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Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks you. Since the secretary's announcement in Ramstein, we've been working hard to pull together this special meeting of the National Armaments Directors under the auspices of the Ukraine Defense Contract Group -- Contact Group. This will be a day long event in Brussels and it will take place next Wednesday, September 28th. It will be led by Dr. Bill LaPlante, who's my boss and supported by senior officials in OSD policy, the Joint Staff and EUCOM. We've been very pleased with the international response. Over 40 countries will be in attendance and we expect a very productive discussion. As we've emphasized in the last two USAI packages, and as Secretary Austin emphasized in Ramstein is important for us to be thinking about our long-term support to Ukraine. 

Even as we work to meet urgent battlefield needs today. The meeting in Brussels next week will focus on three key topics. Sharing information on current production efforts and identifying opportunities for countries to work together, to address key production constraints in order to accelerate and expand production. This will include a call for production support for things like gun barrels, ball bearings, steel casings. We will also discuss what capabilities Ukraine is likely to need in the future like long-range fires and air defense and how to posture the broad industrial base of the contact group to meet those needs. 

Second, we will discuss opportunities to develop interchangeable systems as we work to bridge the capability gaps between current Ukrainian systems and future systems based on western standards, and third, we'll be working on a long-term sustainment strategy. These discussions will feed into the next ministerial level contact group meeting in October. With that, I'm happy to take some questions. 

STAFF: All right. So let's first go to Joe Gould from Defense News. 

Q: Thanks for taking my call, taking my question rather. Wanted to ask, since the U.S. has integrated HARM missiles on Ukraine's MIGS, is any part of this conversation going to be about integrating other western munitions armed to Ukrainian aircraft or other platforms? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. At this point I really don't think I'd be comfortable of getting ahead of where the discussions will go next week. 

Q: Then can I ask you, is there, you know, after hearing, kind of, the broad outline of what topics are going to come up are there any goals that you can tell us, you know, what does the U.S. want to see come out of this conference? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. As I kind of, highlighted, what we're really looking for is, you know, discussions we're going to focus on ramping production of key capabilities, resolving supply chain issues, increasing inoperability and getting the sustainment folks discussions. I'm very excited that what we're -- the RSVPs we've gotten are -- we're going to have the, for the first time under the contact group rubrics, we're going to have the acquisition, the defense industrial base specialists from all these countries, with partners in the room together. 

And I think what -- even if we get -- even just sharing best practices, lessons learned. I'm actually looking forward to discussion and we've got really positive feedback as we've been doing the preliminary work. So my hope is that going out of the session, there'll be much more willingness -- ability for us to work together across countries to try to -- solve some of these challenges we're all facing.  

STAFF: OK. Next we'll go to Tara Copp from Defense One. 

Q: Hi, thanks for doing this. A couple questions, at the meeting will it be national armament directors and industry representatives or is it just government representatives? And then, can you give an example of, you know, hypothetically what an interchangeable system would be and, you know, maybe where you see the most need for interchangeable systems right now? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. So it's going to be just government officials. It will not be anybody from industry as part of the discussions. You know, I think that in some of the solutions, some of the systems that have been delivered to Ukraine right now, we can sort of use the word jerry-rig or, you know MacGyver type approaches where we've gotten together and found a creative solution where we can put together maybe a system that we had and somebody else was able to find a creative way to launch it. So I think that what they'll be some mixed exploration during discussions next week on how we can more institutionalize that or -- or develop other solutions similar. 

Q: The more -- more examples like how you were able to mount the HARM missiles onto MIGS? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. I wasn't involved in the HARMs so I'm going to defer to others on that one, but there's been other cases where we've been able to find creative ways to launch potentially U.S. weapon systems that may have been in inventories of foreign partners, through ways that haven't been done before.

STAFF: OK. Let's go to Tom Bowman, NPR. 

Q: You talked about ramping up production for key capabilities. What are those key capabilities? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, I think all the capabilities we've been delivering to Ukraine plus others going forward, there will be -- I anticipate there will be a discussion outlining where we think we want to go and that will be part of the discussion next week.

