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Transcript

Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing

July 1, 2022

STAFF:  All right.  Good afternoon everybody.  This is (Edited) from Defense Press Operations.  Thank you for joining us for the call today.  As you're aware, the president authorized an additional security assistance package for Ukraine earlier today.  We want to give you the opportunity to ask questions, so we've brought in a subject matter expert for you.  Our ground rules, please refer to our subject matter expert as a Senior Defense Official.  For your informational purposes, the subject matter expert today is (Edited).  She's the (Edited).  She will open with some brief comments and then we'll go to Q&A.  We have about -- we have a 30 minute hard stop.  I apologize, but what I'll do is I'll turn it over to her and then we'll go to the Q&A.  Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Thank you.  It's a pleasure to be here again.  I know it's only been a week since we last spoke about the last security assistance package, and I want to, you know, at the outset thank you for your patience.  I know we shifted this call slightly based on me being stuck in a meeting across the river, and also, you know, obviously Friday before 4th of July weekend, appreciate your time before the holiday here.  So what I'd like to do is just briefly touch on a few battlefield developments just to give my take on them, some context and then discuss briefly the -- the package of security assistance, the $820 million package that the president authorized today.  So quickly on the battlefield update, you know three things that I wanted to touch on.

First, I know Snake Island, the -- the -- the retreat of Russia from Snake Island has been in the news.  I -- you know, I just wanted to foot stomp that.  We do not believe there is any credence to what Russia is saying that this was a gesture of good will.  In fact, you know, the way we view this development is that the Ukrainians were very successful at applying significant pressure on the Russians, including by using those harpoon missiles that they recently acquired to attack a re-supply ship.  And when you realize how barren and deserted Snake Island is, you -- you understand the importance of re-supply.  So the Ukrainians made it very hard for the Russians to sustain their operations there, made them, you know, very vulnerable to Ukrainian strikes.  So that is, of course, is why Russia left the island and, you know, this isn't a panacea of course but it does make it a lot easier to defend Odessa and in the future to be able to open up those sea lanes without Russia controlling Snake Island.

But just to underscore the real challenge in the Black Sea of course is Russia's blockade.  So the second thing I just wanted to touch on, everybody's watching the fighting in the Donbas very closely.  It is still this grinding war of attrition and, you know, since Ukraine conducted the managed retrograde that we spoke about last week, from -- from Severondonetsk.  Now all eyes are on Lisichansk and, you know, we are seeing Russia, you know, claiming -- claiming dominance but I will -- I will tell you there is active fighting in the -- in the town and fighting particularly around the oil refinery. And I think this is another one of these examples where we see Russia paying such a high price for tiny bits of gains in terms of territory, and -- and -- and that is the case today in Lisichansk.

The other thing to note is that, you know, that we're watching Ukraine's use of the HIMARS and we're seeing them having a good deal of success in employing these -- these HIMARS. You know, to -- to include things like targeting command posts, so this is a very positive development in -- in the east.

And then last but not least, the development that I wanted to mention about this tragic Russian attack on June 27th on the shopping center.  We do believe that the missile that was used was highly likely designed as an anti-ship weapon, and what's, you know, what's significant about this is, you know, this is not a weapon that would have been optimized for accuracy against ground targets in an urban environment.  So it's just yet another example of how Russia is using systems in a reckless fashion that result in significant collateral damage.  So those are the battlefield updates that I just wanted to touch on and then turning to the announcement today of the $820 million in additional security assistance for Ukraine.

This combined both presidential drawdown and Ukraine security assistance initiative funding.  So taking those in turn, the drawdown is the 14th drawdown of equipment from DOD inventory since August of last year.  And it -- it-- this is a $50 million package and it is exclusively focused on additional ammunition for those HIMAR system, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems.  And it is once again the, what we call the GMLRS, Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System munitions that we are providing.

