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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Media Briefing in New Delhi, India

STAFF: Mr. Secretary, over to you.


Well first, I want to again offer my deepest condolences for the tragic loss of life in the terrible train crash in eastern India. We mourn alongside the Indian people, and we'll keep them in our thoughts.

Now, let me turn to some of the business of this visit. I had productive discussions today with Defense Minister Singh and National Security Advisor Doval. As the world's two largest democracies, India and the United States play a unique role in preserving the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure. Since our last visit in India in 2021, our global and strategic partnership has continued to rapidly grow.

Today, the U.S.-India partnership is a cornerstone of a free and open Indo-Pacific, and our deepening bonds show how technological innovation and growing military cooperation between two great powers can be a force for global good.

So on this visit, I'm pleased that we have taken new steps to strengthen our defense partnership. We established an ambitious new roadmap for defense industrial cooperation which will fast-track high-priority co-development and co-production projects and build closer ties between our defense industries. We look forward to advancing some of those projects during the upcoming visit between our leaders later this month.

We also discussed an important new initiative, INDUS X. That aims to jumpstart partnerships between the U.S. and Indian defense innovation section -- sectors, and we're looking forward to the formal launch of INDUS X in conjunction with Prime Minister Modi's state visit to Washington.

We're not only sharing technology together; we are cooperating alongside each other more than ever before. We discussed ways to increase information sharing, as well as new initiatives to improve maritime cooperation, including in the undersea domain.

We also recently celebrated the launch of our first defense, space and artificial intelligence dialogue that will help us work more closely together in emerging domains. We're also breaking new ground with the pace and scope of our joint military exercises. This past April, some of America's most advanced and strategic aircraft, the F-35 and B-1 bombers, participated for the first in the annual Cope India Air Exercises.

This all matters because we face a rapidly-changing world. We see bullying and coercion from the People's Republic of China, Russian aggression against Ukraine that seeks to redraw borders by force and threatens national sovereignty, as well as trans-national challenges such as terrorism and climate change.

So democracies must now rally together around not just our common interests, but also our shared values. Preserving and protecting the freedoms that are essential to peace and prosperity will require vigorous leadership from the United States and from India. And so we still have a lot of work to do, but I am confident that the U.S.-India partnership will help secure an open and prosperous future for the Indo-Pacific and the wider world.

Again, it's great to be here, and let me thank our Indian hosts for their outstanding hospitality, and I look forward to working with them to build the next phase of the U.S.-India defense partnership. So thanks very much, and I'll be glad to take a couple questions.

STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Our first question will go to the Press Trust of India, Manash.

Q: Good morning Mr. Secretary, and thank you for doing this interaction. You mentioned about doing industrial collaboration with India -- U.S. defense sector. GE has actually offered technology for the (inaudible) of the pipeline of the aircraft to India. So is there any progress on that? And can we expect any kind of announcement on this project, which India is looking forward to?

SEC. AUSTIN: Yeah, as you’ve seen in the roadmap that we've discussed, we are absolutely committed to our historic investment in shared technology cooperation. And so we're doing things in a number of areas, to include things like ISR. You've heard me talk about undersea domain awareness and a number of other things.

I don't have any announcements to make today, but I can tell you that the U.S. government is putting our full weight behind supporting India's defense modernization. I look forward to continuing to work with Minister Singh going forward.

STAFF: Our next question will go to Agence France-Presse.

Q: Mr. Secretary, thank you. There are reports of a large-scale (inaudible) Ukrainian attack in Donetsk and (inaudible). Is this the start of Ukraine's long-awaited counter-offensive?

Additionally, can you describe the Russian defenses that these forces will face in their counter-offensive and the role U.S.-provided equipment will play in the region?

SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, Will. First, in order to -- in terms of describing any potential Ukrainian operations, I would defer to the Ukrainian leadership to do that. I mean they assure that, at the right time, talk about or explain exactly where they are in the preparation and their execution of a planned offensive.

