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Transcript

Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing

March 25, 2022
Senior Defense Official

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, good afternoon, everybody. Coming in here from Warsaw, senior defense official.

It is now day 30. We have observed more than 1,250 missile launches since the start of the invasion.

Let's see -- okay, I got a little bit disorganized today, so we'll just, kind of, do like we did last time. We'll just start with a clock at Kyiv and, kind of, go around.

So nothing really significant to talk about with respect to Kyiv. The Russians -- we still hold them no closer than they were the last time we talked. They're -- they're in defensive positions. It looks like they have stopped really any interest in terms of ground movement towards Kyiv, but obviously air attacks, bombardment and long-range strikes continue to occur.

But they have not made any advances towards the city, either from the north or northwest. And to the east of -- of Kyiv, we still hold them about where they were before. We had talked about how the Ukrainians had pushed them further east, and we still estimate that they -- that they remain right there.

Let's see. I know you guys asked about that suburb to the west of Kyiv called -- I probably won't pronounce it right, but Makariv. We -- it's not a completely clear picture, but -- but we believe that it's at the very least contested, and may now be in Ukrainian control.

Again, we don't have perfect visibility, but because you asked on that, I -- I wanted to go ahead and pass that -- that on.

There were some reports that the Russians -- that they destroyed a military fuel depot outside Kyiv. We cannot confirm that.

Let's see. It looks like, in Chernihiv, we've observed that Russian forces appear to be closest to the north of -- of Chernihiv, but -- but not much. They're pretty well -- no real progress there. And it does look like -- we've seen reports that the Ukrainians are making incremental progress in terms of turning back attacks on Chernihiv.

So they are very much in the fight in Chernihiv, and there's some -- you know, some indications that they are actually pushing the Russians back in places around Chernihiv. I don't have much more detail than that.

Swinging on around to Kharkiv, again, no progress by the Russians. They're still attempting to blockade the city. Ukrainian forces are obviously very, very heavily engaged there, and have been able to -- to forestall any additional movement by the Russians near Kharkiv. There's some reports around Kharkiv about a strike on a shopping mall. We cannot independently corroborate that.

So now, going around to that -- down a little bit to the southeast of Kharkiv towards Izyum, we -- we do believe that -- that the Russians have -- have likely been able to break through the Ukrainian forces along a highway in -- near Izyum and -- and they have actually moved to the southeast of Izyum. It's difficult to say exactly how much -- around 10 kilometers or so to the southeast of Izyum. And -- and this is -- this gets at what we've been talking about for a while, that we think they're trying to cut off the Donbas area and they're -- and as we -- and we've been talking about this, you know, for weeks now, coming south out of Kharkiv, now south out of Izyum and -- and trying to move to the southeast to -- to really sort of cut off that joint force operation area in the Donbas, but they haven't gotten much farther than that.

Let's see. Moving further down around -- I want to talk just a bit about the -- the Donbas area. We -- you've actually -- you don't have to take my word for it. I think a -- a Russian Ministry of Defense official said as much today, they are prioritizing the Donbas. They don't call it that, but they -- you know, the -- the DNR and the LNR and that area; that they've publicly, now, acknowledged what we talked about the other day, that they are putting their priorities and their effort in the east of Ukraine. And that's where still, there remains a lot of heavy fighting, and we think they are trying to not only secure some sort of more -- more substantial gains there as a potential negotiating tactic at the table, but also to cut off Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of the country. So they've said it for themselves, that -- that they're prioritizing it and -- and -- and we -- we concur, or our information would concur with that.

No real changes in Mariupol. Obviously, vicious -- vicious fighting continues there and -- and still, long-range -- long-range strikes, so lots of heavy fighting there. I don't really have anything new there.

Swinging back around now to Berdyansk, I know you guys have all seen the press coverage yesterday of the -- what the Ukrainians say was an attack by them on an out -- on a Russian naval vessel. That was in Berdyansk. We concur with that. They did strike a Russian LST while it was pier-side in Berdyansk, and it would -- it appears from the imagery, we've seen that they -- they destroyed that ship. We don't know how many casualties; I don't know how many people were on the ship when it got hit. I'm not going to talk about what it was hit with because, again, I think we need to -- we need to preserve Ukrainian OPSEC, and so I'm going to do that. But they did -- we assess that they did destroy that -- that LST. It was an LST, an -- a tank landing ship. And our assessment is that that ship was there in Berdyansk as a -- on a resupply mission.

