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Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We continue to see Russia conduct offensive operations in the east as well as continued shaping operations. But, clearly, there are offensive operations going on, as we talked about yesterday.

Russian forces are advancing south from the north side of the Donbas, and they are trying to maintain pressure on Ukrainian forces to the west of Donetsk. Fighting continues in the Kherson region. We assess that Ukrainian forces have regained control of a town called Oleksandrivka, which is about 40 kilometers south of Mykolayiv. We maintain that Mariupol was still being contested, that there still is an active Ukrainian resistance at the Azovstal plant.

In the air domain, again, strikes really focused on the joint force operation area particular around Izyum. And in the north of the Donbas, the JFO, and then obviously in the south, very much focused, continued focused on Mariupol. And these are airstrikes that include the use of some fixed-wing Russian bombers as well.

Again, that is not unusual. That's what we've been seeing. But, just so you know, it's a range.

We haven't seen any -- over the last 24 hours, we haven't seen any additional Russian airstrikes elsewhere in Ukraine. It's all been focused on the east and in the south, literally the JFO and Mariupol, over the last 24 hours.

No changes in the maritime domain. I know this remains an interest item for all of you, but the Russian navy continues to still be postured largely off the coast of Crimea and well away from southern coast, there, near Odesa, and that part of the northern Black Sea. So no big changes to the naval posture there.

Flights continue to arrive into the region from the presidential drawdown authorities that we are executing. Additional -- another four flights arrived over the last 24 hours from the most recent announcement of the $800 million, and some of those flights did include howitzers. In the next 24, there will be additional flights coming from the United States into the region with howitzers.

And let's see. There has already been the howitzer rounds, the 155mm rounds, have arrived in the region, and more will be coming. That is not, as I think we talked about yesterday, that's largely coming from pre-positioned stock, so there's no reason to fly those things in. They're coming from inside Europe, but those -- they are arriving -- they started arriving yesterday, and they're going to -- and there'll be more arriving today and in the coming days as well, until we, you know, get to that 40,000-round number that was offered in the $800 million package.

And yes, the training of some small number of Ukrainians on the howitzers has begun. It has begun in a country outside Ukraine. I am not going to tell you, or be able to detail where this is happening, but it has happened, and we expect this training to last for about a week. And this is train the trainers. It's a smallish number of Ukrainians, a little bit more than 50. They will get trained on how to use the howitzers, and then they'll be able to go back into Ukraine and train their colleagues.

And with that, I think we'll go to questions. Bob?

Q: (inaudible) focused on one -- or I really have two questions, but one is just a kind of a follow-up on the [Pentagon Press Secretary Statement Regarding Ukraine Aircraft, 20 April] about Ukrainian aircraft. Do I understand that although Ukraine has not received all aircraft, that the point you made just the point that was made yesterday about, they still have (inaudible) aircraft flying, it still holds because of the spare parts?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That is correct, Bob, [Pentagon Press Secretary Statement Regarding Ukraine Aircraft, 20 April] was talking about fixed wing. I think you all understand that they have been given helicopters, whole helicopters, including some from the United States. [Discussion of Pentagon Press Secretary Statement Regarding Ukraine Aircraft, 20 April]

But it is true that they have more aircraft by a factor -- this is on background, in fact, I'm fine if you report it on background. They have more than 20 additional aircraft available to them than they did three weeks ago, and that is because of the shipment and arrival of spare parts that have been able to get some of their inoperable aircraft, fixed-wing fighter aircraft, in operable condition. So by more than 20, they have increased their fleet because of the work that the United States and the international community has done to help get them the parts they need to get them in the air.

Q: Okay, thanks. And then -- thank you. The other question I had was there's been quite a bit of reporting today about the next package of assistance to Ukraine. I'm just wondering what you can say today about what the president himself (inaudible). This is going to be focused mostly on artillery.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, I'm simply not going to get ahead of where we are in the decision process, Bob. I -- as we've been saying, we're constantly talking to the Ukrainians about their needs. We haven't ruled out additional security assistance packages, and I'm just going to have to leave it at that, even on background. I'm just not going to get ahead of where we actually are.


Q: On these aircraft, these, I presume, are MiG-29s. Is that right? And also, with the 155s, you said they're coming in by aircraft. Ballpark, when they're going to get into Ukraine, are we talking several days from now?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: They will be arriving, yes, I would think in -- yes, you can say in coming days they'll be getting into the country. As you know, things don't sit around long. Once we get it into the region we get it prepped and in by ground routes. But I couldn't tell you, Tom, exactly when that's going to happen.

