STAFF: Good afternoon, everyone. Today was the fourth convening of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, the second one held virtually.
We'll start with some opening remarks by the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin and by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley. Following their remarks, we'll open the floor up to some questions.
And with that, Mr. Secretary?
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Thanks. Well, good afternoon, everyone. It's good to be here with you.
We've had a very productive morning in our fourth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which we conducted virtually this time. Russia's cruel and unprovoked invasion has spurred the international community into action and today's meeting is just another sign of the way that nations of goodwill are rising to the moment. The security assistance that we are rushing to Ukraine is making a real difference in real time and everyone in the Contact Group has been inspired by the courage of the Ukrainian people and the skill of the Ukrainian military. And that's why ministers and chiefs of defense from some 50 countries joined us today at our meeting.
Now, throughout its reckless war of choice, Russia has tried and failed to break the morale of the Ukrainian Armed Forces as they defend their home. Ukraine's leadership also stands unbowed and unflinching. And we were fortunate today to have the opportunity to hear directly from my good friend, Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine's Minister of Defense, and Lt. Gen. Moysiuk, Ukraine's Deputy Chief of Defense.
I'm grateful to these brave leaders for taking the time to update us on Ukraine's most urgent requirements. They also provided us with an important battlefield update and they described how Russia is massing artillery and rocket fire in its desperate, aggressive push to seize sovereign Ukrainian territory in the Donbas.
Everyone today understands the stakes, but the results of the Contact Group's security assistance are clear on the ground. Ukrainian forces are now using long-range rocket systems to great effect, including HIMARS provided by the United States, and other systems from our allies and partners. Ukraine's defenders are pushing hard to halt Russia's advances in the Donbas.
The international community has also worked hard to provide Ukraine with better coastal defense capabilities, and that directly contributed to Ukraine's victory on Snake Island and it has helped prevent a Russian landing in Odesa.
But Russia is keeping up its relentless shelling and that's a cruel tactic that harkens back to the horrors of World War I. So Ukraine needs the firepower and the ammunition to withstand its barrage and to strike back at the Russia -- Russian weapons launching these attacks from inside Ukraine's own territory.
And so we understand the urgency and we're pushing hard to maintain and intensify the momentum of donations. That includes many new announcements made this morning. We're seeing countries from all around the world continue to step up with critically needed systems and ammunition. It has been truly an inspiring effort.
And some of our allies and partners are training Ukraine's forces, some are refurbishing Ukraine's equipment, and some are providing spare parts and combat enablers as well. Countries, including the Czech Republic, Poland and the UK, are working with their domestic industrial bases to find ways to help Ukraine even more quickly, and other countries, such as our Baltic and Australian allies, continue to generously deliver items from their own stockpiles.
I'm especially grateful to Poland for serving as a linchpin of our security assistance efforts, as well as donating more than $1.7 billion in military equipment. I'd like to thank Norway for its strong cooperation in providing Ukraine with the NASAMS air defense system. I'm very thankful to these countries and to all the countries that have offered aid. I'm confident that these efforts will continue to grow.
Now, as you know, we've provided the Ukrainians with 12 HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems to further strengthen their long-range fires capability and I think that everyone here understands the difference that they've made on the ground.
As you heard me say, we're also committed to providing two NASAMS air defense systems to help Ukraine protect its troops and its civilians from Russian missile attacks. And we're committed to sending more HIMARS munitions and precision-guided artillery ammunition and other vital support.
The United States will continue to push and to lead. You see that yet again in our next new presidential drawdown of weapons and equipment to help Ukraine defend itself, which we'll announce later this week. It will be our sixteenth drawdown of equipment from DOD inventory since August 2021. It will include four more HIMARS advanced rocket systems for a total of 16. The Ukrainians have made excellent use of HIMARS and you can see the impact on the battlefield. And the new package will also include additional GMLRS, and that's -- those are the rockets that -- that are used on a HIMARS. And we'll also provide more rounds of artillery ammunition.