And this goes back to, as you might remember, a few days ago. We talked about the LSTs that I talked about being in the Sea of Azov off of Berdyansk and some of the -- the activity that they were doing there, and it's clear that at -- at least one thing they were trying to do was use the port there at Berdyansk as a resupply depot for their fight up -- up near Mariupol. So we do -- we do concur with the Ukrainian reports that -- that they destroyed an LST there.

Let's see. Swinging further around towards Kherson, seeing some reports in -- of the resistance in Kherson that -- that -- we have seen reports -- I'm sorry. Let me say this again. We've seen reports of resistance there in areas that were previously reported to be in Russian control. We can't corroborate exactly who is in control of -- of Kherson, but the point is it doesn't appear to be as solidly in Russian control as it was before. The Ukrainians are trying to take Kherson back, and so it's -- we would -- we would argue that -- that Kherson is actually contested territory again.

On Mykolaiv, coming further around now up to -- to Mykolaiv -- sorry -- we continue to see Ukrainians defend the city. They're focusing on keeping their supply lines open, so no major developments there. Russian forces still appear to be outside the city, about 15 kilometers, again, to the south and southeast. We talked about, last time we chatted, about them repositioning because the Ukrainians have fought so well there in Mykolaiv. So heavy fighting there, and fighting -- heavy fighting in Kherson. Kherson is -- you know, that -- and that's -- and that's different from the last time we talked. We -- we -- we hope Kherson to now be contested.

Let's see. In the air, again, no major changes; contested airspace. We do see that the Russians are concentrating their airstrikes to Kyiv, Chernihiv and the joint force operation east, where they said they were going to prioritize it. Those are the three areas where we're seeing the most airstrike and long-range fires from aircraft -- or from -- or missiles.

I think -- check and see. I think that may be all I've got.

No -- I'm sorry. We missed Odesa. No signs that Odesa is under an imminent threat of an amphibious assault, or frankly, a ground assault. They can't break out of Mykolaiv, and we haven't seen anything noteworthy in terms of naval activity in the -- in the Black Sea. They still have roughly, you know, a couple of dozen warships there. The bulk of them are surface combatants in the Black Sea. But no -- no activity near Odesa, no sign that they're about to -- about to try to assault Odesa.

Let's see. We've seen the images here on social media of thermobaric weapons. We don't have any ability to independently verify that, so we can't confirm the use of that. The -- the same with the social media reports of the use the white phosphorus. We can't independently verify that.

No updates with respect to Belarus, no signs or indications that the Belarusians are about to -- planning to -- to go in. And I think that's about it.

You'll probably ask me about two things I do want to add. One -- so on -- assessed available combat power, we -- we hold the Russians less than 90 percent, somewhere between 85 and less than 90 percent of their assessed available combat power.

So they're -- they continue to expend their resources, and when talking about resources, I have not seen indications that they are trying to bring in resupply from elsewhere. Again, they have assembled an awful lot of their -- of -- of their -- of -- of their combat power to this fight.

But I will say that we've seen our first indications that they are trying to send in some reinforcements from Georgia. And so we -- we have seen the -- the movement of a -- of a -- of -- of some number of -- of troops from Georgia. We don't have an exact number. I couldn't tell you whether it's a full BTG or how many troops but -- but that has -- that is -- that is different today and I thought I would just pass that on to you.

Okay, yeah, we'll go to questions. Bob?

Q: Thanks. By the way, those are Russian troops, I assume, from Georgia?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That is correct.

Q: Okay. My question has to do with -- actually in connection with your description of the Russians prioritizing the Donbas. I'm wondering what that says or implies about their ground operations around Kyiv, where you've been describing them as stalled for quite some time. Have they essentially given up on the goal of -- of moving into Kyiv on the ground?

