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Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing, April 13, 2022

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, good morning, everybody. Sorry about being a couple minutes late. We'll just start up. Not a whole lot to update you on.

Day 49 now. We're up over 1,550 missile launches total.

We continue to see movements and activity of Russian forces in Belarus and in Russia as they continue to reassemble their forces, stage them, stage equipment and materiel support for what we continue to believe is going to be a renewed push. Some of that staging of stuff and people includes helicopters, additional artillery systems, as well, as I said, troops.

We assess that that convoy of vehicles is still north of Izyum. I don't have an update for you on exactly where they are or what progress they're making, but we still believe it's intact and is north of Izyum.

We do think that south of Izyum, the Russians continue to try to improve their mobility and their firepower, again, the direction they want to move in and the direction of their firepower continues to be in the Joint Force operations area, the JFO. We've seen them try to erect a temporary bridge over a local river. They're increasing their artillery in the area. So very consistent, what we're seeing today, with what we've been talking about in the past, that they are trying to move from the north to the south and southeast into the Donbas.

Russian sorties are still up there around 150 over the last 24 hours, so not a huge decrease, but a little bit of a decrease. And these are manned sorties, of course. And the airstrikes continue to remain focused on Mariupol and the JFO.

Nothing to update with respect to the maritime environment, and no advances in the south near Mykolaiv. Still see the Russian forces subjecting Mykolaiv to some bombardment, but there hasn't been any physical movement on the ground, so nothing really to speak to there.

And I guess that's -- well, let me talk about security assistance, if I could, just a little bit. More -- you know, Javelins continue to flow in that -- we expect another flight of Javelins are coming from the United States over the next 24 hours to get into the theater. And in the last 24 hours, we helped coordinate two airlift deliveries from two different nations. The ground movement continues to occur. Again, we're being careful about that. Yesterday, I said a significant number of the Switchblades, of that first 100 had moved into Ukraine. The remaining numbers of Switchblades will be moved into Ukraine over the course of the next day.

And I guess that's it, so we'll go to Bob.

Q: Thanks. Thanks, (inaudible).

On that same -- same subject of security assistance, can you offer any update or status of the next package that has been reported in some respects of a $750 million package of -- of security assistance? Can you describe any of that? And -- and secondly, can -- on -- on Mariupol, can you offer a little more detail on the -- what -- what you understand to be the current situation there? The -- the Russians are saying that there's -- was a -- a large surrender of Ukrainian forces, and just wondering what -- where things stand there.

Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: On Mariupol, I'm afraid I don't have a lot more context. I saw that report too, and I asked about it. We are -- we can't independently confirm it. We still hold Mariupol as contested -- a contested city. We still hold that Ukrainian forces are in Mariupol, and they're defending it, but unfortunately, I don't have a more tactical sense of what's going on inside the city. We do not believe -- today, we -- we still do not believe that the Russians have taken Mariupol. But clearly, they remain focused on that, and the air strike activity that we've seen, you know, really -- there's really only two places we're really seeing air strike activity, and that's, again, the Donbas JFO and Mariupol, so clearly, they still want it.

And on the press reports about an additional drawdown package, Bob, I'm -- I'm going to demur on that today. I'm not going to offer any context here even on background about these press reports. I would just note that we have said repeatedly that we're going to do as much as we can as fast as we can, and the president was going to keep options open for additional security assistance.

And I would just say, you know, stay tuned.

Q: Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, sir. Tom Bowman?

Q: Yeah, on these Russian forces moving in Belarus and Russia, can -- will they be staging, do we believe, out of Valuyki, that -- that town where some have dropped down from?

And also, any sense of any other Russian forces coming from Georgia or elsewhere? There's been some reports about the Russians emptying some of their military schools of instructors.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I have not seen that one, Tom, emptying schools of instructors, but I'll ask that question and see if there's anything to that. I haven't seen that.

So let me go back to your first question. Yes, we still believe that Valuyki -- Belgorod and Valuyki are -- are two primary staging areas where they are putting equipment and moving their troops into those two areas to get them refit and resupplied.

There's also a town just to the southeast of Valuyki on the Russian side of the border called Rovenki -- R-O-V, as in Victor, E-N-K-I, Rovenki -- and we're seeing that town also being used to help resupply and refit.

And so as we see and -- and we continue to see units flowing into the northern Luhansk Oblast, that north part of the Donbas. They're flowing in from Valuyki and from that town called Rovenki -- I hope I'm pronouncing that right -- and so same general area and same flow north to south into the Luhansk Oblast.

Q: Any -- any sense how many are flowing in, ballpark?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I -- I don't -- I don't. I asked that question earlier myself. I can't enumerate that for you but we are seeing a -- a continued flow from north to south in there.

