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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

2017 Political-Military Transitions and the Evolution of U.S. Military Relations Abroad

Heidi H. Grant, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs
New York, NY
November 29, 2016

Date: 11/29/2016 Description: Heidi H. Grant, Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force, International Affairs speaking about 2017 Political-Military Transitions and the Evolution of U.S. Military Relations Abroad - State Dept ImageNEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR

MODERATOR: Okay. Well, welcome, everyone, back to the New York Foreign Press Center. We’re delighted to have U.S. Air Force Deputy Under Secretary Heidi Grant with us today, who will discuss shared challenges and opportunities for greater international security cooperation and the role of partnerships in advancing U.S. military and political goals. Ms. Grant will give opening comments about her work with Air Force international engagements, and then we’ll open it up for Q&A. Even though we’re seated around the table we still ask that you give your name and organization because this is on the record and will be transcribed.

But with that, we offer it up to Ms. Grant and then we’ll have discussion after.

MS GRANT: Thank you, Melissa, for the warm introduction, and thank you for coming out here on this rainy day, giving me an opportunity to engage with you, talk a little bit about the mission and responsibility that I have. I know that my boss was here recently talking to some of the foreign press, Secretary Deborah James. So she is – part of my role is I advise her as the leader of our U.S. Air Force, the secretary of the Air Force, as she’s a political appointee. And I also advise the chief of the United States Air Force; he’s a four-star general in charge of our Air Force.

So those are my two bosses that I advise on international engagement. They have empowered me to work with over 100 air forces around the world. My main engagements are with chiefs of air forces around the world. And we manage – my organization manages over $160 billion of partner nations’ funds. And so this is where some of your nations have chosen to partner with the United States Air Force, either to purchase our equipment or our training, or just allowing access to each other’s countries, availability. But the intent is for where we have shared global security challenges. Those are areas where we have mutual security challenges. And when we look around the world right now, where we have more aggressive, more assertive nations, and fiscal challenges, we’re finding that this partnering role is more and more important to have more and more partners and allies. It’s a win-win as far as sharing our resources, making sure together we get after these security challenges.

And there’s many tools that we do this besides the selling of equipment and the training. We have exchange programs. We have 154 exchange programs around the world, where some of your military will be embedded with our military, or our military will be embedded in your military. And oftentimes they’re nowhere near our U.S. embassy; they’re actually living amongst your air force and learning the culture, and we’ve found this to be so productive, when and if we have to go to a conflict together or if we respond to humanitarian disaster together, just those relationships, understanding each other’s culture through these exchange programs or professional military education programs we have in the United States.

So that is just a big picture of what we’re doing. Like I said, 100 countries, so I probably have a little bit on any of your countries, but the message that I hope you walk away with is we’re stronger together. I see this mission becoming more and more important. In my role, I’ve made a big effort to make a more proactive engagements out there. And if I can tell you just quickly a little bit about my passion, if you looked at my background, I’m a financial manager by trade. And you think, “Why is a financial manager doing international relations?”

I think the story kind of gets close to New York of why. I was in the Pentagon on 9/11 when we were attacked, and my job that day was the entire Defense budget for combating terrorism. And after that day, I can tell you it was a turning point for me, that I wanted to make sure that never happened in the United States or another country, to see something – a terrorist act like this again. So my passion turned towards: How do I help other nations be able to either have the intelligence to see something like this coming, or if a violent attack happens like this, that we can pull together – they have the capability to do a contingency operation or respond to a humanitarian natural disaster if needed?

That’s a big picture. I can talk more details about any of the programs that I’m doing. I prefer not to get into specifics of what I’m doing with the countries. I feel that that’s their role to talk about what they’re doing with us. But I can talk in generalities, some of the efforts that we’re doing worldwide. And I’ve been just in the last year to 35 countries and six continents, so it’s a wide span of what I’m working with air forces.

MODERATOR: Okay. So we’ll open up for discussion. And again, please state your name and organization as we continue.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Bingxin Li from People’s Daily. I learned this morning that David Petraeus maybe is one of the nominee of the secretary of state in the Trump administration. But do you think if he’s nominated or if he is the secretary of state in the future, do you think he would put some military thinking in the diplomacy?