And -- and a related question -- there have been some indications that the Ukrainian forces west of Kyiv might be in -- putting themselves in position to fully encircle a large group of Russian forces out of the Bucha area. I'm wondering if you have anything on that? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah – hang on a minute. I thought I had something. Oh, we do -- yeah, we do assess that there's heavy fighting in the vicinity of Bucha and Irpin, northwest of Kyiv. So we have seen -- and I'm sorry, I forgot that point, I'm glad you asked that -- we have seen heavy fighting there and the Ukrainians trying hard to dislodge the Russians from Bucha and from Irpin. I don't have more of an update for you on that.

And then to your larger question on -- on Kyiv, what I would say is it -- it appears that the Russians are, at least the (moment, not pursuing a ground offense -- a ground offensive towards Kyiv. They are digging in, they are establishing defensive positions, they don't show any signs of -- of being willing to move on Kyiv from the ground.

Now, again, we're still seeing airstrikes but not -- nothing from the ground, and that is in keeping with our assessment of a couple of days ago that they are going to prioritize the eastern part of the country, with -- in terms of ground offense, and that is exactly what we're seeing.

There is a lot of heavy fighting in the Donbas area, they are trying to move south out of Izyum to -- to cut off the Donbas, they're trying to break out of -- to take Mariupol and then be able to break off north from there, to do that from the south.

Now, that's why they're frustrated, and frankly, we think that's of a piece of why they had LSTs dropping off supplies in Berdyansk, to try to reinforce their efforts to take Mariupol.

So the defensive crouch that they're now taking in Kyiv we think is -- is consistent with their desire now to be more on the offense and to be more aggressive in the east, in Donbas. It's interesting that the bulk of their air activity is really only on Kyiv, Chernihiv, which remains a very bloody fight, and then the Donbas. That's where we're seeing the air activity.

So again, all of that sort of reinforces this idea that, at least for the moment, they don't appear to want to pursue Kyiv as aggressively, or frankly, at all. They are focused on the Donbas.

Tom Bowman?

Q: I wanted to follow up on Kyiv. Since they seem to be hunkering down and no attempt, I guess, as you said earlier, to maybe encircle Kyiv, they talked about bombarding the city, are we seeing an increase in missile strikes on Kyiv? And you talked earlier about maybe the artillery moving up. Do we think they'll start using that artillery to hit Kyiv?

And also, if you could talk a little bit about, you know, the -- the talk of shoring up NATO's Eastern Flank? Any sense of the U.S. role at this point in that effort? Maybe more troops, equipment, or troops remaining there?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So, okay, on Kyiv, I don't have -- what I would tell you is two things. I -- I can only say what we -- what we can comfortably say that we know, Tom -- one, we know that Russian sorties are now up. They still be -- they're still around 300 a day, which is up from where they were a week or so ago. So they're flying more, and clearly, they're still launching a lot of missiles.

Number two, they're focusing their strikes on Kyiv, Chernihiv, and the Donbas. That doesn't mean that there is not strikes happening -- we've all seen Mariupol -- but that's where their focus area is. I couldn't quantify that for you, Tom, I couldn't tell you how many artillery rounds are being fired.

What we're -- we are seeing around -- on the ground -- we're seeing them basically dig in. They are -- they -- they have stopped trying to move forward and they are -- what they have started to do is try to defend what they have.

And to Bob's question, we're seeing the Ukrainians really go now on the offense on the -- around Kyiv. That includes to the west of it. So the -- I would just again say the Russians are in a defensive position around Kyiv on the ground. I couldn't quantify how -- how many strikes, only to say that they are prioritizing, from strikes -- from a strike perspective, they're prioritizing Kyiv, Chernihiv, and -- and the Donbas, but the Donbas is really where they're -- that's where they're focused right now, on the ground and in the air. I mean, that and of course that explains a lot of why we're continuing to see them want to take Mariupol. So I -- I think I'd leave it at that.

