BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: Good afternoon, everybody. All right, just a few things to pass along and I will go ahead and take your questions. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin today established the Office of Strategic Capital, or OSC, a Department of Defense Organization that will help build an enduring technological advantage by partnering with private capital providers to ensure access to critical technologies.
OSC will connect companies developing critical technologies vital to national security with capital. Critical technologies such as advanced materials, next generation biotechnology, and quantum science often require long term financing to bridge the so-called ‘valley of death’ between the laboratory and full scale production.
These technology companies also suffer from a limited supply of long-time horizon patient capital, which results in an inability to transition technology into military capabilities, even for technologies developed with the help of federal research grants or contracts.
Moreover, many of these technologies are essential for future defense capabilities, but are not purchased directly by the DOD, meaning existing procurement programs are unable to support the relevant companies' immediate capital needs.
As an office overseen by the Secretary of Defense, the OSC will have an advisory council that includes the department's undersecretaries of defense. The OSC will work across DOD's policy acquisition and research efforts and will also help to counter non-market actions by strategic competitors that use U.S. capital markets to advance their own technology goals.
In support of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, OSC will complement the innovation organizations already executing programs to support critical technology developers.
OSC aims to scale investments between science and technology-focused organizations, such as DARPA, and commercially-oriented organizations, such as the Defense Innovation Unit, by increasing the capital available to critical technology companies to help them reach scale of production.
While existing offices rely on grants and contracts to deploy capital, OSC is investigating the use of non-acquisition based finance tools, such as loans and loan guarantees. For example, a number of other federal agencies use credit programs to participate in capital markets through loans, loan guarantees, development funds, and other tools.
We'll be posting a press release on Defense.gov with further details on the OSC, and we'll have additional information to announce regarding this initiative on Saturday during the Reagan National Defense Forum.
Tomorrow, as previously mentioned, Secretary Austin will depart for Palmdale, California to participate in the unveiling of the U.S. Air Force's newest strategic deterrent, the B-21 Raider, and then on Saturday he'll deliver the keynote address at the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley.
And finally I want to acknowledge the Senate confirmation yesterday of Robert Storch as the Department of Defense Inspector General. This is excellent news for the department and a critically important mission, and we appreciate the Senate's efforts.
And with that, I will take your questions. We'll start with AP, Lita Baldor.
Q: Thanks, Pat. Can you bring us up to date on any -- the results of any conversations that the secretary has had or other DOD leaders have had with their Turkish counterparts? Have there been any assurances provided to DOD that there will be no longer any strikes in the vicinity of U.S. service members? Can you just bring us up to date on where that stands?
GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Lita. So I don't have anything to provide beyond the readout that we issued last night. I'm not going to speak for the Turkish government. As the readout mentioned, Secretary Austin relayed the department's strong opposition to any potential ground invasion in Northern Syria, and again, the focus here is on enabling and ensuring that the Defeat-ISIS mission can continue unimpeded and to prevent potential instability in that region.
Yes, go ahead, Wafaa.
Q: So when Turkey started its air strikes and then threatened the safety of U.S. personnel in Syria, it looks like the de-confliction line wasn't where it should be. So is this what led to the phone call with -- between Secretary Austin and his counterpart, and does Secretary Austin feel confident that this line – de-confliction line is being reinstated after this phone call?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, so first of all, as a NATO ally and a close partner with the United States, we always have regular communication with Turkey. And so in the case of the phone call, the secretary wanted to call to relay his condolences for the deaths that we saw in Turkey, but then also to address what we've seen in open press reporting in terms of a potential ground invasion into Northern Syria.
And so the focus here is, from the United States standpoint, on ensuring that terrorist organizations like ISIS cannot reconstitute, we've obviously made a lot of progress toward that end, since they first originated en masse back in 2014, and we don't want to see that progress be wasted. We still have a lot more work to do on that front, and so that was the origination of the phone call.
Thank you. Okay, Janne?
Q: Thank you. I have a quick question. You might know that several Chinese and Russian military aircraft recently invaded KADIZ -- Korea's air defense identification zone, and South Korea, and ROK air force took (inaudible) in response, so what do you think are the intention of China and Russia with frequently (inaudible)?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Janne. So I don't want to speak for China and Russia. Certainly we are aware of the joint Russian-Chinese flight. In terms of the Republic of Korea's response, I'd refer you to them to answer for themselves, but beyond that I don't have any additional information to provide.
Q: Second question- it has been reported that China is conducting chemical warfare training in preparation for crisis on the Korean Peninsula so how can you (inaudible) the Chinese suspicious movement?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, I don't have any information on that. Thank you.
