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Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Last night, I think you saw that the Biden administration authorizing an additional Presidential drawdown of security systems valued at up to an additional $100 million. 

This $100 million is designed to help us meet an urgent Ukrainian need for additional javelin anti-armor systems, which the United States has been providing to Ukraine, I think as all know. And they've been used very, very effectively to combat the Russian attack on Ukrainian homeland. This will be the sixth drawdown of equipment from DoD inventories for Ukraine since August of 2021. 

Combined with the $300 million in military assistance that we just announced on the first of April. This will bring the total U.S. security assistance commitment to Ukraine to more than $1.7 billion since the beginning just the beginning of the Russian invasion on the 24th of February. There was another billion on top of that, as you well know at the beginning of the Biden administration, and then more than 4.5 billion since 2014. 

The United States along with our allies and partners will continue to work closely with our Ukrainian partners to evaluate their specific requirements to ensure that our assistance meets their highest priority needs as again they continue to courageously defend their country. Now, just a programming note, as many of you know, from an army press release that went out yesterday, but I did want to mention it from the podium. 

The DoD Warrior Games has been scheduled for the 19th to the 28th of August, at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando. The games, I think you all were tracking for the past two years had to be canceled because of COVID. This is all about celebrating the resiliency and the dedication of our wounded ill and injured active duty and veteran, U.S. and allied service members. We're very excited to be able to get the games back in play again at the end of the summer. And we're looking forward to seeing these warriors compete. So with that, we will go with questions. Bob.

Q: Thank you, John. On the subject of U.S. security assistance for Ukraine. I think the Secretary mentioned yesterday during his testimony that the Ukrainians are going to get both the 300 and 600 versions of the Switchblade drones. 

And I'm wondering, if you could say whether either or both of those are in production? Or is it something that has to be I mean, by that -- what I meant was, are they in stockpiles? Are they available or they have to be ordered? And also, what about training on that kind of equipment...

MR. KIRBY: So...

Q: ...does that require training?

MR. KIRBY: ...we've already sent in 100, Switchblade UAVs that were already in our stocks. We sent them in from those stocks. I don't know where they are in the transshipment process, but they arrived earlier this week. So, they’ll be getting into Ukraine, quickly if they aren't already there. That's the 100 that President Biden announced a couple of weeks ago, we're in discussions with the Ukrainians about future usages of Switchblade drones. 

And of course, we'll keep that option open going forward. I'd rather not get into specifics about each shipment in terms of what variants of the Switchblade but we're going to keep talking to them and working with -- and helping them get additional ones if they need it. Now, this is not a system that the Ukrainians typically use. 

So, there is going to need to be a little bit of training. It is not a very complex system. It doesn't require a lot of training. An individual could be suitably trained on how to use the Switchblade drone in about two days or so. So, when you heard the Secretary and the Chairman talked yesterday about some training that was being done for Ukrainian military members, that's what they were referring to. 

They were referring to a very small number of Ukrainian soldiers who were already in the United States and had been since the fall, since well before the invasion for military educational purposes, professional military training. And we took the opportunity to -- having them still in the country, to give them a couple of days' worth of training on the Switchblade. 

So that they can go back when they will be going back soon, back home to train others in the Ukrainian military. And we'll look at -- that doesn't have to be the end all of it. I mean, we'll look at other suitable opportunities, if needed to provide more training on the Switchblades if it's necessary, but that's what they were referring to yesterday.

Q: So there -- is either version in full production so that you could readily supply additional…?

MR. KIRBY: Well, I'm not going to speak for the manufacturers. I understand that they are capable of manufacturing both of these versions. And just to be clear, one version has a bigger warhead than the other and potentially penetrating capabilities for say, armor targets. I won't speak for the manufacturer, what their production line is. 

My understanding is that that production line is open. They're capable of producing these. Again, we're not going to get into specifics on a day-to-day basis of exactly what variant is going in on any given day. But it is a useful battlefield system. We're going to do everything we can to make sure that they know how to use them and that they can continue to get into the country. 

Right now, 100 have flown or have flowed in, and we'll see where it goes from there. 

Q: John, you're confirming that the 600 version has been authorized and is either on route or soon will be route?