Now we're not working just to provide security assistance in the short term. One key theme of today's discussion was ensuring that Ukraine can sustain the fight to defend itself and its citizens. So we're even more focused on Ukraine's near-term needs -- as we're even more focused on Ukraine's near-term needs, we're also looking ahead to provide Ukraine with the capabilities that it will need for deterrence and self-defense over the longer term.
You know the resolve of the -- the resolve and the resilience of the Ukrainian people have inspired the world. And as President Biden has said, the United States is leading the way and we won't let up. We're going to keep moving at the speed of war. We're going to make clear that might does not make right. We're going to stand strong with our fellow Contact Group members. And we're going to support Ukraine's self-defense for the long haul. And we're going to defend the rules-based international order that protects us all.
So thank you very much. And I will now turn it over to Gen. Milley.
GENERAL MARK MILLEY: Good afternoon, everyone.
And thank you, Secretary Austin, for your comments and also for your continued leadership. This group -- this Contact Group content would not be happening without you.
And I too want to thank all the members, the ministers, the chiefs of defense that participated today, over 50 countries in this Contact Group. And it's quite a meeting.
Additionally, I'd like to thank Gen. Moisyuk. He's the Ukrainian deputy chief of defense. He represented my friend, my partner, my colleague, Ukrainian counterpart who I talk to frequently, Gen. Zaluzhnyi. And I just had a lengthy conversation with him just the other day. And I talk to him several times a week.
Today is five months since Russia launched its illegal invasion. While the Russians have achieved some incremental tactical success in the Donbas, over the last several weeks and actually months, they have failed to achieve their strategic and operational objectives. A capable and defiant people of Ukraine, their capital still stands, their army still fights, and their people are more determined now than ever to preserve their democracy.
The Russian failure is because of the inspiring, the bravery, the resolve, the courage, the resistance of the Ukrainian people. But it's also because of nations coming together, the international community coming together under U.S. leadership to form this present day Arsenal of Democracy. Freedom-loving countries around the globe have a stake in preserving the rules-based international order. Collectively we cannot allow the strong to conquer the weak, nor tolerate the idea that might makes right.
The unprovoked Russian aggression has profound consequences, not only in Ukraine, but across Europe and, indeed, across the globe. So the president of the United States has directed that we stand by Ukraine in their hour of need. So we will continue to supply the Ukrainians with the weapons that they need to defend their homeland and resist Russian aggression.
When I addressed this group last month, we were in the midst of shipping HIMARS into Ukraine and training the Ukrainians on that weapon system. Today, the Ukrainians are effectively employing these HIMARS, with strikes against Russian command and control nodes, their logistical networks, their field artillery near defense sites and many other targets.
These strikes are steadily degrading the Russian ability to supply their troops, command and control of their forces, and carry out their illegal war of aggression.
The fact that the Ukrainians were able to quickly deploy these systems speaks highly of their ability, their ingenuity, their artillery ability, their gunner capability, their determination, and their will to fight.
As of today, we have transferred 12 HIMARS to Ukraine. This is part of more than 20 that the United States and our allies have committed. Trained also are 200 Ukrainians on the HIMARS and that training continues with many more. And we've transferred, as the secretary indicated, hundreds of GMLR munitions.
When the president signs the authorization to provide weapons or ammunition to Ukrainians, these items begin moving within days. The average is about 48 to 72 hours before the initial shipments. And they're in Ukrainian hands just a week or so later, on the front line.
Secretary Austin and I remain in regular contact with our Ukrainian counterparts, and everything we recommended to the president is based on these conversations and our professional analysis here and in combination with USEUCOM. And that is to support the requirements of the current and future fight.
This phase, the current phase of the war, continues to be a battle of attrition, executed through sustainment and really, long-range fires.
In the near term, the Russians will likely continue using heavy artillery bombardments to achieve their limited gains in the East. However, these tactical gains have come at an incredible cost, in terms of Russian casualties and destroyed equipment.
The Contact Group that met today intends to continue supplying the Ukrainians to defend their country, impose costs and compel the Russians to cease their unprovoked war of aggression.
