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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Holds a Press Conference

STAFF: Well, good morning, everyone. Thank you for being here today. 

It's my pleasure to introduce Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III. The secretary will deliver some opening remarks regarding today's release of the National Defense Strategy, and then we'll have time to take a few questions. I'll be moderating those questions and will call on the journalists. I would ask that we please limit follow-ups due to time constraints, and appreciate your assistance with this.
Mr. Secretary, over to you, sir.


Good morning, everyone. At the outset, let me offer my deepest condolences to the Carter family for the loss of Ash Carter. As you know, he was a great patriot who contributed in significant ways to this department, and he will be sorely missed.

As you all know, back in March, we delivered our classified National Defense Strategy to Congress. And since then, the NDS has been the department's North Star as we tackle this century's biggest security challenges. 
So I'm pleased to announce that the department is now publicly releasing our unclassified National Defense Strategy. And this strategy nests beneath President Biden's National Security Strategy, which was released earlier this month.

I'd like to talk for a few minutes about how the NDS has shaped our work over the past seven months and how we continue to implement it going forward.

The key theme of the NDS is the need to sustain and strengthen U.S. deterrence, with the People's Republic of China as our pacing challenge. As the president's National Security Strategy notes, the PRC is the only competitor out there with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the power to do so.

Now, my team and I have been laser-focused on this issue since day one—including the China Task Force that I stood up, which produced a range of recommendations to focus the entire department on the China challenge.
At the same time, the NDS bluntly describes Russia as an acute threat. And we chose the word "acute" carefully. Unlike China, Russia can't systemically challenge the United States over the long term. But Russian aggression does pose an immediate and sharp threat to our interests and values, and Putin's reckless of -- reckless war of choice against Ukraine—the worst threat to European security since the end of World War II—has made that very clear for the whole world.

Now, the NDS is also clear-eyed about other serious threats, and that includes North Korea's expanding nuclear and missile capabilities. And meanwhile, Iran is moving ahead on its nuclear program, supporting dangerous armed proxies, and even exporting drones that Russia is using to terrorize Ukrainian civilians. And we remain vigilant against the ongoing threat from global terrorist networks, as well as from climate change, pandemics, and other dangers that don't respect borders.

So the NDS charges us to defend the U.S. homeland; to deter strategic attacks against the United States and our allies and partners; to prepare to prevail in conflict when necessary; and to build a resilient Joint Force and defense ecosystem. So we've moved out under the NDS in three main ways: forging integrated deterrence, campaigning, and building enduring advantages.

These three avenues inform all of our operations, activities, and investments. We're strengthening a 21st-century, combat-credible U.S. military that will deter aggression that threatens the interests of the United States or our allies and partners. And that means a military ready to tackle the full range of threats out there, harnessing the American spirit of innovation to meet the complexities of today's world.

And first, we're seamlessly integrating our deterrence efforts to make a basic truth crystal clear to any potential foe, and that truth is that the cost -- the cost of aggression against the United States or our allies and partners far outweigh any conceivable gains.

So we're aligning the department's operations, activities, and investments across all theaters, across the full spectrum of conflict, and across all domains—especially in space and cyberspace. 

In space, we're working to field resilient satellite constellations to dissuade any adversary from testing our will—and to ensure that we will prevail if they try. In the cyber realm, we're boosting our resilience and enhancing our capabilities to conduct military operations. And meanwhile, our nuclear capabilities remain the ultimate backstop for our strategic deterrence. And that's why we're fully committed to modernizing all three legs of our nuclear triad.

Now, let me note here that this is the first time in the department's history that we conducted all of our major strategic reviews together. And that means the NDS, the Nuclear Posture Review, and the Missile Defense Review.
The Nuclear Posture Review reaffirms that, as long as nuclear weapons exist, the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack on the United States, our allies and our partners.

Meanwhile, the Missile Defense Review underscores that missile defense contributes to integrated deterrence by undermining a potential foe's confidence in its ability to amount a successful attack. 

And so by weaving these documents together, we help ensure that the entire department is moving forward together and matching our resources to our goals.

Now, the strength and combat-credibility of the Joint Force remains central to integrated deterrence, and that's why our Fiscal Year '23 budget request included more than $56 billion for air power platforms and systems, and more than $40 billion to maintain our dominance at sea, and almost $13 billion to support and modernize our forces on land, and some $34 billion to sustain and modernize our nuclear forces.

But integrated deterrence isn't just about the steps that we take on our own. It also means working even more closely with our unparalleled network of allies and partners to deter aggression, in region after region.

In the Indo-Pacific, you see the power of partnership with a historic AUKUS agreement, with our trilateral cooperation with Japan and Korea, and with our many multinational exercises to increase readiness and interoperability.

In Europe, you see it with a united and resolute NATO, and with the extraordinary coordination of some 50 members of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group that we created to stand up for Ukraine's self-defense.

And in the Middle East and Africa and Latin America, you see it in our efforts to bolster our allies and partners and improve interoperability and integration wherever possible.

