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Performing the Duties of Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Dr. Mara Karlin Hosts Media Roundtable on Strategy Implementation

STAFF:  Hey, so good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Today, we have Dr. Mara Karlin with us.  She is performing the duties of the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and will be providing you all with an update on the progress with our National Defense Strategy and implementation efforts across the department and whole of government.  Additionally, she'll be able to provide some insights on her recent travel to the Indo-Pacific and some ongoing insights on the Secretary's travel in the region as well. 

We'll have roughly 40 minutes for the conversation, which will be on record, and I ask that you limit to one question and one follow-up.  Lastly, Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh will hold an on camera briefing shortly following this briefing to answer more news of the day questions.

And with that, I'll turn to Dr. Karlin.  Ma'am?

PTDO DEPUTY UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE (POLICY) MARA KARLIN:  All right.  You want me to turn this on?  It appears to not actually — all right, great.

Good afternoon.  It's lovely to see you all.  Thanks for being here in person and virtually.  I thought I'd do just a handful of opening remarks and then I'm excited for your hard questions.

So, as you all know, we've just passed the one-year anniversary of publishing the 2022 National Defense Strategy.  And so, I wanted to spend a few minutes with all of you to reflect upon and recognize our progress towards its implementation, particularly in view of what's happening around the world.

You have probably heard Secretary Austin refer to the NDS as the department's North Star.  And one year on, implementing the National Defense Strategy continues to drive the department.  We have worked and we continue to work very hard to implement the strategy and to continue linking our strategy to resources, even amidst the unfolding of various global crises.

We continue to see a rapidly changing global balance of military capabilities and escalation of competitors' maligned activities, the introduction of emerging technologies and enduring transboundary challenges that pose difficulties for our collective security for the foreseeable future.

We have seen increasingly risky and coercive military activities in the Indo-Pacific and an unprovoked and brutal invasion of Ukraine.  And of course, we have witnessed the harrowing events in Hamas's recent terrorist attacks against Israel and the difficulties in carrying out a response to it.  These challenges are daunting but our commitment to face them and sustain U.S. leadership in the world remains firm.

So one year into NDS implementation, the department's approach to the Indo-Pacific region is delivering a U.S. military that is more capable, more forward, and more deeply integrated with our allies and partners than ever before.

On capabilities, that means rapidly updating U.S. military power with advanced capabilities and novel operational concepts to address regional challenges.  Being forward means being more physically visible and agile in the region. 

We're updating our posture from a concentration of large operating bases in northeast Asia, and our agreements with Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea are updating our posture and enabling the U.S. military to be more distributed and resilient.

Finally, we have made incredible strides in deepening our alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific to boost collective capabilities.  You've likely noted Secretary Austin's ongoing travel to India, the Republic of Korea, and Indonesia.  This is his fourth trip to the Indo-Pacific this year and his ninth since becoming Secretary, and it comes as the United States, along with our allies and partners across the region, continue to deliver historic momentum toward a shared regional vision for peace, stability, and prosperity.

I just returned from travel to the Indo-Pacific last night and was privileged to lead a senior interagency delegation to Australia for a series of high level trilateral engagements to advance the AUKUS defense and security partnership, promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.        

We are modernizing our regional approach in the Indo-Pacific by strengthening our relationships and pushing collective milestones.  Most importantly, these changes will deter future conflict by underscoring that the U.S. military stands ready and forward in the region.

Our efforts to support Ukraine have strengthened U.S. deterrence in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere.  By reinforcing our stance against Russian aggression in Europe, we signal our resolve against all forms of global aggression.

Russia remains an acute threat, as we discussed in the National Defense Strategy, one that is immediate and sharp.  Over the past year and a half, since Russia's invasion, we continue to stand with Ukraine.  We have moved assistance with unprecedented speed, including more than $44 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration.  Other NATO and likeminded allies and partners have matched our support by tens of billions of dollars of security assistance, in addition to other forms of international humanitarian aid and budgetary assistance.

Pivoting to the crisis in the Middle East, the NDS laid out the contours of our approach.  Even as we focus on the pacing challenge presented by the PRC and manage the acute threat posed by Russia, we must remain vigilant in the face of persistent threats, including those posed by terrorist organizations.  At the same time, we maintain the ability to respond to contingencies without major impacts to the European or Indo-Pacific theaters. 