Today is day 147 since the Russian invasion: illegal and unprovoked; large scale; the strong against the weak. And this fight will likely continue to be a protracted conflict. And so, our discussion as a contact group focused on assisting the Ukrainians to sustain the long fight: How can we best arm and train them so they can continue to defend their country and exhaust the Russian military machine?
In the coming weeks and months, this group will continue to stand alongside our Ukrainian partners and defend the international rules-based order, which is in everyone's interest.
Thank you and I welcome your questions.
STAFF: Lolita Baldor, Associated Press.
Q: Thank you.
Mr. Secretary, can you talk to us a little bit more about this logistics and sustainment effort? What is the U.S. specifically doing? Are you adding more trainers? Are you -- is the -- are you doing anything specifically to help Ukraine with this sustainment and logistical issue? And how long do you think the allies and partners will continue to support this effort?
And Chairman Milley, can you give us your military assessment of what is going on in the Donbas right now? Can you give us a picture of how much, if any, gains Ukraine may be making or not making? Is the Donbas lost at this point to Russia?
SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, Lita.
Well, first of all, sustainment is -- is a key part of -- of any military operation, and when you're in combat, it's really, really important. So it's not good enough just to provide a piece of equipment. We need to have the -- that -- that piece of gear plus spare parts, plus tools to -- to repair it, you know, at the operational level, down at the -- the forward edge of the battlefield. Then the second level of maintenance needs to be available as well, and then that depot level of maintenance, where you have to replace a tube or do something of that nature that's major maintenance, those pieces need to be in place as well.
So as we -- as we discussed with our partners and allies today on what Ukraine's needs are going forward, these are the kinds of things that we talked about. We know that because there are a number of different types of pieces of equipment that are -- that are in the inventory now, that it's important that the Ukrainians be trained on how to maintain that equipment.
So what we're doing is -- is conducting training in a number of locations on how to -- how to maintain equipment. We're also trying to increase our visibility of -- in -- in -- of what -- what's -- what the status of different pieces of equipment are so we can anticipate what logistical needs we'll -- we'll -- we'll see in the -- in the near term.
But -- but I think the sustainment piece is -- is really, really important. Coincidentally, the Ukrainians think it's important. And I have to applaud them -- they are very resourceful, their ability to very quickly learn how to operate and maintain a piece of equipment is really impressive.
And so we've seen them exercise initiative, you know, on the battlefield. We've also seen them learn very, very quickly as we have brought troops out of country and into neighboring countries to train them on things like HIMARS and -- and our trucks and -- and other things. So this will be a -- an area of focus for the foreseeable future, as it should be.
In terms of how long, you know, our allies and partners will remain committed, you know, I -- I -- it -- it's -- the -- there's no question that this is -- this will always be hard work, making sure that we maintain unity. And I -- I will tell you, what I heard today, though, in the -- in the meeting was -- you know, commitment across the board and -- and a -- and a focus on, you know, continuing to do the -- what's necessary to ensure that Ukraine had what it needs. I mean, that -- that was really impressive and this was -- these were spontaneous comments. And -- and so, you know, across the board, from minister to minister, that -- that was really, really encouraging and -- and refreshing to hear, but -- but not really surprising.
But -- but we know, Lita, that this is going to be work that we're going to have to remain -- maintain focus on going forward, so.
GEN. MILLEY: So Lita, you know, the -- the -- the invasion begins 24 February, and -- and -- and then about mid-April, 16 April, in fact, the Russians decide they're going to go ahead and shift their war aims and come out of the Kyiv lines of advance and mass their forces down to the vicinity of the -- the Donbas.
So for the last 90 days, the Russians have massed their ground maneuver forces in that region and the Ukrainians have fought a very effective mobile defense in depth -- an area of defense in depth anchored on very strong points in -- in urban and village areas, and they have fought the Russians very effectively.
So for 90 days, the Russian advances have amounted to maybe six to 10 miles, something of that range. It's not very much. It's very intense, a lot of violence, tens of thousands of artillery rounds every 24-hour period, lots of casualties on both sides, lots of destruction of -- of villages and -- and -- and so on. But in terms of actual ground gain, very, very little by the Russians, relative to all of Ukraine.
