PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.
MR. KIRBY: Happy Friday.
I have a special guest joining me at the podium today. I asked Dr. Bill LaPlante, the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, to join me today because you have shown a higher degree of interest in the contracting of the kind of support that we're giving to Ukraine.
And so I asked Dr. LaPlante to come here and give you some highlights of some of the work we've been doing through his team, the Acquisition and Sustainment team, to support Ukraine, to include the contracting for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative funds and working with the defense industry. Again, that's something that we've been talking about for the last few days. I know you're interested in that.
Dr. LaPlante a hard out here so I'm going to stop talking and let him go to the podium. He's got some opening comments and then we'll take some questions but we've got to get him out of here about quarter after the hour.
So with that, sir, thank you so much for doing this.
UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE WILLIAM A. LAPLANTE: Good afternoon. Thank you, John. Hi, everybody. So I'll make a few remarks here, as John said, and then we'll take some questions. So thanks again for being here. So I do want to provide a couple of updates before we do get into the questions, some things on contracting and other funding for key systems.
I think the last few weeks have really highlighted the intensity of conventional conflicts now in the 21st century. And the demand for munitions and weapons systems, it really outpaces anything we've seen in recent memory.
As I'm sure you're all aware, the Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act was signed into law on the 15th of March. Of the $13.6 billion, in that appropriation, $3.5 billion was appropriated to replenish U.S. stocks of equipment sent to Ukraine through the presidential drawdown, OK?
Following the required 30-day notification period to Congress, the first tranche of funds, roughly $1.45 billion, was transferred to the Army and the Marines earlier this week to procure replenishment stocks of Stingers, Javelins and other key components.
We are actively negotiating right now, the Army is, for Stingers and related components, and that's ongoing. I expect to get that awarded by the end of May. For Javelins, the award is imminent. So that's all happening right now.
Now, in the second supplemental that's been requested by the White House that's been gone over -- that's the $33 billion request supplemental -- $5.4 of that would be for additional replenishment. So again, $3.5 was approved before. We're asking in the next supplemental for $5.4.
OK, the second item is a security assistance under authority provided by the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, or USAI. Unlike presidential drawdown, this is an authority under which the U.S. can procure capabilities directly from industry rather than delivering equipment out of our stockpiles. It's a different category.
On April 1st, we announced $300 million in security assistance under USAI, and to date, the DOD has already awarded eight contracts totaling $136.8 million. And we'll have some of the details of this if you're interested but these awards included unmanned aerial systems, Puma, advanced precision kill weapon system, communication devices, combat medical equipment and supplies, meals ready to eat, even binoculars.
So again, this also includes a $17.8 million for Switchblade unmanned aerial systems, and that's an award that's going to be seen later today -- later this afternoon. So again, out of the $300 million, we have plans for all $300 million but we've announced already the awards for $136.8 million.
I want to highlight that, again, this is in the next supplemental. An additional $6 billion was requested for USAI in the supplemental appropriation, which again provides capability directly to Ukraine and sending a clear message to the industry, a demand signal.
So, I'll close by emphasizing that we are in contact with the industry every day as our requirements evolve. And we'll continue to utilize all available tools to support Ukraine's armed forces in the face of Russia's aggression. As we work to mitigate supply chain constraints and speed up production lines by getting contracting underway, we have also asked the industry to present options for new systems that can meet strategic objectives. We did put out a request for information about two weeks ago, in different categories of timeframes 30 days, 60 days, 90 days to industry, and what they could provide. We've received and are looking at well over 300 proposals, and we're going through those right now in this book. And so, there's a lot of work going on. So, I'll stop at this point, and we'll go to questions.
MR. KIRBY: Thanks. I'll go ahead and moderate
Q: Is it like a one-to-one replacement? So, 1400 stingers that went out the door do they -- do you just -- does the U.S. reacquire 1400?
DR. LAPLANTE: It's not that simple, at least for this first tranche, as I understand it because it depends on the system depends on when the system was, you know, the system that we're replenishing. The intent is to eventually do a one-to-one replacement, but the intent is to eventually get the one-to-one. But the reason it may not be directly one to one in the first tranche is it just depends on when the system was bought and then buying it today. But the intent is to get to a one-to-one between the combination of these replenishment funds.