On our posture, no changes to speak to today. I have no -- no new orders to -- to announce or talk about, no decisions in that regard, but the -- as I've said before, the Secretary keeps all options on the table and -- and I wouldn't rule out the possibility, excuse me, of additional force flow either, you know, from the States to Europe or even movement inside Europe. What -- what we have now is just over 100,000 U.S. troops in Europe. Those are locational, permanently based. And, of course, that -- that includes the temporary orders that the secretary has signed in the last month or so to get folks there. They are all still there. There is no change to their presence on the ground or even at sea. We still have the Harry S Truman in the Mediterranean, so. But no changes to speak to in that regard.

Q: All right, thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, Idrees.

Q: Hey, just a clarification and a question. On Georgia, just so I'm sure, it's not just that you're seeing them try to move -- you are physically seeing them move troops from Georgia into Ukraine? And second question, yesterday, Colin Kahl said he believes the Russians are running out of precision-guided munitions. Is there sense or a percentage of how many –- they might have left in their stockpile right now?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, I think we have an assessment, Idrees, but I'm not going to get into the whole numbers here. It's an assessment based on our best information. But I -- I'm not going to get into specifics on the numbers. I would say as I said before, the thing -- the thing they're running the lowest on are cruise missiles, particularly air-launched cruise missiles. But they still have the majority of their inventory available to them. They still have more than 50 percent. But that air--launched cruise missiles in particular are the thing that they're the lowest on. So Mr. Kahl -- Dr. Kahl is correct that we do see signs that they are that their precision-guided munitions are -- are beginning to be -- the dwindling stocks are beginning to be a factor. And then we think that's one of the reasons why we're seeing them use more and more dumb bombs, if you will.

And then on the Georgia stuff, we're not -- it's not like we're tracking their movements from the air or anything. What I can tell you is that we now have indications that they will -- let me put it -- maybe I wasn't very clear.

We now have indications that they -- they are drawing on forces from Georgia to Ukraine. I think that's probably the best way I can put it. I don't have the exact number. I don't know what timeline they're on. But I told you we were going to watch this as best we could. And we are. And we now have signs that they are drawing upon troops that -- Russian troops that are based in -- in Georgia. And that's really the best I can do today. I don't have more detail than that. And I don't want -- I don't want to guess.

Howard Altman.

Q: Thanks. I’ve got a couple of series of questions. First one is that independent observers say that Ukrainians have captured about four times as many tanks as the Russians have captured Ukraine tanks, and overall about three times as much armor as the -- as been captured from Ukraine. Is that -- is that surprising? Is it unprecedented? And then I have another series of questions about -- I had lengthy conversations this morning with Brigadier General Kyrylo Budanov and among other things he said that Ukraine would like fifth generation fighters and that Ukraine pilots can absolutely fly them. Is that something that the Pentagon assesses as an accurate statement?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Howard, I can't help you on the tank thing. I -- I don't have an assessment of how many tanks the Ukrainians have -- have captured or even proof that they have. I just don't have that level of detail, so I don't even want to guess at that.

I'm not aware of any requests from the Ukrainians for fifth generation fighter aircraft and I've -- you know, you -- you know, we -- we detailed -- read out a call that Secretary Austin had with the Defense Minister Reznikov yesterday. That topic did not come up. So that's the first I'm hearing of this.

(CROSSTALK)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: -- is getting them --

Q: Do you -- do you assess that Ukraine pilots are able to fly fifth generation aircraft?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I -- I can't -- I don't know, Howard. I don't know what the skill sets are of the Ukrainian pilots. I know what they're flying, they're -- they're flying old, ex-Soviet aircraft and -- and fighter bombers. That's what they're trained on, that's what they fly. I -- I -- I don't -- they don't have Western, fifth generation aircraft in their inventory, but I can't speak for the skill sets of each and every pilot or -- I just don't -- I don't know. I don't have anything on that.

Q: All right, thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Matt.

Q: Thanks, going off of Idrees' question, one of the factors you talked about with dumb bombs, in addition to possible supply issues, possible reliability issues. Is that something the U.S. is actually seeing, failures to launch, especially these air-launched cruise missiles? And is it a significant -- is that putting a significant dent in that inventory?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We think that -- we think they have experienced failures in in some of their missiles, particularly cruise missiles, either failure to actually launch or failure to hit the target. It's hard to give a -- you -- you know, it's hard for us to assess that perfectly, in terms of numbers, but we have seen some failures.