And at a more fundamental level, let this be a tangible demonstration of the strength of our ability to respond to events that threaten the international system.  When tested, our response is clear — we're more united in purpose, stronger, and more resolved than ever.

All of the actions and activities I've described reflect a novel way that we've undertaken implementation of the NDS in the department.  I describe it as a wraparound approach to implementation because it engages folks at all levels to ensure the strategy's infused into the department's day-to-day business.

So our approach to implementation has three prongs. 

First, we have a degree of centralized oversight, wherein the Secretary's personally involved in overseeing implementation of the highest priority National Defense Strategy efforts, in particular focusing on the most complex and cross-cutting issues and regularly convening leaders to discuss how they're doing.

Second, we've empowered senior leaders to change their processes, policies, and plans to align with the National Defense Strategy, and they're required to report that to the Secretary on a consistent basis. 

And third, we have a list of concrete to-dos which DOD components, military departments, command commanders, and agencies are executing at the working level to make the strategy much more than just words on paper.  And we are using creative, data-driven solutions to meaningfully assess our progress.

This all marks a major departure from past strategy implementation efforts.  Part of the reason this approach has been so successful of course is because Secretary Austin did so much personally to both own the development of the strategy and the implementation as well.

Through our rigorous approach to NDS implementation, we've made very important strides in tackling the challenges we face, but of course this work is generational in nature and we have much work ahead of us.  We remain focused on the NDS as our North Star. 

That means addressing major security challenges in effective and sustainable ways, including modernizing the Joint Force, prioritizing cooperation with our regional and global partners, and demonstrating our capability to rapidly project power if our national security interests are threatened.

With that, let me turn it back over to Lieutenant Colonel Dave Herndon.

STAFF:  Thank you, ma'am.  We'll first start with Tara, AP.

Q:  Hi.

DR. KARLIN:  Hey, how are you?

Q:  Thanks for doing this.

DR. KARLIN:  Thank you.

Q:  All right, a question on the Indo-Pacific and then one on Israel. 

What does — the summit that occurred yesterday, how does that impact the strategy?  And what are your takeaways — what you would like to see happen now between the mil-to-mil relationship, given that that was one of the very few — do — or takeaways that came out of this?

DR. KARLIN:  Yeah, absolutely — thanks for raising that.  As you know, the National Defense Strategy was really clear — the focus is on that urgent need to sustain and strengthen deterrence, focused on the People's Republic of China.

We have always made it clear how important it is to have communication with the PRC, and in particular, the importance of crisis communication.  And I was really pleased, coming out of the summit yesterday, the two leaders welcomed the resumption of high-level military-to-military communication.  So, we'll see that all, including telephone conversations between the theater commanders.

There are a number of issues of course outside of the Department of Defense's sphere in which it's important for us to be talking about the PRC about, but as you can imagine, in particular, as we think about just crises, inadvertent miscalculations that can occur — you've probably heard us speak a little bit about some of the unprofessional and unsafe behavior that we've seen by the PLA — I think it's something like 200 incidents since 2021, and if you include allies and partners, it's actually almost 300 incidents of the PLA operating in unsafe and unprofessional ways — so when you've got that, it's just extra important to make sure that we've got that military-to-military connectivity on a consistent basis.

Q:  And then one question on Israel.  Why was there a different policy for Ukraine with such strict limitations on how weapons could be provided and used compared to Israel, where there's been no limitations and you've seen kind of this regional blowback on, you know, the number of civilians that have been caught and — and killed so far?

DR. KARLIN:  Yeah, thank you for that.  So, what we have done with our security assistance to Israel, which we have moved at lightning speed, is continue the approach that we traditionally have with established militaries, in terms of supplying assistance according to the usual kind of rules, regulations, and laws that we usually have.  And so, we have done that in the case of the Israelis, of course a military with whom we have a very longstanding relationship.

Q:  But what about the difference I'm just trying to kind of marry up the disconnect between how Ukraine had so many strict limitations and Israel has none, and they were both allies, you know, that were attacked.

DR. KARLIN:  Yeah, look, so there is — kind of a set of rules, regulations, and laws that we always apply when we are giving countries security assistance.  Those are longstanding.  Of course, many of them set by our Congress. 