Q: Well can you at least raise at least one or two or three capabilities? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well I said long-range fires is one of the examples. Right, I said earlier -- in my opening remarks. So that's an example. 

Q: Now, as you know, the Ukrainians keep pushing for tanks. It looks like sending Abrams is a non-starter. They are getting T-55s from Poland, Slovenia. Do you anticipate getting more Soviet-era tanks? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So that's -- I'll defer to PA to get back with you on that one. That's a little bit outside my lane. 

Q: OK. Thanks. 

STAFF: OK. Let's go to Mike Stone, Reuters. 

Q: Thanks. I'd love to hear two things. How you define near and long-term and very much in your wheelhouse, you have to juggle a lot here at the Pentagon just with the U.S. demand. You’re going to go after 40 countries with their parliaments and their contracts authorities. Can you talk about what willingness the United States has to change how it buys weapons with, you know, 39 other partners and it seems like you're -- it's going to be a complicated exercise to actually get new weapons in the hands of someone?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. No. I think one of the real focuses in why it's good to get the national armaments directors in the room together, is just part of where as we're just ramping up our own production, we've identified certain shortfalls or challenges. Right? I mean steel casings is one, microelectronics and during bilateral discussions with many of our allies and partners, they're experiencing similar things. So, you know, part of this maybe identifying approaches where we can, sort of, identify potential sources that we didn't know were out there to help current production. And then -- then going forward, I envision it would be times where we're looking to see whether or not to do joint biz or whatnot. A lot of countries are expressing interest in buying a lot of weapon systems and the more we can coordinate our approach going forward, I think it will leave us in a place where we potentially won't be competing against each other. 

Q: And the near and long-term in your --in your mind? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So I would think near-term is, you know, what we're doing today and in the months going forward. Long-term, you know, we're talking, you know, a year or two maybe but that's in my mindset here. 

STAFF: OK. Let's go to John Ismay at New York Times. 

Q: Yes. Hi. What do you plan on Ukraine needing in terms of the number of artillery shells per month over the next year? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks. I'm going to have to defer that one to PA. I'm sorry. 

Q: To which one? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: To Public Affairs, that's outside my lane. 

STAFF: OK. Let's go to Lara Seligman, Politico. 

Q: Hi. Thanks for doing this. Just wanted to ask what some of the concerns that you want to address at, what are the top concerns that you're going to try to address in this -- this upcoming meeting? That U.S. industrial base concerns, European industrial -- what specifically are the concerns that you're trying to find solutions too? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. It's going to be, you know, what we're looking for is how can we strengthen the defense industrial base and it's broader than the United States. It's actually broader than Europe too, we'll have participants from the Indo-Pacific also. So I think its worth highlighting and, you know, I anticipate they'll be some sharing of example of what lessons learned, what have you been doing domestically, what our partners have been doing to ramp up production and sharing some best practices. We issued the RFI also, you know, to get -- welcome industries thoughts on how we could be some solutions that we may not have been thinking about. 

Some of our partners have done that. So I think part of this is going to be sharing best practices, lessons learned but then again we're also going to go into the discussions on, you know, going forward, how we can potentially work together and sustaining the fight. You know, that's a new area for us to talk about and that's going to be an important element to discussions also.  

Q: But when you say strengthening the defense industrial base, what do you mean by that? What are the specific weak points? Can you give us any examples? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, yes, sure. So I, you know, one of the examples we've had, you know, just for our sources, you know, it's -- you know, we've come across the as part of our deep dive analysis, you know, parts obsolescence issues. Microelectronic shortages, ball bearings, steel casings, these are, you know, these are things in the lower tier supplier base where it's impeding our ability to produce and deliver in a timely manner. And we're working through our resources to solve those problems, but there may be solutions available offshore that we can work together. And we could have situations where our partners are experiencing the same challenges and maybe we can find creative solutions together. 

STAFF: OK. Let's go to Heather from USNI. 

