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Senior Defense Officials Hold a Background Briefing on the National Defense Strategy

STAFF: Hi, everyone. Good morning. Happy Thursday.

So good morning. Thank you for joining us today for a background briefing on the National Defense Strategy, Nuclear Posture Review and Missile Defense Review. This background briefing is embargoed until 11:30 a.m. Eastern.

Today, we are joined by two Senior Defense Officials. Defense Official One is (inaudible). Defense Official Two is (inaudible). For attribution purposes, since this briefing is on background, please refer to each as a defense -- as "a Senior Defense Official." And a reminder that this briefing is embargoed until 11:30 a.m. Eastern.

And with that, I will turn it over to our Senior Defense Official One.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Great, thank you. Good morning. Thank you all so much for the opportunity to speak to you today about the 2022 National Defense Strategy Nuclear Posture Review and Missile Defense Review. We are thrilled that the secretary's going to be releasing these reviews later today. The plan is that I'll provide a brief overview of the National Defense Strategy, then I'll turn to my colleague, Senior Defense Official Number Two, who will give you a brief overview of the Nuclear Posture Review and the Missile Defense Review, and then we're excited to take your questions.

So a couple of key points I just want to make sure are pretty clear. We took an integrated approach to doing these reviews. That's pretty notable. It's actually for the very first time in the Department of Defense's history that we developed the National Defense Strategy, the Nuclear Posture Review, and the Missile Defense Review in parallel. So that led to substantive coherence, a more integrated and seamless approach to issues like deterrence and risk management, and it resulted in a very tight strategy to resources linkage.

I'd also note that we developed these strategic reviews in alignment with our colleagues at the White House as they worked on the National Security Strategy.

So a couple of headlines to flag for you all. First, the central premise of the National Defense Strategy is that urgent need to sustain and strengthen deterrence with the People's Republic of China, the PRC, as the Department's pacing challenge. The PRC is our pacing challenge because they're the only competitor with both the intent and increasingly, the capabilities to systematically challenge the United States across the board militarily, economically, technologically, diplomatically. I would also highlight that this National Defense Strategy advances an approach focused on collaboration with our growing network of Allies and partners on common objectives.

You'll see that the strategy accounts for a range of other challenges, as well. We describe Russia as an acute threat, one that is both immediate and sharp. We also recognize the need to be vigilant against a range of other persistent threats like North Korea, Iran, and violent extremist organizations.

You also see that the strategy recognizes the importance of transboundary challenges that impose newer demands on the Joint Force and the defense enterprise. Examples of this are pandemics and climate change.

The National Defense Strategy articulates four defense priorities, which I'll describe in a moment, and three strategic ways: campaigning, integrated deterrence and building enduring advantage through which we will advance these priorities, and it makes clear choices on where we're going to accept risk and how we'll mitigate them.

So every good strategy review starts with looking at the security environment, and when we did that we realized pretty quickly and clearly that the most comprehensive and serious challenge to U.S. national security is the PRC's coercive, and increasingly aggressive, endeavor to refashion the Indo-Pacific region and the international system to suit its interests and authoritarian preferences.

Recent events, of course, very much underscore the acute threat posed by Russia. The National Defense Strategy took Russia's intentions and actions into serious consideration as the strategy was being developed. We are, of course, closely watching Russia's increasing alignment with the PRC, and as such, the Department's current efforts and future initiatives account for Russia even as we pace to the PRC.

Additionally, I would note that we see the PRC and Russia posing more dangerous all-domain challenges to the safety and security of the U.S. homeland, even as we need to remain vigilant in the face of persistent homeland threats from terrorist groups.

Meanwhile, other persistent threats including North Korea, Iran, and violent extremists continue to pose challenges to the homeland, to our Allies and to our partners. Compounding all of these challenges, as we saw in our understanding of the security environment, is a wide range of new -- newer or fast-evolving technologies and applications that are complicating escalation dynamics and creating new challenges for strategic stability.

And finally, beyond state and non-state actors, we've got other transboundary threats that we noted, and we recognize that those are transforming the context in which the Department operates.

So given these compounding challenges in this dynamic security environment, we tried to be very clear and disciplined in our priorities in pulling together this National Defense Strategy. So we've got these four top-level defense priorities, and I hope as you see them, you'll really hear some serious prioritization within them.

So first is our top priority: We will defend the U.S. homeland paced to the growing multi-domain threat posed by the PRC. Second, we will deter strategic attacks against the United States, our Allies and our partners; third, we will deter aggression, while being prepared to prevail in conflicts, should deterrence fail, focusing first on the PRC challenge in the Indo-Pacific, followed by the Russia challenge in Europe; and fourth, to ensure our future military advantage, we'll build a resilient Joint Force and defense ecosystem.

So those are the four priorities. We've got three ways through which we are achieving these: integrated deterrence, campaigning and actions to build enduring advantage.

So integrated deterrence: that entails weaving together cutting-edge military capabilities and operational concepts with our potent interagency toolkit and the capabilities of our Allies and partners to seamlessly dissuade aggression in any domain or any theater. It involves three cohorts: inside the Department of Defense, across the interagency and with our Allies and partners. That's strategic way number one.

Strategic way number two is campaigning. It's sequencing initiatives across the entire Department to advance priorities over time. It strengthens deterrence by building warfighting advantage or closing warfighting vulnerabilities. Effectively, the idea is to get the entire Department working together pursuing a strategy and logically linked sequence to actions to achieve a certain effect.

