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Transcript

Senior Defense Officials Hold a Background Briefing

April 21, 2022
Senior Defense Officials

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Okay, good morning, everybody.  So some stuff to go over today.

What I'm going to do today is I've got a -- another guest briefer with us, and so what we'll -- we'll do the same thing we did the other day.  We'll -- I'll introduce our -- our guest briefer.  He'll have a couple -- a couple of things at the top, and then take questions from you all.  And then when -- when we're done with that we'll -- we'll let him go back to his -- his day job, and then I'll -- I'll stay on and we'll get into the operational update, what's going on, on the ground, all that kind of stuff.

But for today I wanted to have our -- our Senior Defense Official #2 brief about EUCOM's [European Command] efforts on the ground to keep the flow of security assistance moving in an efficient and effective way, and so not for, obviously, publication, but your guest briefer is [omitted], who is [omitted]; also happens to be a very good personal friend from [omitted] a long time ago.  And [SDO #2] is uniquely qualified to -- to -- to walk you through security assistance process and -- and just how amazing the -- the folks in EUCOM are coordinating with allies and partners to get this stuff into -- in -- into Ukraine.

And so I'm going to turn it over to [SDO #2] here in a second, and then we'll -- we'll -- we'll start with – with the -- with Q&A.

So over to you, [SDO #2].

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2:  Thanks, [SDO #1].

Good morning.  In early March, USEUCOM officially established the EUCOM Control Center Ukraine at [omitted] Stuttgart, Germany, to support both security force assistance and humanitarian assistance to the Ukrainians.  Responsible for consolidating Ukraine assistance needs, the EUCOM Control Center coordinates and synchronizes timely delivery of U.S., allied and partner contributions of assistance.  This cell is co-located with the U.K.-led International Donor Coordination Center, which coordinates resources from amongst our international community partners to enable donor countries from around the world to provide military equipment and aid to the armed forces of Ukraine.

For example, the latest presidential drawdown authority that was just signed, USEUCOM has been working with the services, with the Joint Staff on sourcing solutions for that equipment and materiel, and we expect that the first flights will leave CONUS in the next 24 to 48 hours, and the first rounds of that equipment will be in the Ukrainian hands by the end of the weekend.

And with that, I look forward to your questions.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Okay, I will also, just before we go to questions for [SDO #2], I think you probably have seen -- if you haven't, we just released our statement on the items in this package, and I -- I can -- what -- what -- what I want [SDO #2] to focus on is process and what they're doing over there.  So if you have specific questions about the package itself, direct them to me, and then in -- in terms of process over there and what they're doing and have been doing, clearly, that's -- that's fair game for -- for [SDO #2].  But -- but as you've seen our statement, [omitted], you've got that now, and I can handle questions specifically about the -- the package itself.

[03:47 On-the-record discussion begins.]

[06:31 On-background discussion re-commences.] Okay, Tara Copp?

Q:  Thanks.

On the development of this new UAV, has it ever been used before or literally is it brand new to the battlefield?  And secondly, for our first Senior Defense Official, with these weapons coming in so quickly, you know, 24 to 48 hours, are they -- are you anticipating this need in pushing things forward?  Because it seems like it would be pretty difficult to get, you know, certain things from the U.S. all the way to Ukraine within 48 hours.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Look, on -- on your -- on your first one, I won't go any further than what I did, Tara.  It was rapidly developed by the -- by the Air Force specifically in response to Ukrainian requirements, and I'm going to have to leave it at that.  And I'll defer to our second briefer on your other question.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2:  Yes, with regards to the capacity and absorptive rate of the Ukrainians to -- to -- to get -- to -- security assistance into the country, really the limiting factor is airlift coming from CONUS.  By and large, materiel that flows into a neighboring country for further movement into Ukraine does not sit for longer than 12 to 24 hours before it's on a convoy moving to a border control crossing -- crossing point.  So the lim-factor is -- is really airlift.  Over.

Q:  So just as -- as a follow up to that, are you pre-positioning things like howitzers that you anticipate there might be additional need?  You know, to be able to meet this in 48 hours, did you all already request those -- that artillery be pulled through to your theater?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2:  When the -- when the presidential drawdown authority lists are socialized with -- with Ukrainian input, input from USEUCOM, and then feedback from the services and the Joint Staff, we see that upfront.  And so we're working that, you know, weeks, days in advance to be ready to -- to execute as soon as the -- the presidential drawdown authority is signed.  So that's why we're ready to go here in the next 24 to 48 hours.  Over.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  And -- and Tara, I'm -- I'm back on background now, as  the -- Senior Defense Official.  Just, to your question about absorption rate, it is a conversation that we're having with the Ukrainians every day about -- about what's coming in and -- and -- and what their needs are.  So -- so we are mindful of -- of -- of their own operational requirements on -- on -- on what's coming in.

