Transcript

Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing

March 1, 2022
Senior Defense Official

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, good morning, everybody. (inaudible) senior defense official here, a little -- get that started. We'll get started.

I don't have a whole lot of changes to offer today. We still can see -- we still see -- I'm sorry -- the Russians move along those same major axes of advance. We still see that that is their -- those remain, I guess what I should say is those remain their focus areas.

We believe that they have committed now more than 80 percent of what was their pre-staged combat power, so more than 80 percent, now, of combat power is in the Ukraine. To the north near of Kyiv, we are continuing to observe the Ukrainians resisting Russian advances on the city. We see the same reports that you see of shelling inside the city which -- which certainly does align with reports of both civilian infrastructure damage, as well as civilian casualties. And no, we can't give you an estimate on the numbers of casualties.

We believe that they remain basically -- the main advance on Kyiv basically remains where it was yesterday, so no appreciable movement from the Russians coming down from the north. We believe that that's for a number of reasons: obviously, the resistance that they're facing, the fuel and sustainment problems that they're having. We are also picking up signs that they're having problems feeding their troops; that they're -- not only are they running out of gas, but they are running out of food. And we also believe that a part of the stall could be -- and I emphasize the word "could" -- could be a result of their own self-determined sort of pause in operations, that they are possibly regrouping, rethinking, reevaluating, that that could be part of it.

We certainly continue to see heavy fighting in and around Kharkiv—that remains heavily contested. As I said yesterday, we still believe that the Russians are trying to encircle Kharkiv.

We do assess, because I know this question's going to come up, we do assess that they have launcher systems that could be used for a thermobaric weapon, but we cannot confirm the presence of a thermobaric weapon, and we cannot confirm the use of a thermobaric weapon.

But we certainly believe that they have the launching systems capable of using that. As some of you know it's a -- basically, it's a fuel air explosive that's fired by rocket. The same thing goes with, and I know this question will come up a lot, cluster munitions.

We've seen the same video that you have but we have not assessed that it is definitive with respect to the use of cluster munitions. So we are not in a position to confirm the use of cluster munitions at this time. 

In the south, we continue to see the Russians have more progress, more success down there, in terms of moving along their axes. And as I said yesterday, those axes are essentially to the, you know, as you come out of Crimea it -- the two major -- they kind of fork off and they're going to the northwest and they're going to the northeast. 

Let's talk about the northwest. We've seen the same video that you have seen about Kherson, we cannot --we cannot give a declaration whether or not Kherson has been taken. It appears very much to be a contested city at this point. But we knew, and we had said this a few days ago that they were going to move on Kherson and we are now seeing that play out pretty openly. And again, many of your outlets are showing this as well. 

And then to the northeast, they're still outside Mariupol, and have not -- they have not advanced inside the city. But they are close enough now that they could attack Mariupol with long-range fires and we haven't seen a whole lot of activity but we don't believe that they're in Mariupol.

I will tell you that we do assess that the -- the towns of Melitopol and Berdyans'k, so Berdyans'k is just down the coast from Mariupol; we do assess that they are occupying Berdyans'k.

And further down from Berdyans'k in sort of the -- almost exactly due -- due west of Berdyans'k but further in from the coast of the Sea of Azov is Melitopol, and we do believe that they are in possession of Melitopol as they advance north out of there.

Which, again, is exactly what we had expected them to want to do. Again, if you draw that line from Mariupol to Kharkiv it -- you -- we can see a continued desire by the Russians to sort of connect on those two lines. They haven't made much progress, but we still believe that's their intent.

The -- the Belarusian stuff no -- no confirmation that Belarusian troops are entering Ukraine. We've seen no indication of that. In the maritime environment, no new updates from yesterday, no new activity to speak to.

And in the air, we have seen as of this morning more than 400, now, missile launches. Again, a mix of short-range, medium-range, cruise missiles.

The airspace over Ukraine continues to be contested. The Russians do not have air superiority over the entire country but there are areas where they have more control than others, and the same goes for the Ukrainians.

And the Ukrainian air and missile defense systems remain viable, and intact, and engaged -- again, many of you are seeing this for yourselves. We do continue to assess that President Zelensky has command and control over his armed forces and he is exercising that command and control.

And then in the information environment, we have seen over the last 24 hours more -- more impacts on open-sourced information and Internet access, but nothing of a nature that is so significant that all communications are shut down.