And then that third way is building enduring advantage. That means we've got to accelerate force development, capitalize on the latest technology, and make investments in the extraordinary people of the Department, our most valuable resource.

Let me turn to the force-planning construct briefly. Building on the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the 2022 National Defense Strategy's force-planning construct sizes and shapes the Joint Force to simultaneously defend the homeland, maintain strategic deterrence and deter, and if necessary, prevail in conflict. To deter opportunistic aggression elsewhere while the United States is involved in all-domain conflict, the Department will employ a range of mis- -- risk-mitigation efforts rooted in integrated deterrence. The Joint Force will ensure the ability to respond to small-scale, short-duration crises without substantially impairing high-end warfighting readiness, and the Department will also shape the Joint Force to conduct campaigning activities that improve our position and reinforce deterrence.

To advance U.S. strategic goals in the security environment that I've outlined, our Joint Force needs to tackle challenges in key operational areas. So these key challenges include: information advantage, command control and communications, detection and targeting, mitigating attacks as area-denial capability and logistics and sustainment. And the National Defense Strategy makes clear that getting after these key operational imperatives and executing our operational concepts ultimately requires a U.S. military that is lethal, sustainable, resilient, survivable, agile, and responsive.

So let me close the National Defense Strategy portion of this brief with perhaps the most important piece: Allies and partners. Mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships are our greatest global strategic advantage. They are a center of gravity for the 2022 NDS. And the 2022 NDS is actually a call to action for the defense enterprise to meaningfully incorporate Allies and partners at every stage of defense planning. Close collaboration with Allies and partners is foundational for U.S. national security interests and for our collective ability to address the challenges that the PRC and Russia present, while responsibly managing the array of other threats we face.

But progress on this front will not be possible unless we can address long-standing institutional barriers which inhibit collective planning, interoperability, and mutually beneficial procurement, including the need for improved cybersecurity and breaking down barriers to sharing information.

Before turning over to Senior Defense Official Number Two to talk about the Nuclear Posture Review and Missile Defense Review, let me just emphasize a core conviction that underlies these reviews. The U.S. military remains the most potent fighting force in history and a source of stability in a turbulent world. And we are committed to a strategy that keeps it that way.

More broadly, the United States is endowed with an array of remarkable qualities that confer great advantages. No country on Earth is better positioned to tackle the challenges we must confront in this decisive decade and win the competition to shape the rest of the century. Our generational challenge is to combine and integrate these remarkable qualities, developing our capabilities together with those of our Allies and our partners to sustain and strengthen a free and open international system that is increasingly under threat.

So this National Defense Strategy, alongside the nested Nuclear and Missile Defense Reviews, outlines the essential actions the Department of Defense must take to rise to this challenge.

Thanks very much. Let me turn it over to my colleague.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: All right. Well, thank you very much, Defense Official Number One.

I'm going to start with the Nuclear Posture Review, and then we'll do the Missile Defense Review, and then I'll take your questions.

So, on the Nuclear Posture Review, the 2022 Nuclear Posture Review takes a comprehensive and balanced approach to defending vital national security interests. The main balance is seeks to strike is between, one, maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent, along with a strong and credible extended deterrent; and, two, taking those steps needed to reduce the risk of nuclear war and the global salience of nuclear weapons.

Now, we recognize that the international security environment has deteriorated since 2018. Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a stark reminder of nuclear risk and contemporary conflict. And China's nuclear modernization and its rapid expansion presents us with new risks and uncertainties.

In the coming years, for the first time, we will have to deter two major nuclear-armed competitors, both Russia and China. And this presents new dilemmas for both strategic deterrence and for regional war-fighting. At the same time, both North Korea and Iran continue to present their own deterrence challenges. So against this backdrop the NPR concluded that the fundamental role of nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack.

The NPR also affirms a broader set of rules for nuclear weapons, including, one, deterring strategic attack; two, assuring Allies and partners; and, three, achieving U.S. objectives if deterrence fails.

To enable these roles, the Nuclear Posture Review establishes a strategy that relies on nuclear weapons to deter all forms of strategic attack. This includes nuclear employment of any scale, and it includes high-consequence attacks of a strategic nature that use non-nuclear means. Any adversary use of nuclear weapons would fundamentally alter the nature of a conflict.

We've retained a very high bar for nuclear employment. The approach described in the Nuclear Posture Review complicates adversary decision-making and reflects a sensible and stabilizing approach in this dynamic threat environment. Our Declaratory Policy, of course, remains exactly the same as when we rolled out the classified NPR earlier this year, and I will just state it officially: As long as nuclear weapons exist, the fundamental role of nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack on the United States, our Allies and our partners. The United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States or its Allies and partners. 

The NPR recognizes that, for the foreseeable future, nuclear weapons will continue to be the bedrock of U.S. strategic deterrence. Other non-nuclear capabilities have the potential to complement, but cannot replace, nuclear deterrence in some circumstances. But we also understand deterrence alone cannot reduce nuclear dangers.

And as Senior Defense Official Number One said, As part of our commitment to reducing the role of nuclear weapons globally, we'll also focus on arms control and nonproliferation as vital elements of our balanced approach.

U.S. leadership in these areas is critical. Developments in the security environment make arms control and nonproliferation more challenging and also more pressing. At the same time we understand that we cannot pursue arms control without willing partners operating in good faith.