MR. KIRBY: No, I have not. What I've said is I'm not going to talk about the specific variant of it. It is -- but if you're asking me, can I rule out that the 600 version, the heavier warhead version will not be used or won't be sent? No, I'm not going to rule that out.

Q: And in terms of javelins, the 100 million dollars in javelins. Tony Blinken over the weekend had said that the Ukrainians had received 10 times the number of javelins to the amount of tanks -- Russian tanks in the country. He said that on one of the Sunday shows. Why do they need so many more javelins right now? And I'm just a little confused about that. 

MR. KIRBY: Well, I mean, you don't just send a system in based on one potential target. It is an anti-armor design. It is a missile designed for anti-armor use for those kinds of targets. But it doesn't mean you have to exclusively use it to hit tanks. It can be used on other vehicles as well and even fixed targets if need be. 

And there have been thousands of javelins that we have provided to Ukraine, and we know they're using them. You can see the evidence for yourself when you look at the videos and the images on TV of these burnt-out tanks and burnt-out trucks and armored personnel carriers. You can see the work of the javelin right there. 

So you don't count one-to-one because they're not being used in that capacity. Yes, Janne.

Q: Thank you, John. I have two questions on South and North Korea. I hope you can answer these.

MR. KIRBY: It's kind of a crapshoot every day. 

Q: Thank you. I think you know that there are signs that the North Korea, the nuclear and ICBM test launch is imminent. And those North Korean's leader, Kim Jung's sister threatened that North Korea will be using nuclear force. If the two Koreas had a military confrontation, how do you analyze that threat?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into a public back and forth with the North Koreans and their threats on the use of ballistic missiles. I will just say a couple of things. We know that they are continuing to try to advance and improve their ballistic missile program. And with each test whether it's a failure or not, they learn from that, and that's troubling. 

Number two, we have been nothing but clear about our concerns about this program about condemning these launches. They are violations of existing UN Security Council resolutions. And we want the rest of the international community and most of them to put exactly the same kind of pressure on the North that we are. And number three, and this is not unimportant, is that we continue to make it clear that we will be willing to sit down with North Korea without preconditions to talk in good faith to find a diplomatic path forward here to reach a better outcome for security instability on the peninsula. And thus far the North Koreans have shown no interest in that. So, we're going to continue to work on our capabilities inside the alliance with the ROK. 

We're going to continue to make sure that we're doing our part to make sure we have the capabilities on the peninsula to preserve a sense of security there.

Q: Second one. South Korea does not have a nuclear weapon, but North Korea has nuclear weapons. Have you considered to deploy your U.S. tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea for the sake of...

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to talk about.

Q: ...conflict between North and South?

MR. KIRBY: Nice try. I'm not going to get into talking about...

Q: Why not?

MR. KIRBY: I'm just not going to engage in hypotheticals like that, Janne, and I think you know, why. Our job is to make sure that we're contributing to the alliance in meaningful tangible ways to the security of the peninsula and to other allies in the region. And we look at our posture every day with that in mind. And we're in constant consultation with our ROK allies.

Q: I'm sorry. I have some follow-ups on that. April 15, will be the 110th anniversary of North Korea's founder Kim ll-sung. And South Korean and the U.S. will resume the largest scale field exercises from April 18. All these combined that it is very likely that North Korea will do something more provocative.

Do you have any plans? Or can you share any measures that will enhance military readiness in Peninsula defense? And my second question is South Korea's newly elected President sent a Policy Coordination delegation to Washington DC. And I know they met with Secretary Austin yesterday. 

And the head of delegation told the South Korean reporters that he will discuss a deployment of U.S. strategic assets and maybe resumption of military drills and on the peninsula. So, can you share some of the contents of the meeting or do you have any plans to release a readout?

MR. KIRBY: Look, I think the answer to both your questions is we're going to continue to work with our South Korean allies on making sure that our capabilities are appropriate to the threat. The threat that's continued to be posed by North Korea, and by their advancing ballistic missile program. 

We're not going to detail all that from the podium, but we're constantly looking at what their readiness requirements are. That's why we constantly consult with our ROK allies. OK. David.

