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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Holds a Press Briefing Aboard a Military Aircraft

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, good afternoon, and we thank you for coming with us. So we started out in freezing cold Halifax and wound up in blistering heat in Cambodia there. But I think it -- overall, it was a very productive visit.

While in Indonesia, I got a chance to spend some time with a great partner, again, the third largest democracy in the inventory, and we had a chance to discuss a number of things.

While in Cambodia, attending the ADMM-Plus, it gave us an opportunity to reconnect with many of our allies and partners, the ministers of those countries, and also got a chance to talk with Minister Wei, my Chinese counterpart. And in that conversation, we -- I emphasized the importance of keeping the lines of communication open, and I think he agreed with that.

I also talked about the importance of making sure that we emphasized safety and we make sure that we don't do dangerous things, in terms of close approaches to our aircraft and that sort of stuff. And so we talked about that a bit.

And I told him that we're going to fly, sail, you know, and operate anywhere that international law allows us to in the Indo-Pacific, and that's a message that he's heard before. The other thing was that -- I emphasized to him the need to make sure that our subordinates can open channels of communication as well, so the Chairman can (inaudible) and he'd be able to talk to his counterpart. The INDOPACOM Commander talking to his counterpart, I think, is very very helpful as well.

So let me stop there and we'll entertain some questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I'm curious -- Ukraine's Defence Intelligence Service has indicated that Russia's preparing another mobilization of troops. I'm just curious if you've seen any evidence to support that and if you believe at any point Russia's mobilizations will be felt on the battlefield in Ukraine.

SEC. AUSTIN: I've not seen any evidence to support an additional mobilization but that's something that we'll continue to watch. In terms of how effective their forces that they've mobilized have been, these troops receive very little training, and in some cases, little no equipment and were put into the fight right away. And many of those troops struggled and many of them died, as a matter of fact, as a result of that. So I think, you know, we'll see what happens, but again, I've not seen any evidence of an additional large-scale mobilization effort thus far.

Q: And just regarding your meeting with the Chinese, have you seen the Chinese change their behavior at all, such as applying safeguards, in light of the international and U.S.-led response to Ukraine, just to insulate their supply chains or -- or anything like that, if they do undertake a military action and there is a regional response?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, you know, I've not seen any physical signs of them insulating themselves but, you know, you have to believe that they're thinking along those lines if they were considering doing something in the future. But, you know, I won't speculate.

Q: Thank you, sir. What do you see in terms of the need, in light of the fact that you -- you'd be sending more weapons to Ukraine and that possibly Taiwan would need more weapons? Can you just talk a little bit about weapons restocking?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, you know, I -- and this applies to not only our efforts but efforts across, you know, Europe -- countries are looking at how they can -- what needs to be done to restock some of the weapons and munitions that they've provided to Ukraine.

So along those lines, our director of Acquisition and Sustainment has met with the directors of armament, you know, from about 40-plus countries, a couple of times and they've discussed ways to work together to expand production lines and to work together to create the types of weapons that we'll need to resupply their inventories and also continue to be able to support Ukraine going forward as well.

Q: And on Ukraine, do you think the U.S. is going to supply them with advanced air defense and possibly aircraft?

SEC. AUSTIN: We are already doing that. You may know that we just --


SEC. AUSTIN: No, it -- oh yeah, we're working to get additional capabilities to them as quickly as we can.

You heard me, in our readout of our Ukraine Defense Contact Group, that, you know, air defense was at the top of the list in terms of things that we're asking allies and partners to provide. And, you know, we've seen a couple of allies and partners step up to the plate and others are trying to create more capability. In some cases, you know, allies have leaned forward to help each other a bit more. You just saw evidence of Germany agreeing to forward position a Patriot element there to help protect Poland's borders.

Q: One last quick follow-up: How much more does Taiwan need in order to attain a level of readiness for whatever future possibilities (inaudible)?

SEC. AUSTIN: I'll let the Taiwans speak to what they think they need. And, you know, our goal is to make sure that they have everything that they believe they need to defend themselves.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what are -- do you think are the best parts and the most important parts to the alliance with the Australians, that you've fought with before as well –

SEC. AUSTIN: So you're speaking of AUKUS or --

Q: No -- with Australia in general, but obviously AUKUS is a major part of that.

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, you know, the Australians are tremendous partners, and that's not something I have to guess at, I've actually fought in combat a number of times with the Australians, and very reliable, very effective forces. And so any time that we could work together with them is -- in my view, is a plus.

But you're seeing -- you know, you're seeing us work on a generational capability with AUKUS. So as we work to create -- a nuclear submarine -- nuclear-powered submarine capability going forward, this is a capability that will make a difference for generations to come.