Then just on the evacuation front, and again you guys are seeing some of this yourselves quite -- quite clearly, but we assess that somewhere in the nature of 500,000 Ukrainians have – have, or are trying, to leave the country.

In the last 24 hours we've only seen, well, just less than 70 American citizens moving into Poland. Again, no major impact on our troops or any need for our troops to assist them, other than the handful that we talked about yesterday. And again, that assistance has been pretty -- pretty minor just in terms of, you know, food, water, a place to sit down and, as I said yesterday, some Internet access.

Let's see, I think that's probably -- I think that's probably it. So why don't we go questions, so let's see... I'm not seeing -- Lita, are you there?

Q: It's Lita --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm not seeing --

Q: Yes, it's Lita. Hi.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, there you are right at the top of the list. Sorry. They wrote you in. Okay, go ahead.

Q: (Laughter.) Okay, thanks. A couple things, are you -- what are you seeing regarding the convoy?

I think there's a lot of questions about it being -- it's kind of a very large target at this point. Does Russia control the airspace in that region? I don't know how specific you can get, but is that -- are there reasons why such a large target hasn't been hit yet?

And then just a couple -- two quick, kind of, fact things, are arms and weapons still moving into Ukraine? You had last -- there's -- you'd said the last few days that that was still happening. Is that still happening? And have there been any new U.S. military troop ships?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Any U.S. military?

Q: Troop movements.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, you mean like in terms of shoring up NATO?

Q: Right, right, right.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay. So we'll take them in reverse order. No new announcements or decisions on troops, nothing to speak to in terms of movement that hasn't already been announced -- although, look, elements are still flowing in, that kind of thing. But no other -- but nothing we haven't announced or spoken to.

Yes, security assistance has flowed into Ukraine over the last 24 hours. And on the convoy, it's difficult for us to say with certainty, Lita, because we're not there and the air picture literally -- it's very dynamic and -- and it changes constantly throughout the course of the day, you know, who has more control or less control over a given bit of airspace, and there's lots of airspace that simply isn't of concern to either Ukraine or Russia, and so you don't see a lot of activity there.

I can't tell you with certainty why this convoy hasn't been attacked. We have to assume that the Russians are aware that it is a very long convoy with a lot of vehicles and that they are going to be interested in trying to protect that as best they can, but I can't speak to the specifics of, you know, whether they have aircraft flying over it and what they're doing. But we have to assume that they have interest in trying to protect it. It is not -- our assessment is that it is not exactly moving with great speed, that they continue to be bogged down, coming down from the north, to get to Kyiv.

And it -- one of the things that -- your question, you didn't ask this, but I think it does raise an interesting perspective. I mean, we've seen that they have had -- that they face greater resistance than they thought, that they have experienced fuel and logistics challenges -- and we've been talking about that for a few days, it remains to be the case today. In many cases, what we're seeing are columns that are literally out of gas, and as I said earlier, now they're starting to run out of food for their troops.

But I think in general, when you look at what we've now what we – now we’re only on day six, and so my usual caveat applies here, that it's dynamic and they will regroup, they will adjust, they will change their tactics. You're already seeing reports out of their Defense Ministry that they're going to hit certain infrastructure, Ukrainian government infrastructure, in Kyiv, that the -- I mean, they've just been baldly admitting that they're going to do that. So there will be readjustments.

That said, there has been, in the last six days, evidence of a certain risk-averse behavior by the Russian military. Now, when I say "risk averse," I mean "risks to their own force." We -- you know, take the amphibious assault, for instance -- they put those troops ashore a good 70 kilometers away from Mariupol because they knew Mariupol was going to be defended and they could put them ashore in an uncontested environment. And they still haven't reached Mariupol.

We're seeing the same sort of activity in terms of -- in the air, that there's a certain risk averse behavior there. They are not necessarily willing to take high risks with their own aircraft and their own pilots.

And of course, we're seeing that on the ground, the fairly slow and stodgy progress that they have made. And you guys are seeing it for yourselves on the ground, where, you know, units are surrendering, sometimes without a fight, and they've got -- you know, a lot of these soldiers are conscripts, never been in combat before. Some of them, we believe, weren't even told they were going to be in combat.

So we're just seeing evidence of a bit of a risk aversion. That -- again, I want to caveat that by what we -- we certainly aren't seeing them be risk averse when it comes to civilian casualties and civilian infrastructure.