Q: Before yesterday, when the Secretary testified about the training on the Switchblades. Your response had always been , “We're focused on providing Ukraine with the weapons they can use now.” So now you've maybe opportunistically taken advantage of a chance to train Ukrainians on an American system? Do you have plans to train Ukrainians on other American systems? 

MR. KIRBY: Not that I am aware of, no. 

Q: So, this is just a one off?

MR. KIRBY: It's not a one off either. I mean, we've identified in consultation with the Ukrainians that the Switchblade is a capability that they can use. It is not a very difficult system to learn. So, we are going to get them into their hands. And we obviously want them to be able to use it effectively. So, we took advantage of the fact that we had a small number of them here in the United States anyway, to get them up to speed on the program. 

I'm sorry, on the system. And we'll look to see what -- if there needs to be additional training of additional Ukrainians on the Switchblade, we'll look to see how that might best be done. But I wouldn't call it a one off, no.

Q: Just the one off being the Switchblade or would you train Ukrainians on other American systems that they could use?

MR. KIRBY: I know of no other American systems that are either being planned to go in or are already in that they require additional training on. Sylvie.

Q: When the President went to Europe three weeks ago, he spoke about giving, not giving, but making sure that the Ukrainians would have a longer range air defense. Where are you on this topic? Did you progress?

MR. KIRBY: We are still very actively discussing the possibility with a range of allies and partners for the provision of long-range air defense systems, which are complex systems. And which we know that the Ukrainians already know how to use. But I don't have anything to announce a report to today. 

Q: So, there is no progress?

MR. KIRBY: I wouldn't say that. I just said I don't have anything to speak to today.

Q: Poland on its government website issued a guide to its citizens on what to do if there's an attack chemical, nuclear. Is there a new concern here or an indication that Russia is planning to move beyond Ukraine? And how will this impact our ability to continue getting weapon shipments into Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: Are you talking about the threat of chem/bio?

Q: Yes. And then just that Poland has issued this new warning this new guide to its citizens on what to do if something should happen?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, I would just say we still don't see any indications that the Russians are shipping in or planning to use chemical and biological weapons. I think President Biden has been nothing but clear about the need for the international community to respond. And that would include the United States, if they did something like that. 

We just haven't seen that sort of imminent threat. Certainly, fully respect the government of Poland in the way that they want to inform and educate their populace about the potential there that seems prudent to me. But we haven't seen anything that speaks to an imminent chemical biological attack inside Ukraine. 

And as for how that affects the shipment of things on the ground. Thus far, those shipments proceed, and they are getting into Ukraine, and that material is getting into the hands of Ukrainian soldiers. And we want to see that continue for as long as possible. And so, we're working with a range of allies and partners there in the region to make sure that we're handling this in such a way that those shipments can continue to flow. 

And just from the conversation that the Secretary had with Minister Reznikov last week indicated that that's happening -- that they're getting that material, and it is getting into the hands of the fighters, and it is getting use on the field. And again, you can see for yourself in the imagery coming out of Ukraine. I would say and I know you've heard me say this before. 

And you're probably tired of it. I think we should not lose sight of the fact about how fast, how much, -- not just the size and scale of the security assistance that the United States alone is providing, but other nations are providing and how fast this is moving. Typically, from the time it gets signed -- at least the last couple of security packages drawn up. 

From the time the President signs it to it actually arriving in the region, it can be as little as four days. And then it's not like it's sitting in storage for a week or two. We're able to get this material because we're being so careful and so nimble and how these ground shipments are going. We're able to get it, you know, into Ukraine and often into the fight within 48 hours sometimes. 

And that's incredibly fast, I mean that the $350 million that the President signed out several weeks ago. We got that completed in about three weeks. Never been done that fast before. So, we're going to keep doing it as much as we can as fast as you can. And we're going to be as careful as we can so that that flow can continue. 

Because they're in a very, very active fight, particularly now in the east. Oren.

Q: The 100 million, is that only replacement missiles for javelin launchers? Or are you sending in more launchers as well as more replacement missiles?

MR. KIRBY: I would just say if you look at what we said, Oren, it's $100 million for anti-armor systems.

Q: OK. 

MR. KIRBY: Not just the missiles.