The Nuclear Posture Review announces the retirement of the obsolete B-83 Tac 1 nuclear gravity bomb and cancellation of the unnecessary nuclear sea-launched cruise missile. We recognize that both our nuclear triad and our nuclear command-and-control and communications systems are operating beyond their original design life and are fully committed to modernizing both of them.

We are also committed to working with the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration to field a modern nuclear infrastructure capable of pacing current and emerging threats.

On Allies, our Allies across the globe are an asymmetric advantage our adversaries can never hope to match. The National Defense Strategy requires strengthening our security architectures in key regions to leverage our Allies and partners more fully. And to do that, extended deterrence is foundational to our approach.

This NPR commits the United States to a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent. It commits us to providing strong and credible extended deterrence. And this contributes to stability, while also seeking to take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our strategy and reduce the danger of nuclear war.

Nuclear weapons undergird all of our national defense priorities. No other element of U.S. military power can replace the unique deterrent effects that nuclear weapons and our trained professional nuclear forces that operate them provide.

Now let me turn quickly to the Missile Defense Review, which informs U.S. missile defense strategy, policy and capabilities. Russia has been indiscriminately using thousands of offensive missiles in Ukraine, and mainly not for precision military effects but, instead, has broad-area terror weapons to inflict terrible hardships on innocent civilians. Their use of missiles in Ukraine shows we should expect these weapons to become a common feature of 21st-century conflict.

Emerging ballistic, cruise, hypersonic, and lower-tier threats like unmanned aircraft systems pose an expanding and accelerating risk to the U.S. homeland, U.S. forces abroad, and our Allies and partners. Finding ways to effectively defend against these pervasive air-breathing and ballistic missile threats is an important task.

This is the third Missile Defense Review from 2022. There was one in 2019 and one in 2010. There's a lot of continuity among all of them, but I'd like to just identify a few areas of key continuity and a few important differences, as the security environment evolves.

First, with respect to the homeland defense, using missile defense, this NDR, like its predecessors, declares that the U.S. will continue to stay ahead of the North Korea threat. To achieve this, the Department is actively improving its existing active missile defense capabilities, while adding new ones. This includes new space and land-based sensors, the development of 20 new next-generation interceptors, which are scheduled to begin fielding in 2028. And the FY '23 budget alone allocates $2.8 billion for these capabilities.

However, missile threats are advancing and changing rapidly. So we must increasingly move beyond relying only on active defenses and continue to pursue a comprehensive missile-defeat approach. A comprehensive missile-defeat approach means a full-spectrum approach to prevent and defeat adversary missiles in all domains, all timelines, through a mix of kinetic and non-kinetic capabilities. Now, that was DOD speak. In English, it means any and all left-of-launch and any and all right-of-launch means to stop an adversary from successfully using its growing array of missiles.

Moving beyond North Korea, the Missile Defense Review affirms that the U.S. will continue to rely on strategic deterrence underwritten by our nuclear forces to deter nuclear-capable missile threats to the U.S. homeland from China and Russia.

Homeland missile defenses are neither designed for nor capable of defending against the sophisticated array of missile threats that China or Russia could use against us. Relying on U.S. nuclear forces to deter strategic threats is a longstanding U.S. policy and a point of continuity with this and all previous Missile Defense Reviews.

Turning to regional threats, we will continue to pursue defenses against all regional threats, air and missile threats, from any source. We will continue to develop active and passive defenses against regional hypersonic missiles. We will pursue resilient sensor networks to characterize and track all missile threats, including hypersonics, to improve attribution and enable engagement.

Another new area of focus in the Missile Defense Review is our commitment to the missile defense of Guam. Guam, part of the U.S. homeland, is also a key U.S. operational and logistical hub in the Indo-Pacific, and missile defense of Guam will require a persistent and layered missile-defense posture against both ballistic and cruise missiles.

We also commit to examining technical solutions to two emerging threats. One is cruise missile threats to the homeland and, two, is those of unmanned aircraft systems or un-crewed aircraft systems, which are really just drones, right?

And, finally, stressed in the National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review, diplomacy is an important element of integrated deterrence. With regard to missile defense, we will work closely with the State Department to strengthen mutual transparency and predictability with Russia and China where such efforts could strengthen deterrence; but of course, as I said before, any such measures can only be implemented with willing partners acting in good faith.

So that's our summary of the three reviews and I think the two Senior Defense Officials will be glad to take your questions.

STAFF: Great, thank you. So just a reminder, this is embargoed until 11:30 a.m. Eastern.

With that, let's open it up. Yeah, Tara Copp?

Q: Thank you for this briefing. Could you just -- the classified version of the NDS was handed to Congress in the early days of Russia's invasion. Can you describe what types of changes, if any, were made to the classified version and how you incorporated those into the unclassified version?

And then secondly, I wanted to go back to something you were talking about with nuclear deterrence, that our arsenal continues to be used to be able to respond at any scale. How has Russia's implied threats of using a tactical nuclear weapon changed the calculation for how a U.S. nuclear weapon might be used for deterrence?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Great, thank you. Perhaps I'll take the first question and my colleague will take the second.

Thank you for highlighting that we gave the classified reviews to Congress in March, and we did that with the budget because we really wanted them to see that there was this tight strategy to resources, linkage, and then we, of course, engaged in a number of classified briefings to them.

Your question on how and in what ways we change the reviews in light of Russia's invasion is that I would say effectively not really at all, and that is because, frankly, as you all know, really by kind of late last fall or so, we all had a pretty rough idea that Russia was interested in launching this unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, and so we were actually able to bake that into our thinking as we were going through the reviews throughout -- throughout those months.

