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Senior Military Official Holds a Background Briefing on Ukraine

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Hi.  Good morning, everyone.  Thank you so much for joining us today.

Joining me here at this table is [Senior Military Official] to give an operational update on what's happening on the ground in Ukraine.  For this portion, [Senior Military Official] will be on background with attribution to "Senior Military Official".  When he leaves, (inaudible) will continue with an on-the-record gaggle.  For any questions you may have for me during this portion, please attribute my responses to "a defense official."

But with that, I will turn it over to our senior [military] official.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Thanks, (inaudible).  Hi, everybody.  How are you?  This is -- this is different for me, so I'll get to see you all roll your eyes when I -- when I give you the answer that you may not want, as opposed to just doing it on the phone.

So this is the 233rd day of Russia's illegal, unprovoked large-scale invasion of Ukraine, and a lot of activity this week, as you all know, overseas in Europe in terms of folks who have gathered, and a number of press engagements.  So quite honestly, other than maybe some atmospherics on the ground, I'm probably not going to give you a great amount of things that will be helpful, right?  I hate to say that up front, but I'll certainly talk to what I can talk to. 

We do assess that the Ukrainians continue to make some advances on the battlefield, and I'm very happy to talk about what we're seeing in that regard.  We also have seen, as you know, particularly since the attack at the Kerch Strait Bridge last week, we've seen the Russians continue to retaliate.  The use of precision-guided munitions in a very imprecise way has continued over the course of the week.  I think it's fair to say we're in the hundreds in terms of the number of missiles that the Russians have launched against Ukrainian targets, and in many -- in most, I would tell you, cases, they have been used at civilian targets either indiscriminately or certainly in a deliberate way, as it relates to infrastructure targets like electricity or bridges or otherwise.  And as you've heard others other than me talk about, certainly, in violation of what the international rules of war stand for.

Around the battlefield, so just working kind of north to south, in Kharkiv, we've seen limited Ukrainian gains over the course of the week.  We have seen the Russians continue to strengthen their defenses in the Kharkiv area, and so it's at a stop, is probably the wrong term.  There are some very minor incremental gains, really, all the way from the northern portion of the Kharkiv area of operation down towards Lyman, but really limited in terms of movement this week. 

In Bakhmut it's similar, but the other way.  So we've seen -- so now moving down to -- the center portion of the eastern front there around Bakhmut, we've seen the Russians continue to work to attack the Ukrainians around Bakhmut.  Those gains have also been very small for the Russians, and in times we've seen the Ukrainians counterattack with effectiveness to retake land that the Russians had previously taken.  All of those attacks on both sides are coming with pretty high impact in terms of the employment of artillery and the losses to the sides who are making those advances.

Nothing really new in Zaporizhzhia in terms of advances.  You know, like you all, we continue to watch Zaporizhzhia with added care, just given the nuclear power plant.  We have seen artillery that's landed in and around the Zaporizhzhia area, but nothing that's caused us a great concern over the week. 

And then in Kherson, probably more movement in Kherson than anywhere else on the battlespace.  And so Kherson, if you describe it, has three different axes in the Kherson area of operation: the north, the central and the south.  We've seen them continue to advance in the north, and so we have seen gains in the north now.  Really, the line of advance for the Ukrainians just north of the city of Milove, or Milove, -- however you'd like to pronounce it, all of them probably incorrect. 

And then extending, essentially, to the north and west with a number of small towns and villages that the Ukrainians have been able to clear of the Russians, and the Russians have moved back from what was their front lines as they reestablish front lines after the beginning of this six weeks ago, and are establishing defenses further south.  So the Ukrainians now continue to advance on that northern axis, but at the same time, we've seen incremental gains in that central axis.  So not a lot of advancement, but some.  So we're talking kilometers as they move.  And what you're seeing, if you'd put that on a map and there are a number of good ones out there -- but if you look at that on a map, you're getting these two coinciding axes that are starting to force the Russians to make some decisions in terms of how they want to choose to defend.

It's also placed a good portion of that battlespace under artillery range of standard artillery, not GMLRS.  And so you've seen them employ fewer GMLRS recently because they just don't need to.  They can range the Russian targets they want to hit with standard artillery.

And then outside Kherson city itself, not a huge number of movements outside of Kherson city in terms of the Ukrainians, but certainly, not any Russian gains in that portion of the battlespace.

In the maritime environment, so about a half-dozen ships that are underway for the Russians.  That does include Kalibr-capable ships. I'll say about half of those that are Kalibr-capable.  We did get indications yesterday of some Kalibr missiles being fired from the sea, and our understanding is that they were all intercepted by the Ukrainian air defenses.  And then we continue to train.