And -- and -- and sometimes they'll want some things faster and some times they'll be -- they'll -- they'll be OK with -- with other things not -- not prioritized, based on their -- on -- on their needs on the battlefield and how fast they can -- they can absorb it into units in the field.

Pierre from Al Arabiya?

Q:  Thank you.  No question for now.  Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Okay, thanks, Pierre.

Jen Griffin?  Are you there, Jen?

Q:  Hi, [SDO #1], yes, excuse me.

[SDO #2], can you talk a little bit about how you are tracking some of the more sophisticated weapons, like the Switchblades, the Stingers, the Javelins?  Do you know that -- for sure that they are getting to the units that know how to use them?  And what mechanism are you using?  And are you finding that the Ukrainians are still kind of stockpiling or holding weapons in the Lviv warehouses and how are you working around that right now?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2:  Yeah, what I can say is we track the deliveries to the border into Ukraine.  And when the hand-off happens at the border patrol points of the Ukrainians, it's -- it's up to them for how they move that equipment.

I -- what I can tell you is there are three Ukrainian liaison officers that sit with [omitted] in Stuttgart who I talk to every day, as well as I discuss with my counterpart [omitted] in -- in Ukraine, with regards to that materiel moving onward to the units that can use it and -- and -- and need it the most, and I am assured with every conversation I have that that equipment is getting to where it's needed and being used accordingly.

Q:  But you're not actually putting trackers on the Stingers and Javelins?  I mean, there's a lot of concern that if they fall into the wrong hands, they could bring down commercial aircraft.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2:  We are not.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Okay.  Nancy Youssef?

Q:  Thank you.

I wonder, Senior Defense Official 1, if you could clarify or give more specifics on something you said earlier.  You said that the equipment would be in Ukrainian hands in the next -- by the end of the weekend.  Can -- can you give us a sense of which Ukrainian hands that would -- could it reach Mariupol, could it reach Donbas?  Is it in Ukrainian hands in some place like Poland?  Can you give us a sense of how -- how that equipment travels specifically?

Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2:  What I can clarify is that it will be across the border into Ukraine by the end of the weekend.  Where the Ukrainians take it from there, I -- I can't tell -- I can't tell you, ‘cause I don't know.

Q:  Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  And Nancy, that’s in -- that's in keeping with what we've been saying, that the -- this stuff belongs to the Ukrainians when they take delivery of it and -- and -- and it's -- it's their responsibility to get it to the units that they need to get it to.  And we don't dictate to that, it wouldn't be appropriate for us to do that.  These are their operational decisions that they have to make when they take delivery of this materiel.  They're the ones in the fight, they know where -- where to get it there and how to get it there.

Valeria from Breaking Defense?

Q:  Hey, [SDO #1], thank you for taking my question.

I wanted to ask about Phoenix Ghost.  You -- you mentioned that it was similar to Switchblade, but I was wondering if you could further characterize how is it -- I mean, is this armed, is this -- is it -- behave similar to a loitering munition in the same way that Switchblade does?  And can you say anything about the Ukrainians' specific requirements that kind of form the basis for this system?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Yeah, I'm -- I'm going to be loath to get into much more detail about the system at this point, for classification purposes, but you can safely assume that in -- in general it -- it works -- it -- it -- it provides the -- the -- the same sort of tactical capability that a Switchblade does.  You know, a Switchblade is -- is a one-way drone, if you will. And -- and it clearly is designed to deliver -- to deliver a punch. It's a tactical UAS. And the Phoenix Ghost is -- is -- is of that same category. I -- but I'm not going to be able to provide, at this point, a lot more detail of the parameters and the specifications of the -- of the Phoenix Ghost. Again, it was developed rapidly by the -- by the Air Force to specifically address some of the Ukrainian requirements.

Again, it's very much -- I mean, this -- this addition to the PDA packages is very much an outgrowth, a very tangible outgrowth, of what we've been talking about now for weeks, which is the constant conversation we're having with the Ukrainians about what they need. And this is a great example of adapting -- adapting to their needs in real time.

So in that sense it's -- it's quite important. But I won't be able to get into more detail about the specifications at this time.

Q:  If I could just follow up really quickly, can you confirm that the Air Force was able to develop this within the last, you know, two months, like, since the invasion, or was this something that had been in the hopper for a bit longer?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  I -- I'm just going to leave it where I said. It was developed in direct response to Ukrainian requirements. But I -- I'm -- I'm not at liberty right now to talk more about the production of this thing.

David Martin?