I would note, though, that some of the core ideas within the reviews have proven to be even more salient as we -- as this war has continued. And the one that I would point out is -- you know, I mentioned that integrated deterrence involves three cohorts: inside the Department, across the Interagency, and across Allies and partners. And in that vein, looking at what our Allies and partners have done to support Ukraine is just, you know, pretty extraordinary.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you. So I would say it's a -- it's a good question. You asked how would -- how has the Russian threat of a tactical nuclear weapon use changed our calculus. So a couple of things.

One, we take Putin's threats very seriously. And I think it's absolutely irresponsible for a nuclear power to wave nuclear weapons around with rhetoric like this. The use of a nuclear weapon would fundamentally alter the nature of this or any conflict.

I would not suggest that it changed our -- it changes our calculus, but it does focus the mind. And so we have nuclear forces at the ready to respond. And also, I will just add, you know, deterrence isn't just nuclear, it's the full compliment of conventional, strategic, non-nuclear, and nuclear forces.

And I think I should probably leave it there and not get into hypotheticals.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: But actually, if I could hook up on a great point that my colleague just mentioned, you know, integrated deterrence really says, inside the Department of Defense we have to understand that we have to operate across domains.

And it's easier, frankly, for folks to just anchor to the domains that we're all more comfortable with. But we need to be able to look across domains in how we are understanding threats and how we are responding to threats.

Q: Just a very quick follow -- follow up though -- at any (inaudible), that implies that Russia's use of a tactical nuclear weapon could be responded to by the U.S. with a nuclear warhead.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: So, not to get into hypotheticals but the President has clearly communicated, and other members of the Cabinet have communicated, that any use of a nuclear weapon on any scale on Russia's part would be met with severe consequences and it would be a serious, serious mistake.

STAFF: Great, thank you. Meghann.

Q: I want to see if you guys can expand on -- probably Defense Official Number One mostly -- on two points in the posture review. One is that your force posture will focus on deterring China and Russia. What does that look like? Is that more troops in those areas? Whether forward deployed or rotations?

And then there will also be a new strategic readiness framework. What are you looking for in that strategic readiness framework, in terms of building a force that meets this NDS?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Absolutely. So look, the -- one of the ways in which the 2022 National Defense Strategy's different from the 2018 National Defense Strategy, which was a very solid document, was that that one said we are worried about Russia and we are worried about the PRC.

And I think one of the things we did as we were going through our assessment of the security environment was actually see that those needed to be looked at a little bit differently. And so our focus really is that the PRC is that pacing challenge and then we see that acute threat from Russia.

And so what that means is that as we are looking at our investments, our activities, our exercises, our posture, we are going to be thinking in that vein and how we are looking at both of those.

You know, one point I would add on this front is no doubt you spent a lot of time looking at the budget request from a few months ago. That budget was built with this strategy in mind, and so it was looking at the PRC as the pacing challenge.

But there's a whole bunch of complimentarity in how one would want to build and design a future force if you were worried about the PRC as if you were worried about Russia -- so for example, investment in cyber capabilities, space capabilities, undersea capabilities, kind of that whole gamut, I would say, among -- among others as well. There's actually a bunch of overlap there. I like to think of it as sort of the two-for-one, if -- if you will.

You also asked about the strategic readiness framework. I don't have anything new to announce on it today. What I would say, though, is that there is a big focus as we were building this strategy, and I should just emphasize that Secretary Austin really owned this strategy from the beginning. He was regularly convening folks at senior levels across the Department on a very consistent basis. He pursued a really inclusive process.

And as -- you know, as that was all happening, one of the things we tried to focus on was implementation, right? The last thing anyone wants is to spend time and energy on the strategy that then is like a beautiful glossy on the shelf. And so in that implementation, as we are in the throes of it, and particularly over these last few months since delivering the classified version, implementation, for that to be meaningful, we've got to spend time on assessment. So we've got to find a -- a way to really kind of dig into the pieces that we put out in the strategy and say, "Are we having the effect that we think we are having? What does this look like?" And I think strategic readiness is just a perfect, perfect case study.

You know, this Department really does need to only further enhance its understanding of the readiness of the force, and in particular, the readiness of the force to actually do the things that one would want it to engage.

QUESTION: So you mentioned specifically capabilities being tailored to regions. More what I'm asking is, for instance, like in Europe there's been a surge of forward-deployed troops there, and it seems as if that's going to continue for quite some time. Is that the way that this is looking, that there needs to be more people, more force posture, more infrastructure in these places, versus just the specific capabilities that you think you need?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, thanks for clarifying that. So one piece of this, of course, is making sure that we're looking across domains, as I had noted per kind of the integrated deterrence concept. And so as we understand our posture, how do we make sure that we don't just think about sort of folks on the ground, which is just our more traditional view, but, for example, you know, our space capabilities, right? Those are -- those are understandably global.

As you noted, in Europe, as we saw that Russia's unprovoked aggression on Ukraine was commencing, the secretary decided to surge troops to Europe. And so we went from, I'd say, like 80- -- 85,000 or so to 105,000. And in fact, it's kind of a spectacular example. You know, we had pre-positioned equipment. We had all of the kind of agreements that we needed with our Allies across Europe, which meant that when, you know, it became clear that there was concern and that we really had to ensure that when the president said not went into NATO territory, that that was meaningful, we were able to very quickly surge -- surge folks. I'd also note that our Allies did as well, and that was pretty neat to see, how they were kind of re-posturing around the continent, as -- as well.