MR. KIRBY: Hey, Tony, I think you're on the phone there. Do you want to ask a question?
Q: Yeah, hey, thanks. Welcome back, Dr. LaPlante. I have a quick question for you. DO and DX ready programs, a lot of industry are asking for this DO rating, and some are even asking for the DX rating, the highest. What's the status of that? Are any programs being reviewed for that? Are any new programs being reviewed for those designations because of Ukraine?
DR. LAPLANTE: There's a good question, Tony. Well, they're always looking at the programs and making sure, particularly the DO list, is up to date. There are many programs that already have DO designations. And we've already been using this; this is for Title 1, this is for the rest of you guys, Defense Production Act Title 1, which is basically prioritizing defense equipment over, say, a commercial item. So, we're always looking at the DO. The DX rating that Tony referred to is we really reserve that to a very small category of things. And we have not any plans to change that, we have not changed those, what's in that DX category.
Q: As I'm looking at this list, and you detailed a bit about this, but the only -- the only one we've seen announced under contracts, if I'm not mistaken, is the Pumas; you said the Switchblades would come later today. Why haven't we seen the contract announcements on the ones that are over the seven and a half million? And then I'm just curious if you can detail what 25 million in transportation...
DR. LAPLANTE: ... it should have been. Anything that was above seven and half million should have been announced. So, is there something up there that's greater than 7 billion that was not announced? 7 million, excuse me. We'll find out why that is.
DR. LAPLANTE: Yeah, I just -- I don't know the answer. But it should be -- you're right. The threshold is 7 million. Everything above seven should be announced.
Q: Have you checked, you know, what -- what is obligated to Ukraine? Just haven't seen anything since the 300-million announcement. But I was also wondering, you said your plans for all 300 million.
DR. LAPLANTE: Yes.
Q: Is it more of what we're seeing here? Is it different systems? And then what is the 45 million in transportation?
DR. LAPLANTE: OK, the answer is more and different, yes, and yes. It depends. I mean, everything's defense. The 45 million for transportation, that's government -- that's for the government. That's for us to actually -- for things like DLA and TRANSCOM to get the equipment over. That's what that...
Q: (OFF-MIKE) from USAI...
DR. LAPLANTE: It's out of 300. You take 45 off the 300, and then the rest is -- are the systems. And so, 136. You know, and you add to it 45. So, we still have that Delta that we're going to announce, between that and 300.
MR. KIRBY: Jen?
Q: A couple of things. You mentioned the switchblades. There's been talk about the Switchblade 600 is not being delivered. Why have they not been delivered? Is there some block to the procurement? Is it because they're not available yet? Is that being fixed to get them there?
DR. LAPLANTE: Yeah. So, let me tell you what I know about Switchblades, and we'll get you the answer on the specific part of the 600s because I'm not sure I can answer that other than an educated guess. And I want to get it right. But here's the situation with the Switchblades overall, you may have seen the number 700 overall. OK. What it is, is my understanding is there were 100 or so in one of the earlier tranches that were taken directly out of our inventory. OK, so that was basically taken from our inventory. There is another 300 or so, right? This is 300 or so that are coming from a combination of places. But I think the 300 is what we're putting under contract, is that correct? That's because they have a hot production line.
So, we're able to put that under contract. And then the remainder, I think, is others that they may have in stock that we're doing. So, it's a combination that adds up to 700. So, we're using two different authorities to do it. I'm not specifically sure about the 600s; we'll get you an answer on that, on why. I assume that's in that first tranche that was supposed to be delivered. We'll get you that answer.
Q: So in terms of earlier this week, the Taiwan defense minister said that they'd been told that there's a backlog of deliveries for the howitzer, the self-propelled howitzer. Is there a shortage because of Ukraine? Is that affecting weapons shipments to Taiwan?
DR. LAPLANTE: Not that I'm aware of. No. Let me remind you, this is the M-777s we're talking about here. Yeah.
Q: So, M-777s are what was delivered to Ukraine. These are slightly different versions. They're the paladin howitzer for Taiwan. But there was a link being made in news reports about that it was a shortage as a result of Ukraine.
