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DOD News Briefing with Deputy Assistant Secretary Scher from the Pentagon

Presenters: Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Southeast Asia Bob Scher
November 02, 2011

                 PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY GEORGE LITTLE:  Good afternoon.  

                I'd like to welcome back to the Pentagon Briefing Room Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Southeast Asia Bob Scher.  He joins us today to provide insight into the Report to Congress on U.S.-India Security Cooperation, which was delivered to Congress yesterday.  He'll make some opening comments and then take your questions.  

                With that, Bob, I'll turn it over to you.  

                BOB SCHER:  Hi, and thank you all for coming out.  

                Yesterday DOD submitted a Report to Congress on the U.S.-India Security Cooperation in response to a request in the Senate report that accompanied the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012.  

                So I'm going to give you an overview of the U.S.-India defense relations, and then I'm going to tell you about our approach to this report and from there discuss some of the details that you'll find in the report.  

                As President Obama has said, the relationship between the United States and India is one of the defining partnerships of the 21st Century.  The U.S.-India relationship is a priority for the U.S. Government and for the Department of Defense because we believe that a strong bilateral partnership is in the United States' interests and benefits both of our countries.  

                In the past decade, there has been a rapid transformation in the U.S.-India defense relationship.  What was once a nascent relationship between unfamiliar nations has evolved into a real partnership between two of the pre-eminent powers in Asia.  Today, U.S.-India defense ties are strong and growing.  Our military-to-military engagement has increased steadily over the past 10 years and now includes a robust slate of dialogues, military exercises, defense trade, personnel exchanges and armaments cooperation.  

                But defense is only one aspect of our overall strategic partnership.  We believe that our engagements today will help as India takes on a greater leadership role in South Asia, the Indian Ocean region and globally, on a range of issues.  But I'll say that efforts to put this relationship within a specific category inevitably fall short.  This is a unique relationship.  We seek a partnership of equals, where India is enmeshed in the world as a key actor, and in regional security architectures, where we can and we do work together on shared interests.  

                We will continue to focus on relationship building and establishing the foundation for this long-term partnership.  We view India and the development of our strategic and security relationship as instrumental to our long-term vision for the region.  

                Now, I'd like to move on to some of the actual substance of the document and how we approached writing the report.  

                This report gives us a chance to showcase a relationship that we believe, as I've said, is very important to U.S. interests and a relationship that we're very proud of.  We took this report as an opportunity to reflect on the positive trajectory of defense relations, which has led us to the strong state of U.S.-India security cooperation today.  It is meant to be a straightforward, factual report about what we are currently doing and where we continue to cooperate together.  

                Over the past year, we've been working closely with our partners in the legislative branch to raise awareness about the importance of the U.S.-India defense relations.  The legislative branch has played an important role, and it continues to have an important role to play in advancing U.S.-India relations.    

                And I've really been heartened by the bipartisan support for U.S.-India relations.  This long-term partnership with India is an issue that clearly transcends party lines and administrations.  And as we think about future U.S. security interests and posture in Asia, there is broad consensus that this is a key relationship.  

                I also want to emphasize that our report focuses strictly on security cooperation.  It reflects DOD-led engagements and initiatives.  This by no means captures the entirety of the U.S.-India relationship. In fact, it just scratches the surface.  

                For instance, although we don't mention it in the report, the U.S. Department of Defense does and will continue to support cooperation led by our interagency partners on issues such as countering weapons of mass destruction to include nuclear security and nonproliferation, as well as cooperation on peacekeeping, space and counterterrorism.  

                We also deliberately excluded reference to direct commercial sales of military equipment, which is not under DOD's direct purview. And there are many positive examples of this kind of defense trade.  

                So now I will provide you with some highlights of the report. And of course, I encourage you to read the full text that was provided to Congress and is also available on our website.  

                So the report opens with an overview and assessment of the state of relations today, discussing the overarching arrangements and frameworks such as the 2005 New Framework and the Defense Policy Group, which governs the defense relationship.  From there, the report outlines what I view as the strength of the defense relationship, the relations between our two militaries and the service-to-service cooperation.  The report then goes on to detail our exercise program between each of the respective services and also addresses operational cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations and maritime security.  These are two of the areas where we see the most potential to advance our cooperation with India.  

