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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Off-Camera, On-The-Record Remarks to Traveling Press in India

STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, again, welcome. Today's session will be on the record. Secretary Austin will deliver some opening remarks, and then he'll have time to take a few questions. Again, I'll call on reporters for that. I do have a very tight schedule today, so I appreciate your assistance with that.

Without further ado, Mr. Secretary, over to you, sir.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Okay, thanks, Patrick. And good afternoon, everyone. As I said this morning, it's great to be back in India.

Secretary Blinken and I had some very productive discussions today with our Indian hosts and counterparts. We exchanged views about major developments in the Indo-Pacific region, the Middle East and Ukraine, and we talked about how the United States and India are working together to promote our shared prosperity and security.

And this year has been a transformative period in U.S.-India relations. Prime Minister Modi's visit to the United States this summer and President Biden's trip to India for the G20 Summit both demonstrated the strength of our partnership as a pillar of global peace and stability. From working together in space, to harnessing cutting-edge innovation, the U.S.-Indian cooperation is stronger than ever.

Now, this is my third visit to India as secretary of defense, and every time, we've taken new steps to advance our defense partnership with India. This past June, Minister Singh and I endorsed a new roadmap for our defense industrial cooperation, and just a few short months later, we're already delivering new projects designed to strengthen India's military capabilities.

As many of you know, General Electric is partnering with India in a groundbreaking effort to co-produce 414 jet engines, and today, we agreed to move forward with the co-production of armored infantry vehicles. We also discussed steps that we can take to strengthen our supply chain security and integrate the provision of goods and services from U.S. and Indian firms.

During this week's events, we also convened Indian and American technology entrepreneurs to discuss the next frontier of U.S.-India defense innovation. Through our flagship defense innovation bridge known as INDUS-X, we launched our first innovation challenges focused on undersea and maritime capabilities. We've already made considerable progress under INDUS-X, and I'm confident that even more robust cooperation lies ahead.

These initiatives are bringing the U.S. and Indian industry and our research establishments closer together, and they will strengthen the shared security of our countries by diversifying supply chains and supporting interoperability between our militaries.

Our growing operational cooperation with India also complements these efforts. We're standing up new Indian liaison positions in key commands to enable seamless communication. We're stepping up U.S.-Indian defense activities across multiple domains, from space to undersea and we are identifying new areas where we can work together to support each other's logistical needs, and we're making our exercises increasingly complex and realistic.

For the first time last month, our annual U.S.-India Army Global Exercises trained in extreme high-altitude conditions. And so exercises like that promote the sharing of best practices, and they go a long way toward strengthening the readiness of our forces to meet any number of challenges.

Now, it's no secret that we all face a challenging global security environment. That's all the more reason why the progress in our partnership with India is so important, and why the United States is so committed to making it even stronger. And that's what today's meeting was all about, and I'm confident that we're going to have many more important conversations ahead with our Indian partners.

And finally, I'd like to extend my best wishes for a happy Diwali. It's a reminder that we all have our part to play in bringing light to the world.

Thanks very much, and with that, I'll take your questions.

STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. First question will go to Defense One, Lauren.

Q: Hi. Thank you so much for doing this. I wanted to ask if cybersecurity came up in your discussion today, particularly around protecting U.S. intellectual property, especially given that India has such a close trading relationship with China and Russia.

SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks. We covered a range of issues, but we didn't specifically address cybersecurity in this meeting. Of course, it's something that's important to both of us, both of our militaries for sure, both of our countries as well, and it's important work that we'll continue to do going forward. But in terms of that specific topic, we didn't talk of -- we didn't discuss that today.

STAFF: Next question will go to A and I News, Hajik.

Q: Sir, recently, like today after the meeting, our defense minister, Mr. Rajnath, saying that India-U.S. now agree very closely on many measures, strategic issues, including conquering Chinese aggression. Now, it's been -- now we are in 34th year of the military standoff between the two countries, and we are also now seeing that the Chinese are going belligerent in different parts of the world -- Taiwan, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia -- wherever they are. And now, as there was this talk about the threat on cybersecurity. How do -- how do you think India and China -- right now are India and U.S. are right now working on this? Can you give us some specifics on the -- how are they countering this Chinese aggression not only on our borders, but globally?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, in today's discussions, Hajik, we covered a number of issues, wide range of issues, and we certainly talked about the rising security challenges that are posed by the PRC. We're working together on a number of things going forward. Our goal -- we have a common goal, a common view of the Indo-Pacific, and that is that the Indo-Pacific should remain free and open, and that we should be able to sail the international seas and fly international airspace wherever authorized by law.

And so we have common values, we have common goals, and again, in everything that we're doing in terms of working together and building capability and capacity and increasing interoperability, that allows us to -- you know, to be productive in that part of the work, of making sure that we're working together and with allies -- other allies and partners to ensure that the Indo-Pacific remains free and open.

