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Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds an On-Camera Press Briefing

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: All right. Good afternoon. A few items to pass along, and we'll get right to your questions.

So as we announced yesterday, Secretary Austin is traveling today to Fort Bragg to welcome back the soldiers of the 18th Airborne Corps who deployed to Germany in February in support of U.S. Army Europe and Africa to assure our NATO allies and to deter Russian aggression. The secretary will thank them for their support to our NATO partners, and will also express his gratitude to their families for their support and for the sacrifices they continue to make for our nation.

Separately, U.S. and Republic of Korea units began Exercise Vigilant Storm yesterday, which is a training event that will enhance combat readiness and interoperability for all units involved. Approximately 240 aircraft and thousands of service members from the ROK Air Force, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy and U.S. Army will participate in this training. This year's event, which was long-scheduled, will strengthen the operational and tactical capabilities, combined air operations and support our strong, combined defense posture.

Looking ahead, Secretary Austin will attend the U.S. Space Force Change of Responsibility Ceremony tomorrow at Joint Base Andrews, which will include a retirement ceremony for the Space Force's first chief of space operations, General John W.J. Raymond. Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall will officiate the Change of Command Responsibility Ceremony, where General Raymond will relinquish office to U.S. Space Force General Chance Saltzman at 10:30 A.M. Secretary Austin will provide remarks and recognize General Raymond for his many years of dedicated service to our nation.

And finally, Secretary Austin looks forward to hosting his Republic of Korea counterpart, Minister of National Defense Lee Jong-sup on Thursday for the Republic of Korea Security Consultative Meeting here at the Pentagon. The purpose of this annual consultative meeting is to serve as a venue to discuss and affirm national commitments toward the continued development of the ROK-U.S. alliance in a mutually reinforcing and enduring manner. We'll have more information to provide on that in the coming days.

And with that, I will take your questions. We'll start with Tara, A.P.

Q: (inaudible) as some other Western officials have noted that Iran is intent on supplying Russia up to 1,000 additional munitions, including ballistic missiles and additional drones?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Tara.

So we've seen the press reporting on that. I don't have any specific information to provide. We do know that Russia has provided -- or excuse me -- Iran has provided Russia with UAVs, which we anticipate they'll likely seek more of those. We do have concerns that Russia may also seek to acquire additional advanced munition capabilities from Iran, for example, surface-to-surface missiles to use in Ukraine. And so if we see Russia employing such capabilities on the battlefield, we'll certainly do what we can to illuminate that. I would say that this just is indicative though, regardless, the relationship between Russia and Iran, their continued collusion to attack Ukrainians -- Ukrainian citizens and sustain Russia's illegal occupation.

Q: Is there anything else that can be read into that, such as Russia's munitions are actually in a depleted state? And does it add any urgency to getting air defense systems like the NASAMS onto the battlefield?

GEN. RYDER: Well, I think it does speak to the state of Russia's munitions capability. We've said before that we assess that they are -- they continue to experience supply shortages when it comes to munitions, particularly guided munitions. It also is indicative of where they're seeking munitions from countries like North Korea and Iran, which says a lot about the kind of company they keep and where they stand in the world right now in terms of isolation.

In terms of air defense capabilities, this continues to be a priority for the U.S. government, for the Department of Defense to work closely with the Ukrainians, with our allies and our partners to try to get them additional air defense capability. As you highlighted with the NASAMS, we expect those to be delivered very soon. Again, we'll allow the Ukrainians to announce when those arrive in country. But we're going to continue to look at other ways that we can support them.

In addition, Secretary Austin continues to speak frequently with his partners and our allies, his counterparts, to identify what other capabilities might exist within their own stocks or within their own defense industrial bases to be able to support Ukraine in that regard.

Thank you.

Lara?

Q: Thanks for doing this.

There have been some reports that Iran is poised to carry out attacks in Saudi Arabia and in Iraq to distract from the domestic protests, and that the Saudi and U.S. military has raised alert levels there. Can you confirm these reports? And do you have any additional information to share?

