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Heidi Grant on U.S. Air Force Global Partnerships

August 29, 2017

RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft. CREDIT: Bobbi Zapka/U.S. Air Force

Podcast music: Blindhead and Mick Lexington.

DEVIN STEWART: Hi. I'm Devin Stewart here at Carnegie Council in New York City, and today I'm speaking with Heidi Grant, who is deputy under secretary of the Air Force for international affairs, based in Washington, DC.

Heidi, thanks so much for speaking with us today over the phone.

HEIDI GRANT: Thanks for the opportunity, Devin.

DEVIN STEWART: Heidi, your office is a little-known part of the United States Air Force. Can you please tell our listeners, what does the Office for International Affairs do at the Air Force?

HEIDI GRANT: My organization leads and synchronizes the Air Force security cooperation efforts. These efforts are conducted by every regional and functional organization across the entire Air Force, so worldwide. We conduct security cooperation with over a hundred countries.

Just to explain a little bit the term "security cooperation," because I think many people look at it and have different definitions of security cooperation, but we see security cooperation as the act of working together with international partners and allies to address shared security challenges and find common objectives to meet our mutual national security interests.

DEVIN STEWART: How do these partnerships help the U.S. Air Force when dealing with security issues?

HEIDI GRANT: It really helps the U.S. Air Force if we have strong partners and strong relationships with these countries. Just a few key things I talk about are that we're stronger together, and that also if we have strong partners it mitigates coalition risk. So those are just a few ways that it benefits the U.S. Air Force.

If I were to look at it from kind of a broader perspective on how it even benefits our nation, if we look at our industry alone, as the U.S. Department of Defense resources began being constrained we found that the U.S. industry kind of pivoted their efforts more toward our international partners, so it has really benefited our industrial base, that's one piece of it in the industrial area.

But again, being able to more effectively deter threats collectively and building this network of capable partners during peacetime rather than waiting until we're in the middle of a conflict—and I can tell you, I'm from the Washington, DC area, specifically Mt. Vernon, and there is actually a pretty good George Washington quote out there where he talks about that it's important to build capable partners during peacetime, that it prevents war. It actually deters war. It says: "To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace."

DEVIN STEWART: Before we talk about the security challenges that you're looking at right now, what do the partnerships look like? Can you give us a sense of how they are implemented mechanically?

HEIDI GRANT: The way the partnerships are implemented mechanically are a variety of ways, but I can tell you that the way that I do most of my engagement is through attending air shows around the world. I'm actually gearing up to attend one here in South Korea soon. There's one in October. And by going just to one air show, there are typically over 30 chiefs of air forces in one location.

What happens there is we sit down sometimes to do bilateral meetings or multilateral meetings between countries and discuss common security challenges, and then discuss how we can work together to address those. It can be a variety of activities—through exercising together; it could be through purchasing common interoperable equipment for our air forces, and I can tell you sometimes it's just a matter of agreeing to access to each other's countries. We have some countries that operate their aircraft—they train in the United States because they don't have the airspace that they need in their countries to have the readiness levels that they need, so they operate in the United States. And vice versa, oftentimes in the United States we work agreements with other air forces so we can have access to their bases or also access just for overflight of their countries.

DEVIN STEWART: Are those deals about access made public?

HEIDI GRANT: Some are and some aren't. The way I do business is it's not up to me to reveal the agreements that we have. I'd rather the partner nation—if it's in their interest to be public about these agreements, then it's up to them to share that.

DEVIN STEWART: When you talk about common security challenges, let's talk about what you're seeing out there. How would you describe the current security challenges, particularly in Asia, and how is the United States Air Force responding?

HEIDI GRANT: Well, I can tell you in Asia I look at—there are actually three areas that not only the United States is focused on, but when I have these meetings with the air chiefs in Asia what they talk to me about, what they're concerned about, are the mutual areas. One is, as we're seeing today in the news, the latest missile that went over Japan from North Korea. North Korea is a significant challenge and threat to many of the nations right now. So that is one area.

The second area is China's increased aggressive maneuvers in the East China Sea and their continued militarization of the South China Sea.

Then the third one is the violent extremist organizations occupying territory in the Philippines and attempting to have greater influence in the region.