Q:  Yeah, on -- you mentioned -- Senior Defense Official 2 mentioned that airlift from the United States was the limiting factor. But what about training? If the first of these additional howitzers are going to be in Ukraine by the end of the weekend, are there going to be any Ukrainians trained by then who know how to use them?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2:  I can't give the details of the specifics of the training. I can share with you that there is currently training ongoing with Ukrainians on these systems.

Q:  Well, yesterday we were told that it had started on Wednesday. And it takes about a week. So it sounds like they -- they won't be trained -- and those are just the trainers --  they won't be trained until some time after the -- howitzers start getting there. Is that accurate?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2:  I think, if you look at the timelines of the materiel flow into the first sets going across the border late Sunday, Monday, that closes about the same time as the training pipeline the first Ukrainians are in right now.

And -- and I would offer, you know, reflections from our liaison officers, Ukrainian liaison officers, these aren't infantrymen that are learning to fire artillery. These are artillerymen that know how to do this, that are learning the nuances of a slightly different system. Over.

Q:  And -- and, Senior Defense Official Number 1, can I ask you if the -- the Phoenix is an anti-personnel or anti-armor weapon?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Again, I don't want to get more into the specifics of the capabilities, David, but -- but it is a tactical UAS that -- that is designed to deliver a punch. And I think you -- you could expect that it would be useful against a number of different targets.

And on your first question, also, I mean -- I mean, my colleague answered it very well in terms of the timing, but it -- it does appear as if the training will be complete around the same time, or roughly around the same time, as -- as the  -- the howitzers move in. And far better if the --- if the howitzers are a little bit ahead of the trainers. It's better -- better for them to be able to fall in on equipment that's already in the country rather than to get done training and -- and have to sit around and wait.

So we're working both of these, in parallel, and as fast and as expeditiously as we can, to get the -- the initial batch of training done, as well as getting those systems into Ukraine. It wasn't -- we didn't want to hold one up for the other.

Kristina?

Okay, nothing heard.

Q:  Hey --

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  Sorry, I have no question. I'm not sure why I was on the list.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Okay. All right. Good enough.

Jack?

(Laughter.)

Q:  Hey, just -- just curious, for SDO #1. With the EUCOM Control Center for Military Aid, you mentioned -- can you say, sort of, how many personnel from different nations are involved?

And is this just American assistance that's -- that's flowing through [omitted] doors?

Or are you talking about assistance from all different nations that's coming to Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Yes, we have 14 liaison officers from 14 different nations that are in Stuttgart [omitted] at the EUCOM Control Center.

Obviously, we liaison with a number of other countries. And it is not just U.S. security assistance; it's to the degree that we have visibility of most of the security assistance that's been delivered to the Ukraine.

I will share that some of the security assistance has been done bilaterally from a nation to the Ukrainians. And they have not wanted, for various reasons, to share that with us or -- or their allies. And so that happens on occasion. But to the degree that we have visibility and in some cases we're asked, from the EUCOM Control Center's perspective, to help sort out lift requirements.

So a country may have security assistance to donate but they don't have the airlift capacity to get it there. And so we will coordinate those pieces as well. Over.

Q:  Hi, this is Kristina. I was having trouble getting unmuted.

Can I ask a question?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Go ahead, Kristina.

Q:  Oh, thank you. So my specific question about the UAVs has been answered. But I wanted to ask an overall question. Is there anything within the package that can be helpful to the folks who are now basically surrounded in Mariupol, and offer them some hope?

Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Kristina, I'll -- I'll take that one.

Again, all of these systems in this recent package are designed to help Ukraine based on their requirements and what their needs are for the fight that they're in, in the Donbas, particularly, and the -- and the fight that we think they'll be in for days and weeks to come here.

Whether and how any of this stuff is -- is used by the Ukrainians in the defense of Mariupol is really up to the Ukrainians. But -- but you can see, just on the list of things, very much designed to help them in the fight they're in, just like the last package was.  But we -- we defer to the Ukrainians to decide where and how they're going to apply these systems in -- in the -- in the actual fight.

All right.  Kasim?

Q:  My questions were asked.  Thank you very much, [SDO #1].

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  All right, thanks, buddy.

Heather?

Q:  No question for this section.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  All right, thank you.

Tony?

Q:  Hi, sir.  A couple questions.  Have any of the firefighter -- Firefinder artillery, counter-artillery radar been delivered to Ukraine?  And are those essential to the use of the howitzers we're sending over?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  I -- I'll refer to my colleague on the first question there.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2:  I'm -- we are -- I'm not specifically tracking Firefinder.

Q:  I -- I meant the counter -- a counter-radar -- a counter-artillery radar, not specifically Firefinder.  That was on the list, the earlier list.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2:  The counter-radar is moving to theater this week.