I guess the parallels in these two conflicts only go so far.  In particular, just you know, in terms of how those conflicts have proceeded.  So we have, in both instances, made sure that we are working closely internally, across our interagency, and with our colleagues in Congress to make sure that we are following those regulations.

STAFF:  All right.  Idrees?

Q:  Two quick questions.  One, sort of more immediate, what exactly is your understanding, given how much aid the U.S. is giving to Israel, their military goals are for Gaza?  Is it to stop in northern Gaza?  Is it to go into the south?  What is actually the goal that you are helping with?

And more sort of big picture, part of the NDS was obviously putting a focus on China, and part of that is moving assets away from the Middle East, like air defense systems, which you've had to flow back in.  Do you believe the NDS led to a situation which made the Middle East more combustible, and if you had taken a different approach, we might not be in a situation where we are today?

DR. KARLIN:  Thank you for that.  So on the first piece, I would defer to the Israelis to speak about their military strategy.  I think they have communicated their focus on defeating Hamas's leadership and infrastructure so it's not able to return to the status quo ante.

In terms of our approach — our posture I think is really what I'm hearing from you — our posture in the Middle East and that impact, a couple points.  And I would just underscore in particular, you know, that to date, we have not taken posture, like platforms or military assets, from the Indo-Pacific and put them in the Middle East.

Look, it's not quite right to baseline our military posture in the Middle East to what it looks like when we were in the throes of Iraq or Afghanistan.  And indeed, when you go back to other periods of time — say, the 1990s, for example — you did see a much more sustainable approach.

Whenever we've got military posture, we've got to think how and in what ways is it having an impact and what opportunities is it presenting for you globally?  And so in particular, the fact that Secretary Austin was able to send not one but two carrier strike groups to the Middle East as this crisis was breaking out was incredibly important for signaling deterrence and signaling his seriousness and the need to contain the conflict.  It also was an option because we had ready carrier strike groups. 

And to the extent that we have platforms or assets that are sitting around and are unable to either play a role operationally or unable to play a signaling role, we end up being in a situation where we are losing readiness, because that happens of course when assets and platforms are deployed, and then it becomes not a terribly good use.

So, what you're hearing from me is a need to think about what we are baselining from.  We're not baselined from the throes of, say, the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Then you're hearing from me the real need to think about how and in what ways is our posture playing a role operationally or in terms of deterrence. 

And then the final piece is, you know, what is extraordinary about the U.S. military in today — you know, today's U.S. military is the ability to be anywhere at any time.  We saw this spectacularly in the case of Ukraine, as Russia commenced its unprovoked aggression, our ability to surge forces very rapidly from about 80,000 to 105,000.  And then of course you've seen this in the last few weeks as well.

Q:  The 90s was a very different time period from the baseline of the 2000s, right?  Iran wasn't a big threat then.  So why compare it to the '90s, which was a totally different geopolitical situation?

DR. KARLIN:  So I would say it's the same for the '80s, right, or the '70s.  It — it — it's — if our paradigm is the throes of Iraq and Afghanistan, when you've got, what, hundreds of thousands of American troops deployed to the Middle East, we've — the attendant platforms and assets to protect them and to enable them to conduct their mission, that actually isn't the right paradigm for this moment in time.

STAFF:  OK, let's go to Chris.

Q:  Thanks. David. Thank you Dr. Karlin. Given the persistent threat posed by Iran and other actors against the U.S. and the Middle East, will you keep this current force posture?  Is this indefinite?  When will you reassess it?  And when does something move from a contingency to something that changes DOD policy, given that the world changes and, you know, can't be welded to it or a written document necessarily?

DR. KARLIN:  Yeah, absolutely.  So look, we are constantly assessing what we are doing and the impact that it's having.  In fact, one of the important pieces of this National Defense Strategy is the importance of assessment and making sure that we're thinking through risks.

You all probably know that the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, for example, actually requires the department every February to put out to the Congress our assessment of our strategy, kind of how's it is going, what's working, what needs to be — to be re-thought.

So I would say at the most strategic level we are constantly doing that.  And more specifically, regarding the posture you're highlighting, that is the case as well, trying to understand what impact are we having and why.