And -- and clearly, if you're going to have failures, then -- then obviously, that's going to -- unless you can get the missile back to the base and fix it, I mean, that -- yeah, that's going to have a -- that's going to have a dent on your -- on your usable inventory.

But I -- I think our -- our assessment is that the -- the depletion -- the consumption of the inventory is really not -- that's not the -- that's not the -- the -- that's not the most significant factor, it's the usage. They are actually just using that much hardware.

Q: Okay. One thing on the NATO Eastern Flank question. You said Secretary Austin hasn't taken anything off the table. Just to be -- be clear, is one of those possibilities that's still on the table is increasing the permanent base line of troops, either rotational or --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I mean, right now, our focus -- right now, our focus is on whether or not there needs to be additional temporary deployments to shore up the Eastern Flank, given what's going on in Ukraine.

There's been no posture decisions -- permanent posture decisions, there's no -- you know, there's no serious negotiations with -- with other nations in terms of a permanent posture right now. But I -- I think it's safe to assume the security environment in Europe is now radically different than it was before and we don't know how this war is going to end up but it's safe to assume that -- that -- that we and frankly our allies too will be looking at what the posture should be like going forward, longer term. In fact, that was a topic of discussion at the NATO Summit yesterday. No decisions made, of course, no -- no -- no specific proposals debated or discussed, but the -- the issue of what the security posture in Europe needs to look like long term absolutely is -- is -- is being discussed.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay? Yeah.

Tara Copp?

Q: Hello. Thanks for doing this. Hope you guys are getting some rest. I wanted to go back to the -- the Donbas. Questions -- you saw a Russian official this morning saying that they would also be focusing on the full liberation of Donbas, and I -- according to some news accounts, almost characterizing that as that had been the plan all along and that they were pulling back deliberately. Do you think that this was -- does the Pentagon assess that this was a -- an intelligence failure and that they are trying to, I guess, cut their losses and just focus on retaking Donbas instead of larger -- the whole Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We -- we don't know, Tara. That -- that's -- that's a possible outcome but I don't think we know for sure. Clearly, they overestimated their ability to take Kyiv, and frankly, they overestimated their ability to take any population center and they clearly underestimated Ukrainian resistance.

So I think it's safe to assume that they -- that they face some intelligence failures of their own. Whether the -- they're now changing their strategic goals or not, I -- I think, is difficult to say. Again, all we can do is tell you what we're seeing and what -- what we talked about two days ago, a prioritization of the Donbas was confirmed by the Russians themselves today, saying that that was what their priority was going to be.

But again, look, I mean, it's not like the Ukrainians don't get a vote here. They -- they are fighting very hard in the Donbas area. That -- and they have been for eight years, that's been a hot war, and they have taken a lot of casualties in the last eight years.

So I -- I don't think anybody should just write off the Donbas as -- as -- as something that's -- that's not going to be significantly fought for by the Ukrainians.

Mosh?

Q: Thanks so much for doing this. I'm just wondering really quickly, in the aftermath of the attacks on the Russian ship in Berdyansk, have -- have you noticed any change in -- in Russian activity or posture there?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No. You -- you talking about, like, in -- in the -- in the Sea of Azov there?

Q: Correct.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No -- no, we've not. And the -- the -- the only significant naval activity to talk about in -- was that attack on that LST, but nothing -- nothing -- nothing new to -- to report.

Sylvie?

Q: Hello. I have two questions.

You spoke about Kherson, the fact that they are -- the Ukrainians are trying to take their city back. How significant would it be if they take Kherson back?

And also, do you have any news to report about the longer range air defense that the President promised to Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Nothing new to report on long range air defense efforts. We continue to talk to a range of allies and partners to get air defense systems that the Ukrainians are trained on and qualified to use and get them over there to them.

I think Kherson would -- that would be -- that would be significant if the -- if the Ukrainians were able to -- to take Kherson back. I mean, it is a strategically located city. You remember when we first started talking about it, when the Russians moved in, we talked about its significance on the map there in the south and the opening on the Dnieper River to the Black Sea so it's a significant port city.

