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Senior Military Official and Senior Defense Official Hold a Background Briefing

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thanks, everyone for joining us today. Before we kick things off just a reminder that today's briefing will be on background. Our two briefers will be the (redacted), and me, (redacted). You may attribute (redacted) comments to a Senior Defense Official and my comments to a Senior Military Official. I'll turn it over to our senior defense official in a moment who will provide some brief remarks, and then I'll provide a brief ops update, and then we'll be happy to take your questions. We do have a limited amount of time today. So, we will call on reporters and just ask that you limit your follow ups. And again, today's briefing is on background.

With that. Let me turn it over to our senior defense official.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Great, thanks.

Hi. I thought I just the context, in addition to the battle that you're seeing unfold, which I know (SMO) will speak to is we just returned from the fifth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group that Secretary Austin has convened in this time again in Ramstein where we started and 48 countries (inaudible – AUDIO ISSUE)

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  OK, can you hear us now? Did you hear (inaudible)?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Great. OK. So, 48 countries and two international organizations. The -- there were two I would bucket the focus of our objectives and our achievements at the meeting, as first to continue to ensure that all the countries who have been contributing and has been participating are aware of and delivering the capabilities that Ukraine needs right now for the fight against Russia, on in Ukraine to defend the country and retain Ukrainian sovereignty. And at this meeting, there was a strong focus as well on what is necessary to provide Ukraine capabilities over the medium to longer term, recognizing that Russia needs to understand that the international community stands behind Ukraine, that Russia can't count somehow on holding out and waiting until the international community weakens, that the message is clearly that we are thinking about both in terms of the defense industrial base being able to provide the capabilities that Ukraine needs in the future for an effective defense and therefore effective deterrence, and the kinds of training that Ukraine will require. We've all been working on training in the immediate context to be able to support the Ukrainian fight today. But as we look down the road, what kinds of different training programs will Ukraine require? And so, those were the focus of both sides of the Contact Group. And countries were really united in that longer term perspective, as well as making sure that they're focused on continuing the supply of capabilities for Ukraine immediately.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thank you very much.

And I'll provide a quick ops update here. So, today is 201 of Russia's illegal and unprovoked large-scale invasions of Ukraine. There's certainly plenty of reporting on Ukraine’s forward movement over the past day, so I'll aim to keep that in context of what we've seen in more than six months of fighting. And as always, we're sensitive to the fact that Ukrainians are actively engaged in combat operations as they fight to defend their nation and take back territory from Russia's invasion. So, I won't talk to potential future operations or discuss areas that could violate operations security, and we'll leave it to the Ukrainians to describe their operations, but it's clear they're fighting hard.

Generally, around the battlefield, overall, we assess the Ukrainians are making progress as they fight to liberate and reclaim territory in the south and east. On the ground in the vicinity of Kharkiv, we assess that Russian forces have largely ceded their gains to the Ukrainians and have withdrawn. To the north and east many of these forces have moved over the border into Russia. We also assess that Ukrainian forces have very likely taken control of Kupiansk and Izium in addition to smaller villages. Notably, we're aware of anecdotal reports of abandoned equipment, Russian equipment, which could be indicative of Russia's disorganized command and control. It is our assessment that Russian forces continue to focus effort from Seversk to Bakhmut, and Bakhmut continues to appear to be the focus of where Russian forces are trying to gain ground. We continue to see heavy use of artillery and airstrikes.

Zaporizhzhia, as many of you have likely seen, the IAEA has reported the last reactor has been shut down and put into its safest state. And we continue to observe shelling in the area near the plant. In the vicinity of Kherson, we continue to see deliberate and calibrated operations by the Ukrainians to include some moderate forward movement. And on the maritime side, in terms of the maritime picture, we would assess the Russians have about a dozen ships underway in the Black Sea that includes caliber capable ships that have contributed to strikes in Ukraine and supporting the Russian invasion. We also continue to see grain shipments moving safely. In the air, we assess the airspace over Ukraine remains contested, and that Russians have conducted increased airstrikes over the weekend, many impacting civilian infrastructure which have contributed to widespread blackouts.