Right now, it is very clear I think that the surge of assets, putting troops on prepared to deploy order status, for example, all of that has been important for one of our key priorities, which is to contain this conflict and to signal that anyone who thinks it would be a good idea to escalate should realize that's actually a quite terrible idea.

Q:  On the rapidly changing …. you mentioned though, how — how long of a timeframe are we talking?  I mean, if this continues, you know, for another six months, does that no longer become a rapid change and something that is — the department sticks to going forward?  I'm just — you know, I'm trying to understand when — you know, when we move from contingency to that day in the Middle East and elsewhere.

DR. KARLIN:  We're going to need to monitor that really closely, we're going to need to monitor what our adversaries are doing, we're going to have to monitor what effect we're having, what about our allies and partners, both inside the region and outside the region.  We — we're going to have to see what happens.

We're obviously in a plastic moment in the Middle East right now and have very much been in that situation since the horrific events of October 7th.  What's important to note though is that we are actively trying to tackle these challenges.  Thank you.

STAFF:  Let's go to Tony.

Q:  A couple AUKUS questions.  You were out there recently.

DR. KARLIN:  I was.

Q:  There was a — there's been a number of news stories saying that the Australians we're going to commit up to $3 billion to — for the U.S. industrial base.  Where does that stand right now?  I — have they articulated a figure to you?  And when might that be announced?

DR. KARLIN:  I returned from Australia last night, so thank you for raising this, where I was leading an interagency delegation on AUKUS.  And our British colleagues also had a robust delegation as well.  And we had a number of discussions on Pillar I, which is of course the effort to — I know you know this well — the effort to sell Australia nuclear-powered, conventionally-armed submarines, and then on Pillar II, which is advanced technology cooperation, in which we're all doing all sorts of really interesting things together.

What you are citing is the Australian contribution to our submarine industrial base.  I would defer to the Australians on the specific number.  I would, however, flag that right now the Congress is considering a handful of important legislative proposals that are critical to making AUKUS a reality, and one of those does include allowing the department to be able to accept contributions by the Australians into our submarine industrial base.

I think that is historic.  I'm not familiar with other examples of countries being — putting money into our industrial base.  Of course, this is complimented by the very robust investments that we've seen since the Biden administration came into office in our submarine industrial base.  Most recently, in the supplemental from a few weeks ago, as you all will recall, there was $3.4 billion, I believe, in it.

Q:  But there's no three — there's no figure yet?  The Australians haven't announced a figure to you? I don't remember seeing it anywhere.  I just wanted to clear that up.

DR. KARLIN:  I would defer to them to announce any figures.  I would say it is an offer of robust and substantial contribution.

Q:  The civilian casualty issue, this is coming up with Israel. The Pentagon, under congressional mandate to set up a civilian casualty process for monitoring what U.S. operations may be causing, in terms of civilian casualties.  You're aware that it's your office is in charge of that.  Is any of that process or mechanism ...          

DR. KARLIN:  Yes. OSD Policy.

Q:  For — for the sake of wholeness

DR. KARLIN:  Yeah.

Q:  ... is that process at all being used at all in reviewing Israel's use of U.S. equipment and the potential for civilian casualties?  Is there any segue at all?

DR. KARLIN:  So I think what you're citing is the CHMR effort, the Civilian Harm Mitigation and Reduction [Response] — I'm not getting the acronym entirely right — that — that effort.  And we have involved those folks as we have looked at these issues.

Q:  How so?  Monitoring Human Rights Watch reports or things like that?

DR. KARLIN:  We are making sure that we are closely tracking all of the information coming in from various sources and making sure that we understand it.  And as you know, we are communicating with the Israelis every day. 

Secretary Austin has had tens of conversations, I believe — I think near daily's probably the best way to put it — near daily conversations with Israeli Minister of Defense Gallant since the horrific events of October 7th.  And in those conversations, he regularly talks about the importance of protecting civilians.

STAFF:  We'll stay on this side of the room.  Jim?


Q:  First, thanks for doing this so soon after coming back.  I'd still be a basket case if I was in here doing this.


I'd like to sort of step back a little bit, if I could.  Former Secretary Gates, in the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, had an interesting article talking about the breakdown in the decades-long bipartisan agreement with respect to the U.S. role in the world. 

