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Media Roundtable with Deputy Secretary of Defense Carter, Tokyo, Japan

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter
July 21, 2012

            DEPUTY SECRETARY CARTER:  Great.  Well good morning, and thanks for being here, really appreciate it.  Let me begin with the purpose of my visit.  Over the last several months, President Obama was in this region; the Secretary of State, Secretary Clinton; my boss, the Secretary of Defense, Secretary Panetta; and they were all explaining how we find ourselves in the United States at a time of great strategic transition with great importance for this part of the world.  

            We have been, of necessity -- we in the United States have been, of necessity -- focused on, for the past ten years, two wars of a very specific type in Iraq and, still, in Afghanistan, and also in combating terrorism in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001 on the United States.  These were all important things to do.  But that era is coming to an end.  We are not fighting in Iraq any longer.  We are very much still fighting in Afghanistan, but we have a plan, with all of our coalition partners, to transition the lead for security in Afghanistan to the Afghan forces, and that transition will occur in a couple of years.  And so one can see the beginning of the wind-down of that war as well.  And, of course, combating terrorism is something we will all be doing for many, many years to come, but we’ve had important advances in that.  

            And so my point is that, for the United States, we are transitioning our thinking and, very much, our activities in the Department of Defense to this new strategic era.  And that strategic shift was what President Obama spoke about in January in his new strategic guidance to us, and it was that, that he and then Secretary Clinton and then Secretary Panetta were discussing with our friends and partners and allies here in this region -- because one of the central tenets of that new strategic guidance was that we should, as we put it, ‘rebalance,’ focus our energies and our resources on the Asia-Pacific theater.  And that’s one of the important ingredients of the new strategy for this new strategic era for the United States.  

            They sent me here because my job as the chief management officer of the Department of Defense is to implement that vision, and so I came to this region to meet with our friends and partners and allies -- to meet with and assess our own forces throughout the region -- with an eye to carrying out that turning of the strategic corner.  

            As I said, and say, my job is to ensure that we don’t just “talk the talk,” but “walk the walk.”  And we can do that because all of the capacity that has been tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan for the last ten years is capacity that we can focus now on the Asia-Pacific region, and that’s a tremendous amount of capability.  And secondly, even though our defense budget is not going to continue to grow -- it’s not actually being reduced, as you probably know; it is just not continuing to grow, as a consequence of our desire to deal with deficit issues in the United States -- but within that budget, we are shifting the weight of our innovation and investment from counterinsurgency-type warfare to the kinds of capabilities that are most relevant to the Asia-Pacific theater.  

            So for both of those reasons, we have abundant resources to make this rebalancing.  So, it’s just a matter of making it happen, and deciding which specific things to do.  And that’s something that we want to discuss with our friends and allies out here.  And of course Japan is our central and anchoring alliance, and has been for many decades, and so naturally I come here first, to Tokyo.  

            I had the opportunity yesterday to meet with the foreign minister and with the defense minister, and also with senior officials in the Defense Ministry, and we had very good discussions on this whole wide range of strategic issues that are of importance to us both.  And so I was able to get the opportunity of thinking by the Japanese government, and also some Japanese experts of great distinction with whom I met earlier this morning, and they were kind enough to share their perspectives -- also people whose views we esteem very much, and that was very useful and interesting as well. 

            With respect to the U.S.-Japan Alliance, I’ll just say a couple of things before opening up to your questions.  The first is, as I said, that this is a very important era of strategic transition for the United States as one of the partners to the Alliance, and a number of Japanese officials have said that Japan, too, is undergoing a strategic transition and expansion of its thinking about strategic affairs, both functionally and geographically.  And we welcome that, and we welcome the opportunity to work with the Government of Japan and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to realize that vision.  And that’s a good thing, that we’re both, in a sense, thinking big and thinking strategically at the same time.  That has great potential.  

            The second thing I’ll say is, I think that we have tremendous momentum in many, many areas:  joint planning, technology sharing, joint exercises and training.  I should say I just came from Guam on my way over here, which is a very important training area -- tremendous training opportunities for both our forces and Japanese forces to use.  Very important training opportunities, because of course in both of our countries, it becomes more and more difficult to do the kind of training that requires access to wide areas of territory.  And that is possible in Guam, so that’s a great opportunity for both of us.  