You asked the question about defenses that they -- the Ukrainians might encounter. It's been widely reported that Russia has constructed defenses, you know, along the border of the occupied territory, and those defenses, in many cases, are defenses in depth, so we see several lines of fortifications, ditches, dragon's teeth, prepared positions, those kinds of things.

Now, that's -- so in some cases, it's a fairly significant preparation there. But, you know, I would say that they have to defend against a pretty significant -- across a pretty significant area. So, you know, they probably can't be strong, you know, in every place. So it's incumbent upon the Ukrainians to find those points of advantage where they can leverage and exploit. So, you know, we'll see what happens.

And our goal was to make sure that we provided them with the training, the platforms, the capability to be able to successfully breach and maneuver.

STAFF: Thank you, sir. The next question will go to Asian News International, Ajit. .

Q: Thank you very much. Sir, you just talked about the bullying and coercion by the Chinese. Now India and China have been in a lengthy standoff for the last three years, due to Chinese aggression on the eastern (inaudible).

Looking at the blunders, sir, do you think there can be more such misadventures since there's not (inaudible) on the Indian border?

And how do you see the Chinese defense minister's statement that NATO-like alliances in the Asia-Pacific can be very dangerous for the region?

SEC. AUSTIN: Yeah, so let me just make sure I get your question right. The first part of the question was whether or not I anticipate that there will be more misadventures. And then the second question is regarding China's view of our effort to, their perception of our effort to establish a NATO-like alliance in this region.

I'll take the last piece first. And you may have heard me say in Singapore the other day that, you know, we are absolutely not trying to establish a NATO in the Indo-Pacific. Now, we continue to work with like-minded countries who ensure that the region remains free and open so that commerce can prosper and ideas can continue to be exchanged.

And so we will continue that work. And so certainly India and us share the same vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

In terms of what could happen along the LAC, you know, I won't get into any kind of speculation, but, you know, a number of things can always happen. But I want to make sure that we do everything we can to ensure that things don't happen. And part of that is being able to communicate with -- great powers being able to communicate with each other and prevent things from -- incidents from escalating out of control.

So I won't care to speculate as to whether or not there will be additional misadventure, but I certainly hope not.

STAFF: Thank you, sir. Our next question will go to The Wall Street Journal, Nancy Youssef.

Q: Thank you. I'd like to follow up on the question that I had, one about India. Have the Ukrainians --

SEC. AUSTIN: That's two questions.

Q: But only two -- hopefully. Have the Ukrainians notified the U.S. of the start, or the imminent start of their offensive. And it's not -- based on your military experience, what are we seeing happening? Is this a shaping operation?

And then on India, the U.S. has reportedly shared intelligence with India during its border clashes with China. What other specific steps is the U.S. taking to ensure that India is capable of pushing against China's military (inaudible)?

Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: In terms of where the Ukrainians are or aren't in planning an execution of their operation, again, I really would defer to the Ukrainians to answer that.

But we can talk about what we're seeing. You know, we're seeing continued operations and, you know, around the Bakhmut area. We're seeing an uptick in activity south of there. You mentioned Donetsk region, I think. And so there could be a number of things happening as weather improves, we said before that weather's been a factor here throughout. Then Ukraine will want to make sure that it's doing the right things to conduct battlefield reconnaissance and all those things that could lead up to a successful maneuver.

But what exactly they're doing, where, when and how, I think it -- the right thing to do is to allow the Ukrainians to speak to their operation.

And your second question was, again?

Q: The U.S. has reportedly shared intelligence with India during its border clashes with China. What other specific steps is the U.S. taking to ensure that India's capable of pushing against Chinese military assertiveness?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, you know, I won't talk about what we share or don't share with our partners or allies. But, as you know, as a practice for our allies and partners, we always provide as much -- share as much information as we possibly can. And, again, any specific steps that we may or may not take, again, I don't care to address that in this forum, so.

STAFF: Thank you, sir. Our next question will go to The Economist, Anton.

Q: Anton LaGuardia, thank you. You've spoken about greater cooperation in the defense industrial space and the need for allies to do more together. How far do you think the U.S. and its allies and its partners will create a more integrated defense industrial base, and what benefits does that bring to the U.S., given that, hitherto, the U.S. has been very jealous about guarding its military technology?

