Joint Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Minister MacKay From Ottawa, Canada

MODERATOR: At this time I would like to invite the Honorable Peter Mackay, minister of national defense, and U.S. secretary of defense, the Honorable Dr. Robert Gates, to the stage.

MIN. PETER MACKAY: Thank you very much, Captain. And first of all I want to thank my friend, Secretary Robert Gates, for his fifth visit to Canada and also for his personal flexibility in helping to redefine the scope of our meetings today. As you’re probably aware, it’s unfortunate that our Mexican colleague, Secretary of Defense General Galvan, was unable to join us today due to illness. We are hopeful that we can schedule this trilateral meeting as soon as possible.

Clearly working together, defense institutions in Mexico, the United States and in Canada have a lot to contribute to the security of North America. For our part, our discussions today, we’re focused on bilateral, hemispheric and global issues.

TRANSLATOR: Canada and the United States are partners for a long period of time, in terms of defense and our bilateral relations are very solid. Threats to our security are extremely complex and for this reason we must work together even more.

MIN. MACKAY: Today, I feel confident in saying that Secretary Gates and I were successful in strengthening and expanding the already strong defense relationship that exists between our two countries and in improving our bilateral coordination to effectively address threats to our common security. Secretary Gates and I also addressed important issues related to the security of our hemisphere, including the strategic role played by the great states of Oregon and Washington. We discussed a situation in Mexico and Central America and about how we can help our partners in the region. We also pledged to have our armed forces continue to support the important work of civilian law enforcement agencies encountering illicit activities such as narcotics, human trafficking and piracy, and of course military procurements like the F-35 program.

On the bilateral front, we discussed our bilateral efforts through NORAD as well as new challenges facing our defense and security institutions such as maritime domain awareness which now falls under NORAD, and ways to make our maritime approaches safer and cyber threats, and to that end empowering the Joint Permanent Board on Defense to continue its important work. The secretary and I also discussed important global issues. Afghanistan of course figured prominently in the discussion, NATO, and global challenges like Iran. We also touched on his recent visit to China and issues relating to Russia.

TRANSLATOR: The threat to our security does not respect the borders, and for this reason we shall continue to work together.

MIN. MACKAY: Hemispheric or global problems. Neither the United States nor Canada, nor Mexico for that matter, can afford to work in isolation. What Secretary Gates and I discussed today will deepen the unique partnership between our countries on important defense issues and ultimately increase security for our citizens and our coordinated contributions to global security.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT GATES: Thank you, Peter. Thanks as well to the people of Ottawa for their warm hospitality during this visit, the hospitability considerably warmer than the weather.

I too regret that Mexican Defense Secretary Galvan is not feeling well. We surely wish him a speedy recovery and look forward to future opportunities to initiate trilateral discussions.

Minster Mackay and I agreed some time ago that despite the United States and Canada’s frequent engagement in multinational security forums such as NATO and our ISAF talks, there remains a need to strengthen the U.S.- Canadian bilateral defense relationship. I’m glad we were able to continue that dialogue with today’s productive discussions.

In our meetings, Minister Mackay and I followed up on the issues raised last week at the 226th meeting of the Permanent Joint Board on Defense, a bilateral forum whose longevity is a testimony to the enduring nature of the U.S.-Canada alliance. We discussed expanding our cooperation in the Arctic, coordinating our maritime security assistance to Caribbean allies, and sharing our best defense practices for supporting civilian authorities. The Canadian military’s work during last year’s Olympics is an admirable example of how to provide this kind of support.

Peter and I agree that increasingly the threats we face on the North American continent, from transnational criminal organizations including NARCO traffickers to national disasters, require a high level of coordination among multiple agencies in our two governments. Last October, the Department of Homeland Security and Public Safety Canada participated in a joint exercise in strengthening cyber defense. Moving forward, we’ll examine together how the advanced defenses of our military networks might also be applied to protect critical civilian infrastructure.

I was also grateful for the chance to reiterate the United States Government’s strong commitment to the joint strike fire, the F-35, which continues to benefit from Canadian collaboration during development. Despite some recent adjustments to the program, I am confident that the F-35 will be the backbone of our tactical air force fleet for years to come, and I’m pleased that the Canadian military will make it theirs as well.

And of course our militaries collaborate most closely in Afghanistan. The United States is deeply appreciative of Canada’s leadership and hard-fought and hard-won victories in RC South. No country has suffered more fallen heroes proportionately than has Canada, and I extend our country’s sympathy, prayers and admiration to their families. As Canadian forces begin transitioning from a combat role to one focused primarily on training the Afghan police and military, I’m convinced that they will be just as successful in this new capacity. As I’ve said many times before, training the Afghan security forces is the pillar of our strategy and key to our ultimate success.

