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On the Record Brussels Hub Call with Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy

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Special Briefing via Telephone

Ryan D. McCarthy

Secretary of the Army

July 15, 2020

The Brussels Hub

Moderator: Thank you very much. Greetings to everyone from the U.S. State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I’d like to welcome our participants dialing in from around the world and thank all of you for your patience. Today we are very pleased to be joined by the Honorable Ryan D. McCarthy, the 24th Secretary of the Army. We’ll begin today’s call with opening remarks from the Secretary, and then we will turn to your questions. We will do our best to get to as many as possible in the time that we have, which is still approximately 30 minutes.

As a reminder, today’s call is on the record. And with that, I will turn it over to Secretary McCarthy. Please go ahead, sir.

Secretary McCarthy: Thank you. So I’m on day three of a European swing that had been delayed from the March timeframe because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So we were initially scheduled to be here roughly around St. Patrick’s Day, and departed on Sunday of this week for – from Washington. Starting in the United Kingdom, great discussions with counterparts where we talked about joint training exercises, but in particular made the announcement of a pursuit of a joint modernization effort where we are looking at elaborating on the development of weapons systems and long-range precision fires network, future vertical lift platforms, as well as soldier and ground lethality capabilities.

I also had the opportunity to visit with the 4th Infantry Regiment, the Rifles, and it’s a specialized infantry organization that has been established by the UK army to work specifically on advise-and-assist mission sets. I did a short stint yesterday morning in Belgium, met with General Wolters, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, had some discussions about the recent decision by President Trump of repositioning the forces on the continent and looked at a work plan of how we could perform due diligence and ultimately support those moves.

Yesterday afternoon in Warsaw, Poland, I met with Defense Minister Błaszczak about the Defense Cooperation Agreement negotiations, as well as how we can ultimately – U.S. Army can ultimately meet its portion of the – well, I think it was about 18 months ago, the deal that was developed by President Trump for putting the now 1,000 troops in Poland. And so we looked at where we were in that process. And then this morning I made it up to Poznan, where the 1st Cavalry Division tactical headquarters is stationed here for this deployment, in support of our DEFENDER exercises, and I met with the leadership team and had lengthy discussions about their operations here.

It’s been a very active couple of days, been very productive, and it’s been great to see all these soldiers and our allies performing these very, very critical tasks in support of mission objectives. And with that, I’ll be happy to take your questions.

Moderator: Great. Thank you very much for those remarks. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.

Our first question comes to us from Danila Galperovich with Voice of America. Please go ahead.

Question: Thank you very much, Secretary McCarthy, for doing this call. My question is about whether do you see any buildup of Russian army, Russian conventional weapons and strategical weapons in Europe, from their side, and what is the response of the United States on this buildup if you see and analyze this? Thank you very much.

Secretary McCarthy: We have seen a considerable increase in investment by the Russian army in long-range precision fires and what we call anti-access, so area denial capabilities, missile defense weapons systems, and over time they’ve grown in their sophistication and scale of these capabilities. And then they do seasonal exercises – there’s the pod exercise where they bring substantially sized formations and conduct company and battalion live-fire exercises closer to the border of Poland and the Baltic states.

So noticeable increases of both of those activities over the last really half a dozen to a decade’s worth of years, so we pay very close attention to that and of course conduct a lot of our own exercises on this side of the border.

Moderator: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Deger Akal with Deutsche Welle in Germany. Please go ahead.

Question: My questions would be regarding the southern flank, actually. There are increasing tensions between Turkey and several other European states like Greece, France, Cyprus, especially regarding Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean. How does, in your view, these tensions affect European deterrence? And a follow-up question. Russian influence in the region, especially in the Mediterranean, is increasing. Recently, Trump and Erdogan had a phone call and apparently both sides agreed to cooperate more closely as allies, but could you elaborate? What is the U.S. plan regarding the region? How are you planning to counter the Russian influence?

