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

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH:  All right.  Hi, everyone.  Happy Friday.  So I just have a few things at the top and then I'd be happy to go on and take your questions.

So just at the top today, today the department is announcing approximately $400 million in additional security systems for Ukraine under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, or USAI.  The USAI package underscores the continued U.S. commitment to supporting Ukraine by meeting their most urgent requirements while also providing -- while also building the capacity of Ukraine's armed forces to defend its sovereignty over the long term.

This announcement's -- this announcement represents the beginning of a contracting process to provide additional priority capabilities to Ukraine.  Some of the capabilities include funding to refurbish HAWK air defense missiles for inclusion in future presidential drawdown packages; 45 refurbished T-72 tanks with advanced optics, communications, and armor packages; 1,100 Phoenix Ghost tactical unmanned aerial systems; 40 armored riverine boats; funding to refurbish 250 M1117 armored security vehicles provided via the Excess Defense Articles; tactical secure communication systems and surveillance systems; and funding for maintenance and sustainment.

Of note on the overhauled T-72 tanks included in this package, they are part of a trilateral coordinated effort with the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

The USAI release and trilateral statement should to be available on defense.gov and hopefully shortly hitting your inboxes.

So in total, the United States has now committed more than $18.9 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden-Harris administration.  Since 2014 the U.S. has committed more than $21 billion in security assistance and more than $18.2 billion since the beginning of Russia's unprovoked and brutal invasion on February 24th.

One last note, finally as mentioned on Tuesday from the podium, Secretary Austin welcomed home members of the 18th Airborne Corps who deployed to Germany in February 2022 to assure our NATO allies and to deter Russian aggression.  Following Russia's brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, their mission swiftly evolved to support the execution of historic levels of security assistance provided by the United States and our partners and allies around the world to support Ukraine's defense.

The United States remains committed to supporting Ukraine's near-term needs on the battlefield and its long-term requirements to deter and defend against future Russian aggression.

To maintain the historic level of our ongoing security assistance support for Ukraine, I'm pleased to announce today that the department will establish the Security Assistance Group Ukraine, what we will SAGU, which is a dedicated headquarters element in Wiesbaden, Germany and under U.S. European Command to coordinate our efforts.  This headquarters will be similarly-scaled in scope to our current footprint, but it will ensure we are postured to continue supporting Ukraine over the long term.

And with that, I will take your questions.  We will turn to the phones first.  Tara Copp, AP?

Q:  Hey, thanks for doing this.  On the USAI, you said about $400 million.  Do you have an exact figure of what this USI -- AI number is?

MS. SINGH:  I would say approximately $400 million.  I don't have the exact, specific number.

Q:  And then -- so these will all be for contracts for -- like, for the Phoenix Ghost, how long would it be that you anticipate before the -- those systems would get to Ukraine?

MS. SINGH:  So on the Phoenix Ghost, as you know in previous USAI packages that we announced, I believe in June we had announced 580 -- 80 Phoenix Ghosts that we committed to Ukraine.  A portion of these have already been delivered to Ukraine, and we've seen success already on the battlefield.  But I don't have an exact timeline for when this next tranche will be delivered.

Q:  Okay, thanks.

MS. SINGH:  Okay, great.  I will take it over to the room.  Yes, go ahead.

Q:  Just wanted to follow up on the -- on the T-72s.  Is this the -- I believe this is the first provision of tanks on a security assistance to Ukraine.  Is that correct?

MS. SINGH:  From the United States, it is the first provision of tanks, and these -- but just to clarify and make sure that it's understood, these tanks are coming from the Czech Republic defense industry, and the United States is paying for 45 of those to be refurbished, and the government of the Netherlands is matching our commitment and will provide an additional 45 tanks.  So we're looking at a total of 90 tanks going into Ukraine.  And as you mentioned, these will be the most technically-advanced tanks on the battlefield.

Go ahead.

Q:  Thanks.  I have another Ukraine question.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  So Russia said today that more than 5,000 civilians are getting removed from Kherson on a daily basis.  How -- how does the U.S. view that?  Is this a voluntary process, or is it -- is it a mass deportation?