I'll hold there.  I'm happy to talk about what I know anything about, and so I'll pass it back to (inaudible).

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Great.  I'll open up the room. (inaudible), do you want to kick us off?

Q:  Hi, thank you very much for doing this.  As you mentioned, the Russian -- the distance between the two forces is closing in right now in this part of the battle.  Does that change the Ukrainians' immediate needs?  Instead of having a longer range rocket or missile, are there other things you're looking at that might be more advantageous for this particular phase?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  Yes, ma'am.  It's a good question, and certainly a lot of conversation in the past week about what the Ukrainians would need for the longer term.  I think the biggest piece -- and it was discussed in great detail last week -- or this week in Europe has been air defense.

You know, if you look at -- and I'll just give you a 24 hour period.  In that first period of retaliation, 80-plus missiles that were fired at the Ukrainians at all sorts of different targets -- and roughly 40 of those, so 50 percent-ish, were intercepted by Ukrainian air defenses.

What I don't know is how many missiles are fired at one inbound missile.  And so you can assume it's more than one, in a lot of cases.  And so just every time, you know, they employ one, it -- it certainly increases the need to replace that.

You know, that's one thing that -- you know, if you look at the Russians and their conduct of this fight, what's different in the conduct of this fight that is different, say, in some of the events that we've fought in over the past -- go back a long way -- is the ability to establish air superiority.

The Russians have never been able to do that, and that changes the character of -- of the fight on the ground.  We have always, up to this point, been able to do that and that -- that changes.  And I'd just tell you, having been in a bunch of them, the fact that you don't have to be concerned with something above you in large measure changes the fight.  And so the Russians have never been able to get that.

The conversation this week about the criticality of air defense goes straight to that, I believe.

Q:  (Inaudible) average of -- of roughly -- the 80 missiles that were fired, do you have a sense of what types of missiles the Russians are firing?

And there's been a lot of chatter about the Russian stockpiles are dwindling.  Is that what you're seeing, based on what they're firing at these targets?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I think -- I haven't seen this but I was told that the Ukrainians released some views as to what they believe the munitions totals are for the Russians.  I don't know what those are, quite honestly, but I do know that the numbers of precision missiles that the Russians have fired since the beginning of the fight are pretty extensive, and I think the fact that they're now going to the Iranians to use drones speaks to their concern associated with precision munitions.

So every one of them fired is probably a very careful consideration for the Russians.  If you look at -- and I'm not an economics expert certainly -- but if you look at the sanctions, you have to believe that the sanctions are having an impact on their defense industrial base and the ability to regenerate, in particular, those precision munitions, so.

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Great.  We'll stick in the room.  I'm going to go to Courtney over here.

Q:  When you say the -- you mentioned that there was a bunch of Kalibr missiles fired from this Red Sea, can you say how many were -- how many they fired?  And is there, like, any sense of any dud rate?

And then can you give us, like, a broader look?  Like, we keep hearing about how they're shooting -- the Ukrainians have been able to intercept some of them but, like, what's the -- do you have any sense of how many are also failing, if that's a problem?  And -- yeah, I have one follow up.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I don't, I'd just tell you up front, Courtney, I don't, in terms of failure rate.  I would love to think that -- you'd love to think that missiles that are going into the side of apartment buildings were not meant to hit apartment buildings.  I don't know that you can make that assertion because we have seen pretty indiscriminate attacks on behalf of the on the side of the Russians.

If -- if you assume that some of those are duds, then I mean, I -- (inaudible) it.  But I don't.  So we think there were four fired yesterday from the Black Sea, and of those four, we believe all four were intercepted.  I don't know if that's because, you know, a couple of them were duds or not.  I'm sorry.  

Q:  We've heard a lot about air defenses this week.  Is there any way of -- of characterizing, like, where the Ukrainian air defense capability is right now?  I mean, have they depleted a lot of their stocks, and what -- like, any way to put a number on that, or --

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I don't know what they had before.  I mean, just look at the world situation as it relates to air defense.  I'm not sure, you know, in terms of what was being manufactured for them before and what they had leading into the fight.  So I'm not sure -- the Soviet numbers in particular, I couldn't hazard a guess at that.  You know, the international community has provided thousands of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles this week, and -- and I'm probably like you all.  I mean, when I get a chance I'm happy to look up stuff on YouTube, too.  But you know, you look at all the videos of surface-to-air -- shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles being used against cruise missiles with some effect.  I think just of those thousands, I know they've -- they've got plenty left.