Moving forward, we will also continue collaboration in multilateral forums such as last fall’s conference of the Defense Ministers of the Americas in Bolivia to promote regional institutions and agreements that coordinate humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, the value of which we saw so clearly when responding to the tragedy in Haiti. The Canadian – U.S. alliance is strong and enduring. It increases the safety of our people at home and serves as the bedrock foundation of our efforts to promote peace and security in North America, the western hemisphere, and throughout the world. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Mackay and thank you, Secretary Gates.

I’d like to invite reporters to now raise their hand, and if you have a question, I remind you to limit yourself to one question. Please identify yourself and your media agency and to whom you are addressing your question to.

TRANSLATOR: I now invite the journalists to raise your hands should you have a question, and I would remind you to limit yourselves to one question. Please indicate the press agency that you represent and specify the person to whom you are asking the question.

Q: Robert (inaudible) from CDV News. A question to Secretary Gates.

Given the cost overruns and delays in the development of the F-35, Mr. Secretary, how many F-35s will be built and how will it affect Canada’s unit costs including in-service maintenance? And you know the liberal party, if elected, say they will pull out. What would be the effect of that, of pulling out of the F-35?

SEC. GATES: Well, we have a number of international partners, and we have every intention of a very large buy in the United States. I think our ultimate goal by the time the program is completed is something on the order of 2,3[00] or 2,400 F-35s for each of our three services — for the three services combined. Our current program, even after the adjustments to the program, is to have 325 aircraft built by 2016. We have made some adjustments to the program. We have thoroughly reviewed the program.

The new program manager, Admiral Venlet, took several months toward the end of last year to review every single aspect of this program, 120 different technical experts going into every corner of the program. We have added about $4.5 billion of U.S. funds to the system development budget to in fact make sure that we stay on the schedule that we now have subsequent to the adjustments made last fall. So I’m fairly confident that we are making good progress. Both the Air Force and Navy variance — Canada is buying the Air Force variant — are actually progressing quite well. It is the short takeoff vertical landing aircraft that’s encountering some challenges and the one that I’ve in essence put on probation. But the Air Force variant as well as the Navy variant are proceeding. There don’t seem to be any significant technical challenges so I have a lot of confidence in this program going forward.

We are working very closely with the manufacturer in terms of cost, and particularly driving the cost down. There are no cost increases in the program for this year, and in fact we have negotiated a contract for the next major buy that represents a decrease in cost, and we are going to keep working on this.

Obviously, having all of our partners continue to be with us in this program is very important, and I’m pleased at the number of our allies who are going forward with the F-35. It is a true fifth-generation fighter. It will give us significant capabilities. It will continue the interoperability that has been at the heart of our NORAD relationship for decades now. And so without getting into domestic affairs in Canada, I would just say that my hope is, that for all of our sakes, that all of our partners continue to move forward with us on this program.

Q: Hello. Bob Burns with Associated Press. May I ask a question of Secretary Gates?

I take you to a different region if I could. In the Middle East and North Africa, where there’s been a spreading wave of civil unrest from Tunisia, as you know, to Egypt, a major U.S. ally, to Yeomen and possibly beyond. I’m wondering if you could tell us what you make of this situation, where you see it headed, and does this unfolding situation put at risk U.S. and national security interests in the region?

SEC. GATES: We obviously have a number of close friends and allies in the region with whom we work very closely on a wide array of issues, not just in the region but globally. At the same time, the United States has been clear that the human and political rights of people are fundamental, and the economic challenges that face many of the people in the Middle East, as well as elsewhere, are important as well. And therefore, we encourage reform across the board that addresses these challenges and look forward to continuing to work with these governments.

Q: Murray Brewster with the Canadian Press.

Minster Mackay, we’ve been hearing that the training mission in Afghanistan is going to be Kabul-centric, and I’m wondering if you can explain exactly what Kabul-centric means and whether Canadian trainers will be restricted to Kabul or will the go where NATO needs them?

MIN. MACKAY: Well, Murray, thank you.

The intention obviously is when we say Kabul-centric to mean just that, that the number of forces somewhere in the range of 950, as you know, will flow after July into that training mission. That transition will start to occur consistent with the parliamentary motion, consistent with the prime minister’s undertaking. And Kabul-centric means that based on our ability to secure the type of facility necessary, which, as you know, is a static behind-the-wire-based facility, it will be in the capitol, in Kabul.