            While I’m mentioning Guam, I’ll also just say that the 2+2 agreement with respect to the movement of Marines to Guam was a great milestone, and from my point of view I’m very optimistic that there’s momentum on both sides to implement the 2+2 agreement.  I think that’s the way forward.  The logjam was broken by the 2+2 agreement, and I think that is a very good thing.  We’re certainly doing our part, and, as I said, I’m optimistic about our ability to move forward on our part -- and I think the Japanese government likewise, on all of the aspects of the 2+2 agreement.  

            And meanwhile, in Guam, of course, much of what is happening on Guam doesn’t have anything to do with the Marine Corps.  There’s a large Air Force base, there’s a large Navy base; Japanese forces have been to each and exercised from each, and those are important capabilities irrespective of the Marine Corps issue.  Important as it is, it’s just a piece of the overall picture on Guam. 

            So in every way, I think there’s a lot of forward progress.  It’s a great time to be here.  It was a privilege to meet with the Government of Japan.  A little bit later today, I’ll be talking to our U.S. forces here about our capabilities, our plans, our activities, as doing our part for the Alliance -- with our new commander, Sam Angenella, who’s beginning work right out here, and I think will be a great partner for the Government of Japan.  So it’s a great time to be here, great time of new purpose and new horizons, and it’s a privilege for me to be here. 

            So with that, let me throw things open to you and try to answer your questions. 

            Q:  Thank you very much, Mr. Carter, for your presentation.  My name is Sho Kawakita from Kyodo News, Japan’s Associated Press.  And in order to implement your new strategy, I believe that deployment of the Osprey, MV-22, are essential.  And as you know, the cargo ship carrying the Ospreys are now heading to Iwakuni.  And it’s going to be unloaded on Monday, I guess.  And Osprey flight operations are expected to be in full swing in October.  My question is, can you confirm that you are still sticking to the deployment schedule, regardless of the growing concern among local people in Iwakuni and Okinawa about Osprey’s safety?  Or do you have some flexibility on that?  Thank you. 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  Well, you’re absolutely right that the Osprey is an important capability; it’s going to make an important new contribution to deterrence and to the deterrent capabilities of the Alliance.  And it’s an aircraft that we are flying, and flying the world over.  However, safety is a very important issue, and I am the chief, as I said, the chief management officer of the Department of Defense.  The safety of aircraft is a great concern to me, and a great responsibility of mine.  I take it very seriously, and I think the Government of Japan and the people of Japan also take it very seriously.  I think that’s entirely appropriate.  And we are committed to providing your airworthiness experts with all of the data and all of the information about the entire flight history of the V-22, including the two recent incidents, and allowing them to analyze that data and take every step they need to make to reconfirm the airworthiness of that airplane.  And the two governments have agreed that flight operations will not begin until reconfirmation has taken place.  

            You asked about the landing of the airframes; that’s a technical step that does not address the safety issue.  That’s a technical step; the aircraft will land at Iwakuni.  But the plan, jointly agreed by the two governments, is to deal with the safety issue.  That will be dealt with.  And there’s been no change in that plan at all. 

            Q:  Ospreys are expected to be fully operational in October.  Can we understand that? 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  Well, I think that that is the goal of the process.  But again, this is a process, a technical process of assessing airworthiness.  And I think you have to let the experts do their work, have their access to their data, and so forth.  So, that’s the current plan, but again, you have to allow people to do their technical work.  

            I should say, by the way, that this is not something novel.  Our two governments and our two militaries operate a large number of aircraft, and common types of aircraft.  So it’s not unusual to have Japanese experts address airworthiness issues in aircraft -- not just military aircraft, obviously, but commercial aircraft as well.  It’s a normal part of the process of confirming flight safety of aircraft of all types.  So it’s something that is totally understood by Japanese experts as it is by our experts, and let them sit around the data and do their work. 