MS. SINGH:  So we've seen the open-source reporting there.  I can't independently verify exactly -- more on those evacuations.  We're seeing Ukraine continue to advance on its counteroffensive.  We're seeing Russia shore up its defenses lines around Kherson.  But I -- I just have nothing further to add on those -- on those reports.

Continue -- yup, Lara, and then I'll come back to you, (inaudible).

Q:  Just -- just to clarify on the tanks again.

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  I'm sorry if I misunderstood you.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  So it's -- can you say how many tanks we are sending, and how are -- how many of them are U.S. tanks and how many of them are -- are Czech or other foreign (inaudible) tanks?

MS. SINGH:  Sure.  So none of these are U.S. tanks.  They're coming from the Czech Republic defense base.  So we are paying for 45 of these to be refurbished, and the government of the Netherlands is paying for an additional 45 to be refurbished, so they're matching our commitment.  So a total of 90 tanks will be delivered to Ukraine.

And just to (footstomp ?) that a little bit, the -- this agreement between the Czech Republic and the Netherlands is a direct outcome of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.  And so this is just one of -- a deliverable that came from -- from the meeting that was earlier this year.

Q:  Okay, so -- so the USAI money is going to the Czech defense base.

MS. SINGH:  To the refurbishment of these tanks, which are owned by the Czech Republic, yes.

Q:  Okay, and then the Czechs will send them.  So how long will that take for those tanks to actually get to Ukraine?

MS. SINGH:  Just a minute here.  I believe we are anticipating a -- so the contracting actions are going to begin soon, and then some of the tanks will be available to Ukraine before the end of December, so the end of this year, with additional deliveries to be completed in 2023.

Q:  Okay, got it.

MS. SINGH:  Great.

Q:  And then, sorry, if I could just -- just follow up on the Security Assistance Group, --

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.  Sure.

Q:  -- the thing you announced, is that an evolution of the Defense Contact Group, or is it a separate thing?

MS. SINGH:  Separate.  So the -- the Security Assistance Group -- you -- so the SAGU, it's -- it's not a new mission.  This is a more effective and streamlined way to manage the process, and it -- this is a continuation of building on the work that the 18th Airborne Corps already had -- had done in -- in -- in the region.  And so this just -- the SAGU is a logical way to continue to provide short-term assistance, but also long-term assistance to Ukraine.  And as you saw, the president spoke to this in Madrid, that we remain committed to -- to Ukraine for as long as it takes.  The SAGU is going to help with those long-term efforts.

Great.  I'll go to Barbara in the back.

Q:  Sabrina --

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  -- (on your own ?) public website, you posted remarks from Admiral Charles Richard, head of the U.S. Strategic Command, and he said in the remarks just yesterday, "As I assess our level of deterrence against China, the ship is slowly sinking.  It's sinking slowly, but it is sinking as fundamentally, they're putting capability in the field faster than we are.  Those curves keep going.  It isn't going to matter how good our operating plan is or how good our commanders or how good our horses are; we're not going to have enough of them, and that is a very near-term problem."

So he oversees much of America's nuclear force, and he's putting a timeframe and specifics on this just days after you released your military strategy and your Nuclear Posture Review.  A very near-term problem.  You don't have enough commanders.  You have enough weapons.  I don't know what he really means to that, your not having enough horses.  But is this not -- do you have concerns that this is an operational security problem, that he has now been so specific about a -- the -- the -- the lack of American capability, nuclear capability against the Chinese, and that he's put a timeframe on it -- very near-term problem?

MS. SINGH:  So I think we -- I -- I -- I think we feel very confident in our capabilities when it comes to China, or just generally in the Indo-Pacific.  The secretary laid out in his National Defense Strategy that China remains our pacing challenge.  We know that in order to compete with China, we are -- we are doing more when it comes to our own readiness and our own -- our -- on our own exercises.  But I think -- I think we -- we definitely are monitoring things that are happening in the Indo-Pacific and remain ready to act, if needed.