[Discussion of Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby Press Briefing, 19 April] and [Pentagon Press Secretary Statement Regarding Ukraine Aircraft, 20 April]

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: -- given our concerns over OPSEC. And I don't know -- I don't have a breakdown for you of their fixed-wing fleet. I would not go so far as to say that all the additional aircraft of the more than 20 that they have now available are all MiG-29s. I don't think I can say that. I don't believe that's true, but I don't know exactly what the breakdown is. The point is --

Q: OK one other thing.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: -- that they have more fixed-wing aircraft available to them now than they did three weeks ago. That's the main point, and we shouldn't lose sight of that.

Q: Yeah. One last thing on the Russian moves in the east. I know they took that town of Kreminna, which was, I guess northeast of Kramatorsk. Can you say where else they're probing or pushing, what particular towns?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I -- again, I want to be careful here. You're asking about, you know, tactical kind of information here. I think we're seeing them push -- they continue to try to push south out of Izyum, and that -- you know, I think just if you look -- if you look to the southeast of Izyum, you've got Kramatorsk, to the north of Kramatorsk, you've got a -- I'm going to probably butcher the pronunciation, but you've got a town called Sloviansk, and you've got to the northeast of Sloviansk, you've got a town called Lyman. And if you were to draw a line between those three, sort of connecting those three, you can see where the Russians are clearly trying to come from Izyum to the south-southeast towards the area of those three towns.

Now, with what force they're going to do it or with what emphasis on either one of them, we just -- I don't have that level of detail for you. But you know, we've been long talking about this push south out of Izyum and to the southeast, and now, we're starting to see them move in that direction of those three towns. And as you guys know, Kramatorsk was the one that -- where they struck that rail station. So we certainly know that it is of interest to them but that's generally where they're kind of pushing.

They also want the -- appear to want to push from the east to the -- to the west, outside of Crimea, where you talked about, and then there's a town to the southeast of Crimea -- again, I don't want to be disrespectful in the pronunciation but I think it's Syevyerodonetsk --

Q: Oh, right -- right.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: -- where they want to push out from it there as well.

That's where we're seeing the efforts from the north. When I -- in my opening comments, I said "pushing from the north Donbas to the south." That's kind of what we're seeing right now but the Ukrainians are putting up a fight, they're scrapping, they're not -- you know, they're not just laying down and letting the Russians, you know, move. The -- I mean, they -- we have seen resistance there.

There hasn't been much activity coming from the south to the north in the Donbas area. You know, Mariupol still is contested, we talked about how their BTGs there are kind of occupied, and we assess that that's still the case.

So we haven't seen any demonstrable push from the Russians up from the south part, you know, near -- around Mariupol to the north, coming into the Donbas. Largely, the activity we've seen has really been in that north part of the Donbas.

Q: Okay, got it. Thanks.


Q: Hi, thanks. Just back to the aircraft for a second, can you talk about the effect that the additional aircraft are having as they've arrived over the past three weeks and the significance of the parts deliveries? And maybe just a newbie question -- of the 20 that -- that the Senior Defense Official spoke about, are those all fighter jets or are there some other kind of aircraft that would qualify as fixed wing?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It's fixed wing fighter and bomber aircraft. And as you know, some aircraft can do both. Again, I don't have a breakdown of exactly what their inventory is and how many, you know, have been put back into service of what type. I can only just go with the whole numbers that we see, and we know it's more than 20 that they have now been able to make operable.

I'll let the Ukrainians speak for how they're using their fixed wing aircraft. I'm not going to get into talking about their operations. I've been trying not to do that. I think they should speak to, you know, what they're doing with their assets. But -- but they -- they certainly have been able to get in in operating condition more aircraft than they had, as I said, even three weeks ago.

Liz from Fox?

Q: My question has been asked and answered, so nothing from me.


Q: Hey there. Just real quick [Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Statement Regarding Russian ICBM] talked about this ICBM test. Just wondering if there's anything else you can say? You said it was not considered a threat. The Russians are really playing up the capabilities of this new ICBM. Is there anything else additional you could say about it on the record? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Nope, I'm -- I don't have any more information on it. As [Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Statement Regarding Russian ICBM] said, Phil, they notified us, so we were not surprised by it and did not deem it to be a threat to the United States or our allies. And I think I'd just leave it at that.

Q: Thanks.


Q: I'm curious, just when you're talking about the combat you're seeing in the Donbas, particularly in the north, what Russian support you're seeing. Are the Russians using bombers? Do you see any S-400s being marshaled over the border in Belgorod? The Ukrainians have said they've seen signs of both of those things.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I haven't seen S-400s, Jack. What we're seeing is that they're -- they continue to move in artillery, they continue to move and make available rotary wing support, and as I said earlier, we have seen fixed wing bomber strikes assisting in their efforts, primarily in Mariupol, but they have used fixed wing aircraft to deliver ordnance.

