Transcript

Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing

March 21, 2022
Senior Defense Official

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Hey, good morning, everybody. Get started here. 

Not a whole lot of changes to talk about today, certainly not on the ground. By our count now, the Russians have launched more than 1,100 missiles. The only thing that I would say that's different since the last time we had a chance to talk is that we have seen some increased naval activity in the northern Black Sea. The Russians have a little bit more than a dozen warships, different stripes and sizes -- amphibious ships, surface combatants, mine sweeper and some patrol boats that they've got up in the northern Black Sea, and we think that at least some of the shelling that's happening around Odesa is a result of these ships and their activities, the surface combatants.

It is not clear that this is an imminent pre-staging sign of an amphibious assault on -- on Odesa, so it would be -- at this point, we would assess that it would be wrong to conclude that this is somehow an indication that Odesa is under an imminent threat of an amphibious assault, but we have seen increased activity by Russian surface combatants in the northern Black Sea.

And since I really don't have anything other -- anything else to update, I mean, we'll just -- we'll go right to questions. So, Lita?

Q: Hi. Thanks.

Do you have any update on the assessment about whether or not that was a hypersonic missile that the Russians fired the other day? Have -- I guess, have you -- has the U.S. been able to conclude anything about that? And do you see anything -- any increased missile activity in the west? Can you sort of quantify still a small amount in the west versus the east as far as strikes, or is it increasing steadily in the west?

Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: On the hypersonic claim that the Russians made, we're not able to refute it, but we can't independently confirm it, either. It's not entirely clear. So what we would assess is it's certainly possible. But it's a bit of a head-scratcher, to be honest with you, because it's not exactly clear why, if it's true, why would you need a hypersonic missile fired from not that far away to hit a building? It could be that they're running low on precision-guided munitions and feel like they need to tap into that resource. It could be that they're trying to send a message to the west, but also to Ukraine, and trying to gain some leverage at the negotiating table. But it's a -- from a military perspective, if it was a hypersonic missile there's not a whole lot of practicality about it.

And on other missile activity in the west, we just haven't seen anything of note, Lita. Everything that we're seeing in terms of –with the exception of that claim, of course—everything we're seeing outside of that is basically to the east of Kyiv, both north and south.

Jack Detsch?

Q: Hey, (inaudible). I know you haven't been confirming the deaths of Russian G.O.s, but I'm just wondering, since Ukrainians say it's -- the death toll's up to six now, if you have any sense of, you know, whether Russian officers, senior officers are fighting closer to the front lines. Are there any breakdowns in communications that you can (inaudible)?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, again, we're not able to verify the reports of the deaths of general officers. I note that the Russians have claimed one, and then the Ukrainians have claimed, you know, they've killed six. We're not in a position to independently verify that. I'm not sure -- even if you assume it's true, Jack, I'm not sure that that tells you anything in particular about Russian command-and-control. It makes sense that they would have senior leaders, even general officers in the field for -- for an invasion of this size and scale, for them, anyway. I mean, they haven't done anything on this size and scale, really, ever. From conventional perspective, they've got an awful lot committed to the fight, so there's a certain logic making sure that you have general officers in the field.

The other thing is, Jack -- and people forget this -- that I mean, they don't -- they don't organize their military the way we do. They don't have an equivalent to a noncommissioned officers corps, for instance, and their junior officers don't have the same wherewithal, flexibility. They're not -- we don't -- they don't invest in their junior officers the kind of initiative that we do. I mean, so at -- at very tactical levels -- and you guys know this all. You've all covered our wars the last 20 years. You know that we put a lot into an E-4 and an E-5 and an E-6 to -- to make decisions literally in the moment on the battlefield. They don't have that kind of a tradition. They don't have that structure.

So again, the fact that there might be senior leaders on the field is perhaps involved in more tactical -- at a more tactical level than we would; have a two-star or a one-star. I think you have to -- it -- it's apples to oranges in terms of how they organize themselves, how they lead.