So what we're going to do is we're going to, you know, keep -- keep assessing and seeing what do -- what do we need, but also, what our Allies and partners need to do in a -- in these key areas.

STAFF: Great. I think so -- yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Great. First on -- you -- you said that submarine-launched cruise missile was unnecessary. I was hoping you could say about, you know, whether that conclusion was a result of military advice you might have gotten, or that was the -- the result of a policy analysis.

And then separately, I was hoping, on the broader review, you could give me a sense of how the lesson from the kind of unambiguous defeat in Afghanistan or the alliance between Russia and China is sort of emerging, how those are factored into the review that you put out.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: I wonder if you want me to take that first one for a moment.


SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: I -- pass -- no, no, no, please, (inaudible).

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: All right, so for the second, then, so let me just say everyone's voices have been heard, all right? As it applies to the current situation, Russia-Ukraine, it has zero value because even at the full-funding level, it would not arrive 'til 2035. Our deterrence posture's firm. Russia has been deterred from attacking NATO. We continue to focus on Russia and China. I think as it stands right now, there is no need to develop SLCM-N.

Right, I -- I think the other question is all you, so the (inaudible) one.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Great, and I would just add, having -- having lived the classified experience of -- of these reviews before my colleague was here, you know, I noted earlier that these reviews were conducted with a really inclusive approach; I would also say a really iterative approach. So every senior leader across the Department had opportunities, multiple opportunities to share their views. There was a lot of really open -- open dialogue throughout this process, exactly as my -- my colleague highlighted.

So this point on the PRC-Russia relationship was absolutely something that we looked hard at. You know, one of the neat things with doing these reviews is that you start by trying to understand the security environment, trying to understand the future. All right, and so we get to talk to a whole host of different folks from across the intelligence community, to other smart -- smart folks in the field to try to understand that.

And this is an area where I think particularly over the last decade or so we've seen a lot of interesting shifts where -- where Russia and where the PRC have gotten closer and closer. You know, that doesn't mean that there's not complexities in the relationship, you know. I think it appears as though the PRC was pretty surprised by the unprovoked aggression that Russia launched against Ukraine. But, nevertheless, we do see them getting closer, you know, economically, in the energy sector -- you name it. And frankly, they seem to have much more similar visions of the world, and those are, you know, not -- not really visions that are kind of in line with that international rules-based order that we and so many of our Allies and partners believe is actually best for everyone.

STAFF: Great, thank you. I'm going to turn it over to the phones, and then I'll come back into the room.

Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg?

QUESTION: Hi there. A couple questions. One, you did a good job of laying out the ends to the strategy, but there's nothing about means. What is the future years' defense budget plan for modern -- nuclear modernization? How many billions are allocated between 2023 and 2027?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Sure, Tony. I don't have the budget books in front of me, but I'll say that for '23, the proposal is on the order of $30 billion, and that number continues to go up as we hit this bow wave, which is really a result of under-investing in it over many decades and realizing that now we have to modernize all three legs instead of sequencing one leg at a time. So it -- it's going to continue to go up for many years.

STAFF: I'm sorry. Next, we'll go to Courtney with NBC.

QUESTION: Hi. Thanks. Just one quick clarification for Defense Official Two -- actually, two quick ones. For -- when you said that the threat -- the -- the threat environment has become more challenging since 2018, can you just say what happened in 2018 that changed it? I'm not clear on that.

And then you -- you also said very clearly that -- that Russia has been deterred against attacking NATO, which is a -- a -- a -- that's a -- that's a pretty big statement. I mean, because I think there's still concerns that something could happen that would be seen as an attack on NATO vis-a-vis Ukraine. So I'm wondering if you have some sense that you can share with us of -- that Russia has been deterred and will not attack NATO, and what that is. Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Sure, thank you. On your first question, the 2018 reference is really the last National Defense Strategy. That's all. We're just saying as we evolve the security environment between these large defense reviews, the security environment is unfortunately, continuing to deteriorate. That's -- that's the only point of that year being used.

Second, Russia is absolutely deterred from attacking NATO. President Biden has stated unequivocally that we will defend every inch of NATO territory, and it is very clear to us here in the Pentagon that Russia has received that message.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Absolutely. You know, I would -- I'll also add, Courtney, on your first question, we have seen that the PRC has both grown more capable and more irresponsible in its behavior in the Indo-Pacific in particular over these last years. I would just point out, to take one example, the -- the profound modernization and diversification of the PRC's nuclear capabilities -- on -- you know, in those -- in these last years.

On that -- on -- on your second question, I think not only have you seen that -- that -- that deterrence hold, we've also seen some extraordinary steps by a number of our Allies and our partners to kind of further highlight this.

So Sweden and Finland obviously on the path to joining NATO is one example. We see a number of our European Allies that are looking at increasing their defense budgets. We saw a tremendous response to -- from Allies and partners around the world, and that's really outside of, not just the defense world but across their -- their governments, sanctions being a great example, and really showing, just as was told to the Russians before -- before they invaded Ukraine, you know, there would be some serious costs if they did this. I think those costs have been a whole lot more than they might have ever even imagined.

STAFF: Great, thank you all.


(UNKNOWN): -- I think Tony was trying to ask a follow up, if you can hear me. Hello?

Q: -- from Al Jazeera. Thanks for doing this. I have two questions, one concerning the -- the Middle East after almost two decades of war and terror. Is -- is the era of conflict in the Middle East and (inaudible) over in -- in -- in your minds or do you still see threats and potentials for conflict?