Secretary McCarthy: So you – I think you talked about two or three different areas in the world there. Obviously we’re watching Libya very closely but not conducting operations there. That’s a very complex situation as it continually evolves. With respect to Southeastern Europe, or more of in the Central and Northern Europe, it’s a very extensive border but the – within our DEFENDER series exercise, U.S. personnel that are forward – deployed forward and are stationed here on the continent conduct a series of exercises where we dynamically force employ our troops from Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, as far north as the Baltics, and conduct joint exercises over the course of the year, and obviously it has been a very effective means of deterrence.

Moderator: Great, thank you very much for that. I’m now going to take a – read a question we received in advance. This was emailed to us from Sydney Freedberg with in the U.S. His question is, “What factors is the Army considering as it potentially pulls troops out of Germany and increases rotational and/or permanent presence in Poland, the Baltic States, et cetera?”

Secretary McCarthy: Yes, so there’s obviously a tension between forward deployed or the rotation of forces. Much of that will be how it supports the OPLAN of General Wolters and our ability to support his needs. So as we continue to perform the due diligence on this change, we will develop options that could support them.

Moderator: Okay, thank you for that, sir. Our next question comes to us from Oskar Górzyński of the Polish press. Please go ahead.

Question: Hi, so I wanted to ask because President Trump has now, I think, said it twice that the troops being withdrawn from Germany will in part, at least, come to Poland. So is that official policy or is it – has anything been decided in that regard? And also can you talk about some more details about your discussions about the one – the DCA?

Secretary McCarthy: So, first, with reference to the 1,000 troops I mentioned in my opening remarks, that was from 18 months ago when President Duda visited the United States. So that is different; that has nothing to do with the repositioning of troops from Germany, the recent decision by President Trump. So they’re two different segments there, so I want to make sure that there’s no confusion. So the thousand that I mentioned in our discussions is just ultimately how that fulfilment is made, and much of it has to do with the Defense Cooperation Agreement that we are in the midst of negotiating and is very close to conclusion.

Moderator: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question comes to us from Lee Hudson with Aviation Week. Please go ahead.

Question: Hi, thanks for taking my question. I was hoping you could talk a little bit more about the agreement with the UK on long-range precision fires and future vertical lift. Were there any agreements signed? Will any UK reps be in the program office in Alabama? Can you just give us a little bit more detail there? Thank you.

Secretary McCarthy: So in that respect there’s – we – the agreement puts together the work plan for our respective services to meet over the next several months and have the back-and-forth where they get to see the capabilities that can best support their needs and how they’re interoperable in nature, how we could co-develop certain capabilities that can help us get the next-generation weapons system but also to be complementary, if necessary, for our forces as we deploy here. There’s obviously a special relationship; we always fight together. So there’s as much potential economic benefits or military benefits. So they’re going to be back and forth a lot with PEO Aviation and the future vertical lift CFT, as well as long-range precision fires. The weapons systems today that the U.S. Army is developing are the ones you’re going to look at, like the precision strike missile and the long-range fires portfolio, as well as the attack reconnaissance version of the long-range assault.

So the UK is looking at whether they would recapitalize HIMARS or they would go to PrSM, for example. On the lift side, they are rightsizing their portfolio of lift platforms today. So they’re on the cusp of another procurement of CH-47 Chinooks, but they’re also looking at, over the long term, what would ultimately be the replacement platform, potentially long-range assault aircraft.

Moderator: Great, thank you very much for that, sir. Our next question was submitted to us in advance from Jovana Djurisic with Pobjeda in Montenegro. Her question is, “The U.S. military last year sent an elite cyber team to Montenegro to protect networks and study the tactics of adversaries like Russia. Can you please tell us, what are some of the conclusions of these teams? And is there a reason to worry, keeping in mind that Montenegro has elections in less than two months?”

Secretary McCarthy: The – a lot of times the – I mean, much of the findings are classified in nature, but what the opportunity did present for us was having these teams forward and operating on the continent and developing some very strong relationships. But they – it did present opportunities for us to have a better understanding of how to support operational plans here on the continent.