Again, I -- we can't say definitively that they are deliberately targeting civilian -- civilian population areas or civilians. We can't prove that. But they certainly are not -- are not as risk averse when it comes to the impact they're having on the civilian population as they seem to be with their own troops.

It's a long answer to a question you didn't actually ask but I decided I'd provide that bit of context.

Q: Well, can I just -- can you just clarify one quick thing? You used a word, I wasn't sure what it was. Did you say "security assistance is -- has flowed," like flowing into Ukraine? Or "slowed," as in "slowed down"?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: "Flowed" as in "F-L-O-W-E-D." "Flowed."

Q: Got it. Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay. Tom Bowman?

Q: Yeah, a couple of things.

A number of Russian aircraft engaged now, I think -- (inaudible), a couple of days ago, you said "north of 75."

And also, Jane's is reporting they've introduced Su-34 into the fight. Significance of that?

And also, one other thing -- with the numbers increasing of folks leaving the country, and mostly into Poland, I know the U.S. -- the 82nd was supposed to help Americans if need be. Is there talk now of maybe, you know, NATO forces trying to help Poland with this influx of refugees?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So I can't confirm reports of the Su-34.

On the aircraft, we still maintain more than 75. I don't know that we would -- that there's not a huge, appreciable change on that that I'm aware of.

And on the humanitarian assistance, I mean, we've talked about this before -- the mission of the 82nd is to -- obviously multi-mission -- reassure our Polish Allies, help provide deterrence against any potential threat to NATO territory, and yes, they are poised to help with evacuation assistance for Americans. That remains one of their missions.

That -- that has not -- they have not -- that mission has not been expanded to provide larger humanitarian assistance to non-Americans but we're in constant touch with the State Department and Polish authorities, and as I said yesterday, should there be a need for that, I'm sure we would be positively disposed to -- to -- to look at that and consider that, depending on what our resources and capabilities were. But there's been no -- there's been no change of that mission set.

And I would remind just a couple of things, Tom -- they are not up at the border, they are at -- in some cases, only as close as 10 kilometers, where they have these -- these assembly areas, if you will, and they have not seen a whole heck of a lot of customers. The few Americans that are leaving through Poland are able to make their follow on plans and transportation quite well without any assistance from the United States military.

And -- and by and large -- again, I don't want to speak for the Poles here -- but our understanding is by and large, most of the other evacuees also are -- with some Polish government assistance, of course -- but are not in great need of humanitarian assistance at this time.

Q: Okay, got it. Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks.

Tom -- Tom Squitieri?

Q: Thanks. Good morning.

Who have the Pentagon identified as the commanding officers of the Russian invasion? And what have been their relationships and contacts in the past with you folks? And how does that help you get a read on how they think militarily?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Tom, I don't have any information about Russian commanders. We don't really have that kind of level of detail here on who's commanding what units. And we are not in direct communication with Russian tactical commanders on the ground or involved in this operation. And I have no new conversations to speak to either between General Milley and General Gerasimov or between Secretary Austin and Secretary -- and Minister Shoigu. There's been no communication since the last time we talked.

Q: Okay, thanks, (inaudible).

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, sir.

Eric Schmitt?

Q: Hey, (inaudible). Three quick questions. First, on the 40-mile column that's coming down, is it accurate to assess this column is now stalled, or is this more of a deliberate pause? That's one. Two, do you see any movement of the Ukrainian forces that are in the east to move out before they're perhaps, you know, flanked, encircled by this force coming up from the south? And three, do you see any indications that there may be some type of Russian amphibious assaults toward Odessa? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We have not seen any appreciable moves on Odessa. As we said the other day, we know that the Russians have some naval presence south of Odessa, but we haven't seen any move by them either from a naval or, quite frankly, a ground perspective on Odessa at this point.

I don't have any updates on Ukrainian movements out of the JFO. I think that's what you're talking about, you know, whether they're moving out of the JFO to the east, and I don't have any specific movements by the Ukrainians to speak to in that regard. I mean, I've seen nothing on that. Doesn't mean it -- doesn't mean it's not happening, Eric, but that'd be a better question for the Ukrainians to speak to. I just haven't seen anything.