And how -- how do you see the -- the two main world -- the pacing challenge, which is China, the acute threat, which is Russia -- playing out in the -- in the Middle East in the future? Will you have to deter these two powers in that region?

And secondly, on the Nuclear Posture Review, so you said, like, I believe for the first time, the U.S. had to deter two nuclear power -- powers. Do you see any indication that Russia and China are basically coordinating their strategic nuclear defense? And what does this -- what does it mean to deter two nuclear powers simultaneously? Do you have to deploy more capabilities, change where some of these capabilities are -- are deployed? In practical means, what does it mean? How would this change the way the U.S. goes about strategic defense? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So looking at the Middle East, I can't imagine that one would ever presume to say that the -- the threat environment has gone away. It is absolutely still there. And it's important from a U.S. Department of Defense perspective to make sure that we are monitoring and responding as that threat environment shifts -- we -- in particular, you know, to the extent there might be any threats to the homeland, we want to make sure that we're -- we're monitoring those.

What we all really want is a Middle East that is secure and that is stable, and we want to try to enable that working with our partners across the region. And we have seen the dynamics across the region shift in some really interesting ways. The Abraham Accords are just one really interesting example there.

I would say, you know, to look at a Department of Defense issue, as you all probably know, we brought Israel into the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility not long ago, and that has actually enabled a whole lot of worthwhile cooperation on military and defense issues by -- by some of the key actors there.

In terms of the PRC and Russia in the Middle East, we -- we do see their involvement and it is hard to imagine -- pardon me -- how that involvement is going to be terribly worthwhile and helpful to the people of the region. So the example I would take here is just how actively that Russia has supported Assad's war in Syria against his own people, and we watched for years and years how the Russians have enabled that. And so unfortunately, that has only contributed to a lack of stability and security.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Do you want me to try the nuclear -- so just on the nuclear piece, first of all, I do not want to suggest that this is a solved or closed problem and that we now have the answer. This is a new territory for us. We created an entire set of think tanks to solve it the first time just with Russia.

But for this, I will say it's similar to the conventional deterrence problem, which is how do you successfully fight one adversary while having enough reserve to hold the other at bay? And just the second part of that is it cannot be a solution where, if China has 1,000 and Russia has 1,000, then we need 2,000 because that is an arms race nobody should want to be in.

One of the big struggles we have right now for this three-party problem is China's unwillingness to come to the table. And so one of our, you know, approaches here is to try to find out how to get China to the table so we don't have some type of escalation like that.

STAFF: Great. I'll stay in the room, right here, and then I'll come back to -- over to you. Yep, go ahead.

Q: Thank you and thanks for doing this. Two separate questions.

The first, this document is 80 pages. How long is the classified version? And of the classified elements that we aren't seeing, how much of those are focused specifically on technology and are technical?

The second question -- I've been covering DOD for a bit now, and every year, I hear these commitments to faster deployment of technology, faster acquisition. So what are the elements of this strategy that will lead to concrete outcomes and will really be different than what you've been saying before?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you so much for those. So on the -- on the first one, I would say, you know, the -- the classified are -- are a bit longer. I wouldn't say they're, like, three -- three times the length necessarily. That said, it's also three reviews all-in-one. I really can't underscore enough what a big deal this is.

It is -- I mean, throughout our history, we like -- we have operated these reviews in the stovepipes and then, at best case scenario, at the end, you kind of say "Hey, what's going on in your world and how much money do you" -- right? And that's not at all what happened here. We actually baked the cake together, and that -- that was -- that was pretty darn meaningful.

This point on technology's an important one and it is absolutely an area of -- of -- of emphasis. Undersecretary Heidi Shyu from Research and Engineering is spending a ton of time on making sure that we've got a technology approach that is thoughtful and considered and -- and can be realized.

This next point on faster deployment of technology, I very much hear you that this is a refrain you have no doubt been subject to before. That said, I would just offer the case study of Ukraine because it is a pretty intriguing one, where you've seen, first of all, our security assistance system move a whole lot faster than I think any of us had ever conceived was -- was actually possible. You've also seen the -- and that has happened, of course, you know, with Allies and partners around the world and us enabling what they're doing as well.

But what's also been interesting to see has been taking capabilities and using them in different ways, you know, taking existing capabilities and using them in new and -- and innovative ways. So I think that has been pretty, pretty important. And so it does tell me that there is more -- kind of the -- you know, that this can be more -- more feasible going forward because we've had this experience.

I would finally just wrap with the -- the idea of co-development and how we're pushing it. You know, AUKUS, this -- the -- this gathering that we've got with us, the Australians and -- and the Brits, I think has -- presents just a ton of potential in that vein as well.

STAFF: Great. (Lula ?)?

Q: Thank you. (inaudible) the international dimension of this -- of this strategy (inaudible) how you have consulted with your major strategic partners and Allies? And where do you place India, which is -- which is (inaudible) to the China because the (inaudible) incursions and the Quad in this Indo-Pacific dimension?

(inaudible) if I may ask about Pakistan's (inaudible) for (inaudible) the only country where the nuclear (threats experts ?) here in this building (inaudible) had said that, "I fear that may go into the hands of the rogue elements of the state actors and even non-state actors as well, worried that this" (inaudible)?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Absolutely. We consulted Allies and partners throughout the development of this review. You know, I had noted that, as we were trying to understand the security environment in particular, just how important it is for us to hear from -- from other voices. So we very much took that approach, and it was consistently quite -- quite useful.