So those are the three areas that I would say are on the mind of not only the United States, but many of our partners in Asia, and worldwide, actually.

DEVIN STEWART: What is the U.S. Air Force's response to those three areas?

HEIDI GRANT: My role is to work with these countries to find how we can strengthen security in the region and deter any kind of increase in tension in the region.

I can tell you what I'm seeing right now is what I would call "nontraditional partners." We're seeing partners that we haven't traditionally had who want to become closer to the United States, get more support from the United States. I'm seeing where in the past many countries only wanted to have a bilateral relationship with the United States, they're very interested in expanding it into regional, doing regional exercises.

Where this benefits the United States and our other nations is it is not only being prepared for a conflict or war so we can be stronger together in that response, but it's also going to be of benefit if there is a humanitarian disaster. If you think of how many humanitarian disasters the United States and our coalition have been part of in the region, it is really going to benefit having stronger partners being able to do mobility. We've seen it already with India in particular.

DEVIN STEWART: Can you elaborate on the partnership with India?

HEIDI GRANT: Absolutely. I've been in this position for seven years now, and one of our biggest success stories, I would say, that I have witnessed is with our relationship with India. Our countries are two of the oldest and largest democracies in the world, and there is a lot we can accomplish together with the foundation of this strong relationship. We went from rarely talking a few years ago—a relationship of what I would couch as skepticism, suspicion, and doubt on both sides—and it has been replaced by cooperation, dialogue, and trust.

The specific example I have is the purchase of equipment, where they purchased both the C-130 and also a C-17. These are both mobility aircraft. Shortly after they purchased the C-17 aircraft—and we worked with them and trained together on them—they were able to respond to a humanitarian situation in Nepal, and then they were also able to use that C-17 to evacuate citizens out of Yemen.

If I go back to your question on what benefit this has to the United States, well, that's operational avoidance. Would the United States have had to be there with our C-17 and C-130 to do some of these operations? But now you can just imagine the pride that India and the people of India must have seeing their own nation going to evacuate their citizens.

DEVIN STEWART: So "operational avoidance" means when a partner takes the place of America's work, is that it?

HEIDI GRANT: Right, right. I'll give you an example right now—and this is larger than the Asia example—but when I look at operations we did several years ago in Libya and lessons learned out of that, the U.S. contribution, we did about 80 percent of the intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, the ISR, and 70 percent of air-refueling requirements. If I were going to pick two areas that I'm looking at how do I build the capability of partners to mitigate operational risk or where other countries can step up, it's ISR and air refueling that are the two big areas where I'm trying to grow their capabilities.

DEVIN STEWART: And what is ISR, for our listeners?

HEIDI GRANT: It is intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. One area, both in Korea and Japan that we're working in this area, is something called the Global Hawk. We're working with them on that to increase their capability.

Another piece of equipment that the Air Force has is the MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft. Some people refer to it as a "drone," but at the Air Force we don't like that term; we prefer "remotely piloted aircraft," because it actually takes more people to operate a remotely piloted aircraft than it does a piloted aircraft.

DEVIN STEWART: And Global Hawk, how long has that been going on?

HEIDI GRANT: Oh my goodness, it has been years, like 20-plus. I don't have the exact number, but Global Hawk has been around for a long time.

DEVIN STEWART: Is that both with Japan and Korea together?

HEIDI GRANT: With Japan and Korea, this is a new relationship with them, a new capability that we're just working with them. They're not operational yet; we're still working with them on it. They've purchased them, but we're still moving forward on those.

DEVIN STEWART: So you've seen the Air Force change over the course of the time that you've been in that position. You started there about seven years ago in that position, is that right?

HEIDI GRANT: That's right.

DEVIN STEWART: How did you come into that position in the first place?

HEIDI GRANT: It was a long route. I've been with the Department of Defense for about 28 years now, and I'm actually a financial manager by expertise. I'm what I would call a "Pentagon survivor." I was here on 9/11, a 9/11 survivor here, and I was in charge of the combating terrorism budget that day.