GEN. RYDER: Well, as you know, I'm -- I'm not going to talk about specific force protection levels. I can say that we do remain concerned about the -- the threat situation in the region. We're in -- in regular contact with our Saudi partners in terms of what information they may have to provide on that front. But what we've said before, and I'll repeat it, is that we will reserve the right to protect and defend ourselves no matter where our forces are serving, whether in Iraq or elsewhere.

Q: Can you confirm that there is a specific threat (inaudible)?

GEN. RYDER: I'm not going to have anything beyond what I've provided.

Thank you.

Q: And then just as a different question, can you give us an update on when the NASAMS is going to be delivered to Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Again, we expect them to be delivered relatively soon. I'm not going to be able to get more specific than that, and for operations security purposes, we'll allow the Ukrainians to announce when they've arrived and when they're operational.

Thank you.

Okay, let me go to the phone here real quick, and then I'll come back to the room. Howard from War Zone?

Q: Thanks, Pat.

Got a question: A Russian hacker called Joker claims to have accessed the Ukrainian Delta command -- command and control system. Can you confirm that? And do you have -- has that raised additional concerns about similar U.S. systems?

GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Howard.

I -- I don't have any information to provide on that. I'd -- I'd refer you to the Ukrainians to talk about their own systems. As you know, from a U.S. military standpoint, cybersecurity is something that we take very seriously at -- at every level, and while I don't have anything specific to provide, that's an area that we'll continue to pay close attention to and ensure that not only are we protecting our systems, but that our people are taking the appropriate training and taking appropriate precautions. But nothing specific to provide.

Thanks, Howard.

All right, Liz?

Q: Thank you.

The U.S. is planning to send B-52 bombers to Australia as part of a normal rotation. China said this may trigger an arms race. Is China overreacting?

GEN. RYDER: So when it comes to aircraft rotating through Australia, as you know, we have a long-standing relationship with Australia, and it's not uncommon for us to send aircraft through to participate in joint exercises, combined exercises with Australia. I think that it does send a clear signal to countries in the region, first of all, that the U.S. is a reliable partner and that we do take -- maintain capabilities to be avail -- available to respond to a -- a variety of contingencies worldwide. But it also sends a clear message that we do have the capability to deter, and if necessary, engage. And I'll just leave it at that. Thank you.

Janne?

Q: Thank you, sir. I have two questions on North Korea. North Korea has predicted that it will launch a more powerful military provocation in response to the U.S. and South Korea joint air exercises, Vigilant -- I mean, Vigilant Storm. It was also reported that North Korea would test both hypersonic cruise missiles and tactical nuclear weapons in its seventh nuclear test. How would you comment on this?

GEN. RYDER: So I'm not going to speak for North Korea. I -- again, vigilant -- the -- the exercise that we're conducting is a long-planned exercise focused on enhancing interoperability of our forces to work together to defend the Republic of Korea and our allies in the region. Thanks.

Q: If -- one more -- if North Korea actually uses nuclear weapons, will the United States be ready for preemptive strikes before North Korea uses nuclear weapons?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Janne. I'm not -- I'm not going to get into hypotheticals but thank you.

Sir?

Q: To follow up on the NASAMS question, is the Pentagon in discussion with Raytheon or Kongsberg about any contractors that would be needed to set up the system as it goes in country? And then I've got another question on a separate matter.

GEN. RYDER: We can get back to you on the specifics of the -- you know, what role the contractor plays in that. Certainly, as you highlight, it is a relationship, working with contractors, to ensure the systems are in place, that training is provided, but we'll -- we'll get back to you on that.

Q: And is there any update on Starlink? Is the Pentagon still in discussion with Starlink and other providers for a satellite -- SATCOM or has that ended? Can you provide any update on contracting?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. What I would say is that we continue to discuss Ukraine's satellite communication needs with Ukraine and companies like SpaceX and others. I have no announcements to make today in regards to any potential contracts or future agreements.

As you know, on Friday, we did announce that we would be delivering four SATCOM antenna to Ukraine to -- to support their satellite communication needs but nothing new to announce today. Thank you.