And on the column, I think what I would say is that it doesn't appear to be making a lot of progress. I don't know that I'd go so far as to say it's stalled. What I tried to convey, and if I wasn't precise, I apologize -- was we generally sense that they're -- that the Russian military movement, not just this convoy, but the overarching movement on Kyiv is stalled at this point. That doesn't mean that the convoy itself is stalled. I can't -- I can't give you an accurate perception hour to hour how many miles they're making over ground, but we don't believe that it is making a lot of progress.

We think that there's a couple of reasons for that. We do think that some of it has to do with their own sustainment and logistics challenges that they've had. Some of it has to do with the Ukrainian resistance that is up ahead of them. And so there's probably lots of reasons for that. And we also think that just in general, not with the convoy, but just in general that one reason why things appear to be stalled north of Kyiv is that the Russians themselves are regrouping and rethinking and trying to adjust to the challenges that they've had.

Q: Yeah, and (inaudible) just real quickly, you mentioned that there've been some Russians captured, some units captured. What's the largest elements that have been captured as groups? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't have that information, Eric. I just know that we've seen -- you know, we we do have indications that some units have surrendered without a fight, but I don't have -- I don't have more detail than that.

Demetri from Financial Times?

Q: Morning, (inaudible). A couple of questions. First, have you detected any change in Russia's nuclear posture over the last 24 hours? And as you mentioned earlier, you know, the Russian Defense Ministry warned residents of Kyiv to leave the city because it was going to launch strikes. Have you seen any evidence of any of those strikes so far?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We've seen open press -- open press images of at least one strike on a government building in Kyiv, but that's the only one that I'm aware of.

And on the nuke posture, what I would just tell you, Demetri, is we continue to review and monitor and analyze this as best we can, and I would just tell you that we've seen nothing at this time that would give us any less comfort or confidence in our own strategic deterrence posture. I think that's as far as I can go on that.

Q: (inaudible), yesterday, you said you hadn't detected any changes. Is that -- I just want to clarify. Is that still the case?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I would just say we are in the same place we were yesterday.

Q: Okay, thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Let's see -- Jack Detsch, Foreign Policy?

Q: Hey, (inaudible). I was wondering if you had a further laydown of the experience level of Russian troops. You said some or many of them are conscripts. Just curious if ballpark, you know, what kind of experience level they're bringing in here.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean, again, we don't have an exact -- I don't have an order of battle for -- for the Russians, but we do believe that in these early days, a significant number of their troops have been conscripts. I can't give you a percentage, Jack. I can't give you a number. Again, many of your outlets have reported this yourselves. You've seen them, but we do believe that a significant number of them are conscripts, very young men drafted into service, and with, you know -- apparently, again, we're picking this up as best we can, but not all of them are apparently fully-trained and prepared, or even aware that they were going to be sent in to a combat operation. And you've seen the Ukrainians and some of the information they've put out on these conscripts. We have no reason to doubt the validity of that.

I mean, we have picked up independently on our own indications that morale is flagging in some of these units, that they, again, did not expect the resistance that they were going to get, and that their own morale has suffered as a result.

Q: And (inaudible), just, I mean, what indications are you seeing that morale is suffering? And just per the instructions that these troops or these conscripts were given, or lack thereof, what details do you have there?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Again, I'm not going to talk about how we know some of the things we know, Jack. I'm just trying to let you know what our -- the indications are that we're getting, that morale is an issue. And I simply can't give you a breakdown of how many are conscripts versus volunteers or what, you know, experience levels are training. I mean, that's, you know, that -- we don't have that level of fidelity. I'm just trying to give you as best I can. We have indications that make us comfortable in the knowledge that there is some morale problems, and certainly comfortable in the knowledge that they are relying in a not-insignificant way, they're relying on conscript servicemen, and not volunteers. And that's really -- that's as far as I can go and -- and frankly, as far as I would go.

Luis Martinez?

Q: Hi, good morning. Just following up on that, as -- how do I say this nicely? Isn't that (inaudible) --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, don’t say it nicely, then.

Q: I don't know. I’ll just say it. Isn't that surprising? If you're going to be poised and uncoiled as you were, you know, and then massing all this significant firepower for so many months, isn't it surprising that that is the case; that it's a conscript force that has been put forward? And not only that, but that the supply chain and the logistical chain seems to have not been prepping more for a sudden strike as opposed to something that was maybe more lengthy?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It's not a surprise, Luis, that they rely on conscripts. We've known this about the Russian military that, I mean, it's not an all-volunteer force like the United States military is. So I mean, that's not a surprise that they would be relying on conscripts, draftees if you will. That was, I think, pretty well known.