When I saw the number of countries that really stepped up to help the United States that day, my passion went toward how do we then help these other nations and try to avoid any type of situation like we went through on 9/11? So that is where my passion turned. Shortly after that I was hired at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) to use my talents toward the Afghanistan and Iraq war to prepare not only the United States, but we had 65 nations at CENTCOM, over 250 senior military from other countries. That is really, again, my passion, hearing from them that they would love to step up and do more, but they didn't have the equipment or the training they needed, and I heard about this position.

I went from there to U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), again, trying to help some of the African nations, seeing if we could work together. Then the Air Force asked me to take this position to work with air forces around the world.

The passion, as you can hear, is how do we have more capable air forces around the world, and airspace, cyberspace capability? We have willing partners, but right now many of them just don't have the capability they need to be a valued partner.

DEVIN STEWART: Over the course of those past seven years, what changes have you seen? I know you've written about this recently.

HEIDI GRANT: Right. One of the biggest changes that I've seen is the interest in this area. This used to be an area where we said, "Oh, let's work with partners" because it was a nice thing to do. I think now with the global challenges we're seeing it's going to take a global coalition and global partners; how do we strengthen together to get out there? So I've seen that; there is more interest. And I can tell you, if you look at anything that our secretary of defense talks about, it's about strengthening our partners and allies. Our new secretary of the Air Force, Heather Wilson, one of her top five priorities is strengthening our partners and alliances. So that's there.

There has been a lot of effort focused on how do we speed up our processes, process improvement. Even in Congress right now there is defense authorization language looking at this security cooperation community and how do we better train, develop, and promote people who have the language skills, cultural skills, and planning skills to work with a coalition. So there is a huge emphasis on this area just within the last year.

DEVIN STEWART: Is the interest going both ways? Do you see interest in the world as well with working with the United States?

HEIDI GRANT: Right. I think the demand, because of these challenges that we're seeing globally—China, Russia, North Korea, and terrorists, to name a few—more and more partners are demanding alliances with us or support with us.

They have a choice—and this is one thing that I don't think many people understand. Many of these nations have pretty significant defense budgets, and they have a choice on who they partner with to spend their next dollar on as far as their equipment, their training, their support, who they allow access to their bases and overflight. They have a choice. And they're choosing the United States. I see the demand right now is greater than it has ever been.

DEVIN STEWART: Any other changes you've seen over the past few years?

HEIDI GRANT: I think those are the big ones right there. And I think from the policy that we've had over the last numerous years about this pivot to the Pacific, I think it has really paid off. So I look over this past seven years, and having that focus on the Pacific has really paid off.

Everybody hears about the Middle East and what we're doing—the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), we do have 70 partners in the fight against ISIS; 20 of those are in the air domain. But we still had this big emphasis on the Pacific and building our partners. And like I said, I think we have more partners than we had seven years ago, and I already gave you the India example, the strength of that relationship, the history we have together, and how important it is.

DEVIN STEWART: Final question, Heidi: Part of our series is about looking at possibilities in the future and potential worst-case scenarios. Looking ahead at what you'd like to see and what types of cooperations you'd like to see happen, what worries you in your work, and what would you like to see happen to address those fears?

HEIDI GRANT: I'm not worried, because I'm seeing this increased demand from different countries who want to partner with us. So I'm not worried.

What I am worried about is global resource challenges. People have domestic challenges, economic challenges, so my concern is that we need to make sure that there is a focus on having strong defense globally. Many partners in the past who had relied on the United States would draw down on our munitions and our stocks, and I think people are realizing now because of lessons learned in the ISIS fight that they need to start making sure they have their own stocks, have their own equipment. So it is something we're talking about.

My biggest concern is lack of resources for defense establishments. That's why we all need to be talking about the importance that if we prepare for war, I really believe it will keep the peace. It deters war if we're all prepared for war. So that would be my biggest message to everybody, is the importance of having these strong defense establishments.

The other thing I want to do is make sure I sustain this open dialogue with our partners and allies so we can continue to identify areas of shared challenges that we can meet together. Those would be the main focuses that I have for the future.

DEVIN STEWART: Heidi Grant is deputy under secretary of the Air Force for international affairs, based in Washington, DC. Heidi, thank you so much for your time today. It has been very informative.

HEIDI GRANT: Thanks, Devin. I appreciate the opportunity.

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