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Sabrina Singh, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary, Holds a Press Briefing

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH:  Okay, thanks all. So still morning. I just have a few things at the top, and then I'll go ahead and take your question. So as a reminder, we are now on the record. For those on the phones, that can’t see me in the room, this is Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh. Just want to pass on a few items before I turn to your questions, so I will go ahead and begin.

So as you are aware, Secretary Austin is wrapping up his trip to Brussels, where he met with senior defense leaders from nearly 50 allied and partner nations as part as the Ukraine Defense Contact Group and the NATO Defense Ministerial. By all accounts, this has been a productive visit and an excellent opportunity to work alongside our international allies and our partners to further support Ukraine, as well as review progress on strengthening NATO's collective defense.

And while I'm on a travel note, Deputy Secretary for Defense, Dr. Hicks will travel to California this Sunday, October 16th, to visit the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Naval Base Point Loma. During her trip, she will see joint all-domain command-and-control in action, meet with troops and observe the Navy's most cutting-edge multi-domain unmanned technologies and command-and-control programs.

And very last item here, shifting to some Navy announcements, the U.S. Sixth Fleet and Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO will kick off the NATO-led Neptune Strike 22.2 in Portugal on October 14th. This long-planned activity is part of the Project Neptune series of activities dating back to 2020. During the activity, Sixth Fleet will execute a transfer of authority of the George H. W. Bush Carrier Strike Group to Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO command-and-control. This will be the third time this year that NATO has assumed authority of a U.S. carrier strike group. Neptune Strike 22.2 and the Neptune series continues to enable multiple and unique theater-wide training opportunities necessary to integrate the high-end maritime warfare capabilities of these carrier strike groups to support alliance deterrence and defense requirements in Europe.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. I'll go back and then I'm going to come around the room and go to the phones, as well.

So Tara, go ahead.

Q:  Thanks, Sabrina. So I wanted to get back to Starlink.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  Can you confirm that the Pentagon has received a request from SpaceX and Elon Musk that it start assuming the payments and if they're having difficulty with all of the challenges of operating Starlink over Ukraine?

MS. SINGH:  So two parts there. I can confirm that the department has been in communication with SpaceX regarding Starlink. I'm not going to get into further details of the discussions just now. And in terms of -- I think you asked -- your second part was on payment. I don't have anything right now to read out on future assistance, but we're working with our partners and allies and trying to figure out what's best.

Q:  But is the Pentagon in receipt of the letter from SpaceX?

MS. SINGH:  I will just say that we are in communication with them right now, but I won't get into any more specifics on what that communication looks like.

Q:  And you mentioned this a little bit, but could you get into the wider implications of, you know, if Starlink is proven integral to the Ukrainians and up to this stage , what happens if they no longer have that capability?  And are you starting contingency plans for that?

MS. SINGH:  Well, we certainly recognize the advantages that any SATCOM capability has and allows the Ukrainians to use not just on the battlefield, but within -- within the country itself. And we understand the fragility in those communications, and it's important that not just command-and-control remain intact on the battlefield, but throughout. But again, we're assessing our options and trying to do what we can to help these SATCOM communications, the capabilities to ensure that these communications remain for the Ukrainian forces.

Q:  There've been some kind of competing claims on who -- who has paid for Starlink so far. Has it been privately donated, or has this been -- has this been U.S. government-funded primarily?

MS. SINGH:  I've seen the open-source reporting out there that there have been donations from -- I think it was characterized as different partners. I don't have more for you on that at this time. 

Again, in terms of what this department decides to do, in terms of a SATCOM capability needed for Ukraine, I don't have anything to announce of further assistance at this time.

Q:  Just to follow up on that -- Okay, so without getting into the private donations, has there been U.S. government funding for this to date?

MS. SINGH:  From here, I'm not aware -- I'm not sure what payment has been -- if any, has been made, so I would have to get back to you on that, but again, what we are doing right now and what the department is doing is we are working with the Ukraine Ministry of Defense. We know that there is this demand and SATCOM capability is needed and we want to be able to ensure that there is stable communication for the Ukrainian forces and for Ukraine. And so that's why we're working and we're going to work with our partners and allies to look at all options on how best we can support those identified by Ukraine.

I'm going to come to Tony and then I'm going to go to the phones. Yeah?