Q: And a question on one of the things you said you'd send in, in Friday's announcement, the 300 million. You also said Puma, which is a surveillance drone, essentially from the same company that produces Switchblades. Is that system something Ukraine has already been trained on? Or does that also require -- is that also something they'll be trained on currently? 

MR. KIRBY: Yes, let me take the question. I don't know how much training they have on the Puma. I'll have to take it.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Yes. 

Q: Thank you. I want to ask you about AUKUS. That yesterday, the U.S., Australia, and UK announced they would work on the development of the hypersonic capability. So, what is the benefit of AUKUS cooperation for the U.S. developmental hypersonic capability? Do you think such cooperation could expedite the fielding of hypersonic missiles?

MR. KIRBY: I don't think it's the intent to expedite the development of hypersonics. But I think it's to try to collaborate, coordinate, and probably learn from each other as we work towards improving hypersonic capability. But again, for the United States, we've been working on hypersonics now for many, many years. 

You heard the Secretary say yesterday, it's a capability. It's not the capability. It's something we know we have to stay at it and try to improve. But there's a range, a mix of capabilities that we're going to need for his vision of integrated deterrence. And this is just but one of them. OK. Let's see, Phil Stewart from Reuters.

Q: Hey there. Thanks. Yesterday, Chairman Milley said that the war in Ukraine could go on for years. Is that your assessment? And you know, if so, does that mean that the Pentagon assesses that Ukraine can't win this war? Or is there winning that, you know, results in continued conflict?

MR. KIRBY: Phil, I don't think anybody knows for certain if the war isn't brought to an end through diplomacy how long it could last. It's impossible to know that. I would tell you that it could end today. It could end today, if Mr. Putin did the right thing and sat down in good faith with the Ukrainians, withdrew all his troops, sent them home, and respected Ukrainian sovereignty. 

He -- obviously he's choosing a different path. He's going to refocus his efforts on the eastern part of the country, a part of the country where he and his troops and his private military contractors have been violating Ukrainian sovereignty now for eight years. The fact that he's going to concentrate in a smaller geographic area, certainly presents the possibility that the violence will continue. 

It could even intensify in that part of Ukraine. And because we expect -- fully expect that the Ukrainians will keep fighting for this area, which belongs to them, and they've been fighting over it for eight years, could extend the conflict longer than anybody wants to see it go. But you can't be perfectly predictive about this. 

And then once the war is over, whenever that is, and whatever that piece looks like, I think you can imagine that the international community's going to want to come together to help rebuild Ukraine, and that's going to take some time. Nobody knows for sure. And as for your question about whether they can win or whether we've given up on them winning, or does this mean that they can't win because we think it's going to go for a long time? 

The answer is absolutely not. Of course, they can win this. And if you look at what they've been able to do just thus far, Mr. Putin has achieved exactly zero of his strategic objectives inside Ukraine. He didn't take Kyiv. He didn't topple the government. He didn't remove Ukraine as a nation state. And he's really only taken control of a small number of population centers. 

And even they weren't the ones that he was really going after. So, you know, Mariupol is still not taken. He's moved his forces out of Kyiv. He's moved his forces out of Cherniniv. They haven't taken Kharkiv. They haven't taken Mykolayiv in the south. So, I think the proof is literally in the outcomes that you're seeing every day. 

The Ukrainians are bravely fighting for their country. And they have denied Mr. Putin so many of his strategic objectives. So absolutely, they can win. And the -- we have to just keep reminding ourselves that there shouldn't be any need for them to have to -- for us even have to answer that question, because there shouldn't be a war in Ukraine. And Mr. Putin can end it today. OK. I think that's it. Thanks, everybody. 

Did you have one more Jen.

Q: I do. Just to follow up on that issue. Is the U.S. goal strategic defeat of Russia?

MR. KIRBY: The U.S. goal is to make sure that Ukraine can continue to defend itself as they continue to work on a on a diplomatic solution here. And then the secondary goal is to make sure that we can bolster NATO's Eastern Flank so that we can deter any aggression, any potential aggression by Russia and by Mr. Putin. Thanks, everybody. 

No, I got to go. Thanks. Appreciate it.