But -- and that's just one pillar of this effort. Pillar two is focused on developing things that are relevant to us now and going into the future, in terms of technologies. And so -- but it -- that's pretty exciting, we are excited about that, Australians are excited about it, and we're getting after it to after things that the warfighters think they need. And that's what really will drive our efforts -- you know, what do the warfighters believe that they need, that's relevant to a potential fight today, the midterm, and going forward?

Q: You know, just, you know, exactly on that topic, when do you think modern militaries could start to cut back a bit and unwind some of the stuff they’ve got now? And where do you think, which areas -- could they expand on and invest more in?

SEC. AUSTIN: Say again?

Q: So in -- with modern militaries now and especially with the allies, what parts do you think they could cut back on and invest less in -- and which parts do you think they could expand on and invest more money in?

SEC. AUSTIN: This is Australia's military or militaries writ large?

Q: Sure. Yeah, Australia would be good but I don't want you to be feeling --

SEC. AUSTIN: That's a question for Richard Marles.

Q: I know you were going to say that --


Q: -- but just in -- more in general then.

SEC. AUSTIN: No, I think we always -- we never want to fight yesterday's fight, we always want to make sure that we are relevant and maintain a competitive edge in a future fight.

And so the first thing is that you have to have some kind of a -- you have to have a -- very coherent National Defense Strategy, which kind of outlines your approach to things, and then you have to develop the warfighting concepts that -- that complement that strategy, and then the technologies that you go after really, you know, are appropriate for those warfighting concepts. And that's been our effort all along.

And so in our budget for '23, you saw us link our requests for the FY23 budget directly to the National Defense Strategy. And again, we are going after capabilities that we need to be dominant in a fight today and in -- going forward.

Q: Well, hopefully we'll see you in Australia soon. Do you think you’ll get there?

SEC. AUSTIN: Yes -- yes, I do.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. So the U.S. has committed close to $20 billion in security assistance for Ukraine so far. I've heard you say in the past that it's up to Ukraine to choose how it employs this aid and how it defines success in its conflict but I want to know how you define success for the U.S. military aid programs for Ukraine.

For instance, would you consider any brokered peace a success for U.S. aid? Would it take Ukraine regaining all of its sovereign territory? In other words, what specific signs would you look for to know that the U.S. efforts here have finished and that they've done their job well?

SEC. AUSTIN: Ukraine, again, will define success for Ukraine. And you heard President Biden, several months ago, talk about, you know, what's important for us. That's seeing a sovereign, independent Ukraine that can protect its sovereign territory. And so that's where we we remain and nothing's changed in that regard.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Hi, Mr. Secretary. You know, a lot of Americans still think the United States should go it alone, they don't see the use of reaching out to organizations like ASEAN. I'm just curious, why is it important, in your opinion, to have a relationship with the ASEAN nations? And what defense capabilities do they bring to the United States?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, it's important because I think these are countries that we share values with and these are countries that we share a vision with. And that vision is a free and open Indo-Pacific that -- you know, where they can protect their territories and they can choose which path they want to go on.

We're not -- you know, our goal is not to force one -- a country to choose between one country or another. It's to make sure that they have what they need to exercise their sovereign rights. And so as -- as you know, everything that we do will be with allies and partners.

You see us doing that in Europe, you saw us do that with the the ISIS Coalition a while back, you see us continuing to develop and strengthen our relationships with our allies and partners here in the Indo-Pacific.

Again, this is a big area, vast area, and it supports a lot of commerce. We want to make sure that that -- you know, the skies and seas remain open and accessible to everybody in the region and around the globe, quite frankly.

Q: And Mr. Secretary, just a little light on -- you have Cobra Gold, you have Garuda Shield. Would it be safe to tell service members they're going to be spending a lot more time in the Indo-Pacific in training exercises and such?

SEC. AUSTIN: I -- you know, I think they spending a lot more time as it is. And you heard us say that this is our main effort, this -- China is our pacing challenge. We didn't call them a threat, we called them a challenge, and that's -- that's a relationship that we believe we have. We have a competitive relationship and not a contentious relationship.

So, you know, our troops want to train with allies and partners, they want to develop interoperability, that's why service members join the military, so that they can -- you know, they can train and exercise and then interact with other peoples. And so yes, this is going to continue to remain important for us.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. What are the main lessons that the U.S. has learned from the Ukraine War so far? What has the U.S. seen any work that should be replicated elsewhere? And what hasn't and should be avoided elsewhere?

SEC. AUSTIN: Yes, so one of the major lessons that I think the world has learned is that -- you know, how much countries around the world value and respect the rules-based international order. As soon as Russia invaded Ukraine, we saw countries unite and not only provide security assistance but also participate in sanctions and trade restrictions that make it very tough for Russia but also, you know, in executing those sanctions. You know, it also puts a little strain on some of these countries that -- in the region. And -- so some risk that -- that they accept but -- but that's how much they believe in the rules-based international order.