It would also put at much greater risk, the Russian positions around Mykolaiv. And, again, if they have ground desires on Odessa losing Kherson and therefore putting their troops between Ukrainians, being sandwiched between Ukrainian forces in Kherson and then those in Mykolaiv, because right now the Russians are to the south and southeast of Mykolaiv.

That would put them smack in the middle. That would -- that would make it very, very difficult for them to make any kind of ground movement on Odessa if in fact that was their plan. So should the Russians take back Kherson that would -- that would be a significant development no question about that in terms of the southern part of the war.

David Martin.

Q: Do you have any indication of which axes or front those troops from Georgia might be going to; north, east, south?

And I have a separate question on a very separate subject. The North Koreans say they have launched a new ICBM and they have shown video which appears to be what they call the Hwasong-17, which is a new previously untested ICBM. Regardless of what you call it, does the Pentagon assess that the North Koreans tested a new ICBM that is capable of carrying multiple war heads?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We're still assessing the intelligence on this launch, David, so I won't go beyond what we said about it publicly. Obviously we know this is a -- was a test of a long range ballistic missile and clearly they try to learn from each of these test and to try to develop their capability further. But I am going to refrain from talking about it too specifically as we're still analyzing our own intelligence on it.

I don't know where these reinforcements will be put into the fight. I couldn't -- I don't have that level of detail. So if we get a better sense of that and I can share it I will. But we just don't know. We just don't know.

Again, the Russians, themselves, have said they're going to prioritize the Donbas. I'm not saying that that -- that's not a, you know that's not a wink-wink, nudge-nudge to you that that's where we know they're going. But we don't know. But that is the area of priority that the Russians, themselves, have said.

So we would not be surprised if these Georgian reinforcements, these -- I shouldn't say Georgians, that's not -- that's not accurate, Russian forces that were in Georgia, if that's where they were to go that would not be a surprise but we do not know that for a fact.

Jeff Seldin.

Q: Hey, thanks very much for doing this.

Earlier this week some senior NATO officials were talking about Russian President Vladimir Putin, describing him as angrier, backed into a corner, and warning it can make him more dangerous and perhaps even more likely to lash out even at NATO countries.

Has the U.S. seen any indications that as the war has drawn on, and as Russia has not achieved its main goals in any way that it thought it was going to that Putin or Russia's military is getting more reckless in their tactics or their decision making? And also, is there -- are there any new signs or any additional signs that Russia has again used more hypersonic weapons against Ukraine in this conflict?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't have any new indications of the use of hypersonics. That doesn't mean that they haven't, I just don't have any new indications to speak to.

On Putin, I think -- look, on your question about recklessness, it's there for the world to see. I can't get inside Putin's mind, and I wouldn't want to speculate about his personal level of frustration, or whatever decisions he's making based on the fact that they have been stymied and stalled throughout the country.

But you can see for yourself how they have tried to make up for the fact that they haven't been able to move well on the ground by the increasing use of airstrikes and missile strikes and artillery strikes on population centers.

I mean, the images coming out of Mariupol are dreadful, and that is a direct sign of the Russians increasing their use of those types of tactics because they haven't been able to easily take over population centers on the ground. So again, their frustrations are laid bare for the world to see by the manner in which they are continuing to prosecute this unprovoked war.

Abraham.

Q: Yes, thanks. Hope you're enjoying Poland. Quick clarification, the delivery of the $800 million defense package, has that begun yet? And then a couple questions. Have you seen any preparations from the Russians to move chemical weapons into place? So much talk about that.

And then also, you know, you talk a lot about the airspace being contested, is that because SAM systems are getting in there and they're being put into positions? And has DOD changed its policy regarding facilitating more aircraft to the Ukrainians? I hope I could get those answers. Thanks a lot.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Again, Abraham, on the aircraft the United States is not putting a veto on people giving the Ukrainians aircraft. They -- if another sovereign nation wants to do that, we respect that decision. We did not want the aircraft transferred to us for further transfer to Ukraine.