Q:  -- Starlink -- at this point –I get that you're not an expert on this, I'm not going to push too hard -- but hasn't it been mostly a civilian communications aid versus a military command and control aid?

MS. SINGH:  Well, if I remember, I think it has been used for both. I wouldn't want to get into the exact characterizations of everything that Starlink has been used for. I would direct you back to SpaceX to better answer that question.

Q:  And I've got to push a little bit again on the communication. CNN last night said someone from SpaceX wrote to the Pentagon. It's like writing to the North Pole. Who in the Pentagon, if any, who received a letter from SpaceX?  Can you at least confirm that a letter went to a human being here, maybe less than Austin or the -- Secretary Hicks?

MS. SINGH:  So I've seen the reporting, I certainly saw the story. All I can say right now -- and I understand and I know this is not exactly the answer that is going to be most helpful for you -- but all I can say right now is that we are in touch with SpaceX regarding Starlink but I don't have more to read out to you at this time on this.

Q:  One -- one final --

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  -- have you guys actually found -- look and found -- have -- you haven't found anybody who's received this letter, if this thing exists?

MS. SINGH:  So this is something that again, whichever communication method that it came through, we are in touch with SpaceX, we are in touch with them about the need for a SATCOM capability, and that's all I'm going to say on that for right now.

I'll come back to you. I'm going to go to the phones really quick. Barbara Starr, CNN?

Q:  Still on Starlink, can you -- if you cannot answer, can you take the question -- you were asked about different funding sources -- if there had been any U.S. government funding?  Since the interaction seems to be with the Pentagon, it seems there might have been a contract. So can you just -- to close that loop, can you please take the question about whether DOD has paid any money to SpaceX for Starlink or whether there has been a contract for that?

My bigger question is you keep saying -- you have said several times here assessing all your options. Did this assessment -- and where is this assessment taking place? -- begin only after you heard from SpaceX?  And why was there no work -- if that is so, why was there no assessment or work done ahead of time to develop an alternative source, since it was private business?

MS. SINGH:  Thanks, Barbara, for your questions. I'll take the second one first and then come back to your first question.

In terms of assessments that we have made about Starlink or any SATCOM capabilities, I'm just not, from here, going to get into our private conversations that we have, from the Secretary's level to our policy folks or anyone else on our team. I'm going to preserve that privacy.

But in terms of a contract, I think your question “was has this department paid anything to award Starlink for any additional contract?  I have nothing to read out at this time. I am happy to take that back and certainly get back to you.

Q:  But just to reiterate, my question, I probably didn't phrase it precisely enough -- my question is -- excuse me, can I still just finish?  My question is that --

(CROSSTALK)

MS. SINGH:  I wouldn't be able to give you a date on that.

(CROSSTALK)

MS. SINGH:  -- I'm not going to get into a specific date on -- or time or -- or week or month on when those communications started. I can just confirm that we have been in touch with SpaceX regarding Starlink, and I'm not going to get into any further details of those discussions.

Q:  -- saying you guys are working on a solution but you can't tell us when that discussion happened, at what level, or in what form of communication. Can you give us any understanding in terms of how exactly you're working at solutions when we can't even get the contours of (what that) (inaudible) communication happened?

MS. SINGH:  Well, again, these are private conversations happening that I don't have more to share with you at this time on the details or the outcomes of those conversations. We certainly want to -- and the United States and this department has continued our support for Ukraine, and you just saw the Secretary wrapping up his trip in Brussels, meeting with over 50 countries at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, to talk about what we can do to provide Ukraine and what capabilities and support they need, and this is going to be one of those capabilities.

Now, I don't have more for you, again, on when those conversations started. When I do, I would be more than happy to share that, but at this time right here, I just don't have more to share.

(CROSSTALK)

MS. SINGH:  No, I cannot.

I'll stay in the room and then I'll go back to the phones.

Q:  -- Starlink was --

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  -- talk about how -- about the, and I am particularly interested in the Iranians, the 136 drone, the drones that Russia has been using. Can you talk about how effective they've been and where they've been mainly aimed at and the fact is the Pentagon sort of surprised at the fact that Russia, which used to be the supplier to the third world revolutionaries, is now having to import weapons?

MS. SINGH:  So I think earlier, our [Senior Military] Official -- sort of spoke a little bit to this. I think you're seeing the Ukrainians every day make progress and make gains. The fact that Russia is resorting to go to an actor like Iran, I think, shows that they are certainly depleting some of their supplies.