We believe that they are having command-and-control problems just in terms of communications. And again, this is another one of those logistic/sustainment issues that we've seen them struggle with. I mean, they just weren't fully-prepared for operations of this intensity for this long on so many different multiple lines of attack, and so we do see them having some command-and-control difficulties, both in terms of a military operational concept issue -- in other words, being able to integrate air to ground, being able to make decisions in real-time effectively, but also from a physical perspective, just in terms of their ability to communicate over established links.

We're seeing them use a lot more unclassified communications because their classified communications capability is -- is being -- is -- well, for one reason or another, is not as strong as it should be.

Jeff Schogol?

Q: (Inaudible), just one -- one another quick one, sorry. Just with -- with regards to, you know, what you said about Russian strategy, do you assess any change in Russian strategy? Over the weekend, the Brits said the Russians have settled into a strategy of attrition now, sort of a change from what they were doing initially. Does -- do you assess that's the case as well?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't know that we're getting -- we're not – I haven't seen anybody in the building, including as of this morning, refer to this as a war of attrition, but we certainly -- what we assess is that they are looking for a chance to break out, they are looking for a chance to gain some momentum, not even re-gain momentum, Jack, because they never really had it, and that's what's so frustrating for them.

I mean, when you look at the map, Jack, you can count literally on one hand the number of population centers that we assess are in Russian control right now. And of the -- of that one hand, two of them -- you know, Donetsk and Luhansk -- were already in their control, you know, from before.

So what -- so what have they gained in -- in now 26 days? They got Melitopol', they got Berdyans'k and they got Kherson. That's it. They don't have Kyiv, they don't have Kharkiv, they don't have Mariupol, although -- obviously, you guys know this better than me -- I mean, there's a lot of fighting going on there.

They haven't achieved anything, in terms of what we assess to be their objectives, which is population centers so that they could occupy and take over Ukraine. And so what we're seeing now at -- with these increased long range fires, missile strikes, artillery bombardments, in trying to encircle cities so that you can lob more long range fires into those cities, is a reflection of their -- of what some people believe is a desperate attempt by them to gain some momentum, to try to turn the course of the war thus far, and that's what's getting so much more dangerous for civilians, because the more you use long range fires -- and this is not a military known for precision -- the more you're going to hit civilian targets, the more you're going to hit residential areas, the more you're going to kill innocent people.

And rather than demoralizing the Ukrainians, I think you've all seen that this kind of violence has only motivated them more, which means that they're resisting more, which means the Russians continue to get frustrated and flummoxed and kind of stuck where they are.

I mean -- but -- I mean, my goodness, here we are, day 26, they're still -- we still hold them a good 15 kilometers northwest of Kyiv, which is where they were last week. We still hold them about 30 kilometers from the east of Kyiv, which is where they were last week when we talked before.

So I -- you know, I -- again, not that we're pushing back on this idea of a war of attrition but we're not exactly using that phrase here. What we're seeing is a near desperate attempt by the Russians to gain some momentum and try to turn the course of this in their favor.

And -- and doing so could simply be -- again, could -- I want to emphasize the word "could" -- could simply be an attempt to improve their position at the negotiating table, to get some kind of leverage, because right now, it doesn't appear like they have a lot of leverage to negotiate with.

Okay, sorry, that was a long answer.

Jeff Schogol?

Q: Thank you.

Is it possible that the -- that this war and the reported deaths of Russian general officers and colonels shows that command posts and tactical operations centers, the kind that U.S. officers were used to using in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, are now so vulnerable that they are essentially death traps?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Jeff, I mean, your question is a good one but it presumes that that's where these casualties are happening. And I want to stress a couple of things, if I may.

One, we cannot confirm reports of Russian generals being killed.

Two, that just -- assuming that they have lost some, we wouldn't know where they were lost, whether they were out actually directing units in the field or in a command and control center. We don't know.

And I think it would be very -- it would be way premature for us to try to draw some conclusions about the effectiveness and the value of command and control nodes on the battlefield, just based on what is -- spurious reports about generals being killed.

Tom Bowman?

Q: Yeah, there have been reports about Belarus moving its troops to the west and closer to the Ukrainian border. Have you seen anything on that?