And I want to just remind -- I say this every day, but I'm going to say it again today, okay -- we're in day six and the -- the Russians assembled and have at their disposal still significant combined arms combat power. Now, they are being matched by the Ukrainians in many ways. And the Ukrainians also have combat power at their disposal.

But you know, when we talk about surprise or a surprise -- I think the Russians have been surprised by the resistance that they have faced. I think the Russians have been surprised by some of the morale problems that they're experiencing.

They're -- and I think they're none too pleased about the logistics and sustainment challenges they've had. Why? We've answered this question before. We don't know exactly why they're having the logistics and sustainment problems.

Was it failure of planning and pre-positioning or has it been a failure in the execution? There could be lots of reasons for this, not to mention the resistance.

But I just want to remind -- they are right now, and they will, continue to adjust and adapt and try to overcome these challenges that they have been facing. And they have a lot of power available to them still.

I think we need to be mindful of that and we all need to have a pragmatic sense here that they will change. They will -- they will tack into a different direction because, in many cases, they must. And so we just need to -- we just need to be mindful of that.

Courtney?

Q: I have a couple of quick follow-ups. You mentioned that there's -- they're showing a little bit more of, like, a carefulness about their own forces. Is that why -- my question was going to be about the status of the Russian Air Force because the very first day a Senior Defense Official, you may well actually know, told us there were, like, 75 aircraft that were up.

But we haven't really heard a lot since then. So I'm wondering, like, if you can give us any status update on the Russian Air Force. Are they just not flying as much as you expected, and do you have an assessment of why?

And I just want to ask one more time about the what you were talking about, this Russian, like, re-evaluating and regrouping. So to be clear, the assessment is that this is about regrouping and figuring out how to move forward given the speed bumps they've been facing, is that what you're saying as opposed to, like, they're re-evaluating this entire invasion? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, no, actually I appreciate the -- that's a very good follow up question and I appreciate the chance.

What I'm referring to is, yes, re-evaluating the progress they have made to date and what they have to do to get that momentum back or to establish momentum. They never really had a sense of momentum and I think they want to get a sense of momentum.

So it's re-evaluating the progress of their advances in Ukraine, not -- we don't anticipate, and we don't see, a re-evaluation of the entire operation and the invasion of Ukraine at a strategic level.

And on the aircraft the Air Force -- I just don't have a lot of -- I mean there's a limit to what we can know. We don't have a change to our estimate of the kind of aircraft that they have available to them and then the fight that we still would say its north of 75.

We do have indications that they've lost some but so has the Ukrainians and we can't give you an exact number of that. And they are still -- they are still flying. I mean they -- the airspace is actively contested every day.

And I think that's about as far as I'm able to go in terms of my own competence and accuracy.

Let's see -- going down the list here, Nancy Youssef?

QUESTION: Thank you very much. I wanted to ask you about the Ukrainian military and if they're having any logistical problems that you're seeing? Have there been a field problem shortages of food and the like?

And is there any evidence that you've seen of the impact of U.S. and European weapon supplies changing their ability to fight back? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: On the second question, again, that this aid and assistance continues to arrive. We believe it is getting into the right hand i.e., the Ukraine armed forces and that they are actively using these systems.

I can't -- you know day to day, Nancy, I can't give you a number of how many rounds are being fired on the day that they arrive, but we do believe that these systems and these weapons are being used and certainly appreciated by the Ukrainians.

And I would add that it's not just the United States. Other nations are doing this too. And on the Ukrainian logistics and sustainment, I don't have any updates or reports on that. I mean I think it varies from place to place in the country.

We have seen some reports that we cannot corroborate that in some areas Ukrainian armed forces are relying on the civilian population for some support. But it's not -- I don't have -- I can't corroborate those reports and they're not uniform across the country.

Phil Stewart?

QUESTION: Hey there. Real quick, what percentage of the aircraft, you know you said north of 75, are employed this thing, you know how many are they holding back? How many are they not using that they arrayed along -- around Ukraine?

And then -- and then you know to say it as a sense -- give the sense of how much airpower they're not using yet? And then -- and then secondly, you know what other capabilities haven't they employed -- we haven't seen EW -- and sorry, I forgot this one.