                We have also included some recent foreign military sales highlights, most notably the sale of the C-130J and C-17 aircraft.  These types of sales demonstrate the United States is and, I believe, is seen as, a reliable defense supplier and partner of choice for the Indian Armed Services.  

                The report also discusses the importance of personnel exchanges, which is really one of our highest-priority issues.  Our goal is to look for opportunities to enable further training and exchanges between our two defense establishments in order to increase exposure and familiarization of our service personnel to each other's countries.  History has shown time and again the importance of these personal relationships.  

                But additionally, the report goes on to include a five-year plan for enhancing bilateral security cooperation and recommends that we further improve and expand the relationship in four areas:  combined military exercises, defense trade and support for India's military modernization, cooperation in areas such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and cooperation with other Asian partners.  

                The goal across these areas of cooperation is not necessarily to do more but rather the find ways to make our cooperation mutually beneficial and to broaden the already strong foundation of the defense relationship.  

                So to sum up, I want to go back to what I said at the beginning of my remarks.  The U.S.-India defense relationship is strong, and it continues to grow in meaningful ways that support the security interests of both countries.  The United States is committed to this defense relationship with India, and I look forward to our continued cooperation with Congress to continue to further this relationship.  

                Thank you for your time, and I'm happy to take any questions or --  

                Q:  Thank you.  This is Lalit Jha from Press Trust of India. This is just a nine-page report.  So is there any classified version of the report which you haven't got?  

                MR. SCHER:  There is not.  

                Q:  OK.  And can you give us sense -- where do you place U.S.- India military relationship in the context of Asia, Asian- Pacific region, where China is emerging and -- (off mic) -- of China are threatened -- being threatened by their rise?  

                MR. SCHER:  What I think is critical about this relationship is that we are forming a strong relationship with a key regional power in Asia and frankly a regional player globally.  I think if you see all the interactions that we have with India writ large, this is -- India is clearly a country that we share a great set of common interests -- with which we share a great common set of interests and where we can take effective action together when we so choose.  

                So I think we really need to look at it in that context, as -- India as a regional and global leader and ensuring that we work together to address our common concerns.  

                Q:  Yeah.  I'm Yashwant Raj from Hindustan Times.  And I go straight to the last point of your report, which if the F-35.  Do you know if India has evinced interest?  Because they're already working with the Russians on a fifth-generation aircraft.   

                And are they still interested in F-35?  And this would probably be the first firm offer from the U.S. of the F-35.  

                MR. SCHER:  Well, I think what's clear is that the F-35 is something that we would be more than willing to talk to the government of India about should they request to find out more information about purchasing.  We have made no assertions or promises, and we have not received any request for this.  But certainly it's an example of the high regard that we hold India's military modernization, what we think they can usefully potentially use and, looking at technology exchange, that we could be able to proceed on.  But in fact -- you know, and we're certainly open to that. 

                Q:  Where do you see -- if India does show interest in this, where do you see this fitting in?  Because they're already working on a fifth-generation aircraft with the Russians.  

                MR. SCHER:  It's not my job to figure out how it fits into their -- to the Government of India's approach.  What we're simply saying is that if it does fit into their approach, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss this with them.  

                Q:  What are you looking at, direct sale or participation as it is?  

                MR. SCHER:  It's hard to -- you know, without a direct request, it's really hard to get into any of the details of this.  And obviously, this is a process through the Foreign Military Sales program or direct commercial sale that is -- which, of course, direct -- it would be most likely through the Foreign Military Sales program, that's led by the State Department.  But that's all conjecture at this point.  It depends on if there's a request.  

                Q:  Thank you.  

                MR. LITTLE:  Next question.  

                Q:  Thank you.  Raghubir Goyal, India Globe and Asia Today.  My question is two points.  One, is there anything in the works between India and U.S. as far as defense treaty, any kind of -- to sign any kind of defense treaty, like India has had with the Soviet Union and with Russia?  

                Second, as far as defense ties are concerned, if this building has any concern about Chinese military buildup in the area?  Because now there's a tension between India and China.  

                And you must have seen the report in Indian media, in India, by the think tanks that China is preparing to attack India just like -- (inaudible) -- Pakistan did in 1999.  And now 50th anniversary of Chinese invasion of India is coming next month, 1962 to 2011.  