Ryo?

Q: Thank you very much, General. I want to ask you about the U.S. deployment of fighter jets in Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. The F-15s are retiring. The Japanese Ministry of Defense said today the U.S. is considering to deploy -- considering options to deploy more capable aircraft to Kadena permanently. I'm wondering how soon the U.S. will make a concrete, long term plan to replace F-15s. And do -- do you think the U.S. should have worked out such a replacement plan before F-15s in Okinawa start leaving -- start leaving this month?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Ryo. So first of all, I would just say upfront that the U.S. commitment to Japan and regional security and the defense of Japan remains ironclad. And so as part of the Air Force's -- the U.S. Air Force's modernization plan, they are retiring F-15 C and D models, and this fleet of aircraft, which has been in service for more than 30 years, will start a phased withdrawal from Kadena Air Base starting on, you know, today, 1 November.

So we'll continue to maintain a steady state presence at Kadena Air Base by -- by rotational deployments, and this will include fourth gen -- advanced fourth gen and fifth generation aircraft to backfill the F-15s as they depart.

So I would certainly encourage you to reach out to the Air Force. They can provide you with some additional details on that. Thank you.

All right, let me go to the phone here real quick. Heather from USNI?

Q: Great, thank you so much. Two quick questions.

On the first is I wanted to see if there was any update to a damage assessment or an idea of what caused the explosions at Sevastopol and Crimea?

And then I heard that the -- that Red Hill is -- that the Joint Task Force Red Hill is planning to release its most updated plan today. I was wondering if you have any comments on the current unpacking right now, going on in the pipes, or about a potential plan coming out?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks very much, Heather. Again, we -- we are aware of the explosions that occurred near Sevastopol. I don't have any information to provide specifically in terms of the situation there, and I'll just leave it at that.

As far as Red Hill goes, we can -- we can get that information and come back to you, as far as the status of the unpacking. Thank you.

Okay, sir?

Q: Hi, thanks. Travis Tritten with Military.com. So the military has personnel inside of Ukraine that is -- that are -- who are doing weapons inspections now. I'm wondering what the rules of engagement for those personnel are if they are fired on by the Russians or if they're targeted by the Russians.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. So as mentioned, we do have small teams that are comprised of embassy personnel that are conducting some inspections of security assistance delivery at a variety of locations. And again, this is part of a -- a broader effort of the U.S. government to track U.S.-provided capabilities and to prevent the illicit spread throughout Eastern Europe.

Again, I will highlight up front we have no indication that there has been any type of illicit spread. The capabilities that we've provided to the Ukrainians are being used effectively on the battlefield.

In terms of personnel that are conducting these inspections, my understanding is they would be well -- well far away from any type of frontline actions. We are relying on the Ukrainians to do that, we're relying on other partners to do that. So essentially, that would not be the case for -- for U.S. personnel.

So again, that is something that we'll continue to -- to ensure, you know, the safety and the welfare of our folks that are doing this, but the point being they're not going to be operating on the front lines.

Q: So up until this point, there haven't been any U.S. troops inside of Ukraine, and now we do have U.S. troops inside Ukraine --

(CROSSTALK)

GEN. RYDER: -- I would -- yeah, that's -- that's not -- we've had U.S. forces serving at the embassy as part of the -- the Defense Attaché Office, which is where these guys are assigned. So we've been very clear there are no combat forces in Ukraine, no U.S. forces conducting combat operations in Ukraine. These are personnel that are assigned to -- to conduct security cooperation and assistance as part of the Defense Attaché Office.

Q: Right, but this would be different because they'd be working outside the U.S. embassy. I'm just wondering if people should read this as an escalation in U.S. involvement in the war?

GEN. RYDER: No, no, no, this is just responsible management of the capabilities that we're providing to the Ukrainians. And as I mentioned, the Ukrainians are working very closely with us to provide insight and tracking of those capabilities in places where it's not safe for U.S. personnel to go. Thank you.

