Secretary Esper discusses F-35s, budget, reform on New York trip

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper delivers remarks before ringing the closing Nasdaq bell on Veterans Day in New York, Nov. 11, 2019. (DOD photograph by Lisa Ferdinando)

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said that Turkey cannot have Russia’s surface-to-air missile system and continue purchasing F-35 fighters from the United States.

Esper made his remarks to the news media en route to New York Nov. 11, where he rang Nasdaq’s closing bell in honor of Veterans Day.

The secretary said in Brussels recently that he has told Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar the NATO allies — particularly those who are purchasing or trying to get the F-35s — agree the Russian S-400 missile system is too much of a threat.

Asked about the lack of sanctions against Turkey and the message it sends to other countries, such as India, Esper said the situation is unique for each country, and each must be addressed on its own terms.

“We will address the sanctions case with countries each on [their] own, and obviously with the State Department lead in that regard, State and Treasury,” he said.

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper speaks to reporters on a government aircraft en route to New York, Nov. 11, 2019. (DOD photograph by Lisa Ferdinando)

Reform in DOD
Esper noted that reform is one of the three lines of effort in the National Defense Strategy, and that this part of the effort includes creating a timeline to get manpower applied to the other two lines of effort: lethality and improving partnerships.

“And the aim is to free up billions of dollars so I could put that back into … those lines of effort,” he said.

“So, I think we’re making good progress. I suspect we’re going to have to start again — next year early, because right now, my focus is to free up dollars for fiscal year ’21 for our budget. And, come January, we’re going to start a different approach where we’ve got to do much more of a blank-sheet approach,” the secretary said.

Esper said it is not just Fourth Estate. “It’s all of the services that need to go through this so we can focus on the National Defense Strategy and get rid of legacy programs and activities and pivot toward the future.”

The Fourth Estate’s agencies include all organizational entities in the Defense Department that are not a military branch or combatant command. From defense health care to logistical support, agencies within the Fourth Estate provide acquisition functions for the entire DOD.

“There are a lot of parts in the Fourth Estate that are in law, and we will probably have recommendations for Congress to consider as we get ways to find efficiency to help us pivot toward the National Defense Strategy,” the secretary said.