And getting back to where this stands now, 26 days in, some are using the term "stalemate." Would you use that term or is it still -- Russians trying to break out, you wouldn't use that term?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I think we'd prefer to stay away from bumper sticker phrases here on what's going on. It is very clear -- and I know it's easier when you have a nice word you can slap on that -- but it's very clear that the Ukrainians are showing no signs of stopping their resistance, no signs of -- of slowing down their attacks on the Russians and trying to push them back.

As a matter of fact, you know, there were -- they counter-attacked near Kherson. There was actually an effort by the Ukrainians to take Kherson back, which is one of the only the handful of population centers that the Russians have taken.

So it's a very dynamic, active battlefront across Ukraine, particularly eastern Ukraine obviously, and -- and I think that's about how we would describe it. I think we want to -- we're being careful to stay away from labels right now.

And on Belarus, no, we have not seen any indications that the Belarusians are preparing to move in -- into Ukraine or that they have made any agreements to do that or -- there's nothing to report on the Belarusian front right now.

Q: All right. Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah. Tara Copp?

Q: Hey. Welcome back.

I wanted to see if the Ukrainians are now in receipt of the Switchblade drones and if they have already been put to use.

And then secondly, we had another large congressional delegation head to Poland over the weekend to push for fighter jets. Have they sent any correspondence to the Defense Department about helping facilitate this or has the Defense Department been in consultation with them to try and reiterate why this transfer is not a good idea?

Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, that last one you said a delegation from where, Tara?

Q: There's a bunch of -- there was a CODEL of a bunch of senators that were in Poland over the weekend.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, okay, CODEL. Yes. So I would just tell you on your first question, we are still fleshing out the security assistance package that the president signed out, the $800 million. None of that has arrived yet. We're still fleshing all that out. But it will arrive -- we believe it will arrive very, very soon or at least initial -- the initial shipments will start to arrive soon. But nothing has been actualized on that yet. I will say we expect by the end of this week to complete the rest, the remaining. And it's not very much left of the $350 million package. And, again, we -- as soon as the president gave the order, we started putting pen to paper on the 800 million. We're still doing the sourcing on that. The wheels are moving very quickly. And we expect that stuff will arrive soon. But I don't have any shipments specifically from that $800 million tranche to speak to in terms of arriving.

I don't know that we've had any communication with the congressional delegation that's over there. I would let them speak for themselves and what messages they are carrying or -- or what issues that they are raising with their counterparts overseas. Again, I want to stress something, the United States is not telling other nations what to provide or not to provide. It's their sovereign decisions. And if another nation wants to provide something like fixed-wing aircraft to the Ukrainians, then that is their sovereign decision to make and we respect that. The United States is not standing in the way of that. What we did not approve was a proposal whereby the jets got transferred to our custody for transfer into Ukraine.

So I just to keep level setting on this, because I think there is -- I don't think it's with you guys, but I think there is confusion elsewhere that the United States is somehow pouring cold water on this idea. And that is just not the case. We believe that we're going to focus on is the kinds of systems and weapons that we see the Ukrainians use with great effect and that they know how to use, that they’re comfortable using. And we're trying to get them all that materiel as fast as possible. What another nation does with their aircraft inventory is for that nation to speak to.

Nancy Youssef.

Q: Thank you.

I wanted to ask you about two topics, please. We've heard reports that Russia needs spare parts for its aircraft. Does the U.S. believe that Russia needs more parts, and if so, do they have any sense -- do you have any sense of where it's taking to resupply? And also have we seen any anti-ship missiles sent to Ukraine to help save places like Odesa? And if not, why not?

Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I have no idea on Russian aircraft parts. I just -- we wouldn't have visibility on that, Nancy. And on the anti-ship missiles, I mean, again, I think other nations have provided some anti-ship missiles to the Ukrainian navy that they know how to use. The kinds that we use, they are not equipped to handle.

And it's also important to remember that -- you know, that their navy is very small. And you've seen reports that at least in one case they scuttle the ships to prevent it from falling into Russian hands.