MS GRANT: Well, this is my personal opinion, but I think we’re all shaped by our experiences, just like what I just told you. My thinking is shaped by my experience being in 9/11, as I feel that anybody that experienced 9/11, it’s shaped the way they think. So I definitely think it’d shape his experiences, and he’s had many years in our Defense Department and working internationally that would shape that, yes.

QUESTION: Well, you said you would --

MODERATOR: Please state your name and org.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry. Manik Mehta. I’m syndicated. You said that you would not like to enter into specifics, but I’m curious to know the American viewpoint, not the local viewpoint in a particular country. You might like to comment on the U.S. cooperation with the Philippines now that they have a new president who is not so – how shall I put it delicately – who is not acquiescing in whatever America is saying. You also had some programs with the Philippines. Are those programs still on?

MS GRANT: Right. So I was just in the Philippines about one month ago and I met with their minister of defense and their chief of air force, their air force leadership. We have a strong relationship with their ministry of defense and their air force and we’re still doing rotational exercises, air force to air force, with the Philippines. So as far as our policies, we’re still moving forward with engaging with them.

QUESTION: Though the president said that he’s terminating many of the joint exercises, and he would also not order many of the equipment – how credible is that --

MS GRANT: I haven’t seen – as of right now, from a U.S. perspective, I haven’t seen a scale-back. I haven’t been directed by U.S. policy to stop any of the engagement that I already have ongoing with their air force.

QUESTION: And under the new administration, do you envisage any significant change or a paradigm shift?

MS GRANT: Yeah, so I’m just – I’m waiting to see. Until January 20th, I work for this Administration. I’m following current policies. I can tell you that I’ve been working 27 years for our Department of Defense, for all the different presidents in that 27 years, and I’ll continue to follow the policy guidance given by the administration. But this mission in particular that I’m the lead for, having partners and allies – the Air Force has been in existence since 1947, and it was even prior to our Air Force – U.S. Air Force existence that we’ve had strong partners and alliances. So I don’t see this mission with a new administration deteriorating at all. I’d see it even getting stronger.

QUESTION: Hajime Matsuura of Japan’s Sankei Shimbun. Can we talk about how your job profile, challenges, opportunity may transform in the longer term starting from next year from two perspectives? Now President Trump – the president-elect is requesting their allies to pay their shares – I mean more – to NATO alliance or countries like Japan, where I’m from. And two – second perspective – we’re – other than the rise of ISIS, we’re seeing new threats, such as North Korea – you mentioned you were not (inaudible) to talk about (inaudible), but it’s too important not to mention – and how if these threats – given the threat is increasing, how your job profile changed. It is incremental to what you do.

MS GRANT: So first I want to address the U.S.-Japan air force relationship. Very close relationship with the current air chief there, General Sugiyama, and it’s the Koku Jieitai. He doesn’t want to be called the JASDF anymore, so I need to have that on record, that I referred to him as the Koku Jieitai, with new policies in Japan. But I was just there a couple weeks ago and was able to meet with your prime minister, with your minister of defense and air chief. And we’re looking at more and more collaborative ways that we can meet security challenges together. And I see my – the Japan air chief even reaching out, looking at more of a regional approach, reaching out to the Philippines, reaching out more to Australia. So it’s not just the U.S.-Japan alliance, but I see Japan has really stepped up to be more of a regional player. So that’s very much appreciative to meet our security challenges in the region. So that’s one thing.

And your second question was more about the increased security challenges that I see. Like I said, it’s more and more important, and I think it’s the combination of increased security challenges, then you look at Japan – they’re also having fiscal challenges. Where do you put your next dollar, towards your domestic or your defense, and having those kind of conversations. Those conversations are happening around the world, and so I look for ways in this position on how do we do more consortium type arrangements. And there’s a really good model of what I call consortium arrangement in Europe. It’s in Papa, Hungary, and it’s where 12 nations have pulled together to purchase three C-17 aircraft, which is strategic airlift aircraft. These countries that are in this coalition now or of – consortium of these three C-17s – one of the countries alone could have never afforded the aircraft, but together with 12 nations they can afford to both man it, operate it, sustain it. They use it to airlift their own people to operations, to respond to disaster in Haiti. These are things now countries can participate in because of the strategic airlift that otherwise if we didn’t have this consortium arrangement they couldn’t.

