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MICHAEL CAVEY: OK. Good afternoon, everyone. This is Michael Cavey from the U.S. embassy. We’re pleased that you journalists were able to join us this afternoon for a briefing with the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Mike Gilday. This briefing will be on the record, so please report accordingly. If you have any questions or concerns following the briefing, please contact me, or Ariel, or John Slover at the U.S. embassy and we’ll work with you to clarify those questions.
So without any further ado, over to Admiral Gilday to begin the briefing. Admiral.
ADMIRAL MIKE GILDAY: Hey, good afternoon, good morning, everybody. It’s great to be here in India, and thanks for joining us. I’m here, along with my wife Linda to meet with our friend, the chief of the naval staff, Admiral Singh, as well as some other senior leaders from the Indian navy and the government. It’s a great opportunity for me to be back in India for the first time in a very long time, to see the country and the navy first time, and to talk about areas of mutual cooperation moving into the future.
I really can say this with a high degree of certainty, that India is one of our close strategic partners and our relationship is central to a peace, free and an open Indo-Pacific. I’m grateful for our navies’ continued cooperation in the Indo-Pacific to sustain an inclusive, and free, and open rules-based order that’s actually the cornerstone of a peaceful and secure Indo-Pacific. And even right now, as we’ll be talking this afternoon, our navies are conducting Exercise Malabar in the Bay of Bengal together. Through continued engagement and dialogue, we are no doubt strengthening our forces’ collective ability to achieve our shared strategic vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, and the economic prosperity that no doubt will flow from it.
I believe our navies will sail together far into the future and, by continuing to work closely with the Indian navy, we will no doubt increase our interoperability for decades to come. There is much to celebrate in this relationship. Indeed, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. I am confident that together we can build a partnership that’s fit for today and tomorrow’s challenges. I look forward to my engagements here in India, and I can’t thank Admiral Singh and the Indian navy enough for hosting me. I look forward to your questions.
MICHAEL CAVEY: OK, I believe we have Manu Pubby on the line. Manu, we’ll go over to you for the first question.
Q: Hi, Admiral. (Inaudible) – come to India. It’s good that you have managed to travel, you know, after such a long time.
You know, the question that a lot of us are asking is that the Malabar Exercises have been going on and we have had a lot of enabling agreements which we have signed, which has perhaps made the exercise more interoperable, that there are more things that are done. If you can give us a sense of this edition, how – what new you have we achieved? And what is – where do we go from here? What’s the next step in increasing the ability of our forces to work together in the Indo-Pacific?
ADM. GILDAY: Yeah, I really think what we want to do with our navies is really key on those capabilities that we find – that we find fill gaps in each other’s navies. Cyber would be among them as an area that we want to – that we want to continue to refine in terms of working together, as well as high-end operations together that we want to do, whether they be in the air, on the sea, or under the sea.
MICHAEL CAVEY: OK, great. Rajat Pandit from Times of India.
Q: Yeah, hello. This is Rajat Pandit from Times of India.
There are concerns in India whether AUKUS will dilute the strategic significance of the Quad. Can we have your comments on that?
ADM. GILDAY: Sure. One of the things I’d like to say up front is that I see this as a natural partnership between the United States and India. So I’m here to continue to build upon close ties. We’ve seen with this – with the American administration the president’s met with the prime minister, the Quad’s met at the head of state level. The secretary of state has been here to New Delhi, as has the secretary of defense. We’ve had the minister of defense recently in Washington, D.C. We’ve had navy-to-navy meetings at our largest gathering of heads of navy in the world, which is held at Newport, Rhode Island in the United States last month.
So for me, this is a natural partnership between the United States and India. We have two high-tech democracies with mutual interest, whether that’s a free and open maritime commons, regional stability, economic stability, respect for international institutions and the rule of law, and our pushback on global authoritarianism and any threat to the above. And so India and the United States have had a long – a long, healthy, positive relationship. This is a new and exciting chapter for us.
MICHAEL CAVEY: Great. So our next question goes – we’re going to keep moving for now. The next question goes to Rahul Singh at the Hindustan Times.
Q: Good afternoon, Admiral. This is Rahul Singh from the Hindustan Times.
If you could just, you know, give us some perspective on who all you met today, what was on the agenda for the talks. You know, we are facing a difficult situation in our northern borders with China. And you know, if you look at that from the perspective of growing Chinese belligerence in the Ladakh sector, South China Sea, Indo-Pacific, did those issues come up for discussions?
ADM. GILDAY: Thanks. So I spent most of my time today with Admiral Singh and his staff. I also met with the deputy minister of external affairs. I also met with the chief of defense staff as well. And so my discussions primarily focus on the Indian Ocean, a strategic waterway. And so as I think about – as I think about strategically what that waterway means, not only for India and the region but also the globe. A million ships a year transit the Indian Ocean. Sixty-one percent of the container traffic in the world, and more than 31 percent of the bulk cargo carriers go across the Indian Ocean. More than 65 percent of the world’s oil travels across the Indian Ocean.