Second, the NDS emphasizes the day-to-day work of campaigning. And that means conducting and sequencing military activities that, over time, shift the security environment in our favor. And it means working to limit and disrupt maligned activities by our competitors.

So we're building and exercising the forces that we'll need in a crisis or a conflict, including requesting $135 billion in last year's budget to further invest in our readiness. We've updated our posture in the Indo-Pacific to make it more survivable against aggression. And with AUKUS, we're putting campaigning into action by linking our cutting edge capabilities with robust military exercises alongside our allies.

And third, we're building enduring advantages to further strengthen the foundations of the defense enterprise. 

And innovation is central here. Last year, for instance, we established the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve, which funds different parts of the department to work together to field critical joint warfighting gaps. And our Fiscal Year '23 budget request included more than $130 billion for research, development, testing and evaluation. Now, that's the largest R&D budget number in DOD history.

We're also working in new ways with our industry partners, including by strengthening our supply chains and our defense industrial base. 

The department is also tackling the dangers of climate change, including ensuring that our military can continue to operate superbly in hotter and harsher environments.

And above all, the NDS demands even deeper investments in our people. They will always be this department's most valuable resource and the bedrock of American security. 

And that's why the President's budget includes a 4.6 percent pay raise for service members starting January 1st, 2023.

And that's why I've recently directed the department to ease the strains that can come along with service. And that includes making it easier to secure housing, and to move to new duty stations, to get superb childcare, and to help military spouses advance their own exceptional careers. 

You know, our outstanding service members and their families do everything that we ask of them, and more. Doing right by them is a national security imperative, and it's a sacred trust.

So we're looking forward to working with Congress to secure on-time appropriations, to finalize this year's National Defense Authorization Act, and to continue to implement this strategy.

And as the President has said, “We will not leave our future vulnerable to the whims of those who do not share our vision for a world that is free, open, prosperous, and secure.” 

And we're confident that we've got the right defense strategy to tackle the challenges ahead, and to defend the American people, and to strengthen our outstanding all-volunteer force, and to safeguard the democratic values that are the soul of America.

Thank you, and I'll be glad to take a couple of questions.

STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

We'll go ahead and start with Associated Press. Tara?

Q: Mr. Secretary, as Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues and it sustains continued conventional losses, are you becoming more concerned that it might be likelier to resort to a tactical nuclear weapon, as Putin has suggested?

And secondly, how can the U.S., in kind of this new security construct, prevent nuclear conflict from escalating, prevent Russia from using a nuclear -- a tactical nuclear weapon while, as your own strategy said, also possibly deter China from its own nuclear ambitions?

SEC. AUSTIN: So are we concerned about escalation? We -- we are certainly concerned about escalation. We have been so from the very beginning of this conflict. And -- and that's why we believe that it's important to communicate with our -- with our allies and partners and also with our adversaries. And as long as we have the channels of communication open and we -- and we're able to communicate, you know, what -- what's important to us, then I think we have an opportunity to manage escalation.

So that concern's been there from the very beginning and we'll remain sighted on this going forward.

Q: But does the introduction of potentially using a tactical nuke enter a new era of nuclear deterrence?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, I mean, it would be the first time that a nuclear weapon has been used in, you know, over 70 years, so that certainly has a potential of changing things in the international community. So this is a thing that I think, if this happened, we have been very clear from the very beginning that you would see a very significant response from the international community.

So this is important to the -- to the world, and -- and again, we remain focused on making sure that we're going to do everything that we can help Ukraine to -- to defend its -- its sovereign territory and we're going to continue to communicate that any type of use of a weapon of that sort or even the -- the talk of the use of a weapon of that sort is dangerous and irresponsible, so.

Q: Thank you.

STAFF: Let's go ahead and go to Jen Griffin.

Q: Secretary Austin, Vladimir Putin again said today that Ukraine is planning to use a dirty bomb. Is Putin bluffing? And how does scrapping one of the few tactical nukes that was in development here in the Pentagon deter Putin right now?

SEC. AUSTIN: We have not seen anything to indicate that Putin has made a decision to use a dirty bomb, nor have we seen any indications that -- that the Ukrainians are planning such a thing. Ukrainians have -- in fact, the -- their leadership have indicated to us that that's not in their plans.

So, you know, again, we see no indications of that. It's important to make sure that we're talking to adversaries and allies alike and making sure that -- that we're -- we're tamping down dangerous talk and -- and making sure that we maintain lines of communication, so. Over.

Q: (Inaudible) scrapping the tactical nuke, the sea -- sea-based launch missile, why do that now? Isn't that sending a dangerous message when you're trying to deter Putin and China?

SEC. AUSTIN: Jen, we -- as you know, we have -- our inventory of nuclear weapons is significant. And -- and so we determined, as we looked at our inventory, that -- that, you know, we did not need that capability. We have a lot of capability in our nuclear inventory, and I don't think this sends any message to Putin. He understands what our capability is. And -- and so, you know, we -- we'll continue to move forward.