I’m looking at more models, trying to encourage people to come up with ideas out there, but it starts with trust. You’ve got to trust those people that you’re going to be in the consortium with. So that’s my first goal, is to work with nations and figure out, okay, where can we find a group of trusted partners that are willing to invest together in these capabilities.

MODERATOR: Here and we’ll go --

QUESTION: Argemino Barro from Capital Radio, Spain. I would like to ask you if you can give us an update on the airstrikes against ISIL positions in Syria, Iraq, and as well in Libya. I read that in – during October, the airstrikes against ISIL in Libya doubled. And I would like to know what is the update. Still 60 nation collaborating, or – and as well, like, what is the perspective with the next administration. Thank you.

MS GRANT: So I can talk to you about the operation against ISIL, about this violent extremist organization, as a whole, that there’s about 67 partner nations that are in this operation with us. So that’s one story I personally don’t think gets out enough, that it’s not just the U.S. out there getting after ISIL; it’s 67 nations together.

Then I break it down to my role, and that’s the airpower piece of it. And you asked specific about strike, so I’ll talk about strike. There are 12 partner nations doing strike missions against ISIL – so again, not just the U.S. But these 12 nations – and I don’t have the specific breakdown – but of those 12 nation, the majority of them are using U.S. equipment to do those strikes. So it was years ago that we sold the equipment, we started training with these nations, we exercised together. So they are capable; they’re interoperable with us, these 12 nations getting after ISIL with strike missions.

So I think that – and it’s over 3,600 of the strike missions that were done by the coalition partners – again, a story that doesn’t get out much about what others outside of the U.S. are doing to be valued members of this coalition.

QUESTION: But what is the role of the U.S.? I mean, it’s leading the coalition in which way – studying where to strike or assigning budgets or --

MS GRANT: Yeah. I think it’s a collective. Again, this planning together is we look at it and say hey – we figure out what different countries strengths are. When you pull a team together, you’re always stronger together. It may not be a good example, but I think about that Survivor TV show. Everybody comes with something; somebody’s good at fishing, somebody’s good at making the hut. So that’s what I look at the coalition – we look to see where – who has what strengths that you bring together. Is it intelligence capability? Is it air refueling? Is it the actual dropping the weapon? What is it? So it’s a planning effort that’s done together that the U.S. leads out of our U.S. – it’s called Central Command out of Doha is where our leader is of that.

MODERATOR: We have a question here in the corner.

QUESTION: Oh, I’d like to ask a question –

MODERATOR: Please state your name and org.

QUESTION: Sorry. Sriram Lakshman from The Hindu in India. I’d like to ask a question again about the American perspective on the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement between India and the United States and some other foundational agreements. Ash Carter is scheduled to visit India next month. I’d like to get a sense of – in India, the sense is that the foundational agreements – the enthusiasm is fizzling out because of the imminent presidency. What’s the take from your side? When is the LEMOA going to be operationalized and when are the other agreements going to be signed and taken forth?

MS GRANT: So I can say that I haven’t seen the relationship fizzling out, at least air force to air force. Again, I was just there within the last couple of months, to India, and I met with some of your ministry of defense officials and also the chief of the air force. And the agreements are really important information-sharing agreements for us to move forward with our relationship. So that’s one thing. So we’re going to keep working. And again, our policies – when I look at every country – it’s not only in the United States – as leadership change policies go up and down, we just need to keep moving forward, military to military when the time is right for that agreement – agreements to be signed and moved forward.

But if I can talk about a couple of positive things that are already in place with India, I understand – well, let me just back up. One thing we are working on is Make in India. I know that’s really important. So one of my roles is to look at what kind of technology we’re having discussions that we can be – we can release. And I have to work with our U.S. industry to say, which technologies are we willing to release and allow the Indian companies to make in India. So we’re looking – to me, that’s a win-win, again, to give the capability both to the air force and to bring jobs to India. So I’m working the technology release; I’m an advocate, I would say, for many of the nations within the U.S. policy. I try to tell the story of why different countries need it. So that’s one, the Make in India.