Q:  Okay.  Do they need the -- the – do they need the counter-radar batteries there in order to fire howitzers effectively?  Are the two -- they -- they -- they operate in synergy?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2:  They operate in synergy but they're not required to -- to operate the howitzer and to target.

Q:  Okay.  For the first Senior Defense Official, what's the status of Switchblade deliveries?  I know the first 100 have been delivered, but has there been a continual flow?  And will the company who makes these be getting any contracts soon to build more?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  I -- I don't have anything on the contracts, Tony.  I'll defer to my colleague, if -- if he's got more up-to-date information about Switchblades and the flow over there.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2:  I do not.

Q:  Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  All right.  Mike Glenn, Washington Times?

Q:  Thank you, [SDO#1].

I just want to confirm -- are any of these howitzers coming from the Marine Corps' drawdown on tube artillery?  That's one question.

And I was wondering also, since you're only sending the -- the guns themselves and that's -- you know, the guns are one-third of the artillery sort of triad – is, I assume that you all assess that the Ukrainians are already fine on the other two, the forward observers and fire direction control, the ones that compute the firing data?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Look, I -- Mike, I -- I -- again, as -- as my colleague -- my colleague mentioned, the …

Q: … specific question.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: … as my colleague mentioned, that we're -- we're training artillerymen on how to use these.  So I'm not going to -- I can't speak to how they're each going to be manned by the Ukrainians but we're not -- we are training -- specifically training artillerymen who already have a familiarity with how to use these sorts of -- of systems, just not our howitzers.

And I'm sorry, your -- what was your first question?

Q:  The first question is any of these coming from the -- the Marine Corps --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Oh, from the Marine Corps -- look, so -- so as -- as I mentioned with the first batch last week, the 18, I told you they were -- they were going to come from both Marine Corps and Army stocks, and that's true and they did.  And as my colleague briefed, they're -- they're on the way.

We are -- we'll still -- we have to -- we have to work on the sourcing now for these additional 72, and -- and we'll do that, and I just don't have that level of specificity right now.

Q:  Okay.  All righty.  Thank you, [SDO #1].

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Yeah.  Courtney?

Q:  Hey.  Just two quick follow-ons.

I'm -- I'm still not clear if any of the howitzers in the PDA that was announced today -- were they -- were any of those or any of the -- the ammunition for them pre-positioned in the region already?  Are they -- like, are -- is there some that's there?

And then for Senior Defense Official 2, I -- I also want to be clear -- when you said that the first rounds will be in Ukrainian hands by the end of the weekend, I just want to be clear, you're talking about rounds from the PDA that was announced today?  Did you also mean that some of the additional howitzers themselves will be in the hands of the Ukrainians by the end of the weekend?

Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2:  Yes, I -- I -- I don't have the details in front of me of the flow of -- of the howitzers and the rounds and the other pieces of PDA-8 that the services have been working.  I know that the first flights fly with pieces of that equipment that's in that drawdown package beginning in the next 24 to 48 hours.  The assumption is some of that is the howitzers and rounds.  And as a -- as my -- as my colleague said, some of that has -- is already flowing that was in PDA-7.  Over.

Q:  Thank you.

And I do have a question for the next round, as well, [SDO#1].  Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  All right, Okay.

Phil Stewart?  You there, Phil?

Q:  Yeah, sorry about that, I was on mute.

Real quick, how is -- how -- is there any effort or any thought about providing resupply to the Ukrainian forces that are pinned down in Mariupol, especially given the fact that the Russians say they're going to wall those folks off?  Is there any discussion with Ukraine about how to do that?  You know, perhaps, you know, using drones to fly in supplies?  Any -- any thought at all?

Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Yeah, I think that's probably a better one for me to answer, Phil.  And again, as you know, we don't have boots on the ground.  We -- we do provide the Ukrainians every day intelligence and information that we believe will be helpful to them in their ability to -- to -- to fight the Russians, as well as to -- to improve their -- their defensive capabilities.

And obviously I'm not going to get into the details on that but -- but I -- I -- you know, we're not -- I -- I -- I wouldn't anticipate any active sort of, you know, U.S. capabilities in -- in terms of ensuring a -- a level of resupply into Mariupol.  That is -- again, that -- those -- those are Ukrainian responsibilities and -- and we -- we -- we give them the means and the information as best we can but -- but how they use both to their advantage is -- is really up to them.

Luis Martinez?  Last question.

Q:  Yes, thank you.