Now, we have looked at a few locations in the nearby region, that is to say, in the North, that are in close proximity to Kabul that would also facilitate the type of training that we’re undertaking. And we’re in negotiations right now with NATO, with our allies, our closest allies, including the United States, to determine specifically some of the more urgent types of training that are required.

But the feedback that we’ve received thus far, and our chief of defense staff, Walt Natynczyk, is in these discussions right now with Admiral Mullen, his counterpart, as well as with General Petraeus, we’ve received of course a lot of direct feedback as to where we can optimize that effort, where we can put Canadian knowledge, know-how, skill and resources to the task of training Afghan national security forces. And some of that, as you’re well aware, involves police training, military police training, in addition to the classic military training that’s going on now.

We have now roughly 300 Canadian soldiers dedicated to the task of training, but that is in a different context, of course, down in the south. In RC South they are participating in OMLT and POMLT training, so operational mentoring and liaison for police, and that is more clearly in the field and outside the wire. That training will cease in July. We’ll being the static, on the base training in and around Kabul.

MODERATOR: We’ll now take one last question.

Q: Thank you. Mr. MacKay, I’d like to know about the F-35s, if we can come back to this subject matter. Your government has been telling us that if we don’t purchase them that Canada will be excluded from the program. I’d like to know if you discussed this and what the answer was.

I can just repeat in English. I’d just like to know if Canada was to decide to not buy F-35, does it mean that we’re out of the program? Thank you.

MIN. MACKAY: (Translated.) First of all, it’s clear that it’s the intention of our government, the government of Canada, to proceed with the purchase. This is a solid decision, as far as I am concerned, for the government, and so therefore as far as I am concerned, it’s a decision that involves a lot of understanding on behalf of the government, the air force more particularly, and it’s a decision which is necessary because, as you well know, for the period until 2020, there were strong possibilities in terms of an operational gap. If we make the decision now to replace all the aircraft, the CF-18s, then there’s a certain risk, as far as the decision is concerned, to delay the purchase.

Also, because the decision of previous liberal governments began this overall process, Canada had a preferential position in this process as far as the price is concerned and the priority in the production line. So therefore it’s a pity the government now is dealing with a situation which in my opinion, the opposition, the head of the liberal party – that we’re playing a political game. And it’s a risk for the Canadian forces, for the security of our country, as well as for the future contract is concerned. Because, as I said, we had a preferential position in this process and, as Secretary Gates stated, in order to purchase a fifth generation aircraft there is no other aircraft with the same capabilities, with the same equipment on the plane, on the aircraft, and it’s a decision which in my opinion, with an awful lot of implications for the future, if the future government should decide to cancel this project, this contract.

Q: Mr. MacKay and thank you Secretary Gates, excuse me, we’re very tight on time.

MIN. MACKAY: Just very briefly, Captain. What I’ve indicated is, look, our government has taken the decision to proceed with a process that began under the previous liberal government – in fact, you could go back to 1997 when this process to purchase the F-35 really began, there was investments made at that time and since that time – somewhere in the range of $168 million to be part of this consortium. And my fear, in addition to losing a preferential place in the production line, is cancelling the contract now could, in fact, result in an operational gap where, if around the year 2017, 2018 when we’re starting to take delivery of the F-35, our F-18s are going to be taken out of use, and so there is a very, shall we say, a sweet spot in terms of the delivery time and the investment that allows us to be in that production line, that global supply chain of, as Secretary Gates has said, when we start taking delivery.

And we need this aircraft. It is the only fifth generation aircraft that has the capabilities, the onboard equipment, the stealth capability, the weapons radar system that is interoperable with our colleagues, our allies in the United States through NORAD. It is an aircraft that will allow us to face what future threats may exist. And this is where we’re into the realm of speculation. But clearly, we have a responsibility under NORAD, we have a responsibility to Canadians. And – I’m quick to add – we have a responsibility to the young men and women who fly and maintain these aircraft to give them the proper equipment and tools to do the important job that we ask of them. It’s also extremely good for our Canadian aerospace industry.

Canada will be part of this consortium that allows Canadian aerospace companies to bid on the global supply chain of these aircraft. That takes us well beyond what traditionally is described as industrial regional benefits that would limit us to the production of 65 aircraft. By being part of this consortium, and nine countries, possibly more, we’re looking at being able to supply parts for aircraft in excess of, potentially, 3,000 or more. So that, in my view, opens up greater competition, but greater opportunity for Canadian aerospace and gives us cutting edge technology when it comes to the aircraft that we need for the 21st Century.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Minister MacKay. Thank you, Secretary Gates. This concludes the question and answer session. The ministers will now gather for a photo on the left side of the stage.

U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)

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