SEC. AUSTIN: And we're still very careful about guarding our technology and we always share our, you know, technology with countries that we absolutely believe in and trust. And so you see an increasing desire for us to share with our partners here in India.

And I think that if you look at some of the things that we're working on, Anton, it's -- I would describe this period as certainly consequential, in terms of the kinds of things that we're doing, working together on, but I'll also say it's transformative in that, you know, again, there are opportunities to increase capacity, increase capability, and all of that is good as you look at what it takes to ensure that we continue to work towards a free and open Indo-Pacific.

And again, we share that vision with India and with many other countries in the region as well. You heard me talk about a lot of that on Saturday when I spoke at Singapore.

So we remain encouraged that India has continued to diversify its equipment over the past decade and we're looking forward to continuing to work with them to increase additional capabilities.

STAFF: Next question, we'll go to Bloomberg, Peter.

Q: Yeah, thanks very much for doing this. So Kurt Campbell has described the U.S.-India partnership as the U.S.' most consequential partnership in the 21st Century. Do you agree with that assessment? And what are the main obstacles to fulfilling the potential of that partnership when it comes to military cooperation?

And then just related to that, if I may, Russia's ability to deliver weapons systems has declined due to attrition in Ukraine. Is the U.S. taking advantage of that (inaudible) India of Russian (inaudible)? Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: So the first piece, is it accurate to say that the U.S.-India relationship is one of the most consequential in this century? I -- absolutely, it -- either -- you know, the two world's largest democracies working together toward a common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Tremendous capacity in this country, and again, like-minded countries working together can -- I think can create lasting effects, and the effects that we're after is -- what we hammered home over and over again, is just to make sure that the region remains open and secure and promotes commerce and the free-flowing of ideas and that sort of stuff. So yeah, it is a very, very important relationship.

Q: Thank you. And then the obstacles and then the Russian weapons?

SEC. AUSTIN: The obstacles to?

Q: What are the obstacles to the military potential of that relationship being (inaudible)?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, you know, I think there are actually more upsides than obstacles, and we'll focus on all of the benefits that we will potentially achieve. And again, you can probably come up with 1,000 different obstacles for any problems that would -- but there's so much opportunity here. I think it's best to remain focused on what we can do with our partners here and really create goodness for the region and goodness for our, both of our, industrial bases and our militaries.

STAFF: Okay, last question, we'll go to ABC, Matt.

Q: Thank you, Secretary Austin. We know the U.S. was looking into the apparent use of U.S. Humvees and MRAPs by paramilitary fighters in an incursion of Belgorod last month. At this point, do you know whether these were indeed U.S. vehicles? And further, whether they came to Ukraine as part of any U.S. aid packages?

Secondly, going off of that, does the U.S. do any tracking of weapons and vehicles beyond the sort of end use tracking to make sure it gets to where it's supposed to go in Ukraine? Beyond that, is it just up to Ukraine to self-report where these things happen and whether or not they stay within settled boundaries?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, Matt, you've heard us say a number of times that we've emphasized to our partners there in Ukraine that, you know, we -- the use of our equipment for offensive operations in Russia, we certainly discourage that.

And in terms of our ability to track end use monitoring, you know, we continue to progress, in terms of capability. The limitation's been, from the very beginning, the number of people we actually have on the ground there in Ukraine. Now, having said that, I think the Ukrainians have been, by and large, really transparent in allowing us to access those areas we need to access and look at what we need to look at.

So, you know, we will certainly maintain this stance that the equipment that we provide -- it is for use in their defense of their sovereign territory. And again, we'll continue to refine our end use monitoring capabilities as well, but I think we have come a ways but it's not -- it will never be perfect until you can get a lot of people on the ground.

Q: And in that particular instance at Belgorod, do you have any updates on that?

SEC. AUSTIN: I don't have any updates for you.

Q: Thank you, sir.

STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our press briefing. Thank you very much.