I just -- I think Courtney got at this, but I just wanted to make sure I get the right clarification here to Senior Official 2.  So you're saying that some of the howitzers and the rounds from PDA-7 have already been transported and are in theater and are in route into Ukraine?  And to -- just to clarify that the howitzers and ammo from PDA-8 will be leaving in the next 24 to 48 hours, is that correct?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2:  To your -- to your latter question, that is correct.  To the former question, with regards to howitzers and rounds from PDA-7, that is in flow now and the first parts of the -- pieces of that equipment will be in the Ukrainian hands most likely by Saturday.  Over.

Q:  Thank you.

And I have a request here from Tara Copp for Senior Defense Official 1, if we can ask how Phoenix Ghost got its name.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  I have no idea -- I have no idea, I do not know.

Okay, listen, we'll -- we'll end the round now, we got through everybody.  And [SDO #2], thank you very much for your time and willingness to do this, I really, really appreciate it.  And we'll let you get back to your important business.

We'll take a quick -- just a short break while [SDO #2] disconnects.  And then I'll come back in and we'll do our normal sort of daily operational update. Out here.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2:  All right, thanks, [SDO #1], out here.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Okay, everybody, thanks.  We are now at day 57, still assessing more than 600 -- 1,670 missile launches, I know that's the same number as yesterday.  We -- we've seen some additional over the last 24 hours but not a lot.  So we think it's safe to say, still more than 1,670.

The focus of their airstrikes and missile launches continue to be at a JFO in Mariupol.  That's -- that's where the activity is in terms of the air picture.  No real significant swaps in territory or -- or offensive operations to -- to talk to today.  There -- there has been continued fighting, of course, in the Donbas region but we haven't seen, you know, we haven't seen any major achievements really by -- by either side.

I would describe it the same way I did yesterday, they -- the -- the Russians are still moving -- trying to move south out of Izyum along those three axes that we talked about yesterday.  The Ukrainians are still pushing back on that movement.  The Russians are also flowing in additional -- continue to flow in, you know, additional enabling capabilities, still doing their shaping.

Adding battalion tactical groups into the theater, we're now up to 85 we count total operational BTGs are in Ukraine, that's up from three yesterday.  Most of them we still assess are going into the Donbas region, but I -- I -- I caution this by saying we don't know.

You know, we -- we don't know exactly what unit is where on any given day specifically.  But that's where we're assessing that -- that they're going.  We've already talked about Mariupol in our previous session, still -- we don't assess that it has fallen to the Russians, the Ukrainians are still there, still -- still resisting.

And -- and, again, Mariupol still continues to fall victim to continued airstrikes from -- from -- from the Russians.  See if there's anything else I'm missing here.  Nothing to report in the maritime environment.

I know we get that question every day, but still assess that the -- the Russian Navy is staying pretty much around the Crimean Peninsula, they're not moving farther north, not getting closer to the main coast of -- of the northern Black Sea region of Ukraine.  And no -- no imminent amphibious assault in the offing or anything like that.

So not a whole lot of -- of -- of operational changes to -- to speak to today.  Okay, Bob, we'll start with you again.

QUESTION:  Thank you -- thank you.  A couple of quick questions on Mariupol.  So after President Putin said he doesn't want the Russian troops to (inaudible) plant and try to flush them out, the remaining Ukrainian fighters, do you see any (inaudible) that the Russians are instead shifting their forces out of that -- out of the city and -- and moving up north as, you know, part of the preparations for a bigger offensive?

And the second question is simply about the missile launch count that you said remains roughly 600 (inaudible) is there any significance to the fact that they are not significantly increasing missile strikes this week?  Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  I -- I wouldn't go too far into that, Bob.  It -- it varies from day to day.  As you know, we've been giving you the number every single day.  So it -- it'd be hard for, you know, over the course of just 24 hours to say we're seeing some sort of a trend.

It could be, again, could be, you know, that they've -- that -- that for whatever reason they feel more comfortable about where things are in Mariupol.  And they don't feel the need, but we have seen strikes in Mariupol over the last 24 hours.  So I mean, without question they are still hitting it.

And as for your first question, we have not seen any indication that -- that there has been a wholesale or noticeable or tangible removal from Mariupol of -- of the battalion tactical groups that they have available to them there.  We'll -- we'll be watching this as closely as we can, but our assessment is they are still focused on Mariupol.

We haven't seen them move away in any tangible way, appreciable way.  That doesn't mean that -- there -- there could be movements away from Mariupol, but just nothing that -- that we could point to as -- as declarative.

And -- and -- and say that, you know, this -- this is the beginning of them, you know, starting to -- to move away from Mariupol because they think they have it won.  And they're bringing up their assets for attacks further in the north to the Donbas.

That is what we expect them to want to do because we -- we believe that they want to, again, close in on the Donbas from the north and from the south.  We're already seeing the -- the efforts to do that from the north so that they can fix Ukrainian forces there.