Q: -- if I can just follow up on that, can you clarify are these -- are there U.S. troops, like U.S. Marines, security forces protecting the embassy personnel who is doing the inspections?

GEN. RYDER: We have U.S. Marines at the embassy doing normal U.S. Marine-type guard duties. But my understanding is that, to your point, these are not combat squads that are going out. These are personnel that are going out in areas where they're not going to be in harm's way to conduct these types of inspections.

Again, to put this into context, if you've got capabilities that are at a logistics node being tracked before they go into country, then when they come into country and they're delivered to the Ukrainians and then they are at their own logistic nodes tracking those and then dispersed out to the front lines. Our folks are not going to be on the front lines.

Q: Right, but are there Marine security guards going with the embassy teams that are conducting these inspections?

GEN. RYDER: To my knowledge, no. But, we'll check on that and come back to you. Jim?

Q: General, just a … by my own calculations, the Ukrainians on their defense side have all the legacy Soviet systems, they got S300s from Slovakia, they've got Stingers from the United States, they've got hawks coming in from the Spanish, they have German systems. Pretty soon they're going to have the NASAMS.

But for all of those air defense assets to be effective they've got to be integrated. I mean, can that variety of air defense measures actually be integrated? They are far vastly different systems, they have different radars, they have different everything really.

GEN. RYDER: Well, the short answer is, you can integrate any air defense system, it just depends on how you're -- you know, the level -- the advanced level of how you're going to integrate that. So, that is, again, an area that we continue to work with the Ukrainians on, not only us but our allies and our partners, to look at how they do improve their air defenses.

But, I would submit to you they've demonstrated in many cases that they've done a very good job of integrating air defenses, particularly, for example, when it comes to taking down a significant percentage of the Iranian drones. But, again, that will be an area that we'll continue to work with them on.

Q: Do we have contractors -- are there contractors in Ukraine working this problem or is that --

GEN. RYDER: Not to my knowledge, no.

Q: -- or is that something outside?

GEN. RYDER: Not to my knowledge. Yes.

Q: Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Thanks. Sir?

Q: Thank you. So, two questions. So, the U.S. has mentioned that the Iranian arms shipments to Russia are a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. And has the U.S. has previously interdicted Iranian arms shipments bound for places such as Yemen. Are U.S. forces working to intercept Iranian weapons bound for Russia?

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so I don't have anything to announce today in regards of any type of U.S. military interdiction of Iranian weapons. You've heard State Department and the White House talk about a variety of efforts to include potential sanctions and sanctions to prevent that from happening. I will say from a DOD standpoint right now our focus is on working with Ukraine to get them the security assistance they need, where it matters, which is on the battlefield. But this is something that we'll continue to keep a close eye on.

Q: And then the second one is regarding the inspections, so just to confirm, are these -- these are civilian or military personnel who are carrying out the inspections of the weapons in Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Let -- its embassy personnel. Let me get back to you in terms of the specific composition, as much as we can, obviously, within operations security.

Q: And it was mentioned, I think that the inspections have been going on and then they were halted and then they resumed. When were they halted and why did that happen?

GEN. RYDER: I'll have to get back to you on that one. Thanks.

Q: Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Okay, let me go back to the phone here. Joe Gould, Defense News.

Q: Yes, thanks so much. Question on air defenses, the VAMPIRE systems, the commitment to provide VAMPIRE systems was announced going back a couple of months, but nothing's been finalized. What's the timeframe around that and what's the level of urgency given the drone threat at present? Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks very much. You know, as mentioned, air defense continues to be a priority. It's something we're going to continue to stay focused on and work as quickly as we can. When it comes to the VAMPIREs we do expect a contract award within the next few months. And then right now we're anticipating delivery to be mid 2023. Thank you.

All right, let me go to Alex from Newsweek.

Q: Hey, thank you for doing this today. So my question, a few weeks ago CNN's Fareed Zakaria asked Secretary Austin a question about potential Russian nuclear weapons use. In his response Secretary Austin said that the guy who makes that decision, it's one man. There are no checks on Mr. Putin. Just as he made the irresponsible decision to invade Ukraine, he could make another decision.