So I just want to make -- keep leveling that and making that clear. I don't -- Sylvie already asked me about air defense systems, I don't have anything specifically to speak to with that. We are continuing to work with other allies and partners who have long range air defense systems that the Ukrainians know how to use, and we're trying to get them there.

On the $800 million package, yes, another flight arrived in the region today. There's -- so we have already a couple initial shipments have been sent to the region. I don't know about whether they've actually been prepared for shipment by ground in the Ukraine, but they've arrived from the -- from the states into Europe. Again, one -- one arrived today.

And over the next -- today's what, the 25th, so over the next three days, there'll be an additional three flights. And, again, we're prioritizing on these things. It's the kind of material that -- that we know they're using in the fight every day, got Javelins and Stingers and that kind of things.

Alex, Washington Post.

Q: Hey, thanks. When it comes to the Donbas, I was hoping you could be more specific on -- on what it means to prioritize separate from more airstrikes. Are they pulling in troops from other parts of the country? Are they putting in, you know, specific troops, light infantry or Spetsnaz or other folks? What are the indications and what are the specifics of what it means to prioritize?

And separately, when it comes to the -- the -- the 85 to 90 percent of combat power, can you -- can you sort of clarify what you mean by combat power? Is that just service members, is it service members in vehicles and aircraft, like what -- how do you define combat power that's available to them? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So on the prioritization, I mean this is a relatively new decision by the Russians. We're just seeing them become much more aggressive in the Donbas area. I -- I cannot speak to troop movements that we've been able to assess in terms of moving in from elsewhere in Ukraine to the Donbas, but they -- they've become much more aggressive there.

And they are prioritizing -- as I said, there's three areas where they're prioritizing airstrikes, and the Donbas is one of them. That -- that hadn't always been the case, not that they weren't conducting airstrikes there but -- but they have -- they have certainly made it a higher priority on their list for -- for now. So I -- I can't give you much more than that. I -- we're watching this in real-time, same as you.

On the combat power, when we talk about assessed combat power, we're talking about their inventories, not just the people, and that's certainly part of it, but -- but also tanks and armored vehicles, artillery systems, fighter and fighter bomber aircraft, helicopters and -- and SAMS as well as -- as ballistic missiles. So it's -- it's all -- it's all those things combined, in addition to their -- their -- their naval power in the Black Sea.

So we kind of look at all of that stuff and look at how much they started with versus how much they have left and available to them, and -- and then kind of aggregate that. And we come up with, you know, an assessment, and it is an assessment, of available combat power based on what they had when they started their -- a raid against Ukraine. And we come up with somewhere between 85 and just less than 90 percent available to them right now. That's -- that's -- that's how we -- that's how we're doing that.

Q: Okay, just a quick follow-up. I mean how -- how do you -- how do you determine if they're more aggressive, like can you -- can you see their faces or like are they grimacing more? It's like what -- what exactly makes someone more aggressive in -- in -- in their behavior in combat?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We're just seeing a lot more ground activity.

Nancy? Nancy, are you there?

Q: Thank you very much. Can you hear me?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I've got you.

Q: Okay, great, thank you. The Russian Navy has moved its ships out of the ports in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea after the fire, which I assume makes it much harder for those ships to be a part of their offensives on -- on places like Mariupol. My question is, does the U.S. have an assessment on how much the absence of missiles from -- fire from those ships affects its warfighting, particularly given its push towards the Donbas? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That is an excellent question that I don't really have an answer for. We're -- again, we -- all I can tell you is what we're seeing, Nancy. We're seeing that they have -- you know, they've got, by our count now, they've got about 22 ships in the Black Sea, 15 of which are surface combatants, and most of the rest are amphibious ships. And you know, look, the -- the -- the advantage of navies is they're mobile and they're flexible and you can move them around, and we've seen them move, you know, into the Sea of Azov to -- to conduct an amphibious assault, to try to resupply their efforts on Mariupol. We have not seen them move on -- on Odesa. It's unclear the degree to which they would or could use naval power to assist in the -- what they're trying to do in the east there in the Donbas. But -- but clearly, they could reach parts of the Donbas from the Sea of Azov if -- if they wanted to. They could absolutely use some of their surface power, particularly missiles, if they wanted to, but we just haven't seen that happen.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yup.