            Q:  Yoichi Kato with Asahi Shimbun.  A follow-up on the Osprey issue:  I understand you had a meeting with Vice Defense Minister Watanabe yesterday, and according to his briefing, that he expressed his concern about the negative impact of this deployment, as it is planned already, on the Alliance itself.  And I wonder, whether having all those meetings with your Japanese counterparts, does it have any impact on your assessment of the impact of this deployment on the Alliance itself?  Do you see any negative impact, or even damage to the Alliance if you proceed with the plan as it’s been agreed-decided on the U.S. side?  Thank you. 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  No, I think safety concerns are not damaging to the Alliance.  That’s a very legitimate thing, and we need to address it, and we will address it, and we have a plan to address it.  You’re right; Mr. Watanabe expressed his concerns that if we don’t do what we need to do and plan to do, which is cooperatively address the safety issues, that would be harmful to the Alliance.  

            Denying ourselves a capability that’s important to the Alliance also would be harmful to the Alliance; that’s why it’s so important to resolve this safety issue.  And so, that’s what we’re going to do.  And that process is a reflection of the strength of the Alliance.  

            We’ve agreed on a path ahead.  And I absolutely understand the concerns of the Japanese people for flight safety, because I share their concerns for flight safety.  I don’t have any problem with that at all.  These are serious technical issues; they’ll be resolved. 

            Q:  Thank you very much, Hiro Akita from Nikkei newspaper.  Sorry for to keep asking about Osprey, but everybody is interested.  My question is that, according to the plan, the size of the Marines in Okinawa will be reduced, the combat troops will be reduced by about 50%.  So, people wonder why Marines in Okinawa still needs the same number of the helicopters, Osprey, which is about 24 or 26.  Will it be reduced in the future, when some of the Marines will be transferred from Okinawa to Guam?  Or, still 24 or 26 Osprey will be deployed? 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  That’s still the plan, because that’s the part that goes with a Marine Corps unit of that size.  You’re right that in other respects the number of Marines will come down on Okinawa; that’s one of the whole objectives of the two governments and the 2+2 agreement.  And that means that we will be returning land as part of that agreement to Okinawa; that’s spelled out in the 2+2 agreement.  

            When I referred earlier to making progress on the Okinawa issue, I spoke of each side doing its part.  One of the things that’s our part to do, to implement the 2+2 agreement, is the land returns.  And we understand that absolutely, and we’re completely committed to it as is spelled out in the 2+2 agreement.  And that’s a reflection of the lowered numbers. 

            Q:  Keiko Iizuka from the Yomiuri newspaper, and sorry to stick to the Osprey issue again.  I understand that the concerns of the Okinawan people, or Yamaguchi/Iwakuni people, is if there is any flexibility to deploying, fully-operationally, in Okinawa in October, no matter what result comes out of the investigation or review of the two recent incidents.  So I wonder, following up to Mr. Kawakita’s question, is there any flexibility in the room to review the schedule of deploying in October?  And maybe, let’s put the question in this way:  how important, or necessary, strategically, to deploy V-22 in Okinawa in October?  Could it be delayed?  I just would like to know how strategically important it is. 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  The schedule is not the main thing.  Airworthiness and safety is the main thing.  That is what we are trying to work through together.  And I think we both agreed that the Osprey won’t fly in Japan until its airworthiness has been investigated, analyzed, and reconfirmed.  So it’s the airworthiness, not the calendar, that matters.  And to your point about the importance:  yes, it is important.  That’s why we’re all working so hard on this issue, because it is an important capability for the Alliance and for deterrence. 

            Q:  Perhaps most Japanese people think this is important because this symbolizes how the U.S. government and the Japanese government care about, perhaps, the sentiment about safety -- or maybe bigger than that, about the Alliance, the importance of the Alliance.  And of the impact of the Alliance.  So, would it be absolutely important to deploy it in October?  Could it be delayed in December, just two months would make a big difference? 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  As I said, the calendar is not the important thing.  Safety is the important thing.  That’s what both governments care about; that’s what longstanding, trusting allies that are democracies -- this is how they work things through.  They work cooperatively on issues; they work in a way that’s respectful of the attitudes of their people.  That’s what it’s all about.  We’re used to that.  We’ve been doing this for decades together, Japan and the United States.  It’s not a new kind of thing. 