I mean, so, it's a small navy that doesn't have a lot of those advanced capabilities to begin with. But again, I can't speak for other nations and what they're doing, it would make little sense for us to -- like, for instance, I think we got this question about Harpoons.

They don't have the ability to fire Harpoons, they just -- they just don't. It's not in their inventory, so it would make little sense to give them a missile that would end up rusting on a pier somewhere because they can't use it.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: David Martin?

Q: Since this session began there's been a wire story saying the Russians informed the U.S. ambassador in Moscow that relations are close to being severed. And that prompts the question about whether there's been any contact on the deconfliction line?

And also I assume that the fact that you didn't mention reinforcements still means no sign of the movement of reinforcements for the Russians? And you didn't repeat the figure of combat power that remains intact, which has been at 90 percent for what two weeks now?

So how does all this combat occur and all these reports of the significant losses that the Russians are incurring? And their amount of remaining combat power doesn't seem to appreciably change?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, so, David, I don't have any updates on the deconfliction line. I know we're still testing it every day, I'm not aware that there's been any content passed or any need to pass content because there's been no infraction or action concern by the Russians with -- remember, the deconfliction line is not -- it's set up to prevent any miscalculations particularly when it comes to NATO territory and NATO airspace.

It's not set up to be a complaint line where can just call in and just grouse about stuff. And so, it's being tested every day, it works. I'm not aware of any content that's passed. But I will -- just to be sure that I'm not guessing here I will take that question --

Q: What about the case where the drone strayed into Poland?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't know that the deconfliction line was used in that. And our sense on that one, David, was that it was accident. The Russians lost data link with that drone, and it just kind of wandered into Polish airspace and crashed. We don't believe that it was intentional act.

We believe it was, you know, we believe it was a mistake on the Russian's part. But whether the deconfliction line was used on that I don't know, I'll have to ask that question. I just—I haven't asked that one. 

We're not seeing any physical signs of reinforcement. We continue to see indications that the Russians are talking about the potential movement of--in particular battalion tasks -- tactical groups that they have outside of Russia -- Russia proper. Again, nothing -- nothing's moved. We haven't seen reinforcements come to the rescue, but we have seen the Russians talk about the possibility of flowing in reinforcements from outside of Russia, outside of Ukraine. But again, no movement yet.

And then that gets to your point about combat power. I would say that today, we assess Russian combat power at just below 90 percent. And -- and again, you have to remember, yes, they're expending an awful lot, but they also built up an awful lot since the early fall, and they just have a lot available to them. But we would assess today a little less than 90 percent. Again, what the defense official said last week, roughly 75 percent of their battalion tactical group generation capacity, what -- that -- they have that committed into Ukraine. We believe that they've committed more than 60 percent of their fixed-wing and rotary-wing capability. So they have put a lot into this fight, and they still have a lot left. I -- we recognize that they are taking casualties every day. They are losing aircraft. They are losing armor and vehicles, no doubt about that -- tanks, APCs, artillery units, helicopters, fixed-wing jets. They're losing, -- you know, I wouldn't say they're losing everything every day in those categories, but we do see them continue to suffer casualties and losses, but they had -- they built up an awful lot of combat power, as we said way back in the fall, that Mr. Putin had arranged an oppressive alignment of combined-arms capability that he still has the vast majority available to him.

OK, Phil Stewart, Reuters?

Q: Hey there.

Just following up real quick on the -- you know, the Russians have now threatened to, you know, sever ties or saying ties are close to rupture. I'm just wondering, you know, has there been any kind of written -- I know you -- there's no new conversations, I guess, to report between the secretary and anyone in Russia, or the chairman and anyone in Russia. I'm just wondering whether there's been any written communications from Russia, or the U.S. back and forth.

And then separately on the issue of combat power, just wondering, on the -- on Russian munitions, do you assess that their munitions are -- they have sufficient munitions to carry on, you know, at the pace that they'd like? And -- or do you think that their munitions are not quite up to the same level of, you know, of their combat capability? Just (inaudible).

Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I was -- so, Phil, on the written comms, I'm not aware of any, and I -- there's no -- I can't speak for Chairman Milley, but there's been no communications at the secretary's level with his Russian counterpart. And I'm, again, not aware of any written communications at all. That might be a better question put to the State Department, although I suspect the answer's probably no.

It's not like we don't have the ability to communicate with them. I mean, we do. It -- and we have, but it's not also the kind of thing that given what they're doing in -- in Ukraine that, you know, that we're going to have the wherewithal, we're going to have the ability to talk to them every day.

And on munitions, I would tell you that yes, I mean, clearly, they're expending munitions, a lot of munitions. But to -- just to give you a sense, I mean, that they -- of how much they still have left, I mean, we still think, you know, they have in -- I don't want to get -- and I want to be careful here with these numbers. But they have a significant majority of their -- for instance, a significant majority of their ballistic missile capability's still available to them. They've got more than half of their air-launched cruise missile capability available to them. And we have seen, in addition to -- well, I would just say that they -- a couple of things.

One, we do think that they are beginning to face some inventory issues with precision-guided munitions, which is one reason why you're seeing the increasing use of what we would call dumb bombs, and we've also seen them suffer failures of some of their precision-guided munitions, where it -- they're just not -- they're not operating. They're not -- they're -- they're failing. Either they're failing to launch or they're failing to hit the target, or they're failing to explode on contact. So we're seeing them have some struggles with respect to precision-guided munitions.

So is it possible that we could see them try to resupply PGMs going forward? Absolutely. We have not seen an indication that they have done that, that they're drawing on stocks from elsewhere. But it's certainly something that we're -- that we're watching and monitoring. They still have -- like I said, I mean, they still have the majority of their stocks available to them, but they have expended quite a bit, particularly in sensitive cruise missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, and they have also suffered a not-insignificant number of failures of those munitions.

Heather from USNI?

Q: Thank you so much for taking my question.

I know you mentioned that you are seeing some new naval movement. Can you say how -- what percentage of the missiles from the Black Sea you believe were launched from those ships on to Odesa? And then is -- I know that you mentioned there's no sign of an imminent amphibious assault. Is there belief that this is just a scare tactic by the Russians?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It's not clear, Heather, what they're doing. I mean, clearly, they're using surface combatants for shelling purposes and for the long-range fires in and around Odesa. That's clear. Whether this is a prelude to an amphibious assault is not clear. Again, we want to be careful that we're not getting, you know, we don't convey that we know exactly what's in the Russian head. We just don't. So I can only tell you what we're seeing. I want to be careful that we're not trying to be predictive.

And as for the count, I -- I'm sad to say, but we are no longer keeping a count of the points of origin of the missiles. So I know that earlier on, I was able to give you a sense of how many were coming from Russia and Belarus and the Black Sea. But we're not keeping that count anymore, so I can't give you the number, and I wouldn't begin to guess. I'm only going to give you stuff that I'm comfortable with, and I just don't have that number. I'm sorry.

Tony Capaccio?

Q: Hi, (inaudible).

A couple quick questions. What's your assessment, what's the U.S. assessment right now of the air war? Russia still has not attained air supremacy, and what do you attribute that to at this point?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We attribute that largely to a very creative air defense posture by the Ukrainians. They're being very nimble, very agile in how and when and where they apply air defense. And I'm not just talking about shoulder-fired air defense, short-range, but also long-range mobile air defenses.

They're being very resourceful in how they're trying to prevent the Russians from dominating the skies over Ukraine. We would still assess the air over Ukraine, air space as contested. We still assess that the Russians have not achieved superiority.

What I would tell you is that in the last 24/48 hours we have seen air activity from both sides increase. I mean, the Russians flew more than 300 sorties in the last 24 hours and the Ukrainians have likewise picked up the pace of sorties, I'm not going to get into their numbers. But they've picked up their pace of flying as well.

Q: Are they dogfighting or attacking each other's ground targets? And can you give a feel for that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I've seen no indications or reports of dogfighting, Tony, largely the air power that's being expended is air to ground. It -- either in support of forces or to hit fixed targets. Like you've seen the Russians do from -- a lot from long-range bombers.