                MR. SCHER:  On the first, we have no plans on creating a special defense treaty or any signed agreement.  Most importantly, I don't think we need it.  I think we've seen that there is a tremendous amount of cooperation that we can and continue to build on, that we can do with India minus any kind of formal agreement.  

                This is not an allied relationship.  This is a relationship of equals, and that we're looking together to see how we can work together.  And we don't really have any need or see any purpose in having, necessarily, a document that codifies this.  We really are still emerging in this defense relationship.  To some extent it has only started in 2005.  And we're building slowly, gradually, but I think in clearly a positive direction to build closer ties and do more together.  And that's really the measure of the relationship.  

                In terms of China's military buildup, you know, China's handled by someone else, but clearly, as we have stated many times in the past, we understand that China, as well as all countries within the region, are looking to modernize their militaries.  What we are concerned more about is the transparency of these buildups.  And it's something that we talk to the Chinese about and is obviously in our report.  

                Q:  Bob, the $6 billion figure that you -- that you reference on page five of the report, the total case value over somewhat less than 10 years, that still doesn't seem like very much considering the size of India, the investment that India is making in its military modernization, and that the potential that is there.  Are you -- is the U.S. a little disappointed in how the U.S. has fared so far in some of the competitions?  

                There's reference here to the setback of the latest round of bids in April, the results of that.  

                And the other thing is, how satisfied are you with the role that India is playing currently as a regional and global leader, and in cooperation with the U.S.?  

                MR. SCHER:  Sure.  I think the -- you have to really look at the $6 billion figure from where it started, which was zero.  So over the course of a fairly short amount of time, I think we have a significant amount of purchases.  And some of the largest purchases that we've seen -- the C-130J, the C-17 -- really do speak to the fact that, as I said, India sees the U.S. as a reliable defense supplier, and we have been able to provide some top of the line equipment.  

                Is there the potential for more?  Certainly, there is.  That's obviously for the Government of India to decide, and we look forward to continuing to be able to offer up some of our best technology, some of our best equipment, to fulfill their needs.  Certainly, we believe that the two entries for the MMRCA competition were the best airplanes available, the most proven technology to deal with India's express needs.  And we certainly would have liked for them to have continued to be in the competition.  That was not the decision, and we certainly respect that.  

                We will continue to provide examples of our best technology and our best equipment to fulfill the needs that the Government of India and the military identify for themselves.  And I think there's a great potential to do much more.  

                In terms of the role of India in the world, we're very pleased.  

                We really see India taking a larger role upon the world stage and understanding that they have a role as an emerging power and as a realized power and that they have a responsibility to be a part of the global community.  And I think you see it in the U.N.  You see it in the G-20.  And this is a lot of the strategic partnership that President Obama and Prime Minister Singh have talked about is working together to address regional and global issues.  

                And certainly out of the field of defense, but if you look at cooperation in Africa, if you look at how -- where we are cooperating to deal with some development issues, if you look at peacekeeping operations and the tremendous commitment that India has made to international peacekeeping operations, you can't but be impressed and see that this is a constructive role that they're playing.  And I think the potential for this is also quite great.  And this is where we look forward to doing some of our best work together, is solving problems that confront the region and the globe.  

                Q:  Do you anticipate more shared facilities, more access for U.S. forces in India?  And then also, to what degree are U.S. export laws, controls, restrictions holding back the defense relationship?  I know the former secretary of defense used to talk about that a lot.  

                MR. SCHER:  Right now, to be very honest, I don't see that we are -- we are not looking for enhancing our access within India outside of the opportunities for exercises and training that we already do.  I think we need to do more along these lines and work more closely with our Government of India counterparts in the services before we're looking at anything more than where we are in terms of gaining more access.  

                Certainly -- the key part of our posture in the Indian Ocean, in the Western Pacific is not just about access, but it's about how we work with countries, what we do and how we cooperate with them to serve our common interests.  

                And I think this is where we're really focusing with India right now.  

                Export control, certainly Secretary Gates was very forceful about his view, and I think Secretary Panetta shares those views, about the fact that the export control regime that was built up during the Cold War rarely serves our interests and cooperation with any country.  And I think India is a good example of that.  And certainly we are looking at continuing a broad reform of the export control regime.  But independently, we are looking at what we can do within our systems to reflect the change in our approach, the change in our relationship with India to make sure that they can get access to some of our top technology and our best systems. 