Q:  So you have no concerns about what he publicly said, that we have a very near-term problem?

MS. SINGH:  I would refer you to Admiral Richards (sic) for -- for -- for more on that.

Q:  Can I ask you also very briefly -- last Friday, there was not an insignificant security breach at the Pentagon, which was never publicly revealed.  A suspect in a high speed vehicle made it a good distance around the perimeter of the Pentagon before law enforcement could stop this suspect.

Not -- I think everyone believes that the law enforcement officers absolutely did the best they could, so it's not about them, but why was the Pentagon workforce not told that there had been such a significant intrusion in perimeter security, that somebody made it a very significant distance around the building, through two security barriers?  The public statement that came from PFPA, the management only said that they stopped the person quickly, never acknowledged that this suspect made it past two perimeter security points.  And are you reviewing perimeter security?

MS. SINGH:  So thank you for the question.  Just in terms of answering the question, I -- you know, first, I say that we are incredibly grateful for our PFPA police officers, for everything that they did to apprehend the driver and keep this building secure.

We don't -- we do not announce security threats to the Pentagon, nor comment on law enforcement issues, especially when there are ongoing investigations or pending legal action.  The only exception to that is if there is an immediate safety issue, and there was not at the time.  That was not assessed.

So Secretary Austin, our leadership here, has full confidence in our PFPA police and our Pentagon force protection, and we thank them for -- for what they did last week.

I'm going to take -- yeah, Ryo?

Q:  Thank you.  Just one quick question for you, North Korea -- how much is the Pentagon seriously concerned that the recent -- North Korea's provocations could lead to miscalculation and unintended military conflict on the Korean Peninsula?

MS. SINGH:  Well, I think you were here yesterday, you saw the Secretary and his ROK counterpart speak to this.  You know, these -- the actions that North Korea has taken with missile launches continue to destabilize the region.  But I would say further commit ourselves and further, I would say, build our alliance, when it comes to South Korea and Japan.

As you know, we're conducting Vigilant Storm now.  That exercise was extended for another day, in order to shore up not only our alliance but to show that our strength and -- and -- you know, that we can deter aggression when -- when needed.

I'm going to go to the phones and then I'll come back into the room.  Here we go.  Sorry about that.  Jeff Schogol?

Q:  Thank you.  I understand if these questions have to be taken but can you say which variant of T-72s the U.S. is paying for, whether they have any type of active denial system?  And I believe they have a 125 millimeter gun.  Where is the ammunition coming from, considering DOD has often said that post-Soviet stockpiles and new NATO members are exhausted?

MS. SINGH:  So thanks, Jeff, for the question.  In terms of where the ammunition is coming from, you know, when I have more details or anything more to announce, I'd be happy to get back to you on that.

I don't have more specifics on the tanks themselves.  I -- they're -- they're the T-72 tanks, they are sourced from the Czech Republic defense industry.  So I -- I -- I just don't have more on that.  I'd be happy to take that question, though, and get back to you.

(CROSSTALK)

MS. SINGH:  -- I'm going to take one more from the phone, then I'll come back into the room.  Idrees, Reuters?

Q:  I think Jeff had a follow up (inaudible).

Q:  Hello?  I've --

(CROSSTALK)

Q:  Hi.  I -- I'm sorry, this is still Jeff Schogol.  The T-72's a fairly old design.  Can OSD say why it's not providing newer tanks, like the Abrams, the Leopard, or even Korean tanks?

MS. SINGH:  Jeff, as you're right, these are Soviet era tanks, these are tanks that the Ukrainians know how to use on the battlefield, and again, this is -- we are providing these in coordination with the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

In terms of why aren't we providing new tanks or American tanks, introducing a new main battle tank is extremely costly, it's time-sensitive, and it would be a huge undertaking for the Ukrainian forces.  So we do continue to consult with our allies and partners to assess our ability on what we can provide, in terms of Western armor platforms, but these tanks, we believe, will make a -- a difference on the battlefield.