So all the things that we talked about, in terms of working with each other, that strengthens our ability to get things done. But, you know -- but our relationship is not just based on China, on the challenge that China presents, it's based upon, again, shared values, two of the world's largest democracies, you know? And so we've talked about a number of things, to include, you know, not only military cooperation but scientific cooperation, space cooperation, and those kinds of things.

So China -- you know, the threats that are posed by China or the challenges that are posed by China, you know, were certainly part of the dialogue but, you know, we didn't spend the entire dialogue focused on that. Rather, we spent that time focused on those meaningful things that we're going to continue to work together on, so.

STAFF: Thank you very much. Our next question will go to Fox, Alex.

Q: Thank you. Thank you for taking my question. You mentioned that you spoke about the Middle East and Ukraine. I would love if you could elaborate a little bit more on that.

And then also, tangentially, we've seen an increase in the number of attacks on U.S. bases in the Middle East. I -- my count now is at 46 since October 17th, as well as over 50 U.S. personnel injured. So I was wondering if you could comment on how we can say that those strikes on equipment are effective deterrence?

And any update on the MQ-9 as well?

SEC. AUSTIN: Now, Alice ?), that's about six questions as I count.


So I get to choose which ones I answer, I guess. So we'll start about -- we'll start on the issue of what we talked about regarding Ukraine and the Middle East. I think that was the first question there.

Yeah, certainly both of these crises present challenges, not just for Ukraine and Israel. They present challenges and concerns for the entire world. And in both cases, this is about rules-based international order, this is about the -- you know, a country or a terrorist element not having the right to attack its neighbor and try to access its sovereign territory or inflict damage on its -- on its citizens.

So there's something -- there's certainly a common thread there, a common challenge, and a common concern. I think the world -- we don't want to see a world in which that becomes commonplace. And so countries around the world remain focused on making sure that, you know, that doesn't happen.

So this matters not only to Ukraine and to Israel, it matters to the rest of the world as well.

We do see some commonality here. We see Iran providing UAV capability to Russia, who uses that capability to attack civilians in Ukraine. We see Hamas being welcomed by President Putin. And so there are some very disturbing trends there, but again, what's common here is that these attacks were unprovoked and they threaten the sovereignty of both countries, and that's something that all of us are concerned about.

In terms of the attacks on our troops stationed at bases in Iraq and Syria, you've heard me say this before and I'll continue to say this -- we -- first of all, the protection of our troops and our civilians in theater and anywhere around the globe, quite frankly, protection of our people is important to us. It is utmost importance, and we're going to continue to do everything that we need to do to protect our people.

And so we won't ever project or predict or advertise when we're going to conduct a strike, but we will -- rest assured that we will strike at a time and place of our choosing. And these attacks against our people must stop, you know? And -- if they don't stop, again, we're going to do what's necessary to protect our people. And I'll leave it at that.

STAFF: Thank you, sir. All right, final question. We'll go to Press Trust of India (inaudible).

Q: (Inaudible) Secretary Austin, thank you for doing this and thank you for taking my question. Obviously, India-U.S. relations have seen a (inaudible) in the last few years. We have (inaudible) a number of very, very (inaudible) projects.

So my specific question will be in fact when can we expect a finalization of the embassy as -- at (inaudible) expected to be (inaudible) very soon. So when can -- and also when expected of this?

And very brief -- briefly, India's Foreign Secretary just now mentioned that the -- India's development (inaudible) in the talks. India's explained its concern about pro-Palestinian elements in Canada. So how did your delegation characterize the whole issue of India-Canada (inaudible) what (inaudible) this topic (inaudible)?

SEC. AUSTIN: So in terms of announcements on the MQ-9, I don't have any announcements to make today, any new announcements, but what's really important here is that we're having this conversation about a new capability that's -- I think's going to be very, very productive.

Q: When can we expect some (inaudible)?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, again, you know, we've --- at the right time, we'll announce the -- the next steps that, you know, I think the government, the officials in the government are doing everything necessary to make sure that that capability -- you get that capability as quickly as possible.

But if you add that to what -- the other things that we announced today -- you know, working together to co-produce an armored vehicle, that is extremely important. Also, you know, when I was here last in June, we announced this deal with -- to produce a jet engine here in India. And you heard me say then that that's transformative, and I really believe that that's the case. It's things like that, it's the investments that India has made in aircraft -- U.S. aircraft in the past, and you combine all these things and you begin to see real capability. You begin to see us investing in each other's industrial bases. You know, we're repairing ships, U.S. Navy ships, here in India. And again, these are things that have come to pass or come into being here in the last two and a half years. This is tremendous, tremendous progress in a very short period of time.

So the government will make the announcement at the right time, but rest assured that that announcement's coming.

All right, thanks, everybody.