And with that, we are happy to take your questions. I'll start with AP (Lita Baldor).

Q:  Hi, thank you. For -- for (SMO), can you, you mentioned sort of looking down the road at training. Can you give us a sense of the types of training that is being considered for the Ukrainians kind of in the future and what the U.S. might be willing to do? And then (SDO), can you give us a sense of whether or not the U.S. is seeing any evidence of Russian troops either regrouping or coalescing, or is it -- is it scattered? Do you see any kind of effort for Russia to try and regain some battle rhythm?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Sure. On training, the United States is already has been for a couple of months now been training Ukrainian forces on how to operate some of the newer, more modern capabilities that we have been supplying to Ukraine over the past few months, as well as maintenance, repair and sustainment of those capabilities. So, we would certainly continue that area of training. Some countries have begun to invest in and work on basic training for incoming Ukrainian soldiers. And the leaders discussed looking forward, then the next logical step in that progression, which is higher level unit training, continuing to look at making sure that you have the sort of training for capabilities that may be being delivered in the future things that, for example, the United States, has now moved forward to procure for Ukraine through USAI system -- air defense systems such as NASAMS. So, we remain committed to making sure that Ukraine has the training that it needs to effectively employ weapon systems and defense systems that we will be providing, but also that full range of basic to higher unit training, higher level unit training that they'll require for an effective military.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  And Lita, in terms of what we're seeing the Russians as mentioned, they certainly have appeared to be withdrawn from that Kharkiv area that I highlighted. In terms of what they do next, certainly, I don't want to speculate. We've seen reports, of course, coming out of Russia saying that they intend to redeploy or to recommit. But that's something that we'll continue to monitor and keep an eye on. Ultimately, our focus right now is on continuing to provide the Ukrainians with what they need, broadly speaking, in this engagement, but as far as what the Russians do, you know.

All right. Let's go to Dan Lamonthe, Washington Post.

Q:  Hey, good afternoon. A question for either of you if I could please. For (SMO), the games over the weekend are encouraging for Ukrainian in the West, but can you put them into broader context? It still seems like went a long way up in negotiations and it still seems like this could, you know, probably drag on for years or months at least. And then, for (SDO), please, the gains by Ukraine have sparked a conversation about broader support. The German Minister this morning fielded questions about whether to send fighter jets, battle tanks, the Lithuanian Minister has raised the same. Do you think these gains in recent days changed the game at all in terms of the kind of support U.S. officials should provide? Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks, Dan. So, in terms of providing the strategic context, you know, this continues to be a tough fight for the Ukrainians. Clearly, they've gained back some ground near Kharkiv, and they continue to conduct counter offensive operations in the south. And so, I don't think there's any misconception that this will continue to be a tough fight. And, again, our focus will be to continue to work closely with the Ukrainians and the international community to provide them with the support that they need, as they push back on the Russian invaders.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yeah and thinking about future capabilities that Ukraine will require as you note, this is now a matter of not just private, but even public discussion. Clearly, leaders across Europe and the international community are beginning to think of that longer term context. I would say we will continue, the United States will continue with our approach, which we think has been successful to date, which is first and foremost, to be in constant contact and conversation with Ukrainian armed forces to understand how they see their needs. Second, to categorize those needs in terms of kinds of capabilities to achieve certain objectives, such as, for example, air defense capabilities. And then third, to think about specific systems that would bring those capabilities effectively to the Ukrainians in a sustainable way. So, for example, in the air defense space, looking at UAVs, both strike and surveillance UAVs and those modern air defense capabilities. That's just one area of capabilities as an example. Certainly, fighter aircraft is something to consider as part of you what Ukraine's requirements would be going forward. They do currently possess fighter aircraft, and they've been effective under tough conditions in making use of those in some regards. So, that will have to be part of -- that's another example of a capability that will have to be part of an assessment of that medium to longer term, which we will do in close consultation with the Ukrainians.