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  I'm going to hit -- change over to the phones.  (inaudabile)?

Q:  Thanks a lot.  (inaudible).  Yeah, on the air defenses aspect of it, is there a -- a -- a sense of how much more help from Europe folks could give?  There was the Spanish and the German systems that went, and then there's the nascent that are coming.  But from the demand signal side, what do you think the Ukrainians could actually use, number one?  And two, could you talk about the Starlike connectivity issues?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  So, I'm always happy to have a policy rep with me when I'm in the other room to talk about our partners, because quite frankly, I don't know.  I think, you know, what we would like is, what we're seeing is the continued work of all of our partners to provide the Ukrainians what they ask for, and air defense being one of them.  It was certainly great to see our partners step up this week in terms of air defense.  My guess is that over the course of the next, you know, weeks and months, that we'll see others do the same thing.  And I think that they'll be happy to take whatever we can provide in that regard.

On Starlink, it -- quite frankly, I don't have a great deal for knowledge on the Starlink piece other than the fact that Starlink has been provided to them.  They have not indicated any concern in terms of the ability to prosecute the fights they've got right now in Kharkiv, Kherson or -- or the central portion there in the Donetsk with us relative to Starlink.  But it's been huge in terms of their ability to communicate, and then to coordinate planning and operations over the course of the last seven, eight months.

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Great.  Want to be mindful of time.  I'm going to take another one from the phones, and then come back to the room.

Q:  Hey, thank you for your time.  Want to take a -- another crack at -- at Starlink.  If you could speak more broadly just to the advantage is there has been provided and -- and what might be lost if it is turned off or turned off in some circumstances.  And -- and then from a policy perspective, what the Pentagon is doing at this point to kind of address this issue, the concerns that Mr. Musk has raised, et cetera.  Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  I'll leave the second one, certainly, to (inaudible).  In terms of its employment, I mean, well, I don't think you can overestimate or overemphasize the impact that being able to communicate has.  You know, one of the first things you try to do in a fight is to reduce your opponent's ability to communicate, and in this case, you know, Starlink has proven exceptionally effective on the battlefield because it's allowed the Ukrainians multiple connections, and in that regard, has been very, very helpful in their efforts at the tactical and strategic level.

And then I'll pass it to (inaudible).

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thanks, (inaudible).  I'm happy to take the Starlink question.  The department, along with the Ukrainian Minister of Defense, we've identified the need for a SATCOM capability to ensure stable communications that remain and allow Ukrainian forces to contact or to use.

And we're working with our partners and allies to look at all options on how we can best support the needs that the Ukrainians have right now.  And I'm happy to go into more detail on that later.


Q:  (Inaudible), you -- a couple of days ago mentioned the need for an integrated air defense system.  At the Joint Staff level, what are you doing?  What would the -- what would an integrated air defense system look like in three weeks that you don't have now, or three months?  And what will the NASAMS system give the Ukrainians by way of capability that they do not now possess, once it's delivered?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  So on the last one, sir -- and I'm not an expert on NASAMS, other than some of the ranges in particular -- but I think it -- it adds to their ability to kind of layer their defenses.  And so if you look at some of the higher end systems they have, they're able to detect targets further out, to choose the type of munitions that they want to use against various targets, depending on how far out they can -- they can pick it up.

A great example would be if I can determine that something is a helicopter vice an airplane or a cruise missile, I then can choose the type of munition to employ against it with better effectiveness.  So using, as an example -- and I'll use an example from somewhere else -- if I was to take a quadcopter and shoot a quadcopter down with a Patriot missile, that's a pretty bad choice.  And so in a different way, they're able to generally choose to do the same things.

Now, the integrated air and missile defense system allows them greater ability to do that.  So if they can determine you know, we generally know where an opponent flies.  They can -- if they can integrate all of their different layers of air defense, then it allows them to make those kinds of decisions.

I don't know if I described that very well or not.

Q:  -- integrated air defense system now with the capabilities they have in their country (inaudible) what's been provided today?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL:  You know, sir, just watching what they're doing, it's hard to believe that it's nascent.  I mean, I think they clearly understand and have understood the criticality of air defenses for a while.  If they didn't, I think we would go back to that air superiority conversation and you'd see the Russians have a much greater opportunity to interdict what they're doing with air power.

DEFENSE OFFICIAL:  Thank you.  I'm going to let (inaudible) get back to his day.  Thank you so much for being here with us, appreciate it.