In general, we continue to see a sense of wariness out of Russian pilots. They don't stay inside Ukrainian airspace very long. Sometimes they don't even enter it at all. But they are using -- again, as part of these shaping operations, they are using airstrikes from fixed wing bombers in support of what they're trying to get done on the ground.

I mean, in general, it appears as if -- well, one of the things they've tried to learn to do better is air-to-ground integration. I wouldn't go so far as to say that they fixed all their problems or that they -- -- they're now performing that effectively -- or, I'm sorry, perfectly -- but it does appear at the early goings that they are trying to do a better job of air-to-ground integration. And we're seeing some preliminary signs of that here in the -- in the early phases of this Donbas fight.

Q: Thanks. And with regards to what you said on Mariupol, the reported bombing of Azovstal steel factory, was that also a Russian bomber strike, do you know?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't know. I mean, they've been -- they've been hitting Mariupol and that plant for quite some time. I couldn't tell you how many strikes were from fixed wing versus not. We -- I would tell you that for sure we know that they used fixed wing bomber strikes in Mariupol. That, we know for sure, but exactly what they're hitting on any given day, I don't have that breakdown.

Heather from USNI?

Q: Hi, thank you so much. I know you've talked about the fact that there's not a lot to update on the maritime aspect but I was wondering if you've seen any evidence of Russians trying to bring in more ships or any use of submarines?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, we haven't seen any real addition to the ship count. I mean, I think I -- I looked at it this morning. They've got slightly more than 10 ships in the Black Sea proper and less than 10 in the Sea of Azov, and that's about where they've been. I mean, it fluctuates a little bit but it's about the same level of ships. And it's different types, it's surface combatants and mostly frigates, some LSTs, some minesweepers.

And I'd have to check on the submarine thing. I don't have that for you today. But we haven't seen a major -- any major changes to their posture from a maritime perspective. And as I said, they've been largely -- in the Black Sea, anyway, they're largely hanging around the -- off the coast of Crimea primarily. Just not a lot of activity to report.

David Martin?

Q: I have two questions on two separate subjects. So let me ask the first one and then please come back to me for the second. [Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Statement Regarding Russian ICBM] described the ICBM test as having followed all the proper procedures for notification, yet that is exactly the kind of ICBM test that the U.S. canceled. So do you view the fact that Russia went ahead with this ICBM test, even under all the proper notifications, do you view that as a signal?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: A signal? I'm probably dense here, David. I'm not sure I understand what you mean, a signal --

Q: As a message.


Q: As a message. As a -- I mean, you intended your cancellation as a signal that we had no desire to escalate. So do you interpret the fact that they went ahead with this test as messaging that they still might escalate, not necessarily to --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Oh, I could just point you to what Putin said at the end of the test. Putin actually said that it was sending a message to other nations about their readiness to defend themselves. I mean, he said it himself that it was -- that there was a message to be received in this. And, frankly, we find that rhetoric to be unhelpful given the current context of things. And certainly it's not the kind of thing that we would expect from a responsible nuclear power, especially in the current environment.

What's your second question?

Q: Second question is on the artillery training. You said about a week. Is that five or seven days? And the -- is the training of being conducted on different 155s and not on the ones that are being shipped so that the ones that are being shipped go straight to the field without being used for training?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That is correct. It's not going to be done on the ones that are being shipped. It will be done on different -- same but different -- but different actual systems. I mean, different actual pieces. And about a week means about a week.

Q: Does that mean about five or seven days?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It means about a week.

Q: Have you had any success -- can you tell us of any success in rounding up 152 caliber artillery from nations that use that caliber?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I know we have been working on that. As you know, we're talking to allies and partners a lot about the -- about calibers of rounds and munitions that they have that the Ukrainians are more comfortable with. And I'm looking right now, I don't see anything specific on the 152. But I know that we've had discussions with allies and partners about that. So let me take that one for the record and see if we have anything we can speak to specifically about the actual procurement of 152. I'm looking at my notes right here and I just don't have it in there. So I'll have to take that one.

Q: Thank you.