Let me just -- since Idrees didn't -- was not there, I'm just going to take Heather's question and then I'll come back in the room.  So Heather, USNI?

Q:  I'm here.

Q:  -- much.  Two quick questions.  I was hoping you could tell us if you've gotten any information about the attack on Sevastopol.  Now -- I know that was (inaudible) on a damage assessment.  And then I was wondering if you can give us any further information on the riverine boats you mentioned?

And I think Idrees was trying to speak in as well.

MS. SINGH:  -- back to you, Idrees, after -- after you.

In terms of Sevastopol, I -- I don't have any more information there for you.  You know, we've seen that open source reporting but I -- I don't have more to add to that.

In terms of the 40 riverine boats that we are providing Ukraine, this is, again, not the first time that we've provided these armored boats to Ukraine but how and when the Ukrainians use them is -- is -- is up to them and their decision.

So with that, I'm just going to go to Idrees and then I promise I'm coming back in the room.  Sorry.  Okay, Idrees, are you there?  Sorry, we'll -- we'll -- you'll find me, I'm sure, and -- and we'll -- we'll -- we'll talk.  Yes, right over here?  Yeah.

Q:  A question on North Korea.  So yesterday, Secretary Austin and South Korean Minister Lee reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to deploy U.S. strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula.  Any (inaudible) when the Secretary said that the U.S. don't have plan to change permanent (position ?) in (inaudible) strategic (inaudible).

And my question is how U.S. will increase the frequency and the intensity of deployments of strategic assets to the peninsula?

MS. SINGH:  Well, I mean, I don't have anything to announce today on any new deployment of strategic assets but I think Vigilant Storm, the exercise that's ongoing now, speaks for itself.  And an opportunity presented itself to extend that exercise for a day, which allowed some additional flying operations with our ROK counterpart.  And, you know, these -- these exercises increase confidence in our joint operations, and -- and again, you know, this is not the last exercise.  We will continue to do exercises with South Korea or Japan when -- when opportunities present itself.  But I don't have an announcement to make of any redeployment of any assets.  Great.

Yes?

Q:  Thank you --

MS. SINGH:  Oh -- and I'll come back to you, Idrees, since you couldn't get on the phone.  Go ahead.

Q:  Yesterday, Secretary Austin and his South Korean counterpart said if North Korea uses a nuclear weapon in a -- any threatening way, it would be the end of the regime.  Can you just speak to that a little bit and define what exactly North Korea would have to do for the U.S. and South Korea to end the regime?

MS. SINGH:  So I'm not going to speculate on hypo -- hypotheticals or get ahead of any decisions.  I think those comments stand for themselves.  We've been crystal clear that any threat to our partners and allies in the region or U.S. personnel, we would certainly respond.  But I'm not going to get into hypothetical situations on what that response would look like or -- or what type of responds it would warrant.

Q:  Would it involve testing on a tactical nuclear weapon?

MS. SINGH:  Again, I'm not going to get into hypotheticals, but thank you for your question.

Idrees, and then I'm coming back to the front.

Q:  Just a clarification on the HAWK air defense missiles.

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  So is it funding to refurbish them for future presidential drawdown?  I -- I was just confused about that.

MS. SINGH:  That's right.  So this will be funding from -- through the USAI package that because these missiles need to go into contract for refurbishment, then they would get announced in the PDA because it would be coming off of our shelves.  But the contract to refurbish these missiles would -- it would have to go out for -- for them.

Q:  (inaudible).

MS. SINGH:  Not going to get into how many we're supplying just for op sec reasons, but --

Q:  (inaudible).

MS. SINGH:  Don't have an exact timeline yet.  I think -- I -- I mean, I think -- you know, I -- yeah, I don't have an exact timeline on that.  I'm sorry.

Q:  And just on the joint statement yesterday with the South Koreans, there was a line saying the two countries pledge to do more to advance the alliance commitment, and then just generally, the alliance.  What does that look like in terms of doing more?  What more can you do?