Does this assessment reflect the understanding of the Pentagon and if whether Putin gives an order to use nuclear weapons whether tactical or strategic is there really no way for anyone in Russia to potentially stop such an order from being carried out?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. So, you know, we continue to take President Putin's rhetoric very seriously, it's something we continue to monitor closely. As Secretary Austin also said, we have no indications that President Putin has made a decision at this time to employ nuclear weapons.

But again, it's something that we're going to watch very, very closely. Continue to keep the lines of communication open with our allies and partners. So we'll just leave it at that. Thank you. Sir?

Q: I was curious to follow-up on the question of Iran supply munitions and go back to when the U.S. warned that -- that Russia was reaching out to China and North Korea for -- for different munitions.

China and North Korea both denied supplying and I wonder if that remains the case. Does the U.S. believe that China and North Korea have at any point supplied weaponry or other equipment to Russia's war?

GEN. RYDER: So we don't -- we don't have any indications at this time that China has supplied or is intending to supply any capabilities to Russia. We do know as we previously mentioned that Russia has solicited weapons or ammo rather from North Korea.

And so that's obviously -- I've seen the North Korean denials of that. Let them speak for themselves. But it is our assessment that Russia does continue to seek arms from North Korea and from Iran. Thank you.

Okay, let me go back out to the phone here. Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.

Q: Thank you. Does the Pentagon have any kind of assessment of how many helicopters and fixed wing aircraft the Russians have lost in Ukraine since February?

GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Jeff. I don't -- I don't have any numbers to provide from the podium. Thank you.

Okay, let's go to Phil Stewart, Reuters.

Q: Hey there. I just wanted to clarify something. Earlier when you had spoken about how there were no indications that donor weapons had been illicitly trafficked out of Ukraine, I was wondering does that include weapons that were potentially captured by Russian forces and then later, you know, made their way out.

Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Yes, so -- so part of this process is when there are losses on the battlefield, for example the Ukrainians reporting those losses so that we can account for those capabilities. Thank you.

Let's go to Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg.

Q: Hi, Pat. A couple questions, one on the long-now-forgotten National Defense Strategy. I've seen posters in the Pentagon corridors with the wordings from the NDS talking about campaigning. It defines "campaigning" as the conduct and sequencing of logically-linked military activities to achieve strategy-aligned objectives over time. Can you translate into -- that into English in terms of an example or two of what campaigning is, since the Pentagon's highlighting that phrase?

GEN. RYDER: Sure, thanks, Tony. I mean, that seems perfectly clear to me, so --

(Laughter.)

And it -- really, it's exactly what it says in terms of campaigning. And so if you think of individual activities, engagements, the sum of those parts to achieve operational objectives or strategic objectives is really what campaigning is all about. And so for example, as you look at the fight in Ukraine right now and you look at the individual battles that Ukraine is fighting, the campaign is the broader strategic or operational effort. And so for the National Defense Strategy, as we look at carrying out that strategy and -- and addressing our pacing challenge, China, the plan makes clear that the kinds of activities that we undertake will contribute to the ends that we desire, which is a free and open Indo-Pacific, and the kinds of engagements and activities that we will undertake that all cumulate to achieve that effect or those outcomes. Thank you.

All right, Courtney?

Q: Can I just ask, on your list that you're going to get back to us on the -- the military personnel who are doing these inspections, if it's possible, if -- if you can provide the information about, you know, whether they're military or civilian, when the inspection started, like, stopped and started, as somebody asked? And then just any kind of a rough idea of, like, how many personnel there are, how many of these inspections they've been doing, like, you know, are -- are they actually kind of going to the front lines? Are they -- and also, are they doing these in person, or are there virtual ones --

GEN. RYDER: Sure.

Q: -- they've been doing? So like, any more fidelity on it, I think, is -- would be -- would be helpful.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. The -- absolutely. I would also point you to the transcript from the background briefing that was conducted yesterday with a senior defense official that talked through some of -- addressed some of your questions in terms of employing capabilities, virtual capabilities, for example, in terms of working with the Ukrainians to get the information. But we'll certainly get something to you.