And I would allow the Ukrainians to speak to the capabilities and their effectiveness that they're having within country but you're seeing the Ukrainians make gains -- and I think you've reported on this as well -- you're seeing them make gains in the south, in the east.

And so I would leave it to the Russians also to assess whether they think those drones are having an impact on the battlefield.

Okay. I'm going to go back to the phones and then I -- sorry, Courtney, I did need to come back to you, apologies. Lita Baldor, AP?  Are you on the phone?  

Q:  Hi, Sabrina -- no, Tara got our question, thanks.

MS. SINGH:  Lee?, Politico.

Q:  Hi. Yes, I just wanted to follow-up on Starlink. So could you talk about any alternatives, if you won't direct the head-on Starlink specifically, like are there any other commercially available alternatives?  And if so, like what companies are you all talking to?

MS. SINGH:  Well there -- thank you, thank you for the question. There are certainly other SATCOM capabilities that exist out there. I'm not going to show our hand right now on exactly what those are, or who we're talking to. But we do know that there are others -- there's not just SpaceX, there are other entities that we can certainly partner with when it comes to providing Ukraine what they need on the battlefield.

I'm going to get one more question from the phone, and then I'm going to come back to the room.

Felicia, FT.

Q:  Hi. Thanks for taking my question. One more on Starlink. Have you guys looked into invoking the Defense Production Act, for example, to pay for it or any other system you might identify if you decide this one is too expensive?

MS. SINGH:  Thank you. At this time I have nothing for you on that. I am not aware that the DPA has been looked at to being invoked for what -- for Starlink or any SATCOM capability.

Courtney, you had a question?

Q:  One quick one, following up on Nancy's. I know you don't want to talk about timelines, but can you at least say that the communications between the Pentagon and SpaceX have been specific to this very current -- you know, the last couple of days Elon Musk saying that they can no longer afford it after a back and forth with the Ukrainian government?

I mean, are these communications -- did they just begin with regards to that, or is this something that's been ongoing since it became clear that Starlink was providing communications to the Ukrainians?

MS. SINGH:  Well, I would say that we are in constant communication with, I would say, tech companies that provide these capabilities. I wouldn't say that conversations are necessarily just starting today with SpaceX. I mean, the department has partnered with SpaceX in the past for different things in different contracts.

And in terms of the -- you're asking in terms of the lens of Ukraine. I'm not going to put a timeline on when these conversations started, but there has been a line of communication with SpaceX from before the time of this war.  

Q:  So there's been a -- there's a relationship, right, between the --

MS. SINGH:  Right.

Q:  -- military and SpaceX. But I think what we're all -- all we're trying to get at here is if the -- if there is -- if what Elon Musk is tweeting about --

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  -- is talking about -- if there's some legitimacy to it, if in fact the Pentagon because of his claim that they can no longer afford to pay for it, if the Pentagon is actively engaged in that specific issue with them, that's the -- why we're trying to get a timeline? --

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  So I mean, can you answer it that way?  Are you actively engaged in that specific issue?

MS. SINGH:  I think it would be fair to say we are engaged in talking with SpaceX, not just about this -- we are continuing to talk to SpaceX and other companies about SATCOM capabilities. But I don't want to go into further details.

Those conversations are happening, and it’s ongoing. And as a result, I want to be able to preserve the privacy happening behind those closed doors. And when I have more to share, I'd be happy to share it.

Q:  Any -- as part of these conversations with tech companies, even allies is there communication or consideration of providing other capability -- communication capabilities to the Ukrainians for civilian needs?  Like as Tony was saying, it's not just for military but for civilian needs as part of like, a PDA or something, or -- is that under consideration?

MS. SINGH:  So I don't have anything specific on civilian needs. As you know, the Secretary just left the Ukraine Contact Group, where he discussed with other countries, our partners and allies on what other capabilities we can provide Ukraine.

Given, you know, the dynamics on the battlefield continuously change -- therefore, we are in touch and he is in touch with Minister Reznikov on an almost weekly basis. The Chairman is in touch with his counterpart. If not on a weekly basis, I -- you know, pretty frequently.

We continue to assess what the Ukrainians need, and that is reflected in each PDA package that gets -- that gets announced and also each security assistance. We know our support for Ukraine is in the short and long term, and that's what those PDAs are there for.