Q: Hi. Thank you so much. I was just wondering in your look ahead to some of the things that you'll be discussion. Are you mostly focusing on land at this point with some of the weapons that you might be discussing or is there a potential to be also discussion the Black Sea? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I think -- I hate to get -- I'm not sure -- I don't want to get ahead of the discussion next week right now. 

STAFF: OK. Idrees Ali from Reuters. 

Q: Thanks, Mike already asked from Reuters. Thank you. 

STAFF: OK. Let's see, Lara Jakes, you have your hand up. 

Q: Hi. So sorry. I had to figure out the unmute button. Thanks for doing this. I was just wondering if you could talk about what deliverables you expect out of this meeting and also given that you just mentioned some nations from Indo-Pacific joining. I'm wondering to what extent might discussion of acquisition of arms and other munitions for nations outside of Europe be a topic? Thanks. I'll go back on mute. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Obviously there's been countries around the world that have been supporting Ukraine, so we're in contact with those to talk about best practices and for a defense industrial base standpoint so I anticipate, you know, all the countries who are participating will have an opportunity to contribute. And I expect that some of our Indo-Pacific partners will be very active in the discussions. I'm sorry, what was the second part of the question? On deliverables? 

Q: Yes, just what deliverables are you expecting and could you expand a little bit more on what you think the Indo-Pacific nations will be contributing? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well I think they've -- they're -- some have several of them have -- are also ramping up productions and they may be able to -- they may be sources of potential support for components or what not. So that's why potentially I, kind of, envision and deliverables again, I think our goal is to come out of this with a -- where we've identified areas where we can work together internationally, collaboratively to address the problems that we're all facing.  

STAFF: OK. So I knew that takes care of the questions for those who called in in advance. We do have a couple minutes left if they're -- if anybody wants to raise their hand for last questions? 

Q: Hi, it's Lara. Can I ask a question? 

STAFF: Go ahead, Lara.

Q: Yes. I just was wondering if you were seeing any issues in the supply chain regarding China, whether China is going -- China is an issue that you have to deal with. I know we saw recently there is some issue with alloys and the F-35. I'm wondering if you're seeing any problem in the supply base that are similar? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You know, as part of our broader mission in the industrial base policy obviously we were the lead in developing the defense industrial base executive order report that was released in February. And so obviously in the broad scheme of things, you know, we are -- we have been taking action to support our industrial base and in some cases recognizing that some of the challenges that triad has faced, the economy writ-large but I can't really answer right now whether we've had any specific challenges associated with our activities to support Ukraine regarding China. 

STAFF: OK. Joe, go ahead. 

Q: I thank you. Just wanted to ask, what are some of the other countries outside of Europe that we expect to see, you know, regionally in the Indo-Pacific but can you be specific about who might be there.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, right now we're expecting over 40 countries and I'm sorry, I'm not going to list the names at this point. 

Q: OK. Thank you. 

STAFF: All right. And John, go ahead. 

Q: Hi, you mentioned steel casings a couple times. Were you talking about the steel casings for artillery projectile bodies? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. 

Q: And then, OK. What sort of problems are you having there? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You know, supply constraints just production capacity issues. 

Q: OK. And when you mentioned gun barrels is this because the Ukrainian artillery folks are shooting out the barrels that they have right now? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, you know, obviously there's you -- you need to replace barrels at certain intervals and -- and again we've been working to expand production or expand production of barrels in the United States. 

Q: Is that all done at (inaudible)? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, I don't think -- it's not that facility no. 

Q: OK. 

STAFF: OK. And we do have time for one more question if anybody has a last one. OK. Go ahead, Brian. 

Q: Hi. Thank you. I had a clarification on where the focus for the long-range needs you had mentioned -- mentioned long-range fires and air defenses. This in the context, are you thinking new things on contract like we talked about NASAMS or having countries provide their existing systems to Ukraine? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well I think we're going to work to identify where we want to support Ukraine long-term and it could be a combination of U.S. systems. It could be a combination of other systems, or it could be something we're going together. 

STAFF: All right. Well thank you all for joining us. We are going to get Senior Defense Official out of here onto his next engagement but thank you all so much for joining us. And we are out here.