Also on the air -- on the aircraft, have you seen any air to air combat over Ukraine? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I honestly -- on the EW thing, I don't have an update for you. We have not seen what we believe the full scope of their electronic warfare capabilities brought to bear. Cannot give you an assessment of why that would be. But we do know and we do have indications that in some places they have used EW at their -- to their advantage, particular in jamming, at a local level.

Honestly, Phil, I don't have more dexterity on the aviation thing. I don't know. I couldn't tell you how many aircraft are flying versus not flying on any given day or what they've committed or what they have not committed. I would just tell you that on both sides of this war, they each have air and missile defense capabilities available to them in not-insignificant numbers. 

And they continue to use their air, both in terms of fixed and rotary wing, as well as, you know, missile defensive -- missile defense systems. In the Russians' case, it's offensive missiles. They continue to use those weapons systems, those systems in the -- platforms, I'm sorry, in the air domain. And that's why the airspace over Ukraine is still being contested. I wish I could give you more dexterity on that but I just don't have it.

And on air-to-air, I'm not aware of any air-to-air combat that has happened recently, other than what I think the media documented in the first couple of days, but I don't have a -- I don't have a blow-by-blow every day of air-to-air combat.

David Martin?

Q: You -- you mentioned units surrendering. What about soldiers defecting? Have you been able to confirm that Russian soldiers are defecting before they even get to the fight?

And -- well, go ahead and answer that and then I'll come back.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, I don't -- I can't confirm reports of defections.

Q: And what -- you said "running out of gas." There's also been reports that Russian troops are punching holes in their own gas tanks and -- to deliberately run out of gas. Can you confirm that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We can't confirm it definitively. We've seen those reports. No reason to doubt those reports, but can't independently verify them.

Dan Lamothe?

Q: Hi, thanks, (inaudible). I wanted to see if we could elaborate at all on the use of the Su-34, or more broadly, if you've seen any airstrikes that are worth mentioning?

And then as it relates to the food issue, you might not be able to but I wanted to at least ask you -- any sense for how you know that, how you can say that? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Nope, I can't tell you how we know that, but I wouldn't have said it if I had a doubt that we could independently talk about it.

And on the -- the Su-34, again, I have nothing more to add on that, Dan. I just -- I can't confirm those reports. As I've said from the very beginning when we started doing these, there's going to be a limit to my -- to my knowledge -- to our knowledge and I just don't have anything specific on that today.

(CROSSTALK)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: If there's -- you know, information changes every day and, you know, if we get to a point where we can talk about that and I feel more comfortable doing it, I'll do it, but I'm being very circumspect not to talk about stuff that I can't feel confident passing on to you.

Q: I understand. Have you seen any strike aircraft in general launch any strikes?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think we have seen -- we have -- yes, we have seen – yes. The answer to that is yes, we have.

Okay, Barbara?

Q: You -- a couple of times, used a very specific phrase about the Russians being -- you observing the Russians being "risk averse -- averse." But the Russian military always indicated it's a very centrally-controlled, obviously, organization, they follow orders, et cetera.

So my question is, given the fact that you have said this, is it your view that this risk-averse behavior you're seeing is, in fact, centrally ordered by the Russian commanders at the higher levels in Moscow? Or the alternative would be troops in the field, commanders in the field, are not following orders? It seems to me it would have to be one or the other.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I do not know the answer to that question, Barb.

Q: Can you tell us anything about how you come to believe there is -- I mean, you cited some examples, like the amphibious landing, but do you think this is widespread? And do you think the convoy situation is at the point where they will continue to be risk-averse, or is your assumption -- working assumption that a convoy goes all the way into the capital?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I mean, I can't -- I don't have any more context on what we're seeing. We're not -- when we talk about risk averse behavior, it's pretty much in plain sight, Barb. I mean, you guys are seeing it too, the way they're behaving.

It doesn't mean that they aren't taking risks. I'm not saying that they're risk-free, but that we see, in general, they're making decisions that sort of connote to being fairly risk-averse here in the early days. That's an important point -- these are early days.