I'll come back to you, Barb, I'm just going to get a few other questions. Sure.

Q:  So on the timeline, when I asked the initial question of, you know, is the department aware of the letter, and the response was you've been in touch, I initially understood that to mean that since the receipt of the letter, the department had been in contact with SpaceX. Is that true?  So that -- since -- since the letter's been out there, whether or not the department's received it or not?

MS. SINGH:  I see what you're saying, sorry, I think the way Courtney's question was phrased was more on just -- I interpreted it more as have we been in touch with SpaceX generally. To your question, I don't have a timeline of when we've, like -- since -- all I can say is that we have been in touch and in communication with SpaceX, and, that dates back before the reporting that broke yesterday, if that makes sense.

Q:  -- now aware that SpaceX --

MS. SINGH:  Well, we're certainly aware from the reporting -- we're aware from the reporting, we're tracking this is something that -- this is a capability that we know that the Ukrainians are going to need.

We are going to work with our partners and allies to ensure that they have what they need to be successful on the battlefield and we are going to continue to allow these conversations to happen with SpaceX but I don't have more for you at this time.

I'll come back. Barbara, do you have a question?

Q:  Yeah, on -- oh, I'm sorry, I'm increasingly confused. So --

MS. SINGH:  Let's try to make it less confusing.

Q:  -- probably be good. So --

MS. SINGH:  Okay.

Q:  So you're in touch -- you've said several times -- and I get this -- that you're in touch with SpaceX. The question to -- the -- can you just simply say straight up is part of the current conversation with SpaceX about this payment issue for Starlink?

MS. SINGH:  Well, again -- and I think I've been pretty clear on that but I appreciate the question -- I'm not going to get into any details of our conversations that we're having right now.

Q:  So (inaudible) get this. In this whole briefing -- and I mean this very candidly -- in this entire briefing, you've talked about the Defense Department is in touch with SpaceX but you are not saying that, one way or the other, whether you are in touch with SpaceX about the Starlink payment issue that Elon Musk and the company have raised?

MS. SINGH:  I think I said this when we had our [Senior Military Official] here earlier – and what I had said was the department, in coordination with Ukraine's Ministry of Defense, has identified a need for SATCOM capability to ensure stable communications for Ukraine's forces.

Again, we are working with our partners and allies to look at all options on how best to support those needs identified by Ukraine.

Q:  -- are not saying, Sabrina, that you are in touch -- that -- department is in touch with SpaceX regarding Starlink and the payment controversy?

MS. SINGH:  That's right. I don't have anything more to read out of these conversations at this time. I have nothing more to announce on any future assistance.

Q:  -- that you are in touch with other companies. Are you looking at a capability that would replicate what Starlink provides?

MS. SINGH:  I have nothing more to share on this topic.Okay, last question and then I will hop over.

Q:  Has SpaceX -- yeah, I want to ask this -- has SpaceX or Elon Musk requested that the Pentagon not talk about this?  Have they --

MS. SINGH:  Not to my knowledge, unless there's a tweet that I am missing, but--

Yes, go ahead. And then I'm going to go back to the phones. Okay.

Q:  -- apologize. Does the Defense Department believe that SpaceX decided to cancel this service because their ambassador told Elon Musk to [expletive]?

MS. SINGH:  Well, I certainly didn't have that on my bingo card today. --

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  -- his tweets, he seems to think that that was a primary reason --

MS. SINGH:  I'm not the spokesperson for SpaceX. I don't know the answer to that, so you would have to ask your question to SpaceX. I'm sorry, I'm speaking on behalf of the department here.

I will go to the phones for a few more questions and then we can wrap up?

James, Fox News?

Q:  Hi, Sabrina. So a different, non-SpaceX question. So in terms of, you know, the capabilities of sort of what our allies are also providing, can you go into a little detail about how the Pentagon, in recent times, has been encouraging allies to sort of split more of the costs associated with the increasing war in Ukraine beyond just U.S. military assistance?

And then since we've talked so much about air defense, can you quickly just give an -- any update on the NASAMS system?  I know President Biden said he was going to expedite it but is it going to be delivered any time soon?  Any update on that as well?

MS. SINGH:  I'll take the NASAMS question first. So we have expedited the NASAMS contract, as the President did say. We have two that should be delivered in the near future -- I don't have an exact date for you on that -- but in the near future.