DR. LAPLANTE: Yeah, I'm not aware of that.
MR. KIRBY: Jen, we've talked about this. This is a separate...
Q: I'm just asking.
MR. KIRBY: I understand. But it's a separate -- it's a separate -- a completely separate transactional process. There's not a correlation.
DR. LAPLANTE: I wouldn't see it the way that they would be connected, but I don't see those. I don't think those will be connected.
MR. KIRBY: They're not.
Q: So, we had been told that replacing these stockpiles, that it didn't -- that the stockpiles didn't necessarily have to come back up to the previous level, because those stockpiles had been acquired, you know, years and years ago, and warfare was different.
DR. LAPLANTE: Sure.
Q: But I came in late, but I thought I heard you say the intent is to replace on a one for one basis.
DR. LAPLANTE: Right, to the extent. But it depends on what one-to-one means, and I'll give you an example of exactly what I'm talking about. The model of javelins that are on the production line right now are called the F-model, it’s what Lockheed Martin makes. The plan all along before Ukraine was to transition to the next generation of Javelin better -- better seeker, better range, et cetera, called the G-model. And so, of course, one of our decisions to make, and when we replenish it, we want to replenish it, probably we will, with the G-model. So, it's not quite a one-for-one replacement.
Now, think of some -- some other systems that are much older than that you have -- it's going to be harder, for example, the M-777s as an example. We don't have that in production anymore. So, what do you -- what's the replacement equivalent for an M-777? And we're going through all of these calculations right now. So, it's one for one to the best you can do or the equivalent to that. But this is the issue that's happening, we're having to go through this calculation, so are the Europeans, our allies, which is that they're replacing, for example, the pole sending Russian-made-originally tanks what do they want to replace them with? Et cetera, et cetera. So, it's -- everybody's going through the same calculation of what is the replacement?
MR. KIRBY: Jon? Jon, go ahead.
Q: Thank you. Are you looking to buy any additional New Mexico drones through the USAI fund?
DR. LAPLANTE: I'm not aware that we're looking to buy them. But I think -- I'll just say this; in many of these contracts out there, we use what's sometimes called an indefinite delivery indefinite quantity, IDIQ is the terminology which has a -- it's a contract that has a ceiling on it that you can put individual task orders against it. The nice thing about that is if later on, you have a contract already set up. If you want to go back and buy more of something, even more than we originally planned, it's pretty straightforward to do it. I'm pretty sure we will have that arrangement in that case, but it also depends on each system is different. Is it in production? What systems are being -- are being still in our stockpile, et cetera?
Q: And then, just more broadly speaking, are you looking to boost U.S. inventories of the Phoenix Ghosts?
DR. LAPLANTE: That I can't answer. We could find the answer to that. I don't know. The Phoenix Ghost was made, if you know, were executed by the Big Safari office in the Air Force. If you know anything about that office, they do lots of really great fast type work. They were very active during Afghanistan and Iraq. And sometimes they just -- and I don't know the answer to it, and we'll find out, but it just depends on what the operational needs are. There are lots of UAS systems. There are lots of UAS systems, and each UAS system does something slightly different. But I don't -- I will find out for you the answer to that.
MR. KIRBY: Tony Bertuca, do you have a question?
Q: I do.
Thank you, Mr. LaPlante. In the $33 billion supplemental that went over to Congress, there was a $500 million request for something called a critical munitions acquisition fund. There was also a $50 million request for a defense exportability transfer account. Can you tell us what those things are and what they're going to do because I assume your office is going to run them?
DR. LAPLANTE: Well, they're both generally to try to help us in a -- the situation that we find ourselves in is a situation that, unfortunately, happens periodically. It's the third time in my adult memory, since 2000, that we've had this happen, where all of a sudden, we find our production lines to have to be boosted up. The first time was after 9/11. What happened is, if you remember, we went into Afghanistan in October. Well, by December, late December 2001, we were running really low on munitions. Because we hadn't planned -- it was 9/11 had happened, it hadn't been budgeted in. Those munition lines got hot and stayed hot for a long time. But then as we did the drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq, or thought we were going to, certainly drawdown in Iraq about 2014, the same thing, the budget tiers, we all turned the production lines down. And then the ISIS fight and the ISIL fight happened.