Now under the Ukraine security assistance initiative, we are providing three different capabilities. One is additional rounds of 155 millimeter artillery ammunition. This is really a staple of -- of the fight in the -- the Donbas and we're providing up to 150,000 rounds.  We're also providing for additional counter artillery radars, also very useful for this fight, in artillery fight but the item that's new that I wanted draw your attention to is two NASAMS systems.  So this is, NASAMS stands for National Advanced Surface to Air Missile Systems, and this was a system that was co-produced with Norway.  So we appreciate, you know, Norway's support for us to be able to provide this system to Ukraine and this is an air defense system that obviously produced -- co-produced by the U.S. and Norway is a -- a NATO system.  So for us, it's -- it's important for us to be able to start to help the Ukrainians transition their air defense system from what is now a Soviet type system, to be able to introduce some of this modern technology.

Now I do want to emphasize and we've spoken about this before, the Ukrainians are doing a magnificent job of employing their existing air defense systems, but we all know that a Soviet type system means that it's Russian made.  And so, over time it will be harder to sustain with the spare parts, so that's why we want to make sure that they -- they have access to modern air defense systems.  The other thing I want to just mention, I think everyone knows this but it's probably worth restating.  Drawdown, so that's the -- the -- the HIMARS munitions in this package, it comes directly from U.S. stocks.  So that's coming straight from the U.S. military, whereas Ukraine security assistance initiative, this -- these are items that are going out and procuring from industry.  So what you'll typically see with the timelines, you'll see drawdown is happening in a matter of days, whereas the items that we're procuring from industry through our contracting process, those items typically take more like weeks or even months.  So I just want to -- to -- to flag that.

So I think the only thing to leave you with, you know, the grand totals at this point, the U.S. has committed $7.6 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration and that's $6.9 billion since the beginning of the invasion on February 24th.  So that's, you know, we're -- we're -- we're definitely continuing steadily to -- to provide assistance to Ukraine in its time of need.  So I’ll open it up there.

STAFF:  All right.  Thank you, ma'am.  Going to the -- the phones.  I’ll start off here with the AP, Mr. Merchant.

Q:  Yes, thank you for having this call.  A couple of questions, the first is do you have an estimate of how -- how many artillery rounds the Russians and the Ukrainians respectively are going through on a daily basis?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  So I don't have any estimates on that that I can -- that I can share.  I mean, certainly with the Ukrainians, we're talking very closely with them to make sure that we're able to support their -- their re-supply needs.  With -- with the Russians, I mean, we are seeing them -- them certainly expend significant ammunition and -- and take significant casualties, but I -- I'm afraid I don't have specific numbers for you.

Q:  And the other question I should ask is, I noticed drones aren't included in this recent announcement.  Are the Ukrainians still asking for more support with -- with additional drones and -- and with this turning into a -- a conflict that's very focused on artillery.  How much are drones still a factor in all of this?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Thanks.  I would say that unmanned aerial systems are -- are still a factor and again, we've -- we've been really impressed by the proficiency with which the Ukrainians are operating their capabilities.  You may be aware of the Phoenix Ghost System, which is a system that the U.S. has provided and we -- we are finding the Ukrainians are -- are using it in the current fight.

Q:  And I'll just sneak one more which is on the shopping mall, why do you think the Russians used a missile intended for anti-ship to hit the shopping mall?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  You know, I can't speculate on -- on Russian motives, I -- but I can say that, you know, they certainly knew what it was and they would have known that it -- that it could have had this -- this collateral damage, or that, you know, it could have had this effect.

STAFF:  All right.  We'll move on here.  Joe Gould, Defense News.