Q:  If I could follow up there. What's the DoD perspective at this point on the battle tank discussion?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  You know, again, the Ukrainians are showing that they are quite effective in the counter offensive in using armor as part of their counter offensive. So, clearly, that kind of capability is important. But we don't have any specific plans about a specific capability at this point for that medium to longer term thinking about actual programs of provision.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Let's go to Oren Lieberman, CNN.

Q:  Hey, two quick questions, if I may. Sorry about that. Just took me a while to unmute.

First, I was wondering if you can give us an update on the Ukrainian Air Force. It's been some time since we've gotten an update on background on, you know, what sort of numbers of sorties are they flying? And are they -- have they expanded the sort of range of operations or what they're able to do, especially given the HARMS and other capabilities the U.S. has given them? And then more broadly speaking, given Russian failures, withdrawals on the battlefield here, is there a U.S. concern that Putin could escalate in some way that he hasn't done before, whether that's some sort of chemical biological attacks and going nuclear? Does that appear more likely now that did, say, two weeks ago?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks very much, Oren. In terms of the Ukrainian Air Force, I'm not going to, you know, for operational security reasons, I'm not going to be able to discuss that level of detail, and I'll refer you to the Ukrainians to talk about their current operations as far as their air force goes. Clearly, as was mentioned, they have an Air Force, and they have an air capability that they're employing. In terms of, you know, potential escalation from the Russians, certainly nothing, in particular, indicating that that could be the case. We're monitoring that closely. Certainly, as evidenced by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, we have seen what they are capable of doing. But it's something that we'll continue to keep an eye on.

Q:  Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  All right.

Let's go ahead and go to Howard Altman, WarZone.

Q:  Thanks. Sorry, I had to find the unmute. A couple of questions. First of all, Ukrainians are talking about being concerned about consolidation as they move forward, particularly in the Kharkiv offensive. How concerned are you about them being overextended and having a -- being susceptible to Russia counterattack? That's one question. The second question is, are you seeing -- We're seeing some chatter on social media about attacks in the Rostov area, the Taganrog airbase, et cetera. Are you seeing anything along those lines? Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thanks, Howard. Yeah, in terms of, you know, where the Ukrainians are and what they're thinking about potential Russian operations, I'd refer you to them to talk about that aspect of the campaign. And I'm sorry, can you say your second part of your question again?

Q:  Yeah, sure. So, are you seeing any indication of attacks on Russian bases in the east of the Azov Sea Rostov area, that Taganrog airbase? There's been some online reporting about that, but are you seeing anything along those lines?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, I don't have anything on that, Howard. Thank you, though.

All right. Let's go to Mike Brest, Washington Examiner.

Q:  Hi, thanks for taking my question. Could you please give us an update on Russia's use or attempt to procure weapons from any foreign countries? Iran, North Korea or any third party? Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yep. Thanks very much, Mike. Well, as has been mentioned, you know, they have received delivery of some drones from Iran and have also reached out to North Korea to request ammunition. Beyond that I don't have any new updates to provide.

Let's go to Jack Destch, Foreign Policy.

Q:  Thanks so much. I'm just curious if you can describe militarily the factors that contributed to the Russian collapse? I mean, are these all units melting away? Were the Ukrainians scoring casualties here? And just an update, if you could, on what the U.S. knows about anything going on with Russian unit morale after these Ukrainian gains?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, so broadly speaking, what I would say Jack is that the Ukrainians have essentially presented the Russians with multiple dilemmas along the forward line of troops, so to speak. And so, we've seen the Ukrainians used to great effect, the capabilities that they have across the battlefield, to change the battlefield dynamics. And so, while again, you know, it's really for Russia to answer the question in terms of why their forces reacted the way that they did up in the Kharkiv region, it is indicative of the reports that we've seen in terms of low morale, logistics issues, the inability to sustain operations. And so, again, this is something that you need to keep an eye on. But I think, again, you're seeing just a change in the equation when it comes to the dynamics on the battlefield.

Alright, let's go to Jim Garimone, DoD News.

