolutely gracious in helping us to achieve our objectives for this exercise and it’s been invaluable for us to work with our partners in NATO throughout, and we look forward to the next opportunity to do this in the future.

So thanks again, Kathy, for moderating this.  And we appreciate everyone’s time.