And a good number of Russian sorties never leave Russian airspace or Belarusian airspace. They're not not venturing very far or for very long into Ukrainian airspace. Because, again, the Ukrainians have been -- they have been defending their airspace with great dexterity.

Being careful about where, and when, and how to do that. And so, we have -- we continue to see a risk aversion by a lot of Russian pilots inside Ukrainian airspace.

Q: May I ask you a reality check on the -- Can you give us a reality check on the famous drones now? These tactical drones that people are calling Switchblades? What are those useful for?

A lot of the media coverage implies that these are able to pop off the turrets of a T-72. I don't think they're big enough to do that. Can you give a sense of what those drones are supposed to be aimed at?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm not an expert on this particular system. As I understand it, it's lightweight, it's most valuable against lighter targets or personnel. And again, we haven't -- there hasn't been any deliveries of those tactical UASs but I'm not an expert on the system.

And so I want to make sure that I don't get out ahead of my skis here.

Q: Okay, thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah. Kasim.

Q: Yeah, (inaudible), thank you very much for doing this. So I have two questions actually. You said they are largely stalled in Ukraine, have you seen any break-ups or the solutions among Russian ranks? And also, the second question, you said we still hold them (inaudible) kilometers northwest Kyiv, which is where they were last week.

We still hold them about 30 kilometers to the east of Kyiv, which is where they were last week. You appeared to give some credit to the United States here as you speak for the DOD.

Would you say that it was thanks to the U.S. military support that really holds Russians out of Kyiv? Or to what extent do your U.S. support actually enabled the Ukrainians in that sense? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sorry, what was your first question?

Q: My first question is as the Russian operations have stalled largely in Ukraine do you -- have you seen any breaks among Russian ranks, or any dissolutions of --

(CROSSTALK)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, right, right, right. Yes, sorry.

I don't have any -- you know, anecdotally, we still assess that the Russians are experiencing morale issues at various levels and at various places. It's -- these are anecdotal indications that we're getting. So I want to be careful we're not making some broad sweeping generalization about every unit the Russians have in Ukraine. But we have seen anecdotal evidence that we believe is accurate that they are suffering from morale issues inside their ranks. They did not expect this level of resistance. Some of them were not told what they were actually going to be doing inside Ukraine. We know they relied on conscripts, and they still do. I mean, still it has been largely a conscript army. And so these are very young men who haven't -- don't have a long experience with soldiering and -- and we believe that all those factors are combining to affect their morale. But, again, I'm not broadbrushing it. I'm telling you we've got anecdotal evidence that shows us that it is a problem.

On you know, to the degree the United States takes credit, look, I think, first and foremost, the credit goes to the Ukrainians and the impressive away -- impressive way -- that they are defending their cities and their fellow citizens. They're being very creative, very nimble. They're using the security assistance that gets to them. There is not a long shelf life for this stuff. I mean, it gets into their hands and they use it. They are being very energetic and very aggressive in the defense. And I think the lion's share of the credit must go to them and to their leadership. President Zelensky has been quite inspirational, as you've all seen, and has really motivated his forces and his citizens. Because average citizens are picking up arms and fighting.

So they get -- they must get and should get -- the lion's share of the credit here. But obviously the tools that they're using, in many cases, came from outside the country, the United States as well as other donor nations. And we are very proud of the role that the United States has played in terms of providing security assistance, now $2 billion worth just since the beginning of the Biden administration. And, of course, assistance was being given to the Ukrainians before -- before that.

And that's the other point that I'd want to make, that it's not just the stuff, it was the training that has been done by the United States and the U.K. and Canada over the last eight years that has helped improve the combat capability of the Ukrainian armed forces. It's not just about pointing and shooting. They -- they're able to be nimble and creative because they were so well-trained over the last eight years. That didn't just -- so this stiff defense that they're putting up did not just happen by accident. And while a lot of it is due to their bravery and their courage and just the absolute grit that you see coming out of the Ukrainian people, it also is a reflection of a lot of work by the United States and other Western nations to provide them this competency as well as the capability.