And eventually, finish them or force them to -- to -- to surrender.  But nothing appreciable that we can point today that -- that says that that has started.

Q:  Okay.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Tara Copp?

Q:  Thanks, [SDO #1].  Are you able to get any, I guess, better visibility on the status of Mariupol, has -- have weather conditions improved to be able to have better clarity on how poised the Russians are to strike and how likely it is that Mariupol would fall in the coming days?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  No, I'm afraid we don't.  I mean and obviously one of the things that we've learned in this war is not -- not calling things before they can be called.  And the Ukrainians themselves have said they're still in Mariupol and they're still fighting for it.

And we believe that to be the case.  So I don't have an update on -- in terms of what the next couple of days will look like there.  Weather has been a factor for both sides quite frankly in terms of maneuverability as well as visibility.

And certainly it's affected somewhat our ability to see things because you know we're not on the ground.  So weather in the Donbass right now continues to be a factor operationally again for both sides. 

Pierre.

Q:  Thank you.  Following up on your answer about the Russian forces around Mariupol, do you assess that they are in a good shape, can move at any time they want or they need some time and they have a lot of damage?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  I -- I don't have that, Pierre.  We don't -- we just don't have that level of detail, nor have we really ever had that throughout the last six weeks in terms of unit-by-unit readiness.

They still have all the BTGs that they had devoted to Mariupol.  Our sense is roughly that they are all still there.  My answer to Bob, we haven't really seen any whole sale movement away from Mariupol by those units and I couldn't give you a breakdown of how ready they are or what their posture is.  But they are still there and quite frankly so are Ukrainian forces that continue to resist.

Q:  Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Jen Griffin.  Yes, Jen Griffin.

Q:  [SDO #1], [omitted] just been sanctioned by Russia?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  What?

Q:  [omitted] has just appeared on a list of newly sanctioned Americans.  I just wanted to get your reaction.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Well, that's the first I've heard of it.  [omitted]

I'll tell you what, let me get you a reaction a little bit later when I've had the chance to digest the news.

Q:  Okay.  And just a follow-up, are there any trainers, U.S. trainers inside Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  U.S. trainers inside Ukraine, no ma'am.  There are not.

Nancy -- Nancy Youssef?

Q:  Thank you.  I just want to know if you had seen reports of a Russian jet and other -- I think a helicopter shot down today in Ukraine.  Is that something that the U.S. is aware of or can confirm?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Nancy, just -- I was just checking my facts to make sure that I was right.  We -- we had seen some -- some reporting on that through our own channels, not press reporting but through our own channels, but we're still not able to completely verify those reports.

Q:  Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Yes.

Bob, already got you.

Valeria?

Q:  I'm all good, thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Am I saying your name right?

Q:  No, I'm Valerie, but thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Oh, there's a -- there's an "A" on the end of it in my -- in my list.  So Valerie, I'm sorry.

Q:  No, it's all good.  Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  We -- we excel at spelling here at OSD.

David Martin?

Q:  I want to go back to a question that Mike Glenn asked you about the -- the howitzers in the first go-around.  It's -- it's about the direction-finding vans that go with howitzers, at least in the U.S. military.  Are they -- is the U.S. providing Ukraine with just the guns, or is it also providing them the direction-finding team centers that -- that go with howitzers in the U.S. military?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Let me take the question, David.  I'm not an artilleryman, so I'm not even going to attempt to be wrong on this.  I'll take the question.  Do you have another one?

Q:  Well, yeah.  If -- if you are, those have computers and -- and do they -- does that require additional training other than what the -- the gun crews are getting in whatever European country they're getting this week's worth of training?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Yeah, they -- they -- they -- I'll -- I'll -- I'll get back to you, David.

Q:  Okay.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Kristina?

Q:  My -- my -- my question has been answered, thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  All right, Jack?

Q:  Hey, [SDO #1].  I'm wondering if -- you said a couple days ago that the Russians are struggling to restock PGMs because of American sanctions.  Are -- are you seeing a reliance on -- on dumb bombs so far in the Donbas conflict?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  What we've seen throughout the course of the -- the -- the conflict is -- is that they did have -- they -- and we talked about this before.  They were having inventory problems with PGMs. They were running through them pretty quickly, and not all of them were working.  And so we -- we did see a -- an increased reliance on dumb bombs elsewhere throughout the country before the Donbas region.