MS. SINGH:  Well, I -- you know, I think the secretary and Minister Lee spoke to this when they were here at the podiums.  You know, part of that is continuing our joint exercises, our -- deepening our bilateral relationship, and also trilateral cooperation within the region.  But part of that is having the -- the dialogue that we did just yesterday.  Part of that is having this open communication between our two countries to talk through the -- the threats that we see both in the Indo-Pacific and also the acute threat of -- of Russia, but you know, also to discuss more areas where we can work together as -- as two countries.

Great.  Yes?

Q:  So two more follow-ups on the tanks.

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  Is this the first provision of tanks by -- to Ukraine by any -- by any country, or --

MS. SINGH:  I -- I would have to check on that.  I -- I don't know if other allies have provided these tanks before, but I know from the United States' perspective, this is the first time that we are -- we are paying for these tanks to -- to be used in Ukraine.

Q:  Then the second question:  So they're -- I have the impression -- so there's -- it seems that some countries are sort of waiting for, you know, the other to go first in terms of provision of tanks, I guess in -- especially in terms of Germany.  Is this something that could potentially shake loose some -- some further provision of -- of -- of tanks to Ukraine?

MS. SINGH:  Well, it's -- it's -- it's hard to speculate on what this could potentially -- as in -- in your words, shake loose, or what other countries will commit to.  But I think it's important to note that this agreement came out of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.  We're seeing continued progress with over, you know, 50 countries meeting at the last meeting to talk through, what does short-term and long-term support look like for Ukraine?  So I think the Ukraine Contact Group has been incredibly successful in uniting our partners and allies in supporting Ukraine, and also making sure that they get the warfare capabilities that they need on the battlefield.

Yeah, I'll take the -- yeah, Laura, and then I'll come to you.

Q:  Just -- and it's two follow-ups, first on the --

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  -- the HAWK missiles.  Is this the first time the U.S. is paying for them to be refurbished?

MS. SINGH:  Yes.

Q:  (And could you ?) say the U. -- the ally that's sending them, or --

MS. SINGH:  That -- this is all the information that I'm going to get into, but in terms of --

Q:  (inaudible) ally.

MS. SINGH:  Well, these are -- these are our air missiles that will be refurbished.

Q:  Oh, they're ours.

MS. SINGH:  Yes.

Q:  Okay.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.  The -- I think you're getting the tanks confused with the -- the HAWKS.  So the HAWK -- the -- sorry, the tanks, the T-72s are from the Czech industrial base.

Q:  Yeah.

MS. SINGH:  These are our HAWK air missiles that have to be refurbished.  As you know, we don't use the HAWK systems anymore.  Yeah.

Q:  Okay, so we're paying for their refurbishment, and then we'll send them to Ukraine.

MS. SINGH:  That's right.

Q:  Okay.  And then the -- the 250 M117 (sic) armored vehicles --

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  Is this the first time we're sending armored vehicles?

MS. SINGH:  I'd have to check.  No, we've sent armored vehicles, I -- well, let me check.  I'm going to take that question because I -- I don't want to misspeak on that, but --

Q:  (inaudible) vehicle.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah, and I just want to make sure that it's clear that these -- this -- this is the first time that we're sending these particular armored vehicles.  I just want to make sure that it's clear that these are going to be -- are going to be intended to be used through the Excess Defense Articles, which is a program that services can use to declare equipment in excess and make available for allies and partners.  So this often includes older equipment, equipment's in need of, you know, service and repairs or upgrades, and they just no longer meet the services' requirements, and so that's why we are -- you know.

Q:  Are you sending those -- we're sending those through USAI, not the PDA?

MS. SINGH:  They have to be refurbished first, so they have to go out for a contract for refurbishing.

Yeah?

Q:  Thank you so much.

MS. SINGH:  Great.

Q:  Yesterday, President Biden, during his campaign rally in San Diego, he said, "We are going to free Iran."  So does that mean there are any plans, especially here in the -- the DOD maybe to assist the protests there, or -- and the steps that maybe lead to change the regime in Iran?