As you know, the Ukrainians conducted a controlled, deliberate, planned withdrawal from Severodonetsk. They conducted a rearward passage of lines and conducted a rear river crossing and they set up a new line generally to the west of Severodonetsk, and they are continuing significant resistance.
In addition to that, in the Russian-occupied areas, you have significant resistance behind Russian lines, so to speak. So the -- the Russians are challenged not only to their front, with the Ukrainian conventional forces, but they're also challenged in their rear areas. Their rear areas are not secure, for sure, and the Ukrainians have very effective resistance networks set up.
So the bottom line is, the cost is very high, the gains are very low, there is a grinding war of attrition that is occurring in the -- in the Luhansk, Donbas region, Luhansk, Donetsk, the two (inaudible) of Donbas, and to answer your question about is the Donbas lost, no, it's not lost yet. The Ukrainians are making the Russians pay for every inch of territory that they gain. And -- and advances are measured in literally hundreds of meters on a -- on a -- some days, you might get a kilometer or two out of the Russians, but not much more than that. So high cost, battle of attrition, grinding, not lost yet in -- in -- in the Donbas, and the Ukrainians intend to continue the fight.
STAFF: Luis Martinez, ABC News?
Q: Mr. Secretary, Foreign Minister -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov earlier today said that the special military operation – as they called it -- in Ukraine is no longer limited to just the Donbas, but it will include other territories in Ukraine. Specifically, he cited the HIMARS. I mean, you've both been talking about the HIMARS today. But he talked about how the HIMARS have kind of led to this in a way because they could lead to attacks inside of Russian territory. What's your reaction to that, please?
And General, when we talk about the near term needs, we -- when we talk about HIMARS, the Ukrainians and other experts have talked about the need for dozens more HIMARS systems. Can the U.S. actually provide that without it impacting your active duty component? And in terms of long term, as we -- you've been talking about today, what does that mean for potentially training of pilots here in the United States, down in the long run?
SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, Luis.
I -- I'm sure that Ukrainian leadership will be pleased to hear Lavrov's confirmation of the effectiveness of not only that system, but how they're using that system. As you know, Russians are currently in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia.
So the -- the Russian forces, they're -- they're there now, so you have to wonder who he's talking to. There's -- it's -- that's not a surprise to -- to any of us or anybody in Europe or anybody around the globe. I think he's talking to the people in Russia who have been ill-informed throughout.
You've heard us talk -- mention this before in terms of what Putin's objectives are. He has stated a number of times, you know, that this is a limited operations focused on the Donbas. His actions have proven otherwise. And we have known or suspected -- not suspected, but known – our allies and partners have known that he has greater ambitions. And Lavrov just confirmed that today.
So, again, no surprise to anybody that's been a part of this or even watching this remotely, maybe a surprise to the Russian people who Putin has been lying to the entire time.
GEN. MILLEY: So, Luis, let me frame it for you.
This is still a large-scale battle of fires on both sides, although the Ukrainians are using very effective defensive maneuver, as I mentioned earlier. In terms of fires, HIMARS provides you long-range rocket fire with great precision in addition to the 777 155 and the other countries are providing M109 and 155. So that gets you into the 40 kilometer range.
And then you get your 105s and then you come back to your mortars. So you've got an echelonment of fires from deep to the close fight. And the Ukrainians have, as I -- I think I mentioned this before, Ukrainians have excellent artillery soldiers. Excellent gunners, as the British would call them. And they're being very, very effective.
To date, the HIMARS that we have provided them – and we're not the only country, by the way, other countries are providing long-range fires as well. Britain, for example, and some others are donating long-range rocket artillery.
To date, those systems have not been eliminated by the Russians and I knock on wood every time I say something like that. And they're being very effective at using them, employing precision weapons against targets.
The issue is not so much the system, the actual launcher, the issue will become ammunition and the consumption rates and the amount of weapon -- the amount of ammunition that's fired out of the HIMARS. We are looking at all of that very, very carefully on a day-to-day basis. We advised the secretary where we think the levels of risk are to our own force in terms of our readiness and capability and our equipment.