Moderator: Great, thank you very much for that, sir. Our next question comes to us from Nicholas Fiorenza with Jane’s Defence. Please go ahead.

Question: Hello. I was going to actually ask also a question about this cooperation with the UK, but maybe I’ll ask a different question. But just a clarification on that. I mean, the discussions with the UK on these different programs, that’s at the military-to-military level? I suppose the embassy is not involved, at least not yet? And then my backup question is actually, is there any more clarity about what U.S. units will be – will be – will leave Germany?

Secretary McCarthy: Okay, so on your first question, it is military-to-military and what we did was really lock in on a certain set of weapons systems: precision strike missiles, the lift platforms I mentioned, the common operating picture and some on the networks. On the soldier lethality front, the next-generation squad weapon, night-vision goggles. We talked about – to them about the integrated visual augmentation system as well. So that is at the mil-to-mil, and at the – if the interest leads to a buying decision, then obviously we will bring industry into the fold, but that could come very soon on a couple of them.

With respect to the repositioning of forces, we are in the process of looking at, mechanically, how to do that and to where.

Moderator: Great, thanks so much for that. Our next question comes to us from Joyce Karam with The National newspaper. Please go ahead, Joyce.

Question: Yes, hi, good morning. Thanks for doing this. I have a two-part question. The first one: Did the issue of Russian bounties in Afghanistan at all come up in your discussions with the Europeans? And my second question is: It’s been almost a year since Turkey acquired the S-400s, and they’ve tested them – November 2019. We haven’t seen actually a sanction on Turkey, but how much is the Russian system being in Turkey, how much do you see that of a threat and has that come up at all in your talks with the Europeans? Thank you.

Secretary McCarthy: With respect to the Russian bounties, that has not been discussed with counterparts this week. On the S-400s, you had asked since – if the procurement of this, how does it affect the relationship with the United States? It brings a great deal of complication, obviously, to our relationship and it’s something that we continually try to work through in diplomatic channels as well as on the mil-to-mil side.

Moderator: Great, thank you very much for that. Our next question was submitted to us in advance from Kjetil Stormark with Aldrimer in Norway. He has a two-part question. “What challenges do you see for the U.S. Army as far as future deployments for the Army in Europe in general, and Norway/the Northern Flank more specifically?” And the second question: “How important is it that Norway increases the capacity of the Norwegian army and how would you comment on the Norwegian Government decision to invest in new Main Battle Tanks (MBT) for the army?”

Secretary McCarthy: So the one thing that I always say every time I come and meet with allies in Europe is: logistics. Whether it be investments in infrastructure, whether it be rail or roads, and their ability to flow capability is everything. So that’s a conversation I have publicly and privately at every opportunity.

With respect to Norway, definitely the – the investments they make in their army, we’re very encouraged by that, but the Norwegian Government has been very wise with their investments over the last decade in particular with the F-35, P-3s, as well as in their maritime domain. So it’s an incredibly strong ally that has made very sound investments to strengthen their portfolio across all their services.

Moderator: Great, thank you very much for that, sir. Our next question comes to us from Tomas Nehls with ARD-Radio in Germany. Please go ahead.

Question: Yes, hello. I just have a question, just one question, but a little critical, if I may. Deterrence actions, all in all, seem to be in fashion in these days and so let me ask you precisely: Why is it strategically appropriate when NATO troops, Americans, and others move forward more and more to Russian borders? How would you define precisely the threat that comes from Russia, from Moscow, let’s say beyond disinformation that we know about and beyond modernizing their own weaponry?

Secretary McCarthy: So with respect to expansion, all of our U.S. forces that have been positioned throughout the continent and the way and manner in which we dynamically force employ helps strengthen our partnerships, our resolve, and our ability to operate together. I think the Russians’ actions in 2008 in South Ossetia and Georgia, or 2014 in Crimea, or 2015 in Syria, or 2018-19 in Libya and other places, these incursions have been kinetic in nature. So clearly, we need to be in place to ensure that we can strengthen our allies and not present any vulnerability on any of the flanks.