Regarding India, this is an area that, you know, we have seen just a tremendous -- tremendous growth in the relationship since the 2005 agreement between Prime Minister Singh and President Bush. And I think the push, you know, of late is just -- you know, there's a lot of really good opportunity that's in the defense space but also really -- really beyond that space as well.

And the Quad keys off of that as well. You know, a number of our Allies and partners and, I would just say, the Quad members, you know, do increasingly see the security environment in very similar ways. I think we are all investing in our forces and trying to find new and innovative ways for us to collaborate.

STAFF: And I suspect you want to take the --

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That would be (inaudible).

STAFF: Okay, great. I'm going to go to the phones, and then I'll come back into the room

Michael Gordon, Wall Street Journal?

QUESTION: Thank you. Question for Defense Official Number One.

The general outlines of your strategy is very consistent with the one from -- as you've noted, from January 2018, with the emphasis on China and Russia. And that document was criticized by a congressionally mandated review, in which you yourself played a supporting role, for not stating anything concrete about operational concepts and spelling out in greater detail how to make this all happen.

My question is, five years later, why didn't you use this review to discuss a little more fully the operational concepts for implementing this strategy, and maybe lay out some benchmarks for how you hope to make this occur?

And connected with that, some of your own former colleagues have expressed concern that this is heavily weighted to the 2030s, and the coming five years is a period of vulnerability, and the DOD is not doing enough to guard against that kind of threat. There was a Foreign Affairs article on that.

Is that a valid criticism? Are you dropping the ball a little bit, on what needs to be done over the next five years, as you look towards 2030 capabilities?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks for that, Michael. I appreciate it. I do want to just emphasize one point. Again, the difference -- one of the big differences with 2018 and 2022 is that we do say that the PRC is the pacing challenge, and then we say that Russia is an acute threat. That is a meaningful difference from -- from 2018 that I would note. And I appreciate the great work by the folks who did 2018 to start to show that we needed to refocus from the post-9/11 wars.

This point on operational concepts, I'm delighted you raised it because it's an important one. There actually has been some tremendous work in the Department, particularly over the last two and a half years or so, on this front. I think the joint war-fighting concept is a very case study here. And I think we've also seen a lot of smart effort by -- by the various services as well. I would shout out to the U.S. Marine Corps in particular, with the work that they've done with Force Design 2030 and the creative operating concepts that they have tried to build through that.

On this issue of the -- the time period, you know, we really tried to look across time periods. We tried to, in fact, look, kind of, across the next three future years defense plans to really try to understand how and in what ways, A, is the threat environment changing, and, B, is our necessary response also going to change?

Because we need to make sure that we are evolving in that way. And that could include the investments that we need to pursue or the activities and exercises that we need to do as well.

So we've really tried to balance our approach to risk, across all of those and across the entire joint force. And I think if you look through just the last -- the President's budget submission from -- from last March, I think you see this is pretty nicely done, right? You see a really big emphasis on building a combat-credible force. You also see an emphasis on readiness, for example -- I think about $130 billion or so -- which does show really that need to also be able to manage risk in the nearer term as well.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: I -- I'd just like to add I would just, you know, respectfully reject the notion that we are dropping the ball between now and 2030. I think Secretary Austin's, you know, vision and statement at the beginning of his tenure, that China's a pacing challenge has focused this entire Department on China faster and more thoroughly than anything I could have anticipated.

And we are heavily invested in making sure that China does not attempt to use force to, for instance, take Taiwan in this decade.

STAFF: Great. I'm going to take one more from the phone and then -- I'm going to come -- I'm going to come into the room, just a sec. Paul with Politico?

Q: Hi, thank you. Since you undertook this review, Russia's, I guess, defense -- military status has changed greatly. They've lost thousands of troops, thousands of vehicles, tanks, things like that in Ukraine, and they're threatening nuclear war. How does that change your focus on Russia going forward? And you said that hasn't really been -- that it's been reflected in the document but can you just talk a little bit more about -- there about how you -- what your assessment is about the threat from Russia?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: We're really working to understand how and in what ways Russia's forces have been degraded through the last six, seven months or so of this war. You highlighted the -- the ground piece in particular, but of course, we know folks operate across domains. And so one would really have to take a cross-domain perspective of -- of this to really -- really try to understand that.

So as you can imagine, there is a lot of focus of understanding kind of how -- how and in what ways Russia's forces' capabilities and capacity are -- are shifting throughout -- throughout this -- this war on Ukraine.

I would just highlight, of course, that this war really occurred just to -- to the Russians and it could also end today if -- if they would like to stop their unprovoked aggression.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah, from my standpoint, I think from all our standpoint, just the practical effect of their depletion of their conventional forces is unfortunately an even greater reliance on their nuclear forces.

STAFF: Great. I'm going to -- we have a hard stop at 10:30 so I'm going to go to Kasem over here and then I'll come back.

Q: Yeah, I have three questions. So one on defense strategy document. When we look at the National Security Strategy, we see an emphasis on competition with China rather than challenging or deterring it. And also, we see Russia as a dangerous -- we -- being kind of defined as a dangerous Russia, but here, we see that Russia is acute threat while China is something to be deterred. There is a slight nuance between the two documents. What is the reason of this one?

And the second question -- in the document, it says Iran does not pursue a nuclear weapon. That's a quite definitive statement. Could you elaborate on that?