            Q:  I’m Oikawa, I’m also speaking to the Osprey.  You said right now you share the concerns of the safety issue.  So, I was wondering if, did you talk about the issues on the vulnerability of the planes on yesterday’s meeting to your counterparts? 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  I’m sorry, the “vulnerability”?  What do you mean by that? 

            Q:  Vulnerability of the plane in terms of the technical issues. 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  You mean with respect to safety of flight? 

            Q:  Yes. 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  Absolutely, that’s the whole issue here is flight worthiness and safety of flight. 

            Q:  You talk about how to improve that? 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  Yeah, the whole process of discussions among experts -- they’re going to sit down, look at the data, all of the data, technical data, the flight history data -- and so this is how airworthiness determinations are made.  And there are obviously many, there’s many Japanese experts because you fly so many different kinds of aircraft yourself.  And we fly so many of the same kind of aircraft.  So, airworthiness determinations are done all the time, and constantly, on every kind of aircraft that we fly.  And you know we fly many kinds of aircraft in common:  helicopters, propeller-driven aircraft, jet-driven aircraft, both military and commercial are flown by the Japanese in the skies all over the world every day.  And so airworthiness is a constant concern.  

            As I said, to me, as the Deputy Secretary of Defense, I’m constantly concerned about that, because our pilots are flying aircraft all over the world of all types every day, and they have to be airworthy and safe.  And we think the same thing for the V-22 -- it’s no different from anything else.  It’s a completely legitimate issue; I have no problem with it being raised by the Japanese people or government.  And, you know, we’re going to resolve it.  That’s the whole point. 

            Q:  So a non-Osprey issue:  the FACO of the Joint Strike Fighter.  So, will the U.S. government agree with Japan to build FACO in Japan? 

            DEP. SEC. CARTER:  The F-35 program is obviously very important to us.  It’s the linchpin of tactical aircraft inventories for the United States for decades to come, so we’re completely committed to it.  As you probably know, I was the under secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics before this, and one of my central responsibilities was the management of the Joint Strike Fighter program.  And I wouldn’t have told you this three years ago, but I can tell you now:  I think it’s getting on the path to finishing its development, ramping up to full-rate production, and so forth, and there’s a whole bunch of international partners -- of whom I’m pleased that Japan is one -- who will participate in the building of this airplane.  

            Exactly who does what is actually not determined by the United States government.  It’s determined by the builders of the airplane, and they’ll do that in consultation with the Japanese government.  And I think there are two principles at work there.  One is, we understand -- and I think the people who build the airplane understand -- that customers want a role in industrial participation.  But the second principle is, it has to be economically efficient.  So there are a large number of JSF partners.  We can’t all do everything; we can’t all build all parts of the JSF.  Otherwise, that will be economically inefficient, and we’ll be wasting our taxpayers’ money, and that’s not fair.  

            So we have to do it in a way that, as the economists say, is a fair and economical division of labor.  So we won’t make all the parts of the Joint Strike Fighter; Japan won’t make all the parts of the Joint Strike Fighter.  Rather than us making all the parts, what makes sense is for us to make some of the parts for everybody, and Japan doing some of the parts for everybody, and Turkey makes some of the parts for everybody, Italy to make some of the parts for everybody, and so forth.  

            So it’s a very complicated matter of apportioning, in an economically efficient way, all of these technical tasks.  And that’s what Lockheed Martin -- which is the prime contractor -- does in discussions with all the partners.  So that’s not a decision the U.S. government makes.  

            Obviously, we care about the outcome, because we want an affordable airplane, as does the Japanese government.  So I’m sure that that will be done in a way that is satisfactory to Japan, just like it has to be satisfactory to the United States, has to be satisfactory to Turkey, to the UK.  And so that’s the way international programs work today, and Japan’s a part of many international programs -- and in fact, is going to be increasingly so in the future. 

            Thank you all very much.  Really appreciate you being here.