And right, we were scrambling in the same way we are now. So, the idea behind the fund and the exploitability piece, it's an idea. It's not a new idea. But it's one that has basically almost a working capital or replenishment fund that we can have a continuous stockpile because we can't predict exactly which weapons are going to be needed, and we're not going to predict what the next surprises will be. But at least find our way not in the same situation because that's why munitions go up and down. Because when the peace breaks out, the budgeteers turn down the knob, and production lines go quiet. And then, unfortunately, when events happen, they're often a surprise, and you find yourself in the same situation. So, it's a way to hopefully build up a little bit of a buffer for the next time.
Q: Will those remain permanent fixtures in the budget?
Q: I would like to follow up on that. How has the Ukraine war changed your assumptions on what kind of stockpile is necessary? And at this point, you know, Ukraine has been using a lot of munitions at a very rapid pace. How close are our stockpiles to the point where you wouldn't be able to push more forward without putting our own stockpiles at risk?
DR. LAPLANTE: Well, that's the calculation that's been done every day. And it's really a tradeoff between readiness and modernization. It's something that the warfighters and the services are experts at this. They had to do it during the sequester. In that case, it was you have a funding cut you didn't think you were gonna get. You know, and you can only take the money from certain places, but where to take the money -- fungible money was in O&S. It hit training. What happened? Readiness went down. But that was a risk that was taken at that time to try to protect some of the modernization, the new stuff.
So exactly those calculations are going on right now, where the warfighters are looking and saying "how much risk am I willing to take on my readiness?" You know, and then at the same time, we're trying to protect our modernization.
Here, the constraint is really time, and the variable that is hard to figure out is time. But I will say this, there's a lot of lessons being learned right now. I said at the very beginning of my opening statement about this is pretty unprecedented, the amount of munitions that are being used right now and have been used in the last month, month and a half or so.
I'm sure we're all going to be reexamining our assumptions. I do believe -- in Europe, as well -- I was at the NATO -- with our NATO partners, talking bilaterally -- not as part of NATO but talking bilaterally -- it was happening at a NATO event -- and everybody's going through this calculation, you know, so.
Q: Just as a quick follow up, is there assumptions that future conflicts might look more like this one and less like what we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan, where there would be more precision-guided munitions, where there would be more need for drones, and that's how your -- your assumptions are changing?
DR. LAPLANTE: I wouldn't be able to say that. I have not been in those conversations about what assumptions we would make about the future. The U.S. military has to plan for almost every contingency. And so that's the thing we have to remind ourselves -- we have to remind ourselves of -- Secretary Gates, what he said about our prediction record when he was Secretary of Defense -- "we have perfect record, we are 0 for 9."
So it's the prediction business in our world is one that's -- we have to do it, it's the best practice, but to rely on saying "this is what's going to happen next or likely to happen next."
Clearly, we're learning stuff right now and I'm sure it's going into the calculations. I'll just stop at that point.
MR. KIRBY: Yep. I'm afraid we've run out of time. We've got to let Dr. LaPlante head up and then we'll pick up with the rest of the brief.
DR. LAPLANTE: OK, thank you. Thank you all.
MR. KIRBY: OK, I probably should've raised the podium for Dr. LaPlante. It's set at Kirby height but that's alright.
Alright, that was my opening statement, was him. So we can get right to questions. Ben, you got one for me?
Q: Returning to the Moskva -- are there any restrictions that you can talk about that U.S. would include Ukraine in its use of American intelligence so as not to, you know, risk further escalation and conflict?
And then there's -- secondly, there's a report out there about a second patrol ship -- Russian patrol ship that's been struck, and if there's anything at all you can say about that?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, we've seen the reports about this second. I think they're saying that the -- the reporting out there, at least in social media, was a Russian frigate. We've been looking at this all day and we have no information to corroborate those reports.
On the intelligence, I think you can understand I'm going to be careful here in what we talk about, in terms of the parameters of intelligence that we provide them, but we provide them what we believe to be relevant and timely information about Russian units that will allow them to adjust and execute their self defense to the best of their ability.