Q:  Hi, thanks so much.  So I -- I just wanted to ask a little bit more, you said that the timeframe for this is weeks or months.  Can you be any more specific about that, one?  And two, can you talk a little bit more about what sorts of ammunition the U.S. might be providing in the future and training as well?  Since this is a -- a -- an advanced U.S. system.  Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Sure.  So I -- I don't have very specific timeline information for you, since we are just contracting starting today for this particular Ukraine security assistance initiative package.  So I can just say, you know, weeks to months basically but we will have more fidelity as we go through the contracting process.  And in terms of, you know, munitions, we're very much focused on the 155 millimeter artillery ammunition and we're also focused on, for the HIMARS systems, the GMLRS, the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System munitions.  But I don't want to just speak to U.S. efforts because one of the other things that we're very active with is asking other countries to support Ukraine with their capabilities.

And so for our NATO allies, this means that we've gotten a number of donations of, you know, multiple launch rocket systems and associated munitions.  A number of donations of Howitzers as well as 155 millimeter ammunition and we don't want to forget about the Soviet type systems, the 152 millimeter ammunition which the Ukrainians can use with their existing Howitzers.  And so we continue to find sources of that to be able to support the Ukrainians.

Q:  Just that -- I noticed that the DOD announcement acknowledged the Norwegians had a -- had a special role here.  Was there some sort of agreement that had to happen with -- with Norway in order to issue this procurement?  Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  So Norway was the co-producer of this system, so in -- in that sense as the co-producer, they also are involved in, you know, the -- the transfer decision.  And obviously we wouldn't have this system without their -- their development of the technology, and then, you know, I realized I did not answer your earlier question on training.  I wrote it on my paper and I didn't touch on it, so I just want to emphasize that for -- for the HIMARS systems, for the Howitzers that we've been providing.  We do have, at this point, a very solid training program that allows us to ensure that as the equipment is going into Ukraine, it is matched up with trained crews.  Crews that know how to operate the systems but also crews that know how to maintain and sustain the systems.

STAFF:  All right.  We'll move on.  Next Fadi, with Al Jazerra.

Q:  Thank you for doing this.  So I have a question on the HIMARS, I believe they were fielded last week.  In -- in -- in the east, we have a video from Ukraine of using two HIMARS systems in -- in the east.  Nonetheless, it seems Russia is -- is moving steadily to control entire of Lugansk Oblast.  So I was wondering where do you see the impact of these new systems, if anything you can point to, and how do you see the Ukrainians’ ability to use these systems more effectively, maybe in the -- the Donetsk region after probably what seems like Russia will be able to control Lugansk Oblast?  Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Thanks.  So, I -- I would use the word halting.  I -- I would not use the word steady to describe how Russia is advancing on -- on the battlefield, and I think they're suffering, you know, many, many setbacks along the way.  In terms of the use of the HIMARS, you're exactly right.  The system has just recently been introduced, so the Ukrainians are still very much in the early days of operating this system, but what I can tell you is because it is such a precise, longer range system, the Ukrainians are able to carefully select targets that will undermine, you know, the effort by Russia in a more systematic way, certainly more than they would be able to do with the shorter range artillery systems.

So what you see is the Ukrainians are actually systematically selecting targets and then accurately hitting them thus providing this, you know, precise method of degrading Russian capability.  And I see them being able to continue to use this, you know, throughout Donbas.

STAFF:  All right.  Let's move down to Courtney, with NBC.

Q:  Hi.  Just one quick question on the counter artillery radar.  So, the announcement that there's four more today.  Can you talk to us at all about whether these are being -- these are effective?  There've been a couple of announcements -- the more recent announcements have included them and -- and do you have any sense of how they're operating on the battlefield or have any of them been targeted by the Russians?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  So I would say, you know, it's -- it's probably better to -- to have one of my military colleagues get into more detail on this on employment of these radars.  I can just tell you that from my conversations with ministry of defense officials, they have said that they are -- they are working very well on the battlefield, and that we are seeing, again we are seeing the Ukrainians use these capabilities with great proficiency and enhance their artillery operations.

STAFF:  All right.  Moving right along, Tony Capaccio, with Bloomberg.