                And again, I think looking at the MMRCA competition -- which again, unfortunately, we didn't win -- but it showed an example of what we can do within our system to make sure that the best technology available is able to be transferred to India -- ensuring, of course, the important pieces of export control reform, which are protecting that technology for only its intended uses.  And that's also something that we work together with India on, regardless of what technology we give them.  

                Q:  Please, sir, Charlie Keyes, a clarification, on the $6 billion figure.  Does that refer exclusively to sales under foreign military sales, or are there direct sales in addition to that?  And what's the total?  

                MR. SCHER:  It is absolutely just FMS, the Foreign Military Sales program.  There are other sales that go through DCS.  

                Q:  (Off mic.)  

                MR. SCHER:  I'm not being cagey.  

                Since that is the State Department's purview, exclusively, then they -- you really have to go to the State Department for those figures. And I think -- and they should be able to get them for you.  

                Q:  OK.  (Inaudible.)  

                MR. SCHER:  I don't know them.  

                Q:  OK.  That's too bad.  And --   

                MR. SCHER:  (Laughs.)  

                Q:  And then --  

                MR. SCHER:  We say that a lot.  

                Q:  And then, in addition, considering the mistrust that exists between the government of the United States and Pakistan recently, and between Pakistan and India, how do you want Pakistan leaders to interpret what you've said out here and what you've said today about the increasing importance of the U.S.-India relationship?  

                MR. SCHER:  I think there are a couple pieces.  First of all, it's important that none of us think about relationships in this region as a zero-sum game.  And it is -- we have valuable relationships with Pakistan and valuable relationship with India.  And these things coexist and can coexist, and it is, as I said, not meant to be and shouldn't be seen as a zero-sum game.  

                The other piece of this is, I will say that there's nothing in this report that is -- that -- let me -- this report is valuable in terms of putting many things all in one place, but there is nothing new here.  There is nothing that is not available or something that should be surprising to people who watch this.  What is valuable about this report, I believe, is consolidating into one place and making it clear what we're doing and the context in which we're doing it.    

                MR. LITTLE:  (Off mic.)  

                Q:  Regarding the fighter jet selection, when India does select Eurofighter or Rafale, how would that affect the interoperability of the U.S. and Indian air forces?  

                MR. SCHER:  Well, we certainly see that we have greater interoperability with other countries and better chances to share  experiences and subject matter expertise when we are talking about the same equipment.  

                And so obviously, that's one of the reasons why we think -- and we believe that it's valuable to have, you know, similar equipment.  

                Having said that, we work with countries in Europe that possess these aircraft, and it is absolutely doable, something we are used to. And I think it is something that, should we choose to take actions together, will not impede our ability to operate together.  

                Q:  On page four of this report, it mentions that there used to be a biannual Cope India exercise.  And it sort of dropped off the face of the earth on October 2009.  I was wondering, when is the -- when is the next one, and is there one planned?  

                MR. SCHER:  We don't -- we can go -- I -- OK, we can get back to you.  We -- obviously, I don't know.  And -- but what I think is -- there are many exercises that we're looking at.  And one of the key things is we are able to adapt exercises to what the needs are of the time.  So while certainly we -- Cope India was a -- is a great exercise, and we look forward to figuring when we can do that again, I think we need to look at the breadth of exercises as well and understand that we are doing a lot with each of the services.  But in terms of specifics, apparently we can get back -- OK, we will check with the Air Force.  

                Q:  And if you don't mind, just wondering, a caveat on that is, wondering why did it stop in 2009?  

                MR. SCHER:  I think -- again, we look at all -- the government of India and the U.S. Government look at all of these each time when we re-evaluate.  And there are groups, actually, service-led groups that talk about engagement.  And at any one time it may be for any number of reasons that this is not the -- you know, this year is not the best year to do this exercise again.  And it really is a -- more of a functional issue, if you will, rather than a broad strategic issue.  

                The actual reason -- so again, the actual reason for this one, I can't tell you.  But I would -- I would urge you to look at the broad range of things that we do do and continue to do with the -- with the Air Force.  

                Q:  A quick follow-up on your comment about export controls and technology transfer.  You said that within the current export control regime, you're looking at ways you can increase the level of technology transfer that you're doing with India.  Can you give us some examples of what you're looking at?  