So -- I don't have an updated number in terms of -- of battalion tactical groups. It -- it's still at what I -- what I told you guys earlier. So -- well, actually, you know, let me -- where was it? (I thought?) I had it here. Hang on just a second. Sorry about that. I'm going to look for a -- try to see an updated number of -- of BTGs total -- and I -- I thought I had it here handy and I don't.

So Tom, let me see if I can work on that while we're going through other questions and I'll try to give you at least a sense of what they have committed inside Ukraine total, with the understanding that, Tom, that most of their forces -- well, it -- I -- I -- you go so far as to -- saying all their ground forces are either in the Donbas, Luhansk Oblast or Donetsk Oblast, and then in the south, arrayed all the way from Mariupol down to Mykolaiv.

So it's this arc, if you will, of southeastern Ukraine. That's where all their ground troops are. So I can probably get you guys a general total look at -- at the BTGs there and I'll -- I'll do that while we're moving ahead.

Sorry -- sorry for the goat rope there.

(CROSSTALK)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: -- I had it handy -- I thought I had it handy and -- and now I don't.

(CROSSTALK)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, Howard?

Q: Yes, a Ukraine source tells me that they've been offered (inaudible) MQ-C1 (sic) Grey Eagle drones. Can you tell me whether SecDef has or will sign off on a transfer of either those or the MQ-1 Predator to Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, Howard, I'm not going to get ahead of future security assistance. As I've said, stay tuned and there should be -- there should be some more information coming out about that soon -- about -- about additional security assistance. And I'm just not going to get ahead of -- of where we are right now.

Wafaa?

Q: Hi, (inaudible). On the security assistance, can you please give us a sense of the percentage of weapons provided by the U.S. so far out of the total aid provided by other countries?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, no, I don't have that. I -- if you're -- you're asking, like, of all the security assistance that's gone out since the invasion, how much percentage-wise has been us versus others?

Q: Yes, if you can take the question.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I do not have that data and I can't just make it up for you. I mean, I don't have that, Wafaa.

I would just say -- and I don't think we want to get into a report card, you know, grading us versus other countries. I don't know that there's a real value in doing that. We are providing an immense amount of material from the United States, more -- you know, roughly $2.5 billion worth just since President Biden has been in office. That equates to more than half of Ukraine's defense budget for last year, which was about $4.2 billion -- I'm sorry, yeah, $4.2 billion.

So it's an immense amount and we are going to -- we're committed to doing more and I think you will see us do more very, very soon. Other nations -- some 30 other nations are providing security assistance at various levels and various amounts and quantities, and that's -- and those amounts and quantities, just like with us, changes from week to week.

But some -- you know, many nations have provided weapons and systems that the Ukrainians know how to use and are using effectively. We're doing the best we can to help coordinate and -- and help transship those things into Ukraine but I couldn't and I don't think it would be valuable to try to quantify that, you know, into -- in terms of percentages across the board.

Q: Can we say that without this security assistance -- the American security assistance provided, of course, so far -- Ukraine wouldn't be able to succeed in this fight?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think there's a lot of things that have gone into the Ukrainians' ability thus far to fight so well and so skillfully and to and to really beat back the Russians on so many multiple lines of axes.

Clearly, you just have to say it, cause it's true -- their own skill and bravery and courage and their willingness and ability to adapt in -- in real time to Russian tactics -- I mean, they are -- they are skilled and courageous fighters and you just can't take that away from them.

Number two, command-and-control, President Zelensky and his top leadership still have effective command-and-control over their forces. They -- they know where they are. They're moving them around as needed. They're being very nimble and have not had the challenges that the Russians have had with respect to command-and-control.

Number three is the training. And I know I've said this before, but I am going to keep hitting it. The training that they have received over the last eight years in the United States, for our purposes, has been these rotational National Guard deployments, as you remember. We had the Florida National Guard on the ground right before the invasion. And we had to take them out of there. But that has been -- that has been pivotal. And it's not just the United States training them. The Brits have been doing this, the Canadians, and other allies having troops on the ground to help train them, that did a lot over the last eight years to -- to help them be a more battlefield-effective force. In terms of the development of a non-commissioned officer corps, operational maneuver, logistics and sustainment, communications, long-range fires, all these things were things that we helped train them on over the last eight years. And a lot of that training is now coming to bear. So certainly the United States bears a hand in that. And we're proud of that.

And then lastly, you know, to get your question, the security assistance, absolutely United States security assistance has had a profound impact on their ability to continue to defend their country. We are -- we are the biggest donor. We are providing the most material. We're not the only ones though. And it's -- other countries are doing this as well. Some of them are being more open about what they're providing. Some of them are providing terrific capabilities that they won't talk about. But these are countries that have systems and weapons and platforms that the Ukrainians are comfortable using and know how to use. We wouldn't have those in our stocks.