 

I -- I don't have a breakdown of exactly what munitions are being dropped from airplanes in the Donbas.  They are -- they are largely relying on precision-guided cruise munitions, as well as artillery in -- in -- in the Donbas.  That's -- that's sort of the -- that's -- that's what we're seeing most.  I -- I can't rule out though, Jack, that -- that dumb bombs are being used.  Again, we -- we don't -- we're not able to count everything that leaves a wing, but we know that they're using cruise missiles, i.e., PGM, as well as -- as well as artillery in -- in -- in the Donbas.  I mean -- and we knew that artillery was going to be an issue.  But we have said for a long time that long-range fires are going to be critical in this fight, and that the Russians by doctrine will use long-range fires often as a precursor to the movement and insertion or -- or maneuver of ground forces.  And again, we -- we believe that what we're seeing already in these early steps is a doctrinally-aligned approach by the Russians in that regard.

Kasim?

Q:  Yes, [SDO #1], thank you.  I -- I had a question about, why is the U.S. providing more artillery, but not tanks and armored -- more armored vehicles?  Is there a strategy that you perceive, and then based on -- is -- is this based on a strategy or what's the -- what's the reason?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Yeah, it's based on strategy.  It's based on talking to the Ukrainians about what they need.  And what we've been saying now for days is that the fighting in the Donbas is going to be heavily-reliant on artillery, artillery systems and artillery rounds, what the Ukrainians say they need, and we think they're saying it with good reason.  It's no -- it's -- it's -- it's no surprise that the Russians are also relying on artillery and bringing in artillery enablers before they started to bring in ground forces.  I mean, it's very much tied to the fight that they're in in the Donbas and -- and what that region, from a terrain perspective, portends for the use of force.

You talk about tanks.  We -- we have -- I -- I thought we'd cleared this up, but maybe we didn't.  We don't have tanks to give them.  They use T-72 tanks, and -- and other nations have helped provide and add to their -- their inventory of -- of tanks, which of course, we – we’re supportive of other nations who want -- who want to do that.  So the Ukrainians have tanks available to them.  Now, where they're using them, how they're using them, that's up to them, but I will tell you that as you and I speak right now, the Ukrainians have more tanks in Ukraine than the Russians do.  And again, where they're putting them, that's -- that's really up to them, but -- and -- and -- and I'm not a -- I'm not a ground warfare expert, so I can't tell you how much tanks will be -- will be utilized in the coming fights, but the Ukrainians have more tanks available to them right now in -- in Ukraine than the -- than the Russians do, and -- and they certainly have the purview to use them.

Q:  And then on -- on Mariupol --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  (inaudible) --

Q:  On Mariupol, the Ukrainians have said before that they've tried twice, actually, to evacuate some people, civilians, out of the town, but they failed.  What is the -- do -- do you have any visibility on the evacuation efforts?  Where is it now, and -- and how -- how could the United States actually -- is there a way for the United States to help?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  I -- I already think I answered this question with Phil Stewart when he asked in the -- in the first round, Kasim.  We're -- I -- I don't have -- I -- I -- I just don't have that kind of information.  I don't know what the evacuation routes look like, how many people are using them, what -- what -- what passage looks like out of Mariupol.  I -- I just don't have that.  That's a better question put to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, not -- not to us at DOD.  And -- and I already answered the question about U.S. assistance.  There's not going to be U.S. presence on the ground to help with evacuation.  There's not going to be U.S. aircraft in the air to do that, nor has there been throughout this conflict.

But we are getting the kinds of things the Ukrainians say they need as fast as we can.  You just heard the previous briefer talk about the -- we're already -- we -- we already expect the -- the first shipment from this latest package to arrive here in -- in just a day or two.  I mean, again, unprecedented speed, but what the Ukrainians do with that capability is up to them.

Q:  Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Heather?  Heather?

Q:  Hey, Sam Lagrone pitching in for -- for Heather.  Hey, there's -- there's been some credible open-source stuff suggesting that the Russian Kilo submarines have been contributing to caliber barrages from the Black Sea.  Have you all seen anything to that effect?  Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Yeah, I -- I -- we know that they have operated submarines in the Black Sea, but I -- I -- I can't verify reports that -- that they've contributed to -- to cruise missile launches.  I mean, certainly, as you know, they have cruise missile capability, but we're -- we're not -- we're not always able to -- to -- to verify independently what -- what platform is launching what missile on -- on any given day.

There have been cruise missile launches from the Black Sea.  That is true.  They have had submarines operating in -- in the Black Sea since the beginning of the invasion.  That is true, and those submarines have cruise missile capability, but I -- I can't connect the dot all the way to the end there specifically according the reports that you've seen.

Let's see, Tony Capaccio?  Okay, nothing heard from you, Tony.  Mike?

Q:  Yes, hi [SDO #1].

To go back to David Martin's question, which went back to my question.  You don't need computers to calculate firing data.  You can do that with charts and darts, but you need somebody to do it.