Q:  Hi there.  I just unmuted myself.  SDO, I had a quick question about the air defense system.  What capability does this give the Ukrainians that they don't -- they don't possess now?  Is this the same system that's used around the United -- the National Capitol region and when do you anticipated Raytheon being put on contract for these two systems and delivering these two systems?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  OK.  So, going back to my earlier comment on timeline, I don't have a precise timeline.  We're just now working to put it on contract following the announcement.  So over time, we will have an update but I -- I don't have that for you today.  And in terms of air -- air defense systems, certainly the Ukrainians do have air defense systems, we've seen them operate the S-300 very, very effectively.  We've seen them be able to repair and get back in the fight multiple air defense systems that have, you know, have -- have -- had challenges whether targeted by Russia or otherwise.  But this particular system is, you know, it's U.S. and -- and Norwegian technology and it's a system that is operated by -- by NATO countries including as -- as you mentioned by -- by the U.S.

Q:  OK.  I want a quick follow-up.  On the 155 millimeter weapon -- ammunition, are any of the Excalibur GPS rounds going to be sent over?  An SDO earlier this week said the -- the U.S. was training Ukraine on the use of those shells.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  We do not have Excalibur rounds in -- in this package nor --

Q:  Nor have you sent them.  OK.  And then the Switchblade 600, there are 10 of those announced in the initial U.S. -- Ukrainian security assistance package in May -- May 4th.  They still haven't been put on contract yet.  Now, what's the status of those?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I do not have a status -- a precise status on those today, but we can take that one back and that one -- that one is knowable.  I just don't happen to have it at my fingertips.

Q:  Thank you very much.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I'd be happy to follow up.  Yes.

Q:  Please do. Thank you.

STAFF:  Thanks, Tony.  David Martin, CBS.

Q:  Thank you.  You said that the -- the Russians were paying a high price for tiny bits of gain.  Which side is paying the higher price Russia for its tiny bits of gain or Ukraine for its delaying action?  And -- and to brief questions about this -- this package, the fact that the 155 ammunition comes -- is not from a drawdown but from a -- a contract, does that mean the -- the U.S. is not comfortable with drawing down it's own stocks of 155 ammunition anymore?  And finally, with respect to the HIMARS, it says the -- the announcement says capabilities in this package include HIMARS.  That suggests that there are other capabilities within that $50 million, so what are those other capabilities?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  OK.  Thanks.  Very, very, very good questions.  So the capabilities include language, I -- I think honestly we just used the same formula we've been using in other packages and -- and, you're right the other packages have had multiple different capabilities.  In this case, this drawdown package only has these -- these munitions, these -- these guided multiple launch rocket system munitions for the HIMARS capability.  So that was just an awkward wording in -- in the announcement.  In terms of the question of 155 ammunition, we've -- we've done drawdowns for 155 and -- and we may very well do that again in the future, but in this case we're just trying to diversify how we are procuring this ammunition.  So it's just giving us additional options by being able to contract for it.

And then in terms of, you know, your question about cost, I think this is a -- a really tricky question because there's so much that goes into that question of what cost the country is paying.  When you look at, you know, Ukraine, I would never minimize the cost of losing, you know, losing any territory or the cost of these absolutely horrific civilian casualties that we are seeing.  Not to mention, of course, the cost of the Ukrainian armed forces’ lives but when you look at Russia you also have to look at the, you know, the cost to the -- to the Russian soldiers and families, the cost to the Russian equipment, we also should look at the cost to the country and the country's reputation in the world.  The Russian advances have -- have resulted in steep economic sanctions, isolation from the world and that is not letting up as long as Russia continues these advances.  So in that sense, it's an extremely high price that Russia is paying.

Q:  Well how about just on the battlefield?  Who's paying that higher battlefield price for this territory?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  You know, I don't have specific casualty figures on both sides, if that's -- if that's what you're asking.  So, yes, I don't have that --

Q:  I'm asking actually for a judgment not a -- not a number.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Again, my -- my judgment is that there -- that Russia is paying a -- a very steep price but, you know, Ukraine is -- is -- is paying a great price as well.  And I don't think you can, you can compare these things.