GEN. RYDER: I'd refer you to China. I mean, I'm assuming that China conducts a wide variety of military training, but in terms of chemical warfare training, I'm not aware of anything in that regard, but I don't have anything further.
Q: How is the U.S. not concerned about the chemical warfare and suspecting China… (inaudible)
GEN. RYDER: I don't have any...
GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Janne.
Let me go to David in the back?
Q: Does the Secretary have any reaction to this threat by some of the Republican members of the Senate to hold up the NDAA if the vaccine mandate isn’t rescinded?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, David. So, what I would tell you is as a warfighting organization the health and readiness of our force is paramount. And vaccination for COVID is still a requirement. But, in terms of discussing proposed or pending legislation, I'm not going to be able to provide a comment on that and won't have anything further to provide. Thank you.
Q: Health is paramount, so do not lift the vaccine mandate?
GEN. RYDER: The vaccine mandate is currently in effect. Thank you.
Q: Following up on David, are there plans to do that in the future, to potentially put an end to the vaccine mandate?
GEN. RYDER: Again, the vaccine mandate is currently in effect. I'm not going to talk about pending or proposed legislation or speculate on future potential outcomes.
Q: And dropping it, you said would have an effect on military readiness and the health. I just wanted to hear more on the reasoning.
GEN. RYDER: Well, again, broadly speaking from a Department of Defense standpoint, we are a warfighting organization. So, the health and readiness of our force is always going to be paramount to ensure that our forces are ready and able to conduct their mission. So, vaccinations, whether it's COVID, influenza, anthrax, those kinds of things we're going to ensure that our forces are properly vaccinated to be able to carry out their wartime mission. Thank you.
Q: And has that had an impact on recruitment?
GEN. RYDER: We're talking about COVID mandate, I don't have anything further on that. Certainly we continue to look broadly at how we can recruit and how we can attract recruits. But, I'm not going to get into whether or not there's a correlation or not.
OK, let me go to the phones here. Heather from USNI.
Q: Thanks so much. On the vaccine mandate, is the any plans to expand it to the booster shots that are the - either the Bivalent one or any, I guess, the first booster shot available? And then on recruitment, I know one of the biggest concerns right now is eligibility. Does the Department of Defense have any plans to try to address eligibility of young Americans?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Heather. So, I heard your first question, I'll come back to your first one - or your last question rather. I'll come back to your first one because it wasn't really clear. In terms of recruitment, as you know, we're looking at a wide variety of approaches. This continues to be a priority for the secretary, for the service secretaries and service chiefs in terms of how we can recruit and retain the best that America has to offer. And so, that will entail looking at a wide variety of things to make the military continue to be an attractive place to work.
I'd refer you to the services in terms of any specifics on areas that they're looking at, but that will continue to be a priority. And then, I'm sorry, on your first question you asked about expansion?
Q: Yes, I was just wondering if the Department of Defense has any plans to make the booster shots mandated as well?
GEN. RYDER: I'm not currently aware of that. But we can - well, so first off, I'm not aware of any plans to expand beyond the current policy. And so, I'll just, yes, leave it that.
OK, let me go to Phil Stewart, Reuters.
Q: Hey there, thank you. I was hoping you could give us a little more clarity, yesterday there was a disclosure of an operation in October that killed the Islamic State's leader by, I guess, elements or by the Free Syrian Army. Could you give us a sense of the relationship between U.S. military forces and these Free Syrian Army forces or their remnants.
And then also, you know, there was a statement that the U.S. forces were not involved in the operation. Just want to make that the U.S. did not supply intelligence or other efforts that might have aided to the death of the ISIS leader. Thank you.
GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Phil. So, for the specifics of your question I would refer you to CENTCOM and in terms of the timing and the nature of the announcement that they put out. What I would tell you is that, you know, we focus on, as part of the Defeat ISIS Mission, we're focused on working with the SDF, but in terms of any additional information regarding this particular incident I'd refer you to CENTCOM. Thank you.
OK, go back to the room here. Ma'am?
Q: Yes, North Korea will hold their key party meeting in late December. Last year Kim focused mostly on domestic issues. Is it expected this year to focus on South Korea and the U.S. other allies in his speech also? Do you expect him to focus on nuclear weapons that -
GEN. RYDER: Yes, appreciate the question. I'd have to refer you to North Korea on that. I'm not going to be able to speculate on what they may or may not talk about. Thank you.
Q: Hi, I'm with The Washington Post. There's been some reports lately about expanded U.S. training programs for Ukrainians, particularly in Germany. I was wondering if you could give anymore details on what that entails or is expected to entail.
GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Karoun. I saw the press report on that. I would tell you that I don't have any announcements to make at this time in terms of any new training programs or efforts. But, when and if we do we'll certainly be sure to let you know. I would say that we have been training the Ukrainians already for some time, as you know, going back to 2014. And we're going to continue to work with our international allies and partners to look at ways that we can best support Ukraine in their fight against Russia. So, that's where we're at at the moment. Thank you.
Q: Thank you. (Inaudible) Asahi Newspaper. Reportedly, Japan is considering buying up to 500 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the U.S. Could you give us comment on such Japan’s efforts to…?
GEN. RYDER: So I don't have anything to provide on that. I'd refer you to Japan for any discussions about what they may or may not be looking to buy. Thank you.
Q: So, a follow-up. Japan also plans to declare the acquisition of counterstrike capability, and how will the U.S. coordinate and help Japan's efforts (inaudible) defense capabilities?
GEN. RYDER: I apologize, which type of capability?
Q: Counterstrike capability.
GEN. RYDER: Certainly aware of what Japan has said publicly in that regard. Again, I don't have a specific comment to provide other than to say that Japan continues to be one of our closest allies and we'll continue to work with them in terms of ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific. And I’ll just leave it at that.
Q: Back to Turkey for a second. What de-confliction efforts did you try to pursue with Turkey before their strike that endangered U.S. personnel? And just a few days ago you told us there was a reduced number of patrols because of essentially what's happening there. Have there been any other changes to the operations or activities of the D-ISIS coalition?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so no updates to provide beyond what I provided on Tuesday, which is that we are operating at a reduced number of partnered patrols with the SDF. In terms of de-confliction and coordination, again, what I would say is that we do have frequent and open lines of communication with our Turkish allies at a variety of levels. I don't have any specifics to provide as it relates to that particular strike. But again, we did issue a statement highlighting the fact that a strike did come close to U.S. personnel and, you know, we clearly have communicated that.
Q: Are you confident that U.S. personnel there are safe and are not currently at risk from Turkish operations?
GEN. RYDER: I know that right now U.S. personnel are safe, and we hope they continue to remain in that status. But again, this demonstrates why it's very important that while this important defeat ISIS mission continues, that we are able to work together and communicate to ensure that there's continued stability in the region and that that important mission does not enable a very, very dangerous terrorist organization known as ISIS from being able to reconstitute.
Q: Just a follow-up on Oren's question, he kind of stole it from me.
After Secretary Austin's call yesterday with his Turkish counterpart, are U.S. forces safer in Syria after that call?
GEN. RYDER: So, look, we always are going to make sure that our forces, wherever they're operating from, safety is going to be a top priority. And so, as they're focused on their mission, they're going to do what they need to do to ensure that they're safe. I think, again, we're eager to work and communicate closely with our Turkish allies to ensure the stability and the security of that region, and the continuance of the defeat ISIS mission.
Q: So, when we say that there's a reduced number of partnered patrols with the SDF -- I mean, haven't the partnered patrols stopped over the last several days with...
GEN. RYDER: No.
Q: That’s what… So there have been partner patrols since...
GEN. RYDER: My understanding is, again, I'd refer you to CENTCOM or CJTF-OIR for further details. But my understanding is that we do continue to conduct partnered patrols with the SDF at a reduced number, based on their request to go to a reduced number.
Q: How about U.S. unilateral efforts? Are those at all continuing right now, or ongoing? I mean, I know they're not common, but...
GEN. RYDER: Well, I mean, to kind of step back and to put it in a context. We maintain counterterrorism capability in the region. So I think what you're referring to is if there are counterterrorism operations that require a unilateral approach, you know, we've long said that we reserve the right to conduct those types of operations if they pose an imminent threat against U.S. personnel or our homeland, and we certainly retain that right. But in terms of any specifics or missions to provide, I don't have any details.
Q: Just to understand, because General Mazloum said on the record that there were no -- that counter-ISIS missions with U.S. and the coalition have -- are halted, right?
GEN. RYDER: Again, I'd refer you to CENTCOM. But as I understand it, as of today, there's a reduced number. The mission continues. I can't speak for General Mazloum.
Q: Just one more -- I mean, the mission continues in Iraq, there's no question about that. So the overall mission continues. But as far as like, actually things in Syria, that's what General...
GEN. RYDER: My understanding is that the mission continues in Syria.
Q: And then one on vaccines. I'm just curious, just given the fact that like, there are members on the Hill who have a very real ability to stop the NDAA from moving forward. I mean, they have the capability of doing that. I'm wondering if there is any -- if the secretary is considering at all, even reviewing the vaccine mandate?