And the question I was asking earlier is, the fact that you're only sending the guns to Ukraine, does that mean you -- that you believe Ukraine has the -- these other parts of the artillery sort of family already taken care of?  It's like all they need are the guns now?  Because they said, they're --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Mike, I -- let me just take the question, guys.  I am not an artillery expert and the moment I try to sound like one is the moment that I again have to issue another clarification, which I don't want to do.

Q:  Okay.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  So, I got the question.  I got the -- I got what you're interested in.  Let me take it back and see if I can get an answer for you.  I'm not going to -- I'm just not going to wing this one.

Q:  All right, thanks [SDO #1].

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Yes.  Courtney?

Q:  Hey, just one more clarification.  Have you guys said how long you think it will take to deliver all of PDA -- we're at PDA-8, right?  The one that was announced today?  Have you said how long --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  No.

Q:  -- you, like a guesstimate how long for all that stuff yet?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  No that -- we have not yet, Court.  It -- we don't really --  we can’t -- usually we can get to an estimate like we did on PDA-7, but it takes us -- it takes us a little bit a catch-up time to be able to get an estimate for completion based on how we do the sourcing. So, we're still working through all the math right now. I don't have an estimate for you now, but, I do think that it won't be long before we'll be able to give you a ballpark figure when we think it's going to be completed.  It usually doesn't take long, a day or two before we can get comfortable with putting a date on the calendar and saying, yes, that's about when.

And it varies.  We -- sometimes we beat the target, and in the past seven tranches sometimes we've been ahead of where we thought we'd be, sometimes a day or two late.  But again, I think you just got to give us a little time to work that out.

Q:  Yes, that's fine.  And then the only other thing is these new drones, the Phantom Ghost drones, are they all manufactured already, so that it's just a matter of getting them in or do they -- some of them still need to be actually built?  Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  My understanding is that these -- that these have been developed.  That's not to say that to complete the 120-plus there may not be some that still have to be produced.  I can check on that.  But, my understanding is most of them have been developed.  And it's not Phantom Ghost.  It's Phoenix Ghost.  Even though I don't know how the name got made, I just wanted to, you know, correct the record of what the name is.

Q:  Sorry, that -- I'm driving --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  No, that's fine.  It's fine --

Q:  -- while I'm doing this, so I'm not looking at the list.  And also, I mean, it's just my personal opinion, I feel like Phantom Ghost actually does sound a little bit more ominous, but I mean, I'm not telling you guys how to name these things, but like just (inaudible)--

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Again, actually I don't -- I don't actually disagree with you.  But, you know, it is what it is.  And since I'm not sure of much today, I can be sure of at least one thing and it's the name of the drone.  So, you know, I just thought I'd lay that out there.

Phil Stewart?

Q:  Hey, I'm -- we had just reported that Maxar satellite imagery had confirmed an expansion of a mass grave around Mariupol, just quite a lot, by 200 graves.  Wondering whether or not the Pentagon has seen any kind of major expansion of the mass graves there?

Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  No, I don't have anything for you on that, Phil.

QUESTION:  Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Luis Martinez?

QUESTION:  Hi, just a quick question about the description of the -- what we're seeing in the Donbas right now. Is this still characterized as shaping operations by the Russians? Are you seeing a large frontal push?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  Now, what -- what we said yesterday was, you know, we've already seen limited offensives, as well as shaping operations, all sort of happening in parallel. And that's how we would describe it again today.

You know, offensive actions of a major way have not occurred yet. They still -- we would characterize these as still, you know, limited offensives also supported by -- by -- by continued shaping. But, clearly, the offensive operations of the Donbas have begun. Nobody's walking away from that. Nobody's saying that's not happening. But we -- we see the Russians continue to -- to push forward and to conduct offensive operations even as they continue to reinforce themselves and -- and set the conditions for -- for follow-on operations going forward.

Okay --

QUESTION:  And one last one --

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION:  One last one, if I can?

The statement mentioned 90 howitzers could equip, you know, five battalions. What's the impact that five battalions' worth of howitzers could have on a battlefield like the Donbas?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1:  We think it's -- we think it -- it could have significant additional firepower for -- for the Ukrainians. If we didn't believe that, we wouldn't have -- we wouldn't have moved forward with that many howitzers and that many more rounds.

And again, all of this was decided in consultations with the Ukrainians and the -- and what they -- what they told us they needed. And so our assessment is that they, too, will find great utility for five battalions to be equipped with -- with howitzers and artillery rounds.

I mean, we -- we think it will be a significant contributor and a meaningful contributor to their ability to -- to continue to defend themselves in the Donbas.

Okay, thanks, everybody. We'll see you guys a little bit later.

-END-

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