STAFF:  All right.  We'll move on to Heather, with USNI.

Q:  Thank you so much.  I was just wondering if you could say anything more about Snake Island and it was -- it was -- if you can confirm for sure that it was a harpoon that hit the supply ship?  And then, I noticed there wasn't any maritime elements in this assistance and I was wondering if that is because Ukraine is not asking for that at the moment?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Thanks.  It was a harpoon that hit that -- that Russian supply ship headed to Snake Island.  So I can confirm that.  In terms of this particular package and, you know, maritime capabilities, we actually did just have harpoon in the last Ukraine security assistance package, and we also had those riverine boats actually in the last drawdown package.  So, you know, we don't necessarily get every capability area in each package, but -- but as -- as you mentioned, we absolutely are being responsive to Ukrainian requests.

STAFF:  All right.  We have time for a couple more here.  Mike Stone, with Reuters.

Q:  Thanks for doing this.  Just to clean up on the 155 ammunition.  It -- tell me it’s coming out of USAI in order to diversify how it's paid for, is that right?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Well also the sources, so this is coming -- this is going directly to industry and, you know, and other sources.  It's not coming straight from U.S. military stocks.

Q:  OK.  So the -- the radars, are they 36's or are they 37's?  That's the first question, and the second question is the NASAM model, is that the latest and greatest that's coming off the line or are they taking something that's out of mothball?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I, you know, I'm not going to comment on the specific technical capabilities of the NASAMs but I -- I can tell you on the radar, it's Q-37 is the type of radar.

Q:  But you can't say whether or not the NASAM is new or old?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yes, I'm not going to -- I'm not going to comment on those specifics.  Sorry.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  All right.  Paul Handley, AFP.

Q:  Hi, I got a couple questions.  One is, have you seen signs of the Russians beefing up their forces in Kharkiv and Kherson to fend off or push back Ukraine troops?  And the second question is, there's all -- this has been for a while, they talk about the limitations the U.S. has placed on some of the ammunition and missiles it's given to Ukraine.  If you're not giving them longer range things, are you effectively tying their arms behind their backs, that they can't reach Russian encampments and supply lines that are further away from the frontlines?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  OK.  So on the first question about Kherson, that is a good question about whether the Russians are actually adding additional forces there.  I don't have any specific information on that but certainly the Ukrainians have applied additional pressure on Russian forces in that area.  So, you know, I don't happen to have any -- any particular insight on this but I think -- I think it's an excellent question and one that I'll be looking out for.  In terms of the -- the range of the systems, the GMLRS that we're providing for the HIMARS have a 70 kilometer range.  So they actually can reach any area of Ukrainian territory where you would have Russian forces that the Ukrainians are seeking to target.  So we see this as -- as a highly capable system for their operating environment.

Q: I'm -- I'm sorry but from the lines in-- in-- in eastern -- in eastern Ukraine to get close -- even close to the Russian border it's more like 150, 160 kilometers.  That's said -- that puts the Russian supply lines, essential supply lines out of range.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  All I can say is, you know, I've -- I've looked at this in terms of the placement of these HIMARS and the position of -- of Russian forces and Russian targets, and they are reachable.

Q:  And just one point, it also puts Russian targets -- targets in Crimea out of range.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Again, I'll just -- I'll just stand by my initial points that, you know, at the 70 kilometer --

Q:  OK.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  -- range with highly accurate capability, this is a capability that enables the Ukrainians to be able to -- to target the Russian targets that they need to.

Q:  Thank you.

STAFF:  Alright folks.  Thank you guys very much.  We're at the 30-minute mark.  We will do a hard stop here.  Appreciate your time, have a -- a great and safe weekend and we'll see you all again on Tuesday.  Thank you.