Not that he's made a decision or anything like that, but is there even a consideration to review the mandate, given the fact that COVID illnesses and deaths are down, people aren't wearing masks. I mean like, there have been changes in COVID protocols, so...
GEN. RYDER: Yeah. No, I appreciate the question, Courtney. What I would say, again, is the department is operating off of current policy, which is that COVID vaccinations are required. And I'm just not going to get into hypotheticals about proposed or pending legislation, or speculate on potential outcomes.
Q: But not hypothetical, I'm asking currently...
GEN. RYDER: And this is the last question because we've got to move on.
Q: Is the secretary currently even reviewing the policy?
GEN. RYDER: Again, I'm not going to get into talking about what we may or may not be doing as a result of legislation that may or may not be coming. So again, currently the policy is that COVID vaccinations are mandated, and that is the requirement.
Q: Yes, sir. The Reagan Foundation came out with a survey saying that fewer than half of Americans have a great deal of trust and confidence in the military, blaming these perceptions of overt politicization among Pentagon leadership. So, pretty troubling numbers. I wonder if the Pentagon has any thoughts on that?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Mike.
So I've certainly seen the press reports. I have not read the survey myself, so I'm not going to comment on it. But polls and surveys aside, I will tell you what I do know, and that is that the U.S. military is the best fighting organization in the world, the best fighting organization the world has ever seen.
And when you consider the breadth and the scope of the missions, and the effectiveness of the fighting men and women who serve around the world, many of them in harm's way, it's pretty incredible.
And so, 24 hours a day, seven days a week our soldiers, our sailors, airmen, marines, guardians, coast guardsmen -- they are on point defending the nation like no one else can. They're doing important work that matters, they're doing work that makes a difference.
And whether it's working with allies and partners in Europe to deter aggression, patrolling the Indo-Pacific to ensure regional stability and security, manning our nuclear missile silos, training the next generation of warriors to fill our ranks, operating the satellites which enable our modern way of life -- the list goes on, and on, and on. I would tell you that Americans can be very, very proud of their military.
Q: Thank you, sir. Two questions, please, on Pakistan and China.
Pakistan has now a new army chief, and General Bajwa just retired. And, any change as far as military-to-military, Pakistan and U.S. relations, and with the new army chief, or has the secretary have had any conversations or discussions with him?
GEN. RYDER: No conversations at this point. And no change in our valued relationship with Pakistan.
Q: And second on China. So many reports are going on, officially and non-officially in press reports, and experts and all that that -- how much do you think China is now a danger to the U.S. as far as military-to-military or U.S. national security interests are concerned?
GEN. RYDER: Well, I would -- you know, appreciate the question. I would refer you to the National Defense Strategy, which lays out very comprehensively how the department views China as our pacing challenge.
Let me go to the phones here real quick. Tony from Bloomberg.
Tony, are you there?
All right, we'll come back. Nick from PBS.
Q: Hey, Pat. Sorry. Thank you very much. I want to go back to Turkey but ask it a little differently. General Mazloum, to me, and to others have asked for a more robust condemnation of Turkish attacks and a more robust defense of the SDF. So, do you think that you have delivered a strong enough message to Turkey? Do you acknowledge SDF concerns today? And do you believe that the Turks have heard your message?
GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Nick.
So again, what I would say is our focus is on the defeat-ISIS mission. And we certainly value our very strong, enduring, and long alliance with Turkey. And we also value the partnership that we've shared with the SDF since the beginning of the counter-ISIS campaign, now known as the defeat-ISIS mission.
When you look at what the SDF did, and continues to do in terms of preventing the reconstitution of, again, a very dangerous terrorist group, ISIS, it is something that we should all be very thankful for. And we look forward to continuing to work with them in that regard.
As I've said in the statement that we put out last week, we certainly do recognize Turkey's valid security concerns when it comes to protecting their people inside their borders, and we will continue to communicate with Turkey, and we'll continue to communicate and work with the SDF.
But again, the focus here is on preventing a destabilizing situation which would put ISIS in an ability to reconstitute, and no one wants to go back to what we saw in 2014 with a terrorist group running amok and taking large swathes of land with thousands and thousands of people killed.
Q: Sorry, another follow-up on Turkey. So you're talking about a situation -- this destabilization situation. Do you have concerns that Iran and its proxies may take advantage of this situation on the ground in Syria and Iraq? Do you have indication that it might do something?
GEN. RYDER: Well, I mean, without speculating about potential moves by Iran, we certainly have seen the destabilizing activities by -sponsored groups in places like Syria. And you know, if you've been following this story long enough, you know that Syria continues to be a very dynamic environment. Which is why it's incredibly important to keep the pressure on ISIS to prevent them from reconstituting.