Q:  Thanks. Thanks for doing this. (SDO), during the during the contact meeting, the Secretary said the next meeting would include the defense industrial base leader. So, I'm wondering if there's a little more to that a little more granularity to that. And (SDO) I'm just I'm just curious, what are the reports of prisoners taken by the Ukrainians? Are they -- are they taking prisoners? Any idea of the scope of that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  OK, Jim, on now, I was listening to your dog bark. So, I forgot what your question was. I'm sorry. I was trying to imagine what kind of dog you have. (inaudible) The next meeting of the Contact Group. So, the next the meeting that was announced is not the Contact Group itself. It would be a meeting under the auspices of the contract group, and it would be we expect a subset of contact group members who wish to bring together their national armaments directors to meet with Undersecretary LaPlante, who is the undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment. To follow up on some general but clear commitment to thinking about defense industrial base issues to make sure that not only are we able to continue to sustain provision of capabilities to Ukraine, but also that we continue to sustain strong defense capabilities on the part of allies and partners as well as ourselves. So, that would be the focus of that meeting. It is currently planned for late in December (EDITORS NOTE: The meeting will occur in September), I refer you to A&S for their specific plans on that, but I think they're moving forward with those plans.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  And then, Jim, to your question on prisoners, I've certainly seen press reports on that. But I would refer you to the Ukrainians to talk about any, any aspects of their operations in that regard.

OK, let's go to Laura Seligman from Politico.

Q:  Hey, thanks for doing this. Just a couple questions for you, (SMO). Can you talk about the operation in Kharkiv? How, how far do you assess that these, these forces are going to be able to get with the limited manpower that they have? How far east Do you think they're going to be able to push? What's the assessment? And then for you, (SDO), I'm just wondering, I'm looking ahead to the south. And what happens if the Ukrainians start to try to push into Crimea or try to launch attacks into Crimea? Would the U.S. be in support of something like that? Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thanks, Laura. All right. So, in, you know, as I mentioned, I don't want to speculate about, you know, potential future operations. You know, as I highlighted, the Ukrainians have made some gains in the Kharkiv region. But again, in terms of speculating on how far they will go, or what their plans are, that's really something for them to talk about.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yeah. I think that answers also your question about Ukrainian successes in the south in Khierson, and you know, where it might lead them. I would just say, you know, our position is quite clear and consistent that we support Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty. And the Ukrainians will make their own choices about how they conduct political and military policies to sustain their territorial integrity and sovereignty. But we have a principled support for Ukraine in those objectives.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Go to Tara Copp, Defense One.

Q:  Hey, thank you for doing this. Jack grabbed my questions. Well done. But I do have kind of a follow on to that. I was wondering, what you assess to be the difference maker here. Is it just -- was it a matter of time that Russian forces are finally being worn down? Or do you think it was a specific combination of equipment training location? Why now basically, is the battle seem to be turning?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  So, what we've seen since you know, Russia's I think we - this is an understatement - ill-advised invasion of Ukraine, is that the Russian leadership was political and military leadership made a number of miscalculation, really enormous miscalculations, not only about the international community's support for Ukraine, Ukrainian abilities, but about the capabilities of their own forces, the Russian military was riven with all kinds of weaknesses that were not apparent to the leadership and probably should have been. And we saw a lot of those weaknesses play out in the failure to -- in the initial objective of seizing keys and overthrowing the government. So, in that sense, it was just a matter of time before these fundamental resources began to have their impact on the Russian operations in the east where they, you know, thought they had an advantage. But a lot of the key elements of a strong defense are the capabilities of your soldiers, the capabilities of logistics, and command, and we've seen fractures in all of those elements, and they played out in many places in over time in the east.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thank you very much.

Let's go to Tony Capaccio, of Bloomberg.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Hi, for senior defense official, (you) talked about multiple dilemmas that the Ukrainians were presenting to the Russians. Can you walk through in an English some, what are some of these multiple dilemmas and how the weapons we've provided has helped create these multiple dilemmas.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Sure. Thanks, Tony. And that was me, senior military official. So, really, if you look at the totality of the battlespace that we're talking about the operations in the Khierson region as well as Kharkiv, as well as in the central line there. The Ukrainians are conducting operations that are forcing the Russians to make decisions on the battlefield about where they're going to apply their resources, and how, and so what we've seen is the Ukrainians applying the capabilities that they have to include those that have been provided by the U.S. and our allies and partners like HIMARS, GMLRs, HARM missiles in order to again change the dynamics on the battlefield. And so, this is, again, compelling the Russians to have to make decisions and decide where they're going to expend their resources. And as we've seen, given the challenges that they have, from a sustainment and logistics standpoint, as well as from a command-and-control standpoint, it's a very hard problem to solve.