And you're talking about the National Defense Strategy.  You could — you said it's generational in nature.  And I'm always fond of saying it wasn't the Democrats or the Republicans that won the Cold War, it was both of them combined over a period of 40 years. 

Do you see the same danger that Secretary Gates sees, in respect to the National Defense Strategy?

DR. KARLIN:  I really appreciate that question.  I actually see substantial bipartisan agreement across the American public, across our Congress, in terms of the need to focus in particular on urgently sustaining and strengthening deterrence, vis-a-vis the People's Republic of China.

I have briefed this National Defense Strategy what feels like hundreds of times — I can't tell you the actual number — to folks across the U.S. government, including Congress, to — I've talked to public audiences, et cetera.  And consistently, there is agreement on the need to make sure we have security and stability in the Indo-Pacific and an understanding of why the United States needs to play a role, working closely with our allies and partners, in ensuring that that's a reality.

I would take your question and make it a little bit bigger as well, and I'll give you just a vignette.  You all know that three weeks or so ago, Secretary Austin went on a big trip to Europe and the Middle East, and it was, in many ways, this spectacular example of the importance of American leadership, where, on one day, he convened the Ukraine Defense Contact Group with 50-plus allies and partners, including Zelenskyy, all talking about how they were going to donate parts of their military to support Ukraine's efforts on the battlefield. 

The next day, he sat in NATO Defense Ministerial, where there was robust discussion on the tremendous progress that we have seen across NATO, which is getting bigger of course, as we know, in investing in folks' defense budgets and posture.

And then in the very next day of course, he went to Israel to talk about how to help Israel as it is waging this conflict.

And it's a role that is not able to be played by other countries but very much requires the United States to work very closely with other countries from around the world.  And I would argue when we are doing that, we see increased security, stability, and peace.

Q:  And yet there still is a substantial percentage of the American people who would think that the United States should go it alone.  What do you say to them?

DR. KARLIN:  I am hard-pressed to find examples where it strategically makes sense for us to operate on our own.  Go all the way back to our Revolutionary War and the support that we got from the French.  I mean, the history of the United States is working with allies and partners in various ways, and the evidence is there of just how much stronger we are together.

Again, taking Ukraine as a case study, we have given tens of billions of dollars to help Ukraine's military survive and thrive on the battlefield.  So have 50-plus other countries.  That is an extraordinary signal of support and of deterrence.

STAFF:  Let's go to Fadi.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  Yeah.

Q:  Thank you, doctor, for doing this.  I have two questions.  Just wanted to go back to your comments on tracking civilian casualties, in terms of the war in — in Gaza.  Can you clarify more whether you got any conclusions, in terms of how Israel is — is using U.S.-provided weapons and the toll you're seeing on civilians and infrastructure, if you got into any conclusion on that?

And then my second question is you — you talked about the Israelis', you know, operation aims in — in Gaza, but it seems, based on those aims, the infrastructure, the leadership, this might be a very long war.  Will this have implication on the U.S. commitment to, first of all, support Israel from a strategic point of view and then posture of U.S. forces and assets in the region?

DR. KARLIN:  Sorry, can you just say that last sentence ...

Q:  So you said it's Israel [that] can talk about their operations and these are the aims that they — targets that they put forth — eliminating Hamas's leadership and infrastructure — but based on what we're seeing, this could take a long time.  And — and the U.S. is committed to supporting Israel.  At the same time, there are implications for the U.S., in terms of protecting its forces in the region.  How long is this commitment, you think, is — is going to be?  And what implications does it have on U.S. posture and — and assets in the region?

DR. KARLIN:  OK, thank you for that.  So on your first question, I do just want to state upfront the reminder that the loss of any innocent lives is a tragedy and we are grieving for the loss of every innocent.

We very much believe in the importance of upholding the law of war and of taking every possible measure to protect civilians.  This is something you have heard President Biden speak about from the beginning of the conflict publicly, but I can assure you that senior leaders are doing that privately as well and will continue to do that each and every day.

We do also strongly support Israel as it is trying to defend itself against terrorist attacks.  And we — so we are working closely with the Israelis and want to ensure that they're doing everything they can to fight Hamas in a way that distinguishes terrorists from innocent Palestinian civilians. 