My success story that I wanted to highlight, though, is the C-17 aircraft; a great India story about the C-17 capability strategic airlift. So it wasn’t – shortly after India Air Force had the C-17, they were able to respond to Nepal disaster. But for a U.S. story is they actually responded in Yemen and evacuated U.S. citizens on an Indian C-17 from Yemen. So this is what I’m talking about: partnership. It’s a win-win as far as this capability that they have now in the strategic reach.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m sure that the relationship itself is not fizzling out, but in terms – specifically what – I’m trying to get a sense of what will happen in Ash – during Ash Carter’s visit next month. What’s holding up the operation (inaudible) of the MOA and what’s holding up the signing of the other agreements?

MS GRANT: I don’t have the answer to that.


MS GRANT: I mean, I think that he’s going to visit alone will help – hopefully move things forward and have a conversation. I think it’s great that he’s going for the visit to have that dialogue hopefully to move things forward.

QUESTION: So, Alejandro Rincon from NTN 24 International. Also following up a little bit on another previous point on the global fight against terrorism, but just in particular from your experience and from what you have been able to see around the world, is there any kind of trend that you maybe have been able to see on where investments are going right now around the world? Meaning is there any kind of interests from allies around the world to acquire certain technology? And also is there maybe any reason to believe that now, because everything that’s happening around the world, maybe nations are investing more than ever in these defense capabilities?

MS GRANT: Yeah. I am seeing more and more people looking to increase their defense budgets, so – like in the Baltics, I was there, and because the Russian resurgence there, there’s a concern. And you see them putting more and more into their defense capabilities in that region of the world. In the Pacific region of the world, what they’re seeing now is they’re concerned about some of the actions by China and I see some of the – many of the countries drawing closer to the United States, because of some of those actions and their concerns. And again, bottom line is worldwide, every country cares about security and stability, and how do we find common interest areas to allow for that environment of stability and security for the future generations and try – it’s a constant balancing act between the deterrence piece of it and the – we want to see peace, stability, so there’s economic prosperity globally also. So all of these balancing interests between economic and defense, daily we have to look at where we are in the environment.

QUESTION: How much – Diego Senior from W Radio in Colombia. We – the Colombians buy a lot of airplanes as far as I remember from the U.S., but we’re starting to diversify. Have you seen, like, a rise in competition from other countries in the past years when it comes to providing this type of material around the world?

MS GRANT: So I haven’t seen a rising competition, but what I’ve seen in Colombia, again, is it’s the economic issues. I think we would have probably moved forward with a fighter aircraft sale – one of the U.S. sales if the economic situation was a little bit better. But we’re continuing to work – again, to me it’s about training, it’s about engagements. There’s this one forum that I’m really proud of that we do. Colombia, they hosted a couple years ago in Medellin the – Colombia did, but it’s 20 nations of the Americas that we get together every year. Last year, the U.S. hosted it; the year before, Mexico; year before, Colombia. So – and this coming year will be Brazil. And it’s these 20 nations, the air chiefs, including the chief of the U.S. Air Force, we get together 20 nations and mostly the discussion is about humanitarian assistance and cooperation. And so it’s – I just want to stress that it’s not just about the equipment; it’s about us getting together and having practice together response to humanitarian disaster. And the Ecuador earthquake that happened recently, four of those nations were able to respond within hours, because of the relationship that came through this annual event that we had.

QUESTION: Could I ask another question, please?


QUESTION: Again, I come to the South China Sea, which you said was a very critical point. Some months back, there was this Hague Tribunal which passed a decision in favor of the Philippines concerning a shoal, a couple of islands, which Philippines said belonged to it in dispute against China. Now the Hague Tribunal ruled against China, but in recent weeks, we have seen that the tribunal’s ruling has been watered down by – in political terms with Philippines as well as Malaysia coming closer to China. Will that upset the – rock the boat – the security boat under U.S. leadership?

MS GRANT: Yeah. So I don’t get in the details of the policy piece. I’m the one that follows the policy to make the policy. But I can tell you – so where my role is on that is I want to make sure that if it does rock the boat, that those countries of – that have concerns, have the capability to protect their borders or to deter any further security concern. So that’s, again, where my role is – to make sure that they’re sharing information, these countries – that if they see something coming over their border or concern – so they see the security threat before it comes. So that’s, again, where my role is. It’s not in the policymaking and I can’t predict how people are going to react to it.