So could you say that they could only do this because of the United States? I think that would be going too far. I think you'd have to praise and acknowledge the contributions of other nations who have some of these things that we simply don't have and don't have a way to get. So it has been a team effort, it really has. Now the United States is -- we're leading that team. We are doing a lot of the coordination, of the delivery of that material, and helping getting it in to Ukrainian hands. But it is a team effort and I think that's the only way to look at it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Peter Martin? Bloomberg?

QUESTION: Hey, (inaudible), thanks for doing this.

A couple of questions. First, do you have any update on Russian morale now that its forces are regrouping? And second, do you have any update on whether China is sending any kind lethal aid to Russia in Ukraine or non-lethal aid, you know, meal kits and things like that?

Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We haven't seen any indications that the Chinese have delivered any tangible assistance, lethal or non-lethal. And on morale, I mean, again, as we have talked about morale in the past, so, too we will talk about it today anecdotally. We don't have, you know, perfect visibility on the morale of all Russian forces. But we know that they -- anecdotally, we know that throughout the force, in various units and in various places they continue to have significant morale issues. Again that this is a force that the Russian military is -- almost half of their enlisted troops are conscripts who don't receive a lot of training and who we have evidence, even recent evidence that they have been disillusioned by this -- by this war, weren't properly informed, weren't properly trained, weren't ready -- not just physically, but weren't ready mentally for what they were about to do.

And we do have indications, we continue to get them, of frustration not only at the enlisted level with what they're being asked to do, but with their officers, their leadership, frustrated with -- with their troops' performance, frustrated with their colleagues' performance.

So there doesn't -- there still are morale and unit cohesion problems and are bedeviling the Russians even as they now try to refit, resupply and focus on a more concentrated geographic area.

Liz Frieden?

Q: Hey, thanks for taking my question.

I was wondering, does the U.S. have personnel in place in any of these NATO countries such as Poland that would be able to train Ukrainians on weapon systems that could potentially go in that they might not be familiar with?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, you know, we have -- we have bolstered our presence on the eastern flank quite a bit and now have more than 100,000 troops permanently based in Europe or on rotational orders.

Not all of them, of course, are in the eastern flank. But we have absolutely added to our ability in these eastern flank countries soldiers with various sets of capabilities and various professional skills, whether it's artillery, long-range fire and air-defense missile -- I'm sorry -- infantry, armor, I mean you name it.

And so if there's a need for additional training to be done on any systems that are provided to Ukraine, we will look on a range of options for how that training would have to be delivered. And I don't want to speculate right now and I don't want to get ahead of where we are.

As you saw we took advantage of some of the Ukrainians that were in the United States for some previously scheduled training to get them trained up on Switchblades. We are looking at options for additional Switchblade training and where and when that might occur and how we would do that. And certainly one option that would be available to us would be to utilize troops that are closer to Ukraine, obviously troops that are on NATO's eastern flank. And that still remains an open -- an open option to us.

Q: Thank you.

I -- is it a concern at all that Ukrainian -- Ukraine might not have the manpower to -- to send people over to these NATO countries just because, you know, they're busy fighting a war?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, they are busy fighting a war and of course we would take that into account. You -- one option here at trying to alleviate that concern, because they are in an active fight, is if you do sort of like "train the trainers" scenario, where you take a small number and you train them on the whatever the system is so that they can go back into Ukraine and train their colleagues. And that way you're not extracting from an active war an exorbitant number of troops.

But that's just an option. And again, I don't want to get ahead of where we are right now.

Q: Great. Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: (Inaudible).

Q: Hey, thanks for doing this.

There have been reports that the Biden administration is no longer planning to send Ukraine Mi-17 helicopters after apparently telling Congress yesterday it was planning to do so. I was wondering if -- A, if you confirm this; and then also were those helicopters -- would they go into a later package or is this a complete reversal. I'm just wondering if you can give some more detail there.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, Moesh, I'm simply not going to get ahead of security assistance decisions. I'm just not going to do that. I -- I -- I think, as I said, you know, stay tuned. We've said all along we're going to continue to help Ukraine defend itself. That includes additional drawdown packages. When we have another drawdown package to speak to, you know, then -- then we can speak to it. But I'm not going to get ahead of where we are right now.

Tara Copp?

Q: Hey, thank you for doing this.

About a -- a -- an hour ago, President Zelensky tweeted that without the additional weaponry, this war be -- will become an endless bloodbath. I was wondering, as Russia seems to be reconstituting itself for a major offensive in the east, is there a sense of urgency within the Pentagon and within the administration that this additional weaponry has to flow in now to be able to make a real difference?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think we've been very clear about that, Tara, now for quite some time. Yes, there's a sense of urgency. There has been a sense of urgency, but clearly, we understand, as the Russians begin to refocus their efforts on the Donbas and in the south that they've prepared to concentrate the force and the combat power they have available to them, that time is of the essence. And I would remind that we have been pushing things to them at unprecedented speeds, from the time it gets into the region, it -- it can be in the Ukrainian hands in as little as 48 hours, sometimes faster. So we have been moving with a sense of alacrity since the beginning, and we obviously are -- are mindful of -- of the clock as it ticks in -- in these recent days here, and as the Russians begin to -- to re-posture themselves for a renewed offensive in the east.