Q: Thank you very much for taking my question. You said a town 44 kilometers south of Mykolayiv was taken back by the Ukrainians. And we've also heard from you that some other towns or places were taken back by Ukrainians. Is it because just the Russians are moving away from these towns? Or is there (inaudible) between the Ukrainians and Russians and the Russians just crashed out of the town?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It's a -- look I don't -- again, I'm telling you what I can -- what we're seeing. I can't say specifically block to block what level of fighting has been done or how some of these towns are changing hands. So I don't know the answer to that question whether that was taken back through kinetic action or whether it was taken back because the Russians fell back. I just don't know, Kasim. I'm just trying to tell you what we're seeing.

Q: Okay. And another question, have you seen Russians bringing more advanced air capabilities such as SU-34, SU-35s into the -- into the theater?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't have anything on that.

Q: Okay, thank you.


Q: Thank you. I have two questions, please. Can you give us a breakdown of what kind of howitzers the United States is providing? How many are M777s, how many are M198s?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, I think -- we dealt with this before and I've made it clear that we're not going to get into the specific variants; that they're howitzers, 155 howitzers, and I think I'm just going to leave it at that, Nancy.

Q: And can you provide any more details about Russia's shaping operations in the Donbas? What kind of -- what size units are they moving? What kind of air campaign are they conducting? When you describe shaping operations I wonder if you could provide more detail about how you assess it?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So what we've seen, Nancy, is that they continue to -- they started out even before they were moving additional BTGs in, they were moving in artillery units. Because as we talked about, we knew that from talking to the Ukrainians that artillery was going to be a critical need there because of the way the terrain lays.

And so we saw early on the Russians were moving artillery. They were moving in command and control, like headquarters staff and that kind of thing. Because, again, they have struggled with C2 throughout this war.

They were moving in and preparing even outside the Donbas, rotary wing aviation support, which could be used for both logistics, which is again, that was a weakness that they experienced earlier on. But also for strike capabilities and the movement of personnel.

We saw them then begin to refit troops and reintroduce troops. As a matter of fact, in the last 24 hours they have introduced into Ukraine another four BTGs, the majority of those four we assess have gone into the east, into the Donbas area. The three of those four we believe have gone into the east.

So -- and what they're doing now, Nancy, they're still doing some of that shaping, they're still bringing in some of those enablers. Even as they, as I just said, they're moving in actual battalion tactical groups.

And it's also important to remember that some of these battalion tactical groups are -- we tend to think of them and I think we all get used to talking about them as if they're all infantry or something like that. They're not. They're -- they are functionally arranged, some are infantry, some are artillery, some are armor and mechanized. And so I don't know what the mix is here. Like what exactly they just moved in over the last 24.

But the point I'm trying to make is some of these BTGs also have enabling capabilities for ground forces. So they're doing it sort of all at the same time, even as they're conducting offensive operations. I don't know if that answered your question. But --

Q: It did. Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: All right, thanks. Tony Capaccio Bloomberg.

Q: Hey, couple questions and I'll start in the shaping operations. Does Russia have air superiority in the Donbas area or is the situation the same as in the northwest where they did not have air superiority because of skillful Ukrainian air defenses?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We're not calling it air superiority. We -- we're still saying that the air space, even over the Donbas is contested. And again, the proof is in the pudding Tony. Even as they -- even when they do venture in to Ukrainian air space to pivot when they're launching strikes on Mariupol, they ain't staying very long.

They're coming in, they're dropping ordnance and then they're bogeying out of there because of the healthy respect they have for Ukrainian air defense capability. Our new --



Q: (Inaudible) reports getting shot down by the Ukrainians in the east?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Nothing that we can confirm.

Q: Okay. I have a quick one too on the Switchblade, the (inaudible) Switchblade. Have you gotten any feedback from the Ukrainians that the first 100 are being used or have been used?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I have not seen any reports about that.

Q: Okay, thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. Lara Seligman, welcome back.

Q: Thank you so much, (SDO). Good to be back. I wanted to ask you about the Stingers and Javelins. There's been some reporting that the Pentagon's going to accelerate production missile -- of these missiles. So can you tell us anything more about that?

And then more specifically, do we, the U.S. have enough equipment, such as Stingers and Javelins in our own stock piles to keep sending these missiles to Ukraine and at what point will we not be able to -- will we run out and we won't be able to spend anymore?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, I'll send you the transcript from yesterday's background on it, Lara. I know it's your first day back but we had [Senior Defense Officials] who talked to everybody on background yesterday and we'll make sure you get that transcript.

He dealt with these questions pretty effectively but much better than I can. But the bottom line is we assess our readiness every single day on these drawdown packages and the Chairman personally provides a readiness assessment each time we do a drawdown package and resource it.

And he continues to assess that we have enough in our stocks to maintain our combat readiness. But he's looking at that every day. And on your other question about defense industry or last week we had a chance to sit down with some CEOs of some of the top defense contractors particularly those that are involved in the production of some of these systems. 