James from F.T.

Q: Thanks so much. I -- I was wondering if you could confirm this report, the -- some of the Russian precision missiles that are suffering failure -- failure rates of up to 60 percent. And then separately, are you seeing any evidence that the Russians are really looking to target some of the supply lines coming in from -- from Poland and -- and elsewhere in terms of military aid to Ukraine? And earlier, I had a question about whether the, you know, the prioritization of Donbas signals sort of an end to, you know, the goal of -- of a -- a full occupation, but I think I -- it seems I can conclude that that you -- you believe that's premature for now.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I -- again, we -- we can't perfectly know what the Russian's strategic plans are. Again, what I've tried to do every day with these things is just tell you what we're seeing and not try to jump to too many conclusions about what their plans are. So I -- yeah, I -- I think I'd leave that question where it was.

We have not seen them target any of the supplies coming in on the ground, and then --

Q: The precision missile --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Your other one was --

Q: -- failure rates.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, yeah. I -- I think, look, it's a range, and the ranges I've seen in the press from -- anywhere from 20 to 60 percent. I would not push back on that assessment. But again, it's a range and it varies, you know, nearly from day to day. But -- but we have seen times when they have -- when -- when our assessment is they have -- they have experienced a -- a significant amount of failure in their -- in -- in their -- in their missiles.

Mallory from USNI?

Q: Thanks. Actually, both my questions were asked, so I'll pass to someone else.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thank you.

Anton from The Economist?

Q: Hi. Just two things to run past you from a briefing by other Western officials who say that a brigade commander was killed by his own troops in Russia, who say that they assessed that about 20 battalion tactical groups were no longer combat-effective, in their terminology, and that they are moving -- the -- the Russians are moving to -- to the Far East from Kaliningrad and Georgia, as well. Do you have any comment on any of that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I can't -- I -- I can't confirm the Far East moves. I -- again, I'm -- I'm sharing with you what we can share with you and -- and -- and the Georgia move is the -- it -- it -- we can share. I can't confirm the -- the other stuff that you've heard from Western officials in terms of the battalion tactical groups who are -- which are no longer in -- in existence.

We also -- you have to be somewhat careful here because we don't know how they reinforce -- or I should say, replace their losses in -- in terms of individuals. It -- it -- that -- it's not entirely clear to us how they do that, I mean, when they have -- when they suffer casualties, where they pull replacements from, and what does that do to the battalion tactical group they've pulled from. It -- it -- that -- it's not exactly clear to us, so I -- I don't know that I can -- that I can confirm that -- that part of it.

And with generals being killed, again, we -- we can't confirm the numbers that have been reported out there by either side, except to say that -- what -- what I said before. I mean, it's not surprising to us to see that there are generals on the battlefield, given the way they man and organize themselves and that they don't -- they -- they -- they don't delegate very well. They don't have -- they do not invest a lot of responsibility in their junior officer corps, and they don't have a non-commissioned officer corps to speak of the way we do, so there's not a lot of battlefield initiative. And not to mention, they're suffering -- continue to suffer from significant command-and-control problems that -- both in terms of an individual leader's ability to command his troops in the field, but also the ability of commanders to speak to one another. And -- and also, we know and we -- we -- we continue to get indications of -- of morale problems that have, at times and places, been significant in terms of their battlefield performance.

So I know it's not a perfect answer to your questions -- all very good questions, but we're just not in a position to independently confirm those data points. But we'll keep looking at stuff every day. I mean, as -- as -- you know, we'll keep doing these, and when we get new indications of things like we did today with the Georgia stuff we'll -- and we're comfortable with it, we'll pass it on.

I think Oren was on the line and -- and wanted to ask one, and we'll stop it with Oren.

Q: I'm sorry. My question was actually asked a short time ago. I appreciate that, though.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay.

All right, guys, thanks. This will be the last backgrounder from -- from this trip. We're -- as you know, we're all heading back tomorrow, and -- and so we'll pick these up -- we'll pick these up next week.

Thanks and out here.