Q: Yeah, I -- I guess what we're -- again, we're just -- we're -- I think what we're trying to figure out is just like, when these restarted, and just how many people. Because the -- you're -- if I'm not mistaken, some of our European allies have been doing this for a while, so we're trying to -- I'm trying to get a sense of just how long it's been happening and how substantial it is.

And also, the other thing I'm still not clear on, if -- if you can provide more fidelity in this large RTQ that we're -- we're asking you for is did these -- these personnel, did they come into the country specifically with the job of doing these inspections, or were they people who were assigned to the embassy and then assigned this role?

GEN. RYDER: Sure, yeah, again -- again, my understanding, these are individuals assigned to the embassy, but we'll get back to you with your questions.

Q: Okay, thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you.

Okay, let me go to Alex Horton, Washington Post.

Q: Yeah, thanks, Pat. I want to go back to what I think Phil Stewart was asking in his follow-up, didn’t get a chance to, about Russian diversion. The State Department said last week that pro-Russian forces' capture, including donated material, is, quote, "the main vector of diversion so far, and could result in onward transfers." So from DOD's perspective, could you give us any specific items that you know have been captured by Russia and moved around?

GEN. RYDER: I will look into that and come back to you on anything we've got to provide. I'm -- I'm not currently aware of anything, but we'll come back to you. Thank you.

Okay, and just a couple more here. Victoria from Nippon?

Q: Hi, yes. Thank you for taking my question. There was a report recently that if Republicans should take the House majority, that they would pull back some of the funding on military assistance for Ukraine next year. So I just wanted to ask, if funding was reduced, what kind of effect do you think that there would be on Ukraine, and what response would the Pentagon have to this?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks very much, Victoria. So certainly, I don't want to get ahead of the -- the midterm elections or speculate on the -- the outcome. I will say -- and you've heard us say this before -- we've had excellent bipartisan support to date when it comes to Ukraine, and so the department will continue to work closely with Congress on this important issue. But beyond that, I won't -- I won't have anything to provide. Thank you.

All right, let me go to Jared from Al-Monitor.

Q: Hi, sir. I was just wondering if you could clarify about this -- regarding this report about Iranian threats to Saudi Arabia and Iraq. You mentioned that the U.S. remains in communication with Saudi counterparts about what more they might be able to offer. Have the Saudis provided anything to the U.S. that would -- in -- over the past few days that would be a cause for concern in this regard?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Jared. I'm not going to have any additional information to provide. Again, we continue to communicate regularly, and yeah, I'll just leave it at that. Thank you.

Okay, and then last question will go to Tuna Sunil from Turkish News.

Q: Thank you very much for the briefing, General Ryder. My question is about the U.S. military deployments to Greece. Some press reports in Greece say the U.S. is planning to send 600 soldiers, as well as First Army Aviation Brigade; mainly consist of attack helicopters from the Fort Hood, Texas, to the Alexandroupoli Port in Greece. Are these reports are accurate? Does the DOD confirm these reports? Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks very much. I'm -- I'm not tracking anything at the moment, but we'll look into that and come back to you.

Okay, and final question goes to Luis.

Q: Can you tell us when the monitoring of weapons to Ukraine began?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I think Courtney asked that question, so we'll look into that.

Q: So was it prompted by the State Department's announcement last week, or was it already underway?

GEN. RYDER: So this is -- my understanding is it's been an ongoing effort, right? And so State Department announced the plan this week, but my understanding is that the -- the plan's been in development for a while. But we'll -- we'll get back to you on the -- those specifics.

Q: And a senior official said yesterday that DOD was conducting hands-on training with Ukrainian military forces so that they could gather data in areas where the U.S. personnel could not go. Is that a training program that's taking place inside Ukraine, or is that something that's taking place outside of the country, like we're seeing with the other weapons systems?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, let me get back to you on that. Thank you.

Okay, thanks very much, everybody. Appreciate it.

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