And we are talking to them about those production lines, about the health of those production lines and whether those production lines need expansion or acceleration. And so we're having active discussions with industry right now. I have nothing to speak to in terms of a decision made by any one of them. I think I would let them speak to their production capabilities but it is something that we are mindful of, given the scope and the speed with which we are providing these systems to Ukraine.

We certainly don't want to get to a point where there is a readiness concern or that we all the sudden have a production issue that we did -- that we weren't tracking. So we're not assessing that we have such problems right now but it is an active area of discussion here at the Pentagon.

And again, I'd point you, have our guys get you a transcript of yesterday’s background briefing because it covered a lot of this and more eloquently than I can.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So I'm being told that it's actually on our website now.

Q: Okay, great. Just to follow-up, you said, it's assessed that we have enough to maintain our own combat readiness, but does that mean we don't necessarily have enough to -- send -- continue supplying these weapons to Ukraine, necessarily?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, that's not -- that's not at all what I said. We assess that we have enough for our own readiness and we are still actively providing these systems to Ukraine. Each drawdown package is different based on our conversations with Ukraine and what their needs are.

I'm not going to get ahead of where we are right now in terms of decision making on future packages, but the one that we're executing right now, $800 million has some of those systems in it. And we wouldn't have put it in there if we weren't comfortable with the inventory that we have on hand.

Q: Thank you.


Q: Hey, you kind of answered this to Tony, but -- so -- are you still seeing a lot of the Russians airstrikes coming from inside Russian territory or are they now flying more inside Ukraine? And then I have one more on aircraft.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Generally they're -- most of them are emanating from inside Russia.

Q: Okay. And then -- and when you emanating, you mean they're actually firing munitions from inside Russia into Ukraine from aircraft?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Most of the aircraft are launching and recovering inside Russia, from Russian fields. I don't -- Court, I don't have a breakdown of like percentage wise how many are actually venturing into Ukrainian airspace or not, so --

Q: Okay.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: -- I just don't have that level of detail.

Q: No, that's fine. I just wasn't sure if you -- I know we had talked about that once in the past. And then on the -- and I'm sorry, because I lost the call for a minute towards the beginning, but -- so -- I don't if you covered this, but [Pentagon Press Secretary Statement Regarding Ukraine Aircraft, 20 April] said on the misunderstanding aircraft, fixed-wing, so there is another country that's now agreed to provide fixed-wing to Ukraine, right? I'm assuming MiGs. So, is that something we're going to hear about then? Are you -- what (inaudible) --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That's going to be between -- that will be between that country and Ukraine to talk about. But, there was an offer made by another country. [Discussion of Pentagon Press Secretary Statement Regarding Ukraine Aircraft, 20 April

Q: All right, thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. Caitlin, Stars and Stripes.

Q: Hi, it's been asked and answered. Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thank you, Caitlin. Matt, from ABC.

Q: Thanks. I know you can't speak to future drawdowns, but in terms of artillery, does the U.S. have enough in its stocks now to give a significant number more artillery pieces if called upon or is it something the department is looking into in anticipation of such a request?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Again, without getting ahead of where we are, Matt, it's a very artful way of asking the question. We have significant inventory levels of 155 artillery, and I don't believe that that's a matter of deep concern right now.

Q: Okay. And in terms of the 18 that were already sent, was part of the decision making process there, was it more out of a sense of the Ukrainians having a lack of artillery pieces as such or is more giving them a system that the U.S. and the west in general is more capable of replenishing in terms of ammunition?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I mean, it was really two things. I mean, one, it was knowing that artillery was going to be critical in this fight. And figuring out what we could get our hands on very quickly to get some over there as fast as possible. And then, three, the fact that it wouldn't require an onerous amount of training for the Ukrainians to know how to use them. I mean, it's just -- I'm not an artilleryman but my -- I -- my understanding, from talking to people who have more familiarity with it than me, is that it's not -- it's not a great departure from what they're used to using. So I think all of that factored into it.

And I won't get ahead of future decisions on additional drawdown packages but again, we're mindful of the importance of artillery in the fight that they're in right now and in the fighting in the days to come because of the terrain and because of what we think they're going to be up against with Russian forces. I think I'd just leave it at that.

Q: Thanks.


Q: Can you hear me?



Q: Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, last question to Barbara. Are you there, Barb? I was told to come to you last because you were going to be late. Okay, I guess Barbara is not there.

[Eds. Note: Due to the established on-background attribution rules for this briefing, identifying information of the Senior Defense Officials has been omitted.]