Q: And is it more difficult to get this weaponry and assistance to any of the Ukrainian forces that are still pushing back in the east? It's just -- it seems like there's so much of a concentration of Russian forces that it's been difficult to get weapons to Mariupol and -- and other cities like that.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We are getting them into Ukrainian hands literally as fast as we can. And as I said, or as the -- the briefer said yesterday, the Ukrainians take them and -- and get them to where they need to go. They decide what units are going to get them and -- and where they're going to be -- where they're going to be sent and they determine, once it gets into Ukraine, how fast it gets onto the actual field of battle. Our job is to get them as much as we can as fast as we can, get it into their hands, then -- and then they -- then they use that materiel.

Q: Okay, thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Tony Bertuca?

Q: Hi, (inaudible). My question is about the meeting with defense contractors today. Can you tell us who's going to participate in that meeting, and what the department's goal is in having it?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, we'll have a readout of it later. I'm not going to get into too much detail right now, but this was a -- you heard the deputy talk about this yesterday. I mean, this was a -- it's of a piece of a normal battle rhythm that we have had with defense industry leaders. This is not the first CEO roundtable that we have conducted, but the secretary felt very adamant that right now -- this kind of gets a little bit to -- to Tara's question, although not perfectly, but right now, where we are with things in Ukraine, that he wanted to focus this particular meeting on -- with CEOs on the -- on the kinds of systems that have been involved in this security assistance program and making sure that we have a good sense of where industry is in terms of production, and that they have a good sense of where we are in terms of our production needs.

Now, I will say -- and just to level-set -- that we're not having this meeting with them because our stocks are so low that our readiness is impaired. But we have been giving an awful lot of stuff to the Ukrainians, and so it would be the prudent thing to do before it becomes a crisis issue for our own readiness to have a discussion with them about accelerated production and advanced production. And I -- I won't go any further than that. We'll have a readout when it's over.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yup.

Abby from the Washington Post?

Q: Hi there, (inaudible). Thanks for doing this.

I was just wondering if there's anything you can say about Finland and Sweden as potential or likely new NATO allies. And also, I think someone asked about the chemical weapons alleged attack, but it -- if you haven't covered that, could you address that, as well?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Actually, nobody's asked about that today. I -- I don't have an update for you. We're still analyzing it, but we don't have -- we have come to no conclusions.

And on Sweden and Finland, I mean, I -- I've talked about this before, or we've talked about this before. These are national decisions that those two countries have to make, and -- and it's between them and the alliance and, of course, the United States isn't going to unilaterally be involved in -- in those -- in that kind of decision-making.

Peter Jones?

Q: Hi. Thanks for taking my question.

I was going to ask the same question as Moesh about helicopters. But I was just curious if you could say anything about, is there, like, a line in the sand about what the U.S., in terms of hardware or weapons, that they are willing to provide in future packages to Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: What do you mean by a line in the sand?

Q: Just, is there any kind of limit on what type of weapons the U.S. is willing to provide, or things they will or absolutely will not provide in future aid packages.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, let me -- let me put it this way, because it's -- it happens to be the truth: We have routine, regular communication with the Ukrainians at various levels, staff levels all the way up to the secretary of defense, who, as you know, has -- has spoken now usually more than once a week with Minister Reznikov, and every single conversation we're having with them, it's oriented around their needs, and these are very candid discussions. The -- they are, as you would expect them to be, very honest about what they want, and we are, as you would expect us to be, very honest about making sure we're working very hard to meet those needs. And if we can't do it, then we're talking to countries who can do it. And you -- you don't have to look any further than the Slovakian government's announcement earlier to send an S-300. That wasn't a -- that wasn't by accident; that was due to a lot of work by the secretary personally involved to try to help broker that transfer. And of course, you know, we -- we agreed on a temporary basis to -- to backfill that capability with some -- with some Patriots -- or a Patriot battery.

So if we don't have it and can't get it to them easily, we're working with -- hard with other people that can, and -- and it's a constant iterative discussion. It's not about lines in sands or -- or you know, or things that are on or off the table; it's a -- it's a constant iterative conversation, and we're doing the best we can in real time to get them what they need and what we know they are using most effectively. And you -- and you can see that in the -- in the packages that have happened, and I suspect you will see it in the packages to come.

Okay. Thanks, everybody. We're up -- we're up a little bit later. So we'll see you then and, as I said -- well, I already said it. Just stay tuned for, you know, additional stuff that we might be able to talk about later on. See you.