The kind of intelligence that we provide them, it's legitimate, it's lawful and it's limited, and I would rather not get into the degree to which there's limitations on there, but we try to be as timely and as relevant as we can.
And I would also add -- and this is not an unimportant point -- we are not the only sole source of intelligence and information to the Ukrainians. They get intelligence from other nations, as well, and they have a pretty robust intelligence collection capability of their own. I mean, they've been fighting this war against Russia for eight years. It's not like they are completely blind to the way Russia organizes itself and the way that Russia conducts itself on the battlefield.
So as you would expect any nation to do, they form a mosaic here, they collate the information that they're getting, and then they make their own decisions about what they're going to do with that. And if they do decide to do something with that intelligence, then they make the decisions about acting on it.
Q: Just on that -- I think when you were talking to the networks earlier today, you said the U.S. did not know beforehand that the attack on the Moskva was going to take place. And I'm just curious, generally speaking, when the U.S. shares intelligence with the Ukrainians, does the U.S. ask what it's going to be used for or is it just sort of handed over, that's it, do what ...
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, again, I want to be careful not to get into the specifics of the intel sharing. I think we can all understand why it's not good to have an open discussion about intelligence sharing.
I would just go back to what I've said before -- we try to provide them useful and relevant, timely intelligence so that they can better defend themselves, but ultimately, they make the decision about what they're going to do with that information, if anything.
Q: But did -- so they don't give you a heads up, saying "hey, we might" ...
MR. KIRBY: We don't routinely get -- I mean, no, we don't get heads up about their day-to-day operations, nor do we expect to. I mean, they're in an active fight.
Q: But I guess if you're giving specific intelligence, why not ask "hey, what are you going to do with this?"
MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to talk about the intelligence sharing process any more detailed than that. So we provide them useful, relevant intelligence so that they can better defend themselves and -- they are under no obligation to tell us how they're going to use that information or when and where, if at all, OK?
Q: Have any changes been made to U.S. force posture in the area of -- just in case there's retaliatory moves by Russia because ...
MR. KIRBY: I think you know we don't talk about force protection measures that we take anywhere around the world. I can just tell you that we still have now more than 100,000 troops in Europe on rotational, permanent orders. They're still doing the jobs that they were doing before in the air, on sea, and certainly on the ground. And we're always monitoring their force protection protocols and posture to make sure it's appropriate but I would not speculate one way or the other about -- that's not even speculation -- I wouldn't comment one way or the other about what force protection protocols we put in place.
Q: Just separately, the Lend-Lease Act that was supposed to be signed into law in the coming days, can you -- can you talk about how that's going to change things here at the Pentagon? I mean, the -- they say it's going to make it easier for the U.S. to get equipment and weapons to Ukraine but what does that actually mean?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, we've talked about this a little bit before. It's not signed into law and so unless or until the President decides to sign that, we're going to refrain from commenting on it.
I would just back out a little bit and say, number one, we really do genuinely appreciate the support that we've gotten from Congress to allow us to continue to support Ukraine. And the President, as you saw just last week, asked for another $33 billion, $16 billion of which would affect the department specifically. And as you heard the Secretary say, we urge the Congress to act quickly on that so that we can keep providing this support in an uninterrupted way.
Additional support legislated by Congress and approved by the President certainly is going to be helpful. Any additional support that we can provide Ukraine is going to be helpful. But I'm going to refrain from speaking to the specifics of that pending legislation unless or until the President signs it.
Q: And, John, a separate topic. Last week Greece has violated Turkish air space for about 30 times which mounted the tension in the Aegean Sea. I wonder what's your take on this as currently while the NATO is united against Russian aggression this tension is mounting -
MR. KIRBY: I don't have any knowledge of those reports. So I'll tell you what we'll do, I'll take the question and we'll see if we have any context on this. But before I make some sort of pronouncement here on what you're claiming happened, I think it'd be better if we just ground truth here. And I just don't have any way to corroborate those reports.