Q:  One follow up, how deeply involved was the Pentagon in helping plan or discuss this northeast offensive? We're all caught unaware of I mean, we deeply involved in terms of the discussions and providing intelligence.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  So.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  So, you were in close contact with and conversation with Ukrainian military and we, you know, they had multiple options. We certainly provide them with information on, you know, on conditions. But in the end, this is a Ukrainian choice. The Ukrainian military and the Ukrainian political leadership made the decisions on how to conduct this counter offensive.

Q:  OK, you weren't surprised, and DoD as an institution, or you as a senior official following this? Surprise in this northeast offensive?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, it's kind of a leading question. So, yeah, I mean, obviously, as was highlighted, I mean, we're in regular communication, sharing information with the Ukrainians, but at the end of the day, they make their decisions on their operational plans, and when they're going to execute.

Q:  OK, thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Let's go to have time for just a couple more, we'll go to Louis Martinez, ABC.

Q:  I have a question for both of the officials. It's regarding what senior military official just spoke about, which was the effect that the weaponry from the West has had and changing the dynamic on the battlefield? Can you say that it was actually pivotal in this new action that we're seeing this new offensive in the northeast? Because it laid -- it shaped the battlefield in such a way that it hadn't been before? So, just can you talk about how pivotal that was? In in any respect? Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, Tony, I'll just kind of provide some thoughts, and then turn it over to the senior defense official if there's anything else. But again, if you step back, and you look at the support that the U.S. and the international community are providing to Ukraine, in terms of the capabilities that they're bringing to the battlefield to defend their country, I think that has been incredibly helpful. But again, at the end of the day, it's the Ukrainians that are in the fight, and they're the ones that are using this equipment, to combat the Russians and defend their homeland. So, you know, really much of the credit, if not most of it goes to the Ukrainians and what they're doing to employ these capabilities to great effect.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  And I would just say that communication was vital in helping us understand early in the summer with the Ukrainian saw before them. And initially, they saw before them the artillery battle that the Russians intended to wage. And that really drove our focus early in the summer on providing through PDA packages, the 155 millimeter and other howitzers, and ammunition. And then (the) Ukrainians were very clear that they saw that the Russians had the advantage of the fact that at the time, Ukraine did not have precision strike capabilities. And so, the Russians had, you know, logistics nodes, command and control nodes, staging areas for their troops. And it was at that point that, again, with the approach where they said they needed the capability to address that. That's when we started focusing on the possibility of providing the HIMARS and GMLR system. So, it is absolutely a partnership and in listening to the Ukrainians, understanding what they're seeing, and then seeing what we can do to provide them with capabilities to address that need.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  We've got time for one more question. We'll go to Courtney Kube, NBC.

Q:  Hey, hey, can you guys, there's been some reports that the Russian military hasn't deployed any additional battalion tactical groups into Ukraine, and seems to have suspended future combat deployments. Can you comment on that? Are you seeing any additional deployments of Russian military units into Ukraine?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yeah, Courtney, that not -- I don't have any information to provide on that.

Q:  So, I mean, it's something that we've actually had in the past where we've been able to get on these briefings, the numbers of Russian units that have been that are in have been deployed, or is that something you can take? There's -- there's a precedent to providing…

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  So, this is kind of answering your question with the double negative, but I would say we have not seen Russian the Russian government not deploying additional troops to Ukraine. How's that?

Q:  You've not seen them not deploy. So, you, you are still seeing them deploy additional units.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I can't confirm that they are not deploying additional units to Ukraine.

Q:  OK.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  OK. All right. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. That's all the time we have today. Have a great day out here.