And so we’re talking about 40 percent of global trade. We’re talking about more than 60 percent of global GDP. So again, when I talk about a natural partnership in the future, this is where we want to be operating with the Indian navy. This is, you know, where we want the region – where we want India, where we want the region, and we want the globe to benefit from a stable Indian Ocean region. And so that was really the focus of the talks, what we could do as the United States Navy and the Indian navy to work closely together, where we see leveraging. As an example, the technological base here in India, in Delhi, certainly is an example of some high-tech startups that are doing some great work that the United States Navy might be able to leverage. So it’s looking at those pockets of excellence where we might not be aware of, if we weren’t here meeting face-to-face.
MICHAEL CAVEY: OK, great. Krishn Kaushik from The Indian Express.
Q: Hi. Good afternoon, Admiral.
So last year the Pentagon had prepared a report about Chinese military development and mentioned that, at least in cases of, you know, land-based conventional ballistic missiles, integrated air defense system, and shipbuilding, China has possibly surpassed the U.S. So how much of a concern is that for the U.S. Navy? And is the U.S. doing anything – or, the U.S. Navy doing anything to regain that dominance?
ADM. GILDAY: So the key piece here is allies and partners, right? And so we are not going to outspend China. And so where do we – where we do focus on key capabilities that we think are most important as a nation, number one? And so I don’t want to get into specifics on where those investments are, but it’s focused investments that we have to be concerned about ourselves to make sure that our own national interests are sufficiently protected.
But secondly, the real asymmetric advantage – and I want to underscore asymmetric advantage – that the United States has is with its partners and allies, not only in the region and globally, but India is a supreme example of that, of a partner that we have common interests, as I talked about a few minutes ago, and that in a tangible way our navies can come together to protect those interests, and to cover down on gaps that we each might have in capabilities in order to make us stronger against not just – not just one particular nation, but anybody that wants to interrupt a free and open Indo-Pacific.
We know – we’ve seen over the past seven decades, since Bretton Woods and World War II, that really set this international framework, that navies have been a big part of maintaining security on the seas. And that security has led to prosperity for billions. It’s really – you know, I like to say that the global economy floats on seawater. And so the Indian Ocean I just talked about with factors and figures of the importance of it to everybody, not just – not just to the United States, not just India, not just the people of New Delhi or Washington, D.C., but around the globe.
MICHAEL CAVEY: All right. Shabbir Ahmed from Times Now.
Q: Good evening, sir.
So, basically, is there plans to expand the Malabar Exercise by bringing it to other countries, particularly the U.K.? Is there something on the cards to expand the – (inaudible) – of these exercise by bringing in likeminded countries, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region?
And apart from that, there’s also another question. How worrying is the Chinese navy? You know, the Chinese navy building their nuclear-powered submarines, how concerning is this for the U.S. and for this particular region?
ADM. GILDAY: So with respect to Malabar, so in the future? Sure. That exercise could expand. I think it’s up to the partners inside the Quad to discuss that. But remember, there are multiple exercises that go on in the Indo-Pacific and globally every year, where we bring likeminded allies and partners together to work together. And so I wouldn’t just limit, you know, the value of exercises to Malabar. And I know you didn’t intend to in your question, but there’s many exercises that go on here – go on here regionally that involve the U.K. and a host of other nations.
In terms of Chinese investments in their nuclear capability, and so we’re investing in ours a well. And so I think that in terms of – in terms of Chinese investments, their trajectory has certainly been strong. But I also think – I’ll just speak for the United States – that our investment here has also – has also been very strong. Our shift to the Indo-Pacific, where more than 60 percent of the force structure of the United States Navy is now homeported in waters and operating in waters in the Indo-Pacific, is testimony to that.
MICHAEL CAVEY: OK. And the last question goes to Diankar Peri of The Hindu.
Q: Welcome, Admiral.
India and the U.S. have signed three foundational agreements now, or four, and the last two of them COMCASA and BECA. Can you give a status of their implementation and operationalization, including getting more (strategic ?) systems to assist in – (inaudible) – and what are any progress since 2019? What has been the progress since, both on COMCASA and BECA?
ADM. GILDAY: We have signed a number of agreements with respect to logistics, as an example, and you mentioned with respect to communications. So we’ve moved out very aggressively with respect to the communications piece. I’m not going to speak to the specific capabilities that we’re sharing between our nations, but they are significant, with an eye towards making us more interoperable. And so that is on a very good trajectory.
With respect to – with respect to logistics, we have a – we have used each other’s airfields. We’ve used each other’s ports. We’ve used each other’s refueling capabilities for ships. And so those are just some examples of how we’re leveraging that agreement in a tangible way, with an eye towards interoperability. I just see that getting stronger. That was part of our discussions between myself and Admiral Singh today. And so I just see those agreements being exercised more and more regularly, and being supported by both governments in a very strong way.
Q: Oh, when can you say they’re fully operational? Say BECA, for instance, the last agreement.
ADM. GILDAY: And so they’re operational now. Unless I misunderstood you, sir, with respect to a specific agreement, both the communications agreement and the logistics agreements are alive, well, and blossoming.
MICHAEL CAVEY: OK. Thank you, everyone. For joining us this afternoon. We appreciate your attendance and your thoughtful questions. Have a great afternoon.
ADM. GILDAY: Thank you, everyone.
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