Q: But also like -- of course it's a decade long tension actually this between Turkey and Greece. Greece claimed that while their territorial water is six nautical miles the airspace is 10 nautical miles. They claim -- they clam 10 nautical miles of airspace.
What is the U.S. position? Can you just -
MR. KIRBY: Yes, I'm going to take the question. I wasn't prepared to talk about Greek or Turkish airspace requirements here today so I'm going to take the question so that I don't waste your time or anymore on the this today.
Q: Can you give an update on the training of Ukrainian troops in Europe? What the latest is? How many? What weapon systems?
MR. KIRBY: Yes, hold on just a second. Let's see here. I know it's here somewhere, just hang on with me. Let's see, yes, here we go.
So as of today more than 220 Ukrainian soldiers have been completed 777 training. There's an additional 150 plus that are currently going through Howitzer training, 15 Ukrainian soldiers have completed the Q-64 training, that's that mobile air defense radar system that we talked about, 60 Ukrainian soldiers have completed M-113 training, that's the armored personnel carrier, and about 50 more are currently being trained on that right now. So that's it.
Q: Earlier this week General Milley in his prepared remarks to the Senate said that President Xi's goal for his military is by 2027 have his military to the levels that they could invade Taiwan. Later he said that they may not get there. So two questions:
A, from your point of view, from the Pentagon's point of view, why is China's military not at a point now that it could invade Taiwan until? And why -- what do you see happening that might cause General Milley or Secretary Austin to say that they may not get there even by 2027?
MR. KIRBY: There's an awful lot there. I mean, again, you're right to put a fine point on it, Jen, what the Chairman said was that President Xi, himself, has said they want to have the capability by 2027 not necessarily that they have the intent to act on that capability by 2027.
I think in order to answer your question fully we'd be getting very quickly into a classified realm and so I think we need to be careful here at the podium talking about the kinds of capabilities that the Chinese are trying to advance. With that and with other -- in other regards in the Indo-Pacific in terms of their coercion and aggressive activities.
I think, largely speaking, in addition to offensive capabilities -- and you've seen them exercise amphibious, right, you've seen them conduct bomber patrols, you've seen them now build and put to sea, you know, indigenous aircraft carriers, so offensive power projection capabilities -- you've also seen them develop, over many years, what we call -- it's a Pentagon-sort-of-ism -- but anti-area/access-denial capabilities.
What that means is they're trying to accumulate standoff capabilities to prevent other militaries, including the United States, from physical access to whatever territorial claims they might make.
And so it's a combination of these kinds of capabilities that I think we're watching, both offensive and anti-area/access-denial capabilities.
Now, what would throw them off schedule, I mean, it could be any number of things, including economic challenges. I mean, they're not immune -- very not immune to -- to the international economy and that can have an effect on -- just like it has an effect on every nation, in terms of building up defense capabilities.
What we're doing is just again, there's no indication that they intend to do that, by that or any other date, just that they've stated they want to have the capability. What we're focused on is making sure that we have appropriate capabilities to meet our security commitments in the region. And five of our seven treaty alliances are there. We take those seriously.
And so again, I'd, you know, point you to that budget. There is an awful lot in that budget, including a record number of dollars invested in science and technology research going forward, to try to make sure that we too have the capabilities to meet those commitments.
And again, the last thing I'd say is -- the Secretary said this many times -- there's no reason for cross-Strait tensions to turn into conflict, no reason whatsoever. We continue to support the One China policy -- the Secretary made that clear when he talked to Minister Wei not long ago -- and we continue to support Taiwan in their ability to have their own intrinsic self-defense capabilities. Those efforts are going to continue. And we've also said and continue to say that we don't want to see the status quo change unilaterally in a military way.
Q: Hi, John. How much is left in the presidential drawdown authority funding? Is it $300 million, is it $100 million?
MR. KIRBY: It's about $250 million.
Q: ... is there a possibility of an additional announcement of a new PDA?
MR. KIRBY: Well, look, I mean, we still have money left in drawdown authority. And I would certainly expect that you will see us want to use that authority but I don't have any announcements to speak to from the podium right now.