In terms of how long this conflict will go on, I would say that will be, in part, decided by the Israelis and the extent to which they are able to have a meaningful impact on degrading Hamas.

I will also note that of course that Hamas has huge agency in this as well.  It is you know, incumbent on Hamas to return the hostages and to halt its attacks as well. 

You also brought up the importance of protecting U.S. forces, which is obviously a top priority from the Department of Defense perspective and Secretary Austin's perspective.  As well, as you know, Secretary Austin has surged efforts to be able to protect our forces and has tried to send a strong signal, in particular a strong message to Iran that it needs to tell its partners to stand down.

You no doubt are aware of the handful of times where there has been the use of force employed over the last few weeks against weapons facilities, command and — command and control node and ammunition depot.  And again, all of this is both trying to have an impact on those who are attacking U.S. service members while also trying to send a very strong message of deterrence to those who are supporting that as well.

Q:  ... follow-up, you said it's — Israel should distinguish between terrorist targets and — and civilians.  You know, as — as a government that is supporting Israel with — with weapons and, you know, intelligence and — and other means, have you reached any conclusion based on the civilian toll and UN staff members killed, schools, hospitals targeted, houses, residential buildings, that Israel is actually making that distinction?

DR. KARLIN:  Look, we have been very clear publicly and privately with the Israelis that they should do their utmost to protect innocent civilians.  That means they need to operate in a way that is discerning and careful in their military operations to try to reduce and avoid any loss of civilian life.

And I can assure you this is a very regular part of our conversations, which effectively happen on a daily basis.

STAFF:  Let's go to Jon.

Q:  Thanks for doing this.


Q:  Israel has requested Switchblade 600 attack drones from the U.S.  Do you anticipate that that request will be approved?  And if so, when will those weapons be delivered?

DR. KARLIN:  I actually can't speak about that specific — I'm not tracking that one since I just flew in last night.  So I'm sorry, I have nothing to offer on that.

Q:  There was a meeting in South Korea last week, and then U.S. — U.S. and South Korea had a so-called tailored Extended Deterrence Strategy.  So can you tell me about why is it tailored if — the strategy with South Korea?

And then which — which specific area the U.S. and South Korea focus on now to strengthen extended deterrence?

DR. KARLIN:  Yeah, so Secretary Austin was just out in South Korea last week, as you noted, and I believe Chairman Brown was there as well for his first set of talks with the South Koreans as well.  This is a regular set of bilateral conversations.  I think it happens annually between the U.S. and South Korea. 

And this one in particular did focus on the importance of extended deterrence and making sure that it is tailored, as you note.  That is particularly, as you can imagine, focused, as one looks at regional threats that are faced by South Korea and of course by the United States.

All — all told, it sounded like a very, very good set of conversations.  And I would note that this builds on what you will recall, gosh, maybe three months or so ago, when the President brought together both South Korean leadership and the Japanese leadership as well. 

Another important example of how we are seeing different groupings, different geometries of our allies and our partners across the Indo-Pacific really concurring with the need for security and regional stability.

STAFF:  OK, Jared?

Q:  Thank you, ma'am, for doing this.


Q:  I just wanted to follow up on prior questions that are — maybe I could ask a little differently.  I know no one has a crystal ball on how long Israel's campaign will take to achieve its objectives but how long could the department sustain the current posture in the Middle East before it begins to negatively affect readiness?

DR. KARLIN:  We are very closely assessing what we're doing, the impact it is having, in terms of deterrence or operations, as needed, and the longer-term impact as well.  I can assure you that that is a key area of focus.

Q:  Great.  If I can just follow up, is the department optimistic or hopeful that the progress that was made in the summit in San Francisco yesterday could contribute in the future to the ability of the department to sort of respond more flexibly to contingencies in other — other parts of the world, say for example, the Middle East, in terms of opening communication lines mil-to-mil with China?

DR. KARLIN:  Open communications with those you get along with or those you're not getting along with, as well, is always going to be important.  The last thing we want is to misunderstand one another and have some sort of miscalculation and escalation.  So, I think that that is a genuine good, not just for the two parties involved here, the U.S. and the PRC, but globally as well.