STAFF: Let's go ahead and go to Tom Bowman, NPR?

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said repeatedly and others in the administration have and also in NATO that it's up to Ukraine to determine how the war ends, it's their country. Now, President Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials have said they aim to push all the Russians out of Ukraine, not only in the east and the south but Crimea as well.

Now, you talk to Ukrainian officials repeatedly, you're an expert on ground warfare as a retired four star. Is it realistic to think that Ukraine can push all Russian soldiers out of the entire country, including Crimea?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, in -- Tom, that's -- when you -- when you think about where Ukraine is today, there are not many people in the world who thought that they would be in this place because they -- you know, if you look at the capability that Russia has, you know, arrayed against what -- initially what the Ukrainians had, most people thought it was not possible to be where we are today.

So in terms of speculating on what the Ukrainians are -- are capable of, I -- I think -- you know, I wouldn't -- I wouldn't want to speculate on that. I think they have exceeded most people's expectations and they've done that because we and the international community have really worked hard and -- and been very -- moved very quickly to provide them with the capability that they -- they need to defend their sovereign territory, and they have employed it very, very well.

In terms of their objectives, Tom, I -- again, the Ukrainians must outline their objectives. We won't do that for them. And -- and again, they are fighting for the defense -- fighting to defend their sovereign territory and we're going to continue to support them for as -- as long as it takes, so.

Q: Again, we keep asking you this -- the long range missile systems, the ATACMS, they still want those, you're unwilling to give them those. Will that change now that Russia is basically taking out their entire grid system?

SEC. AUSTIN: Tom, it's -- the -- the Ukrainians can service just about every target that they want to service using the -- the GMLRS missiles that they've been employing. And so they have what they need to be successful, they're -- they're putting it to good use.

And -- and so we're going to continue to do those things that are -- that are working for us on the -- on -- on the battlefield -- working for the Ukrainians on the battlefield. Right now, what they need more than anything else, Tom, as you know, is air defense capability. And so as we had our last Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting, we really emphasized this and some of the countries have, you know, stepped up right away and provided capability.

We have been pressing hard to get them a NASAMS capability and we expect that in the next -- well, early next month, we'll be able to get the capability and train -- and train troops married up there in Ukraine. No announcements to -- to make here today but -- but we're pressing hard to get that capability in.

We saw Spain step forward and -- and provide HAWK anti-aircraft capability -- or anti -- air defense capability, excuse me, and -- and that was commendable. We got -- now have to get the troops trained on -- on the HAWK system, and we're working on that.

And we continue to press to make sure that, where possible, countries provide as much capability, in terms of air defense, as quickly -- quickly as they can to support Ukraine.

STAFF: OK. We'll go to Meghann, Military Times.

Q: What changes does this NDS call for in terms of force structure, either manpower levels overall or -- or where they're postured around the world, where troops need to be around the world, whether that's increasing or -- or stabilizing this 100,000 number in Europe, something like that? And what are your concerns about the recruiting environment and being able to meet those needs going forward?

SEC. AUSTIN: I'm confident that we'll have the force, Meghann, to -- to execute our strategy. And in terms of our force posture, we went through a force posture review very early on. There were incremental adjusted -- adjustments from time to time to that force posture laydown that we -- we provided. And again, we have the ability to rapidly deploy capability to -- to Europe, and you saw that exercise at the very beginning of this conflict as we deployed forces from -- heavy forces, armed forces from the United States to -- to Europe very, very quickly. We could do that because of thing -- the things that we'd done with the European Defense Initiative, and we -- we established pre-positioned equipment sites that troops could fall in on very quickly. And so those things have worked out very, very well for us.

We're confident that we'll have the -- that we have the force to be able to execute our strategy. And in terms of recruiting, we continue to focus on this issue. This is a priority for me. It's also a priority for our -- all of our service leaders. And so we continue to invest in those things that -- in -- in -- that will allow us to recruit the best talent that's out there to -- to man this incredible force, so...

STAFF: We have time for about one more. Go to Eric Schmitt, New York Times.

Q: Secretary, you said that if Vladimir Putin used a tactical weapon, a nuclear weapon, there would be very significant response from the international community. In your professional opinion, would a military response by the United States be a prudent action, or would that only continue to climb up this ladder of escalation?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, Eric, I won't get into any potential responses here. I'm the guy that makes the recommendation to my boss on -- on what we should do and -- and how we should do it, and so I'll make sure that -- that he has credible responses that are -- that are actually effective in -- in terms of what we want to do and -- and -- as we always have. And so I'll just leave it at that.

STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, that's all the time we have available for us today.

Secretary Austin, thank you very much, sir. Thank you.

Q: One just on the -- the Russia strategic nuclear exercise. Is there any concern that that could be a cover for a strike, a nuclear strike inside Ukraine? Are you confident that that's not what this is?

SEC. AUSTIN: So that's something we continue to watch, and we haven't seen anything to cause us to believe at this point that that is some kind of cover activity. Thanks very much.

STAFF: Thank you, everybody.