And again, I'd point you to -- knowing we were getting close to the end, -- that's why the President acted as early as he did to submit a new supplemental request, so that if if Congress can act quickly on that, we can keep these drawdown authorities going without interruption, because clearly the war's not being interrupted and we want to make sure we're as fleet of foot to help Ukraine as they have been on the battlefield.
Q: Can you expand a little on what Dr. LaPlante is talking about, the new -- what Dr. LaPlante was talking about, this new -- the additional $17 million for the Switchblades? I mean, does that equate to a numerical quantity? I mean, what the ...
MR. KIRBY: Well, I think what he's referring to was dollars matched to the 700 that we've committed. So we've committed to providing 700 Switchblade systems to Ukraine. There's 100 of them in country right now and he -- I think he racked and stacked where the rest of it was coming from.
Yeah -- yeah, Kelly?
Q: John, the U.S. is supplying Ukraine with weapons, intelligence, training. While there are no U.S. troops on the ground, is this turning into somewhat of a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia? The U.S. has been clear it's not trying to escalate its involvement to provoke Putin but where is the line there? Everything but troops and jets? Could you go -- elaborate?
MR. KIRBY: This is a war that Russia started on Ukraine. It's a war of choice, Mr. Putin chose to wage, against the people of Ukraine and against the Ukrainian Armed Forces. That's the war. And it doesn't matter how much Mr. Putin wants to advance the rhetoric, that it's somehow the West versus Russia or that his national security was threatened -- it wasn't and this war isn't.
It's not about the West, it's not about NATO, it's not about the United States, it's about his enmity towards Ukraine and the people of Ukraine. That's the war, that is what's going on right now.
Q: Thanks, John. You often spoke with the Ukraine -- like, battlefield assessment, that the war is changing because of the Donbas eastern front, different types of weapons, different types of problems. I wondered if you can touch on has the air picture changed? We heard the other day that there are less Russian sorties. So are there less Stingers or less air defense systems going in or is that the same type? What's going on with the air picture?
MR. KIRBY: I think you've seen us change our support based on the kind of fighting that the Ukrainians are doing and expect to be doing over the coming weeks. And as the war migrated more towards the concentration on the Donbas -- flat, open land, more rural, more indicative or relevant to mechanized warfare and artillery -- and we're seeing that happen every day, artillery barrages back and forth, quite frankly -- so we have modified and tailored the packages that we're providing. And when we have additional packages to announce, I think you'll see in them that relevance borne through.
As for the air picture, it changes every day. And in terms of how many sorties the Russians fly, I'll let them speak to their air plan, but we continue to see the airspace contested, we continue to see the Ukrainians be very effective in their air defense capabilities, very nimble about that, but yet the Russians too have significant air defense coverage over Ukraine and they do continue to launch both missile strikes as well as fixed, manned airstrikes into Ukraine.
Predominantly, the airstrikes we're seeing, whether they're missile strikes or dropped from an aircraft, are happening in what we call the JFO, the Joint Forces Operations Area -- basically the Donbas region, where the fighting is really going on right now -- and also down in Mariupol. Even today, they continue to pound Mariupol.
We continue to observe the same sort of risk aversion out of Russian pilots as we have seen before. They know that the Ukrainians have effective air defense and so you don't see them fly very long or very often inside Ukrainian airspace. They launch their missions in -- end their missions basically -- usually, mostly in -- in Russian airspace, but it's very contested. And again, that's a real credit to how smart and how effective the Ukrainians have been about their air defenses.
Q: John, did you say then the Donbas requires less U.S. air defense systems ...
MR. KIRBY: ... what I would say is what the Donbas requires are the kinds of capabilities we are focused on providing the Ukrainians in these -- in these recent weeks -- artillery, long range fires, these armored personnel carriers, the -- the tow vehicles for the Howitzers, the 155 rounds, the gun battles are real and they're happening from both sides. That's what this terrain lends itself to, that's what Russian doctrine sort of tends to dominate when they're in this kind of environment, and again, reminding that this is an area of Ukraine that both sides have been fighting over now for eight years. They're very familiar with that terrain and that's what we're seeing used predominantly.
I'm not going to say that there won't ever be and has never been, in the fighting in Donbas, a use for short range air defense. I don't want to speak for the Ukrainians but I think they would tell you that they're still finding those capabilities very relevant.