QUESTION: Well, the Straits of Malacca which is actually controlled – also controlled by Singapore is becoming too crowded with the countries with ships from outside the region stepping there. And these are not mercantile ships. These are warships. That’s happening quite a lot. How does the U.S. react to that?

MS GRANT: Well, I can tell you one of the first things I did when I – my first trip to Singapore six years ago was, although I’m all about the Air Force and air power, the first thing I did is I went to the port there at Singapore, because I wanted to understand why is the relationship with Singapore so important and the security of Singapore? And when you look at the economic throughput of that Singapore port, it has global concerns. If anything happened in that – in Singapore in that waterway that you’re talking about, it would have global impact, and that’s why the security of and stability of Singapore is so important to us. So I think it should be of the entire world’s concern of this increased congestion of warships in that area of – it should be economic concern.

MODERATOR: Yeah, one or two more questions and then we’ll wrap up. We’ll start here and then --

QUESTION: Since you’re an Air Force person and a salesperson, perhaps you’ll like this question: Can you enlighten me a little bit on this F-16 Block 70 production line that was going to be moved to India? There was some talk of that in the press a while back. Do you have an update or can you give us --

MS GRANT: First, I’m trying to change their reputation. I’m not a gun runner or a salesperson; I’m a relationship builder. (Laughter.) You need to help me with that. But anyway, with – so we’re still in discussion right now that the Lockheed Martin F-16, the production of the F-16 aircraft is – we’re in discussion with India right now in a competition where they wanted information about a single engine. So an F-16 is a single-engine aircraft, but my understanding is India’s also looking at a two-engine aircraft which is a Boeing aircraft and an F-15. So decisions haven’t been made right now. We’re just still having conversations, giving them as much information as we can, and we know that there’s foreign competitors also.

QUESTION: But that didn’t work out too well, like the – with the French manufacturer, for example. India bought a lot less than it was originally shopping --

MS GRANT: So that’s opened an opportunity now for the U.S. to re-engage. Yeah. So we’re hopeful that U.S. will be the partner of choice.

MODERATOR: So, go here and then end with Mr. Li in the back.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m Ying Ding from Beijing Review. Just you – as you mentioned, that you are relationship builder, so what’s your opinion to build a good relationship between Chinese-U.S. military? And what is the most important (inaudible) for us two big countries to get mutual trust instead of misunderstanding?

MS GRANT: So I’ve been fortunate to go to China for the last – three times in the last two years and meet with your ministry of defense officials and the air chief, General Ma. So I’m really grateful for that opportunity. And again, I think that it’s more important than ever to keep the dialogue going with our China counterparts. I was hoping to go to the Zhuhai air show just last month, but I wasn’t able to make it there this year. But again, I think the dialogue that we have ongoing is important to make sure there’s no strategic surprises, make sure that we’re clear on international rules of law both in the air and the sea, and that’s our hope for stability in the region.

But the dialogue happens. We have academic exchanges where China comes to the U.S. and we have academic exchanges. We’ve just hosted – I think it was about 20 different China military leaders in Hawaii at our Pacific Command. So the dialogue is ongoing and the relationship is going. And again, I think for a global economy, it’s important that we keep stability and good relations between the two of our countries. Yeah.

MODERATOR: Last question.

QUESTION: Do you see any more patrol for the U.S. Air Force, together with the Navy in South China Sea, given the fact the talks between China and the Philippines and the Vietnam and the Malaysia? Seems that the situation is cooling down a little bit. Do you see any more patrol from the U.S. side in this area?

MS GRANT: Well, I think – I don't know the – it’s not my area of expertise on what the U.S. operations are doing, but my prediction is that we’ll continue to make sure that we navigate and have freedom of the sea and freedom of the air and continue to exercise. It’s a deterrent and it also makes us stronger together with our partners as we exercise both in the sea and the air in that region.

MODERATOR: Well, that wraps up our time. Thank you, Ms. Grant, for being here and thank you all for coming.

MS GRANT: Thank you.

MODERATOR: The transcript will be available soon and we’ll send it out after we receive it.

MS GRANT: Thank you again for the opportunity.

QUESTION: Thank you.