And then the -- the third question, if I may -- it talks in the Nuclear Posture Review, it talks about deterring threats by modernizing the -- the -- (inaudible) strengthen the -- the -- the regional deterrence by such as employing F-35s, dual-capable fighters to the -- to equipped with the B61-12 bombs. And then further down, the strategy talks about talking to the Allies who have those bombs and then transitioning their air capabilities to -- to carry these bombs.

Turkiye is a -- one of the countries that has these B61-12 bombs and then Turkiye is also now out of the F-35 program, which is -- in this document, it is defined to carry these bombs. So how are you going to transition the capabilities in the nuclear capabilities in Turkey to modernized aircraft if the document -- if they're already out of the program?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Great. So on -- on the first one, I actually don't see differences in how the National Security Strategy and how the National Defense Strategy have approached either the PRC or Russia. In fact, many of the words are -- are quite similar to -- just being one -- one of those -- those -- those example. We worked very closely with their team to ensure that we nested and that we represented what -- what made sense from what you would want the U.S. Department of Defense to do.

You know, I -- I think it's clear on the PRC, across the U.S. government, we're not seeking containment, confrontation, or -- or conflict in that we need to kind of responsibly manage this -- this competition. I think we recognize kind of what our role needs to be from the Department of Defense, and that is to -- to ensure that the U.S. military has the capabilities that -- that it needs for potential contingencies.

Regarding the Iran piece, that -- that language was worked out with our Intelligence Community, of course. If -- if that -- you know, we would have ensured that that was in line. And I think -- I don't want to get deep into that topic. I would just say we have obviously watched Iranian behavior, in particular its support to proxies and militias that has destabilized the region, and that has been quite unfortunate, of course, for the people of the -- the region as well.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: On the dual capable aircraft question, it's really a NATO approach, and all Allies offer differ -- different forms of support to that and many of them choose to -- to participate in the nuclear planning. So I just say that any one piece of hardware does not take someone out of the -- the NATO nuclear equation.

STAFF: Great. We have time for just -- maybe two more. So Carla, I'll go to you, and then Courtney.

Q: Thank you. I just wanted to follow up on Michael Gordon’s question because you talk to any expert here in D.C., they'll say that China is ready to strike -- wants to be ready by 2027 at the latest. I mean, Admiral Gilday just said 2022 or 2023 is when we need to be planning for this, as in now and next year.

So what specifically in this strategy has the U.S. -- or is the U.S. working on to deter China and prevent China from attacking Taiwan this year or next year or the year -- we're not talking 2030, we're talking right now. What can you point to?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you very -- very much. Look, obviously we -- we have heard different folks speculate on -- on the timing. I think our view, as you see nested across -- across this strategy, is that the U.S. military needs to be ready, right? And we need to be ready -- and we also know that we need to be ready alongside our Allies and our partners who will have an important role to play here. So I would say building a combat-credible force, right, really modernizing a U.S. military so that it is capable of dealing with but ideally, in particular, deterring such a contingency.

One of the, you know, four priorities is being able to deter and, if necessary, be able to prevail. And I would point out that language because it is quite specific and it is focused on the PRC in the Indo-Pacific as really that -- that top priority.

I would highlight that, you know, the exercises that we're engaged in, particularly with Allies and partners around the region, is pretty important. Also, that we see that folks across the region do need to make a lot of their -- their own investments, you know, making sure that Taiwan has the asymmetric capabilities that it needs to also protect itself. So there's a -- there's a lot that we need to do and there's also, I think, a lot that -- that needs to happen as well.

And when we are thinking about deterrence, we do want to ensure that we're taking as holistic of a view as possible. So partnerships, I mentioned AUKUS earlier. That is a really interesting example not just of building capability, but also showing a pretty powerful deterrence effect, as well.

So bottom line is I won't kind of pin down any -- any date. We just want to make sure that we've got a U.S. military alongside its Allies and partners ready to deal with any contingencies that -- that might arise.

STAFF: Great. We're going to take the last question right here.

QUESTION: Hi. I'm (inaudible) from the Post. I had a question that goes into the section of the report where you're talking about what happens (inaudible). There's a big TBD, it seems like, in that section of the report where it's like, you talk about the policies that you reviewed in (inaudible), but then kind of say, like, right after this the -- there's going to be an updating of the Nuclear Weapons Employment Guidance, but seems to put that in the hands of the White House and in others. Is there a timeline for that sort of update in addition to what is in this document? Is that going to potentially address these questions and the -- you know, the acute threat from Russia and the timing of the -- the near threat of, you know, what the United States does and potential response if Russia makes good on these threats. And that just kind of seems like a big potential -- I mean, it -- it's a pretty serious TBD, if that's -- can you describe that process of what's going to be happening next and -- and what it's going to take into account, and if it's going to address the (inaudible)?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Let me just try to answer that from a slightly higher level, and appreciate the question. But there's no gap. There's no lack of Nuclear Weapons Employment Guidance. These documents are constantly revisited administration after administration, NPR after NPR. I will say flat out that we are -- our forces are ready, trained, able and -- to deter both Russian and -- and China from nuclear strikes. So it's not -- it's not pending some future employment guidance. This is just revisions that occur over time to more closely match administrative policies.

STAFF: Great. Thank you all.

With that, we are going to conclude this backgrounder for today, embargoed, again, until 11:30 a.m Eastern, and we will see you later today.

Thanks, all, and thank you to our senior defense officials.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you, everybody.