But in terms of our flow of support and assistance, we're really trying to tailor it to what they're telling us they need, and what they're telling us that they need the most are what we call long range fires -in this case, artillery.
Q: Thanks, John.
MR. KIRBY: Yep. Yes, ma'am, in the back there?
Q: Valerie Insinna with Breaking Defense.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah. It's hard to see back there, you're in the dark.
Q: It's OK. I like to sit in the shadows, you know.
So just a couple quick follow up questions. When you were going down your training kind of, like, overview, I didn't hear anything about Phoenix Ghost. Are those in Ukraine -- or are those delivered yet and are the Ukrainians being trained on those yet?
MR. KIRBY: Let's see. I do not show any of the Phoenix Ghost actually in Ukraine yet. And as for training, I know that there was some training done, yeah. There's about 20 -- and I'm sorry I missed this when I went down the list, so thank you for calling it out -- there's about 20 Ukrainian soldiers that are in their final day of a weeklong, seven day Phoenix Ghost UAS training course. So yeah. Thanks for ...
Q: Dr. LaPlante, he talked about an RFP -- or a series of RFPs that went out and that he had 300 proposals. Do you have any additional information about what sort of strategic objectives did -- that, you know, the Pentagon is seeking to fill with those and when -- and -- some decisions might be made?
MR. KIRBY: I couldn't begin to speculate.
Q: John, can you say how many of the 90 Howitzers that were promised are in country and also in the fight? And as far as the, I guess, 190,000 rounds that were promised, how many of those have arrived?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, let's see. Without getting into specific numbers on that, I --
Q. You can.
MR> KIRBY: You'd like that, wouldn't you? The vast majority of the 90 are inside Ukraine, the vast, vast majority but not all of them.
And I'm sorry, your second question was?
Q: ... rounds -- 190,000 rounds were promised, how many are in?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah. So I'd say -- I'd put it at roughly 60 percent. Of the 144,000 rounds that we had committed over two PDAs, about 60 percent are in there -- are actually in there.
OK, I've got time for just a couple more and then we've got to reset the room for Mr. Burns' farewell. Yeah?
Q: John, you noted that about 20 Ukrainian soldiers are about to wrap up their weeklong training course for Phoenix Ghost. Do you have any sort of, you know, window for when you expect those systems to be delivered? I would think that if they're about to finish training, they're probably getting ...
MR. KIRBY: I don't have an estimate on here. I mean, I can kind of tell you where we're at on a given day but I don't have access to the logistical plan, I couldn't give that to you. But obviously, we certainly want to get them to them as soon as we can, as soon as it's practical, and make sure that the individuals trained on it are able to fall in, if they can, on equipment. If not, we want to close that gap as much as possible.
Q: And will there be another cohort going through that, like a seven day course?
MR. KIRBY: I don't have any reports of another one. It wouldn't surprise me. But if there is, we'll certainly talk about it, but I'm not tracking another one but it would not surprise me because as we're doing with the Howitzers, we want to keep that training going.
OK? All right, I take -- I already got you. I got you. I told you I'll take your question -- I'll take your question.
Q: ... just a separate question -- just separate.
MR. KIRBY: I'll take that one too. I'm just kidding, go ahead.
Q: OK, good. The lead Inspector General had a report about OIR ...
MR. KIRBY: Who?
Q: The -- the Chief Inspector -- like, DOD Inspector General had a report on the OIR area of operations. And then in the report, there is an assessment that DIA assessed that actually Iranian-backed militias are cooperating with PKK in Iraq and Syria to attack Turkish positions.
Are you aware of that assessment? And what does this building plan to do with that assessment?
MR. KIRBY: No, I don't have any detail on that particular assessment. Therefore, I'm not going to -- even if I did, I would not speculate or talk about future operations. You know we're not going to do that.
Let's take one more from the phone here. Let's see. Paul Handley?
MR. KIRBY: ... maybe you don't have me. Must be a sign it's Friday.
MR. KIRBY: ... we'll cut it short there. Thanks very much, appreciate you coming today, and have a good weekend. We'll see you on Monday.