By Andrea Shalal-Esa
DUBAI, Nov 20 (Reuters) - Tighter military budgets in theUnited States and around the world have put a huge focus oncoalitions and burden-sharing in forming responses to futureconflicts and disasters, senior U.S. officials said at the DubaiAirshow.
Heidi Grant, Air Force deputy undersecretary forinternational affairs, said the need to work together moreclosely on everything from aerial refueling to intelligencegathering was a recurrent theme during her meetings with overhalf of the 30 air chiefs who attended the show.
"As the Department of Defense budgets become smaller, I'mseeing partners stepping up even more and more, looking at howthey can help mitigate potential capability risk areas," Granttold Reuters in an interview.
"There's a huge demand out there. People realize that none ofus are going to be able to go it alone," she said.
Grant said foreign military sales played an increasinglyimportant role in U.S. foreign policy since budget cuts wouldmake it more difficult for the U.S. military to take the lead inas many simultaneous situations as it had in the past.
"Foreign military sales and security cooperation ... used tobe something that the U.S. looked at as a nice thing to do. Nowit is a major tool," she said.
At the time of the NATO strikes on Libya in March 2011, U.S.forces were involved in five separate operations across theglobe, but that would be impossible as budgets dropped, shesaid, noting other countries would have to step up more.
"We realize that we've got to be with a coalition, and wewant a capable coalition," she said.
Grant is part of a large delegation of U.S. government andmilitary officials who came to the biggest-ever Dubai air showthis week to underscore Washington's commitment to securitycooperation in the Gulf, at a time when U.S. talks with Iranhave unsettled some long-time U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia.
A dozen U.S. fighters, helicopters and other warplanes wereon display at the show, with two Marine Corps V-22 tiltrotoraircraft taking potential buyers for demonstration flights.
A few miles away at Dubai's busy port the USS Harry S.Truman - its flight deck jammed with F/A-18 Super Hornets andolder "Baby Hornets" - hosted a reception for over 700 guests asthey discussed foreign sales of U.S. equipment.
"Whatever concerns our partners may have had about thenegotiations with the Iranians, the fact that we're all showingup here says we are not turning on a dime," said a U.S.official. "The Gulf is and remains a really important region."
AS STRONG AS EVER
U.S. executives and government delegates said they had notseen any signs of waning demand from Saudi Arabia and the restof the Gulf, despite political tensions over the United States'handing of the crisis in Syria, its response to a militarytakeover in Egypt and fresh talks with Iran.
"Our relationship ... is as strong as it's ever been," saidPatrick Dewar, executive vice president of Lockheed MartinInternational.
The many weapons sales discussed at the show includedfighter jets sales to Gulf countries, missile defense deals anda modernization of the Saudi Arabian navy.
Grant said she also encouraged any allies looking at BoeingCo's C-17 transport plane to act soon since the companyplans to stop making it in 2015.
Boeing has already finished the last C-17 to be built forthe U.S. military and is still looking to finalize orders forthe final 13 aircraft to be built at the plant.
"If they want one of those aircraft, they better speak upnow," Grant said, noting the expense of restarting production.
Dennis Muilenburg, who heads Boeing's defense business, thisweek said the decision to shut the C-17 line was final.
A buzz word at the show was "interoperability" - the abilityof different weapons systems and different countries to worktogether during combined operations or exercises.
The U.S. military has struggled over the past decade to beefup its own ability to communicate and share data in real-timeacross the four military services, and similar efforts have beenunderway in NATO for years.
At an air chiefs conference in Dubai on Saturday, officialsfrom around the world expressed interest in expanding thoseefforts to additional regions and partners.
Grant said Air Force Lieutenant General John Hesterman, whoheads U.S. Air Forces Central Command, planned to bring Gulf airchiefs together to see what equipment and other changes wereneeded to ensure better military cooperation.
Boeing's Muilenburg said his company had designed itswarplanes with a so-called "open architecture" that would makeit easier to communicate across different militaries.
"It's a very big area for us. That's part of what we try todesign into our airplanes," he said.
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