                MR. SCHER:  I think where we've been able to make some very good progress, a great example of this is removing many of the entities, Indian entities from the entities list.  So we now have a much greater opportunity and ability to do joint research and development with Defense Research -- DRDO, the Defense Research and -- (pause) --  

                STAFF:  Development.  

                MR. SCHER:  -- Development Organization.  Thank you.  I get good at acronyms and then forget.    So, I mean, there are multiple labs under DRDO in India.   

                And this is just, I think, one example of where we were able to eliminate a previous barrier, because of core commitments that the government of India made in terms of protecting technology and signing up to certain regimes  And we were able to really have now much more activity.  And we even have, again, under the DPG context, working groups that focus on identifying areas where we can do more cooperation, technological cooperation.  

                Q:  And is there something else coming up that's in the works? This is --  

                MR. SCHER:  We are always looking.  We're always looking at where we can appropriately and responsibly reduce barriers to greater cooperation with India.  

                Q:  Nothing that's -- (inaudible)?  

                MR. SCHER:  Nothing that bubbles up right now.  

                MR. LITTLE:  We probably have time for one or two more questions.  

                Q:  After the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, there has been increased counterterrorism cooperation between India and the U.S.  On the military front, do you see -- do you visualize any joint counterterrorism operations in the future if there is need?  

                MR. SCHER:  I think we'll have to see how this cooperation emerges, recognizing, of course, that this cooperation is led in India with the Ministry of Home Affairs and on our side in the U.S. Government with the Department of State.  

                We in the Department of Defense have specific capabilities that we can certainly bring to bear and are happy to work with entities within the Government of India under the broad context of cooperation established by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Department of State.  

                Where this will go, I think it depends on our mutual interests, but certainly, it's an area -- terrorism is something that has affected both of our countries quite directly and something that -- where we clearly share an interest in ensuring that we can protect our citizens from terrorist operations.  

                MR. LITTLE:  Last question.  

                Q:  Sir, do you see any high-level visits, defense visits, from India?  And second, are you giving any license to India to manufacture all these U.S. weapons, whatever you're supplying to India?  I mean, India will have any license --  

                Q:  (Inaudible) -- I have a related question – (inaudible) he can answer -- one of the problems about defense combined production in India is I think the offsets clause of India insists on that part of the equipment should be sourced locally, and that has been a problem.  How do you see that?  How do you see -- how do you see U.S. tackling that problem?  

                MR. SCHER:  In terms of high-level visits, we have -- I think if you were to look back, see that there's a regular slate of high-level visits, both military and ministry folks.  Obviously, the key high- level visits are the -- are the ones between the president and prime minister.  We have visits at that level.  They will be meeting -- should be meeting later on -- hopefully, soon --  

                Q:  (Off mic) -- the defense minister.  

                MR. SCHER:  The defense minister -- you know, Secretary Gates went out to India January of 2011 -- '10 --  

                STAFF:  Ten.  

                MR. SCHER:  -- '10 -- has met with his counterpart at many different times, including at the ADMM-Plus meeting.  

                So -- and we are looking to try to get Secretary Panetta out to India in the not too distant future.  I know -- I was traveling with Secretary Panetta recently, and I know how much -- how much importance he places on the U.S.-India relationship.  And we are trying to find the right time for that to happen.  

                In terms of combined production and offsets issues, these are clearly very complex issues that we do have to address all the time. In terms of any sort of co-production agreements, those are clearly in the realm of the State Department, and they are looked at individually depending on the system that's -- you know, that's being talked about. But certainly, those are things that we are willing to explore with the Government of India.  

                The offsets requirements in India are quite substantial.  And yet I think we've seen -- we've had very substantial sales, and the industry has managed to figure out a way to make these offsets work. And certainly, we understand the value that the Government of India places on offsets, on building up its indigenous defense industry. And that's something that we continue to work with India on to make sure that we can balance the offsets and ensure that we've fulfilled the requirements while simultaneously providing the best technology and the best equipment that we can.  

                MR. LITTLE:  That's all the time for questions.  Any final thoughts, Mr. Scher?  

                MR. SCHER:  Well, I'm just -- I'm heartened to see how many people have read the report, and I look forward to continuing to work with many of you in talking about this really important relationship and the trajectory that we're on, the very positive trajectory that we're on.  So thank you very much.  

                Q:  Thank you. 

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