They have made substantial investments, as I mentioned earlier, in A2/AD capabilities as well as other long-range strike capabilities, like hypersonics and others. So at every opportunity we need to strengthen our allies.

Moderator: Great. Thanks very much for that, sir. I’ll do another question that was submitted to us in advance. This is from Lusine Petrosyan with Hraparak Daily in Armenia. Her question is, “My impression from open sources is that the U.S. has developed pretty strong military cooperation with Georgia, both on a bilateral basis and through the lines of NATO, the OSCE, et cetera. That volume of cooperation exceeds cooperation with Armenia by several-fold. Do you think there will be a change in the possibility of increasing and expanding U.S. cooperation with Armenia? Thank you.”

Secretary McCarthy: So with respect to Georgia, that comes on the heels of my comment with the last reporter. We increased that commitment because of the hostile activities in 2008 and we wanted to ensure that we had the ability to help strengthen that partner but have the presence there necessary to show that we’ll be there to support them.

With respect to Armenia, obviously, we’ve had discussions about how we support all of our allies all the time, so we’re constantly reevaluating these opportunities and we’ll have more to probably talk about here in the near future.

Moderator: Great. Thank you very much, sir. Our next question comes to us from John Vandiver with Stars and Stripes. Please go ahead, sir.

Question: Yeah, thanks very much. Yes, Secretary, I appreciate you taking the call. Quick question: Last month, Secretary Esper put out a statement saying that President Trump had, in fact, approved the plans to pull forces from Germany. Can you say, does that mean at this point that you guys have identified the units, or are you guys still trying to work through which units are to stay and which are to go?

And then also connected to that, Secretary Esper mentioned that this plan will improve deterrence in Europe, and I was hoping maybe you could kind of explain how that will happen. Thanks.

Secretary McCarthy: How that’ll all specifically roll out and all the mechanical details, really that will come out in the coming weeks, so I’m not going to get out in front of my boss on this one.

Moderator: Great. Thank you for that, sir. I understand. Our final question of the day is going to go to Lena Klimkeit with the Germany Press Agency, DPA. Please go ahead.

Question: Hi, thanks for doing this. So my questions were already answered in part, but I wanted to come back to the announcement of President Trump to withdraw the troops from Germany or some troops from Germany as well. So this step was widely answered as a punishment because Germany does not meet the goal of spending two percent of its GDP for defense. So my question is: Is it possible, in your point of view, that as soon as it would meet the two percent, the U.S. would reevaluate this step again? And how does this impression of punishment affect your work with the allies?

Secretary McCarthy: So I think – I’m not involved in the macro-level decisions for the – any – with respect to anything like a reevaluation or anything of that nature. The repositioning of forces is a decision that has been made to best support our ability to execute national objectives and support our NATO allies here on the continent.

Moderator: Thank you for that, sir. I’d like to thank Secretary McCarthy for joining us today and thank all the reporters on the line for your participation and for your questions.

Secretary McCarthy, before we go, do you have any closing remarks you’d like to offer?

Secretary McCarthy: Other than the fact that just very encouraged by what I’ve seen with both the support and investments here that our Polish counterparts have made in Poland today. A lot of exciting things in the United Kingdom with the transformation of the British army. They have not gone under any great review like this is many, many years and they’re making some very bold and aggressive decisions to ensure that they can maintain a very, very strong army for decades to come.

I appreciate everybody taking the time today and we’ll talk soon. Thank you.

Moderator: Thank you again, Secretary McCarthy. The Brussels Hub will circulate a transcript of the call shortly to those who RSVP’d. A digital recording of today’s call will be available for 24 hours. I will now turn it back over to AT&T to provide instructions on how to access the recording. This concludes today’s call. Thank you very much.

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