I think there's a lesson that we continue to see play out regarding logistics. The Russians struggled with logistics from the very beginning and -- you know, we saw that in the Battle of Kyiv, as they were unable to sustain their momentum because they just couldn't master the logistical end of this. And then we saw that continue to play out throughout this entire fight.

They've not really -- not seen them learn from their mistakes in a major way. They are still struggling with logistics. Most recently, we see them experiencing significant shortages of artillery munitions and they're reaching out to Iran and -- North Korea to -- to, you know, get help from them. That's not -- that's something that you never thought that you'd see from a country like Russia, that had, you know, vast capabilities.

And then the third thing I would say, I mean, there's just a number of things that you can point to that are lessons learned -- but the third thing is -- is the importance and the value of leadership at the mid-grade level, in terms of officers, non-commissioned officers, and also junior officers.

I think the Ukrainians performed well early on because of the training that we had provided them at that level, at the -- you know, the platoon and squad level. So we saw Ukrainian leaders making -- or exercising an initiative on the battlefield.

And really, because of what they were doing and approaching things at an asymmetric fashion, attacking supply lines and command and control nodes, that made it very difficult for the Russians to be successful early on.

But that -- and the importance of professionalism and training at that level, I think, cannot be overemphasized.

Q: A quick follow-up to that -- what implications do the lessons from Ukraine have for Taiwan and the type of security assistance that the U.S. provides?

SEC. AUSTIN: So again, you know, we look to provide the Ukrainians what they believe -- excuse me -- the Taiwans what they believe they need to be able to defend their country. And I'll -- and we'll continue to work on that and I'll leave it at that.

STAFF: All right, we've got time for just two more.

Q: Would you think that -- would you expect that the Pacific Rim nations would rally around the U.S. and to Taiwan's side if there was to be an invasion? Is that your expectation?

SEC. AUSTIN: I think if -- you know -- and I don't want to speculate on whether or not there will be an invasion -- but I would say that if -- if something happens in that regard, it won't be isolated to Taiwan, it'll affect the entire region.

And so, you know, I think countries will rally around what they value most. And as we saw in the instance of Ukraine, that -- their respect for the rules-based international order, it caused them to do what they've done. And so I -- I think it's their values that will lead them in whatever direction they go in, and not just allegiance to the United States.

Q: And then to follow up on that, do you think that China seeks to have military bases in Cambodia --

SEC. AUSTIN: -- this is two questions now.


Q: I can pass.

Q: Hi, just -- Mr. Secretary, I wanted to follow up on what you said about Russia experiencing significant shortages of artillery, and I'm just curious how you would characterize that. Is that -- are they facing a stockpiling issue, are they running, you know, weeks, days short on artillery? And is this something that's affecting their rate of fire against Ukrainian lines?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, I don't want to speak specifically to their stores and where they are but -- I don't have direct visibility of that. I just do know that they're reaching out to other countries --


Q: -- specifically, sir?

SEC. AUSTIN: I'm sorry?

Q: You said reaching out to other countries about artillery --

SEC. AUSTIN: Artillery, munitions, and that's been reported on. So yes.

But what the Ukrainians have done, you know, with the advent of the HIMARS, is that they have verily -- they have been very thoughtful about their scheme of fires and they've been going after those supply nodes -- you know, those munition storage points, command and control -- and that didn't have an immediate impact, but over time, weeks, you saw the Russians begin to struggle a bit with the amount of ammunition that they had available.

So there's two things -- you know, the amount that they have positioned forward, but I think in their national storage, question whether or not, you know, they have what they believe they need to continue to prosecute the fight. We'll see -- we'll see if they're able to go back on the offensive or this -- it's going to be a break in time before they're able to regenerate capability they think they need.

They rely heavily on artillery, you know? And so -- I mean -- their approach is to use vast amounts of artillery, and then at the eleventh hour, maneuver. And for that kind of operation, you know, it requires a lot of munitions. I'm not sure they have those -- that kind of -- those kind of munitions to be able to support that going forward.

We know that, based upon (inaudible) PGM, precision-guided munitions that they've used, that their stockage has been significantly reduced. They won't be able to rapidly reproduce PGM because of the trade restrictions they have on microchips and other types of things, so it'll be more difficult for them going forward.

SEC. AUSTIN: I think that's the last one?

STAFF: Yes, sir.

Q: Thank you so much, sir --

SEC. AUSTIN: Pat's a good guy. He's managed to reduce the number of aerial refueling events that we have. I know that you guys are disappointed that we're going to do that but -- I do hope we get you home in time to spend Thanksgiving with your family and I wish you all the best. Thanks for coming with us.