MS. SINGH:  So I would refer you to the White House to speak more to the president's comments.  You know, again, we have been clear from this podium, and I think other -- my -- my other counterparts have been clear that we're seeing peaceful protests take place, and this is the Iranian, the regime's attempt to suppress -- to violently suppress them, and we just urge that, you know, we -- they allow these peaceful protests to -- to continue.

I'll take -- (inaudible).  Sorry.

Q:  Second question.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  About Ukraine --

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  Recently, the attacks on power and water sources across Ukraine, especially around the capital has been increasing too much.  What more can be done to stop those attacks?

MS. SINGH:  Well, I mean, the -- the attacks that Russia's launching, I mean, certainly, the -- tomorrow -- today, Vladimir Putin has the choice to end this war.  Those -- those -- those strikes could certainly start by his decision.  In terms of how to stop those attacks, I mean, we are -- as you're seeing from this package, we are giving more aerial defense systems to the Ukrainians to do just that.  The -- the HAWK missiles that we're giving, the HAWK is a mid-range surface-to-air guided missile that has a longer range than the Stingers that we be provided earlier this year, so that will be able to help the Ukrainians further on -- on the battlefield.

But look, you know, the Ukrainians are doing what they can do to -- to push back against these brutal attacks, and I think we're seeing they're -- they're being successful.  We're seeing their counteroffensive continue to go on.  We're seeing, you know, Russian -- Russian forces, you know, shoring up their defensive lines, but we are seeing the Ukrainians make success not only shooting down some of these drones, but just on the battlefield itself.

Great.  Yeah, I'll take a few more, and then I will have to wrap up because there's another event in here, so -- yes, go ahead.

Q:  Thank you for -- thank you for taking my question.

MS. SINGH:  Yeah.

Q:  I have a question about the North Korea.

MS. SINGH:  Sure.

Q:  How much are you concerned about the possibility of North Korea conducting nuclear tests in the near future and does the Pentagon see any indication of the nuclear (inaudible)?

MS. SINGH:  So we remain concerned about the prospects of any nuclear test.  We know that the North Koreans have made preparations for such a test.  And this assessment, you know, remains consistent with what we have said from the beginning.  But we certainly remain concerned.  And which is why and you heard the secretary and his ROK counterpart speak to this yesterday, we're in very close touch with our allies and partners in the region.  And should there be such a test, you know, we would be able to respond quickly if needed.

Great.  I'm going to make just a few more and then -- yes, go ahead.

Q:  Just regarding the continuing resolution and obviously the department has a lot of modernization programs and priorities, as Barbara alluded to, in terms of closing the gap with China.

MS. SINGH:  Yes.

Q:  Where right now are the biggest areas of concern of what's being held back by the continuing resolution which, you know, given the elections next week, potential change in Congress could be going into next spring?

MS. SINGH:  Well, as you know, I wouldn't really be able to speak to so much of -- of what is happening in Congress and -- and, you know, potentials of -- of the package.  As you know we put forward a budget.  We urge Congress to pass that budget.  The continuing resolution, of course, limits some of the things that we are able to do.  So, you know, we would urge Congress to -- to really look and -- and see if they, you know, can pass the budget that the secretary put forward.

Yes.

Q:  And just in terms of the current situation, are there any particular programs that are -- are most affected or where you're having to scramble the most to try to deal with the -- the current resolution?

MS. SINGH:  I wouldn't get into -- I'm not going to speak to any particular programs that are -- that are impacted.  I mean, as you're seeing, our aid to Ukraine continues.  Our support and our exercises continue.  So we are still being able to operate.  But again while the continuing resolution does limit some the things that we are able to do, it is important that Congress, you know, pass a budget so we can expand on those.

Okay.  I'm going to wrap up here.  Thanks, everyone, for coming in today.  Happy Friday and I hope you have a good weekend.

[Eds. Note: After review, the DOD News article (https://www.defense.gov/News/News-Stories/Article/Article/3209416/stratcom-commander-says-us-should-look-to-1950s-to-regain-competitive-edge/) was corrected to reflect that Adm. Richard said 'forces' instead of 'horses.']

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