And so we are really pleased by the character of the conversations between President Xi and President Biden.  You know, President Biden did underscore that there is a competition between our two countries and really the importance that we continue to engage one another in this regard.

STAFF:  We're going to go out to the line and then we'll come back in for one more.  Howard Altman from War Zone?

Q:  Hey, thank you very much for doing this.  I just want to switch a little bit back to Asia.  Can you tell me if there's any plans for a permanent bomber contingent in Australia?  Is that being considered?  And in — to what general timeline?

And then if China activates an anti-access umbrella over the South China Sea and declares it under their control, how does the U.S. plan to deal with that?  Thanks.

DR. KARLIN:  Thank you for that.  So we, as you know, have a wide range of contingency plans.  In fact, it's part of my portfolio to make sure that that is the case as we look at the shifting security environment.  So it's probably not appropriate to get into any bespoke ones, but II will just note we are constantly trying to ensure that we have appropriate plans for the things one worries about.

I don't want to speak about specific posture changes at this moment.  I will say, however, that our posture our rotational posture in Australia has really shifted in leaps and bounds over the last decade.  So a lot of you all will recall just a decade ago, when we first sent on a rotational basis the Marine Rotational Force at Darwin. 

So, that's up to 2,500 or so folks.  I visited them when I was out there in June/July or so, and it's just fantastic to see the training they're able to do both with the Australian Defense Forces but also regionally, given that they are rotating from that part of Australia.

Moreover, obviously the AUKUS agreement and the substantial investments we're seeing by the Australians down in Perth at HMAS Stirling to be able to ensure we have sufficient submarine infrastructure so we can begin rotating — rotating our submarines.  They're starting in 2027.  It's pretty important as well. 

In fact, we just had the first visit of a Virginia class submarine to Australia this summer, I think it was in August, and that was pretty notable.  It was August 4th, in fact, the USS North Carolina went. 

And that's also really important because, as you all know, AUKUS is designed as this crawl, walk, run approach, where we are trying to have regular port visits, then we will start rotationally putting our submarines in and out, then Australia will be purchasing a couple of Virginia class submarines in less than a decade, and then of course Australia, the UK, and the U.S. are building a new submarine together, which is pretty historic, the — the SSN-AUKUS.

So, I note all of this as just examples of how and in what ways our substantial collaboration with Australia's military has grown.  And I will just say, having — having just been out there, I was really heartened by the seriousness and the substantial time, attention, and resources that our Australian and our UK colleagues are devoting to AUKUS to ensure that it is the great reality that has been pulled together by our various heads of state.

STAFF:  Ok. Final question, Noah.

Q:  Thanks for doing this.  A few follow-ups on the mil-to-mil communications sort of agreement that was reached yesterday.  One, could you help us better understand the intended tempo of the discussions at the highest level with Secretary Austin and his to-be-announced Chinese counterpart? 

Two, the lower-level discussions that'll take place between the heads of the COCOMs, et cetera, will that be centrally coordinated by an office in the Pentagon or will that work be more ad hoc between those leaders and their Chinese counterparts? 

And then just lastly, the other issue that you mentioned has been the unsafe intercepts that you — you've discussed, almost 200 of them recently.  Was there any discussion about actually ending or reducing those between the President and — and Xi or the delegation yesterday, or is the communications issue totally separate and hoping that that will be an externality of those — the more discussion, the less unsafe intercepts, et cetera?

DR. KARLIN:  Got it.  Thank you for all of that.  I can't speak to whether that came up yesterday.  I can say that we welcome the character of the conversations between President Xi and President Biden on restarting mil-to-mil communication at the — the high level.

As you know, I believe we announced that there's going to be — restarting the U.S.-China defense policy coordination talks and the U.S.-China Military Maritime Consultative Agreement meetings as well.  And then thirdly, of course, the talks between the theater commanders.

We'll look to see kind of what tempo makes sense, but at a minimum these commitments show that there is a willingness to have kind of a regular battle rhythm of engagements, which is important for all the reasons I highlighted previously but also as we are kind of building trust between both sides.

STAFF:  OK, ladies and gentlemen, we are at time.  Thank you so much for joining.  Dr. Karlin, thank you.

DR. KARLIN:  Thank you very much.