Q: Just a question about the -- about Congress. Secretary Austin said that the DOD’s topline could be reduced below the president's request if Congress goes forward with operating under a continuing resolution. If that happens, what programs would be most affected? And is the Pentagon taking any steps in case that does happen with the continuing resolution?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks very much. Just checking to see if I had any specific programs here that I could highlight for you. So, as you highlighted, you know, the biggest issue here would be the impact that a CR would have on starting new initiatives, including increased investment in important capabilities toward our national defense strategy such as investments in cyber, nuclear modernization, missile defense.
In terms of potential impacts, what we would be looking at would be 62 new programs and projects that could not be started, including 36 military construction projects, production rates for 17 programs including weapons, equipment and munitions that could not be increased. Funding would not be aligned to the proper accounts and programs, and transfer authorities are limited.
We can get you a broader list, but just for example, things like multiple rapid prototyping programs including the Joint International Experimentation for the Indo-Pacific region and the E-3 replacement program, Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon, F-16 Secure Mission Data Systems -- it's a fairly lengthy list. So, certainly as, you know, I briefed earlier this week, we are hopeful that Congress can pass the NDAA before the end of the year.
Got time for just a couple more.
Kasim and then...
Q: General, a follow-up on the Turkey questions. So Turkey has launched almost five operations inside Syria. And currently Turkish military has secured three large swathes of territory, and it's -- what makes you think that a Turkish operation inside Syria would destabilize the conditions down there, because that appears that that's your implication.
GEN. RYDER: Yes. Thanks, Kasim. So again, you know very well the situation on the ground there and the history of the friction between Turkey and the SDF. And so again, we want to call on both of our partners in this case to deescalate so that we can continue to stay focused on the defeat-ISIS mission.
Q: You know somebody -- a terrorist crossed into Turkish border from Syria and then conducted an attack and then the Turkish military takes on like retaliate and we see that Pentagon comes up saying that well, we don't want to see destabilization, we don't to see the tensions to go ahead.
And then we see that your partners, YPG, that -- OK, we are out from the fight if you are going to -- if you will allow the Turks to attack us. What makes this policy rational still? Like whenever somebody cross from Syria into Turkish territories, Turkey is going to attack.
And then it doesn't matter if there is a U.S. force, U.S. troops around the area or not. We have seen before, like the U.S. forces were there. And now again, U.S. forces were there, Turks launched an operation.
So what makes the U.S. strategy in Syria still to be viable and usable?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks. Well, again, nobody's arguing about Turkey's legitimate concerns and Turkey's legitimate authority to go after terrorists that target its people. What we're talking about here is ensuring that we can continue to keep the defeat-ISIS mission going without destabilizing the region, which we believe that a ground invasion would result in.
So again, we'll continue to communicate closely with our Turkish allies but I'll leave it at that.
Let me go to Luis and then one last question.
Q: Thank you. One quick one. There was a near miss -- a collision was nearly averted, or was averted on Tuesday in San Diego Bay involving two U.S. Navy ships. Do you have anything on that and I understand the Navy's investigating it but are you taking a broader look at it to see if there’s any safety issues?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Luis. So what I can tell you is that the USS Momsen and USS Harpers Ferry were transiting opposite directions in San Diego Bay yesterday -- or November 29th rather. They were in close vicinity. Both ships maintained communication and maneuvered to insure that they were safe in the channel. There were no injuries or damage to the ships as a result of those maneuvers.
But as you highlight, I believe the Navy is investigating this, so I'd refer you to them for any further information.
Q: And the other topic I was going to ask you about is the OSC that you just announced today, what triggered the creation of this? Particularly for Secretary Austin? Was this something that had been happening before or was this something that he felt was unnecessary to get beyond this ‘valley of death’ as you called it?
GEN. RYDER: Sure. So first of all, the capability that the OSC will provide is not something that's unique per se within the U.S. government. You have other agencies that employed this capability. And so given the fact that the Department relies on advanced technology for a lot of the capabilities we need to stay competitive, this gives us another capability to work with investors and to work with industry to ensure that programs that otherwise may not be funded, or it may not be attractive to investors, can be funded in a way that gets them across again, the so called ‘valley of death.’
So it gives us another tool in the tool kit to be able to ensure that we can stay competitive against our strategic competitors like China and Russia.
Q: There wasn't one specific incident or anything like that that triggered the interest in this?
GEN. RYDER: No, this is really about looking at how can we move faster and ensure that the Department and the U.S. government, you know, more broadly has the advanced technology and capabilities that we need to remain competitive going into the 21st century.
All right, thanks very much everybody, appreciate it.