And then we have six remaining that we are working on getting to Ukraine. Those are longer term initiatives, which I think I would just highlight shows our support for Ukraine, that this is not just a -- we're not just in it for the short term, we are in it for the long term, we are in it to continue to support Ukraine in this unprovoked war that they are in.

Which then, leads me to your second question on -- I think it was -- you phrased it as splitting costs with allies and partners. Again, the Secretary is just leaving Brussels today. He had a successful -- or led a successful Ukraine Defense Contact Group.

The purpose of those groups is to serve to see what partners and allies around the world have in their stocks that they are willing to provide Ukraine. The United States continues to provide what we can but this is not our war but this is Ukraine's war, and it's going to require the support of not just the United States but the world.

And you saw -- I think you've probably seen that Germany and Spain committed to giving Ukraine some of their air defense systems. And so that is some of the successes that we can point to out of the Contact Group and that will also keep Ukraine in the fight against Russia.

Yes?  Sorry, go ahead. Yeah?

Q:  Hello. I want to ask you about North Korea.

MS. SINGH:  Okay.

Q:  Today in North Korea military aircraft approached the no-fly zone near the border with South Korea again. How much are you concerned about this highly unusual North Korean Air Force activity?  And do you think this is a new tactics to undermine stability of the Korean Peninsula?

MS. SINGH:  Well, I think those type of activities, those type of movements certainly are provocative. They seek to undermine stability within the region. And the United States -- I'm getting my days a little bit mixed here, but just last week conducted trilateral exercises with Japan and South Korea to highlight and to showcase our ironclad commitment to the region, and we will continue to keep doing that.

Yeah, I'll take two more questions, and then I'm going to wrap up.

Yeah?

Q:  Thank you. To follow up on North Korea's, for months, North Korea is said to be prepared for the seventh nuclear test.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  So how do you assess their possibility of doing this in the future?

MS. SINGH:  So our assessment from earlier this summer hasn't changed. We certainly continue to monitor any type of potential test or movement that -- that the DPRK should -- should act on. But right now, you know, again, at -- at -- any test of -- of that nature would be incredibly destabilizing to the region, and our goal and the goal of our partners and allies in the region is the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Yeah, I'll take one more, and then I'll wrap.

Q:  So yesterday, John Kirby had talked about how the upcoming Steadfast Noon Exercise will be taking place around 600 miles from the Russian border.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  In that same that same briefing he talked about the Russian Grom Exercise that will be also taking place. I was curious -- where does the Grom Exercise normally take place?  Is there a certain area where those usually happen?  And has the DOD had any word on if they might be taking place in a different location?  You know, obviously, there was the Belarusian exercise with Russia --

MS. SINGH:  Right.

Q:  -- which led to the -- which was a part of the invasion. So I'm curious if there's anything different about this exercise that you're seeing.

MS. SINGH:  I don't want to speak for any of our intelligence or analysis right now. I don't have the exact location of where those take place, and I don't have any more -- further details on it. It's something that we are going to monitor. As I think Mr. Kirby mentioned yesterday, we are conducting our own exercise with 14 NATO countries, and so you know, this is a routine exercise. This is, again, showing our commitment to our partners and allies in the region. But unfortunately, I just don't have more on Grom. I would direct you to the Russians for that.

Q:  (inaudible), like, possibly take the question to get back to us on where they've done it in the past?

MS. SINGH:  I could take the question on where they've done it in the past. I could see what I can find for you.

Q:  Thanks.

MS. SINGH:  Okay. Yeah?

Q:  Is there another PDA in the works?

MS. SINGH:  That is --

Q:  Are you dropping that today?

MS. SINGH:  I don't know, I don't about anything at this moment right now. I don't know if something has changed while I've been up here, but whenever we have a PDA announcement, we will certainly get back that you, but I don't have anything to announce today.

Q:  If it was going to announce, you would know by now because today, right?

MS. SINGH:  Well, not necessarily. I've been in here for an hour. Something could have changed while I've been in here. Yeah.

Q:  You've been in here, but (inaudible).

MS. SINGH:  There was not an announcement today, but that could always change.

Q:  Thank you.

MS. SINGH:  Yes. Thank you. Thank you for bearing with me today, and Mr. Pat Ryder will be back at the podium next week. Thanks, all.