And to your second question, they will readjust. We have to expect that. And I'm not predicting that they will remain risk-averse in every element, in every domain, and at every unit. We just -- you know, this is war, it's dynamic. We can expect to see them change their approach. In fact, would argue that the Russian Defense Ministry's threatening statement today, that they're going to start shelling and attacking government infrastructure in Kyiv, is an -- it's indicative of a change here that they're being quite open about.

As for, you know, whether their behavior is centrally ordered or not, I -- I don't have that -- I just don't have that level of fidelity. What I'm -- just like I've been doing, what we're talking about is we're trying to give you sort of a snapshot in time and what we're seeing.

And so when we -- when we talk about the -- their behavior on the battlefield, it's based on what we're seeing, it's certainly based, to some degree, on what we're gleaning from other sources, of course, but it's what we're seeing today, on this first day of March, and then we'll have to -- you know, we'll have to -- or is this the second day of March? Whatever day it is, it's today, and then we'll -- you know, we'll keep evaluating as we go forward.

Tara Copp?

Q: Good morning. Thanks for doing this.

I wanted to get back to the air power. Can you give us a sense of if the Russians are using less airstrike capability now than they were in the initial days? And any reasons for that that you think?

And then secondly, you know, you've been able to count -- or provide an estimate each day of missile strikes. So I was just wondering why you don't have the same visibility on the use of aircraft?

And then last -- and it's a three-parter, sorry -- back to the no-fly zone, could you walk us through what the strategic risks are of setting up a no-fly zone? Is it that all of NATO would have to agree or that the risk is too high for escalation, it would be considered an act of war? Maybe just, if you could walk through some of your -- the thinking on why there would not be a no-fly zone? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Tara, I will give you the -- we'll give you numbers that we're confident in. And I can't go any further than what I'm comfortable giving you. So I told you "more than 400 missiles since the start." Yesterday, I think we were up over 380, so you could count that roughly -- and roughly, cause I'm not giving you whole numbers here, but roughly, you know, 20 additional missile strikes over the last 24 hours. So they continue to launch missiles. I mean, of all stripes and sizes, they continue to do that.

I don't know what their air operations plan is every day, so I just don't have a sense, we don't have a sense, of how many manned aircraft are taking wing every day and what they're doing. I -- we just don't have that level of fidelity.

As I said to earlier questions, if -- you know, if we can get -- glean that and -- and it's something we can talk about confidently, we'll do that, but I am hamstrung, to some degree, by what -- what we're -- what we know and what we're comfortable passing on, and I simply won't go beyond that. It wouldn't be fair to you and it wouldn't be -- it wouldn't be the right thing to do. So I'm just giving you what I can, with the knowledge that there's going to be a lot I can't.

And on the no-fly zone, I mean, I will just say President Biden has been exceedingly clear -- U.S. troops will not be fighting in Ukraine, and that includes in the use of a no-fly zone, that -- that there's the Commander in Chief has made it very, very clear.

And so there's no discussion about it here, there's no debating about it here. It's not something that we have to take to the NAC or NATO. The President of the United States, Commander in Chief, said we're not going to be fighting in Ukraine, and certainly, if you -- if you were to enact a no-fly zone, that puts you in the fight. It's just not going to happen.

Carla Babb, Voice of America?

Q: My question actually got asked. Thanks a lot, (inaudible).

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: All-righty. Jen Griffin?

Q: Thanks, (inaudible). Let's see. So many have been answered.

Anything more on those thermobaric weapon launchers? Are you seeing them in a certain area, like in the Kharkiv area, or are they still on the Russian side of the border? Anything more you can tell us about that?

And have you seen anything that might indicate that war crimes, by technical definition, have been committed that would be part of a case that could go to the International Court?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The war crimes question is not one that the Defense Department is going to answer, Jen. So I'm just going to take that one right off the table.

On the thermobaric weapons, I would just tell you that we have seen inside Ukraine -- and I'm not going to get more geographic than that -- we've seen inside Ukraine -- launchers that could be used for thermobaric weapons.

But I want to go back to what I said before -- we have not seen -- we cannot confirm -- that thermobaric weapons are actually in Ukraine, and we cannot confirm the use of thermobaric weapons, but we have seen inside Ukraine the kinds of launchers that could be used for those weapons.

Okay, I think I've gotten through everybody and we did it in little less than an hour, so I appreciate it. We will -- the Pentagon will not be briefing at the podium today. So we'll -- I guess we'll talk to you or see you tomorrow morning.

Thanks very much. Out here.