We think we're OK right now. And as we project forward into the next month or two or three, we think we're going to be OK. And we also are tied in very, very closely through the DepSecDef with the industrial base and the production management techniques that we have to continue to produce those weapons systems.
So it's not so much the launcher, but it's the ammunition.
Q: And the flight training?
GEN. MILLEY: I'm sorry?
Q: Potential flight training in the United States?
GEN. MILLEY: On the flight training, yes, we -- as you know we look at all kinds of options to present to the secretary and the president. And there's been no decisions on any of that, but we do examine a wide variety of options, to include pilot training.
STAFF: Barb Starr, CNN.
Q: Secretary Austin, could I ask you your assessment of do you -- now that Putin has been to Tehran, do you assess that Iran is going to get more involved, that they -- that he is going to get Iranian drones as has there been some evidence of? And how would -- how do you assess Iran's involvement in all of this? And the question on flight training, do you have a view on this long-term support, whether it would be an appropriate idea for the U.S. to help train a Ukrainian tactical air force, if you will?
And, Gen. Milley, on the question of this Russian war of attrition, if you will, do you see that -- what's your assessment? Do you see that continuing just forever or do you still have fundamental concerns that Russia could stage some kind of break-out or a sudden escalation and just throw everything at Ukraine even back towards Kyiv at some point, back towards the rest of the country? Are they just going to grind away or do you think they still have deeper, further intentions towards Ukraine?
Thank you both.
SEC. AUSTIN: So, Barb, on the issue of -- and thanks for the question.
But on the issue of Iranian support to Russia, we would -- we would advise Iran to not -- to not do that. We think it's a really, really bad idea. And I'll leave that at that.
On the issue of whether or not on the training of Ukrainians to, you know, in terms of pilot training and that sort of thing, certainly, as the chairman said, we're going to continue to look at, you know, what will be needed now and down the road.
Right now we're focused on helping them be successful in the fight that they're in and employing the weapon systems that they need to be successful in that fight. As we give them -- provide them more capable weapons systems, more sophisticated weapon systems, it will be important to use those systems properly.
And it will be important to integrate systems to create the effects on a battlefield that prevent opportunities for the -- for the Ukrainians. And that will begin to change the dynamics in some cases on the battlefield.
So, you've seen them take out -- use the HIMARS to take out command and control nodes, ammunition supply points and a number of other things and that affects the tempo of the fight and potentially creates some opportunities here.
So, there's a lot more to be done. The HIMARS alone will not change or win or lose a fight, but it's the integration of a number of capabilities that we have provided and are looking at providing down the road. But most importantly, our allies are providing as well. So, we're looking at a lot of things, everything. But in terms of predicting where we're going to be with pilot training, in months or years, I won't venture to do that at this point.
I will say that the Ukrainians do have -- their Air Force does have a capability as we speak and are using some of that capability on a daily basis.
GEN. MILLEY: So, Barbara, I -- you know, as far as Russian intentions, obviously, we have lots of analysts that look at that on a day-to-day basis. And I'm not going to comment on what I think their future intentions are here at the podium. Except to say that, you know, their past behavior's been an illegal aggressive war inside Ukraine. And unless stopped, that the aggression unless stopped typically continues. So, but specific aims and objectives that the Russians may have, I'll remain silent on that.
And in terms of what you asked about could it go in directions of, I think, escalation. Those kinds of terms that you were referring to, we look at it as most likely most dangerous courses of action that an opponent may -- an enemy may take. And so, we think of those.
In terms of the most dangerous, of course, there's -- you can -- it doesn't take me at a podium to talk about what they might be, you can figure that out on your own. But there's possibilities in various domains, geography, weapon systems, et cetera. There's always a possibility of that.
I can tell you that we look very, very closely at that every single day. We're in a constant monitoring mode on any forms of escalation by Russia that could have significant impact on the United States, NATO or -- or -- or Ukraine or anything else. We're constantly advising the -- the secretary to that.