Barbara?

Q: I'm not sure you can answer, but I wanted to ask, do you have anything you can tell us, you were going kind of through the Russian and weapon -- status of the Russian weapons inventory. Is there any way you can describe the status of the -- of Ukraine's inventory? I believe a senior defense official several days ago said they had about 50 combat planes. Is that still the case? How urgent to get drones, advanced longer-range air defense like S-300s to them? How are they doing on vehicles? Going to the point of how long they can keep this up in the face of, as you say, still-significant Russian capability.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I want to -- obviously, not going to speculate about how long. What I can tell you is we're going to do everything we can to get them as much support as fast as possible. That includes talking to allies and partners about long-range air defense systems that they know how to use. And so all that work is continuing.

Barb, I'm not going to provide a lot of context on the Ukrainian order of battle, and I think you can understand why we wouldn't do that. I don't think we want to give the Russians any more information about what we assess the Ukrainian combat power is. I would just tell you that in general, we believe they still have more than 90 percent of their combat power available to them. And again, it's important to remember that the international community is helping replenish the combat power in real time, which is why it's been able to stay at that level. But in terms of how many tanks or how many planes or how many helicopters or drones, I'm just not -- I'm going to stay away from whole numbers, and I have nothing to add to what the senior defense official said yesterday with respect to fixed-wing aircraft, so I think I just need to leave it at that.

Fadi? Okay, nothing heard.

Dan from NBC?

Q: Yeah, hi, thanks. Can you give us an idea of how many Russian troops roughly are involved in the Mariupol siege? And also, do you have any details about exactly where they're shelling from the sea in and around Odesa? And what's the scale of that shelling?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I don't have good detail on either of those questions, Dan. I mean, we know that the -- that at least some of the bombardment in and around Odesa is coming from the sea, but we can't quantify that, and I don't have -- I don't have a good number to put on how many troops the Russians are applying to Mariupol. They -- we still assess Mariupol was isolated. It's being isolated from the north, as well as from the southwest -- actually, it's increasingly being isolated almost all the way around, but largely, it's coming from the north and from the southwest. You guys have seen for yourself how much the Ukrainians are fighting back.

We believe that Mariupol is important to them for a lot of reasons. One, it's a port on the Sea of Azov, so it's a major port city to have. It -- taking Mariupol would give them the -- that land bridge down to Crimea. But more importantly, we believe -- and we've said this before -- that this is of a piece of their attempts to isolate the joint force operation area, the -- basically, the Donbas area -- isolate it coming down from the north, coming up from the south, from Mariupol, to be able to kind of cut off the extreme east of Ukraine, and by design, to be able to prevent Ukrainian armed forces that are there from flowing to the west to come to the defense of Kyiv and other population centers. So they're -- they are very much trying to fix the Ukrainians in the east, and taking Mariupol would be a key part of that ability. 

Okay, Paul Shinkman, U.S. News?

Q: Hi, (inaudible).

Do you have any response to Sergey Lavrov's claim on Friday that Russia is willing to attack any foreign military shipments into Ukraine, saying that they, quote, "would be fair game"? Do you have any sense that Russia has already attempted to disrupt these shipments, or indication that they plan to?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We -- all I can tell you is what -- where we are now, Paul. We have not seen any attacks on ground shipments of security assistance into Ukraine.

Okay, Howard Altman, last question.

Q: Yeah, thanks. I want to just drill down a little bit on the air defenses. Are you sensing -- would -- can you tell me whether you're seeing more effect from the Stinger system being flown into Ukraine, or the existing air defense systems that they have?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That's a tough one to answer, Howard. I don't think we have that level of fidelity in terms of, like -- you know, this gets to battle damage assessment, you know, what they're hitting and with what and -- and with what effectiveness, and we just don't have that level of fidelity on -- I -- I couldn't tell you, like, how many aircraft have been downed by Stingers versus, you know, other air defense means. I just -- we just don't -- we just don't have that. I'm sorry.

Okay, everybody, that about does it. We're briefing this afternoon, so we'll see you all about 3:15. Out here.