In terms of most likely, though, at this point -- and -- and this is always subject to -- to debate -- but at this point, we have a very serious ground -- grind -- grinding war of attrition going on in the Donbas, and -- and unless there's a breakthrough on either side, which right now the analysts don't think is particularly likely in the near term, but unless there's a breakthrough, it'll probably continue as a grinding war of attrition for a period of time until both sides see an alternative way out of this, perhaps through negotiation or something like that.
But right now, in terms of most likely, most dangerous, that's kind of the way we're looking at it. There's a lot of detail that goes behind that, which I won't comment on at this point, in terms of the detail, but that's the broad outline of what we're looking at.
Q: Can I follow up briefly, sir, on what the secretary was saying about Iran and him not wanting to talk about it in detail? Is there any reason that Iran should be worried that the United States doesn't think it's a good idea for them to get involved? You know, why would they care? They'll just -- wouldn't they just do what they want?
GEN. MILLEY: Well, you know, I'm -- those are policy questions, Barbara, and -- and -- and so I'm not going to go beyond that at the -- at the microphone. I don't think that would be wise to do that. I don't think it's a good idea that Iran is providing UAVs or other weapons systems that are being commented on in the media to -- to Russia and we'll see where all that goes.
STAFF: Let's wrap this up with Tom Bowman from National Public Radio.
Q: Mr. Secretary, so you’re going to send 16 HIMARS to Ukraine, as you said -- any sense -- you said you'd be sending more -- any sense, a ballpark, how many more systems you'll be sending? Is it double that number or even more? Number one.
And number two, as the general said, the rounds being shot by the HIMARS can go 40 kilometers, but there are more sophisticated rounds that can go up to 180 miles, like the Army's ATACM system. That would allow the Ukrainians to hit Russian targets all over the country, including into Crimea. So are you considering longer range rounds for Ukraine?
SEC. AUSTIN: The -- thanks, Tom. And the range of a HIMARS or GMLRS round is -- is 80 kilometers. And so that's pretty good reach, and -- and so it has allowed and will continue to allow them to -- to get after those longer range targets that they've been unable to reach, and I think they've been very effective in -- in the way that they've gone about targeting. And -- and so they're creating effects that I think we'll -- we'll see pay dividends going forward.
And -- and just for clarification, we've provided them 12 systems to date. I just said we're going to provide them another four. That brings the total up to 16, not -- not an additional 16. I just want to make sure we're clear on that.
And -- and so as the chairman has said, you know, we -- we are in contact with Minister Reznikov and -- and the chief of defense every week. And -- and, you know, we're -- we're listening to what's going on with the fight and getting their analysis and then providing them capability as -- as needed.
Now, providing a weapon system is one thing, but you have to provide the training for the weapon system along with that -- with that, and you have to have the -- the munitions to -- to match the weapon system.
And again, if we're -- we're thoughtful about how we're using these systems -- these are pretty sophisticated systems, they're incredibly accurate -- and so how you employ them and -- and -- and how you integrate that system with other battlefield systems, I think, is pretty key.
And -- and so announcing a number for the future now, I don't think is -- provide much value in -- in -- in -- provides much value, in my opinion. Again, we'll stay focused on what they believe their requirements are, based upon what the -- how the battle is unfolding, so.
Q: (Inaudible) again, wouldn't you want to provide longer range systems -- or rounds that could hit into Crimea and also that bridge that connects the Russian mainland with Crimea?
SEC. AUSTIN: We think we're -- we're -- what they have, what -- and -- and what they're working with has -- has really given them a lot of capability. So it -- it really is -- I mean, it'll be based upon how they're prosecuting this fight and what their needs are, so.
GEN. MILLEY: The other thing I'd say, Tom, on that is you get six rounds out of the -- out of a HIMARS. With the GMLRS, you only get one if you use ATACMS. So the -- you know, the -- there -- there's a difference here in volume. Volume matters. And they're both point, they're both precision, and they -- they're both very effective, but right now, the GMLRS is really fulfilling their need, and every time I talk to Gen. Zaluzhnyi, they're being very, very successful with them.
STAFF: Thanks, everyone.