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Senior Military Official Holds a Background Briefing

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Hey, well, good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for this background briefing on Ukraine. I'm (redacted), I'll be your briefer today. For attribution, please refer to me as a Senior Military Official. I'll provide a brief overview of what we're seeing on the ground in Ukraine right now and then we'll open it up to your questions.

While there continues to be fighting all along the forward line of troops, there's particularly intense fighting near Bakhmut in the Donbas region, where Russian forces are conducting offensive ground operations in an attempt to take the city. Fighting remains heavy and the Russians have made some incremental gains in taking territory. However, Ukraine continues to hold the city.

Meanwhile, in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions, Ukrainians continue to consolidate their previous gains while Russian forces bolster their defensive lines.

Finally, as we've seen, Russia continues to employ missile and drone strikes against Ukraine's energy grid and civilian infrastructure, inflicting significant damage and killing innocent civilians as part of Russia's illegal invasion and brutal occupation.

As our PDA announcement on Friday highlighted, the U.S. will continue to work closely with allies and partners to support Ukraine in their fight to defend their nation and provide them with the security assistance they need, to include air defense capabilities and other critical battlefield requirements, for as long as it takes.

With that, I'm happy to take your questions. We'll go to AP first. Lita?

Q: Thank you. My question on Patriot missile batteries -- I know we've talked about this before -- but the Prime Minister -- Ukraine's Prime Minister has appealed once again for the Patriot batteries. And I'm wondering if you can tell us whether there's been any progress in any of those discussions, either Patriots from the U.S. or from other countries?

And then just more broadly, can you give us a sense -- you said Russia has made some incremental gains here and there. If you just take a step back and look broadly at the country, is it still sort of kind of status quo over the last couple of weeks or any -- can you just give us a sense of how big these changes are and whether or not there's any sort of lull that -- that officials have talked about, predicting that would come as the winter months set in? Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, thanks, Lita. So on the -- on your first question, on Patriots, so I don't have anything to announce. You know, as I have mentioned in the past, we continue to work closely with Ukraine, with our allies and our partners, to review Ukraine's security assistance needs, looking at a variety of capabilities, to include air defense capabilities.

And so we'll continue to do that. As evidenced by the missile strikes that Russia continues to conduct, we recognize that this is a priority for Ukraine and it's for us as well. So we'll continue to keep you updated on that front.

As it relates to the battlefield, as you know, the area around Bakhmut has been an area of intense fighting for a while now. You've got organizations like -- Wagner Group have been particularly committed in this area, to -- attempting to take territory. And so largely speaking, I would characterize these as incremental gains, but a very tough fight near Bakhmut at the moment.

And so the Ukrainians continue to hold the line but obviously an area that we'll continue to keep a close eye on.

Okay, let me go to Caitlin, Defense One.

Q: Hi. So Ukraine's Defense Minister recently said that they're going to slow operations until the ground hardens and then restart active counter-offensives. I was just wondering what concerns the U.S. has for Ukraine forces fighting during the winter months, in terms of operating their equipment and accessing supplies, and if there are any plans to send any additional equipment that could be used to fight in cold weather more effectively? Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, thanks, Caitlin. So in terms of characterizing potential future operations for Ukraine, I'll defer to them to talk about what they may or may not do. All that to say, all indications are that Ukraine will continue to conduct operations through the winter. As you know, this invasion began in February and -- which is right in the middle of winter. So certainly we know that the Ukrainians can fight and fight well under these conditions.

So our focus is on, to your second point, working with them to identify what their requirements are, to enable them not only to defend the territory that they hold, but also in their fight to gain back the territory that Russia took from them in their invasion.

Let me go to Idrees, Reuters.

Q: Just a quick question on the Kherson region -- can you talk about how sizable the Russian force is on the eastern side of the Dnipro River? I think there were early estimates after the Ukrainian forces took over the western side -- but what the size is on the the eastern side? And if you've seen any Ukrainian forces try to make their way across the bridge to the eastern side of the river and if you've seen fighting there?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, thanks, Idrees. So I won't get into specific numbers, other than to say there's tens of thousands of Russian forces on the eastern side of the river. We do see, you know, artillery being shared across that river.

You know, in terms of, as I mentioned at the top, on the Ukrainian side, continuing to work to consolidate their gains, which they have largely done, but no significant major fighting, like what we're seeing up in Bakhmut.

That said, again, we know that the Ukrainians are continuing to, like I said, look at taking advantage of opportunities. Again, I'm not going to talk about future engagements. So we'll continue to watch and support them up and down the line. Thank you.

Okay, let me go to Tom, NPR.

Q: Yes, I wanted to get back to the latest military aid package that was announced last week. It mentions counter-UAV measures -- if you could describe what we're talking about here? Are these kinetic measures or electronic systems that would break the signal of a drone and cause it to fail?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, thanks, Tom. So I'm going to be unfortunately disappointing in my response, in that for these particular capabilities, this is an example of a capability where, for operation security reasons, we're just not going to go into more details, beyond the fact that they are counter-unmanned aerial systems equipment and counter-air defense capabilities. And so that's about as specific as I'm going to be able to be in this particular case.

Q: Yes, but these are well known systems. I mean, I can't understand why you can't at least say if it's an electronic system. I mean, some of us have actually seen them in the field in places like Syria. What would you be giving away by just saying these are electronic systems?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: So, Tom, we -- you know, we have a variety of capabilities and some of those are more sensitive than others in terms of giving away information that could potentially be used by an adversary. And so, again, not trying to be coy. Just in these particular capabilities just not something I'm able to go into further detail about.

Q: Okay, got it.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Okay. Let's go to Jared, Al Monitor?
Q: Hey, sir. I was just wondering if you can give us an update. We're, obviously, been hearing more about potential further Iranian arms supplies, including ballistic missiles, to Russia for use in Ukraine. What's the Pentagon's assessment of, you know, if this defense relationship continues to grow what effects on the battlefield could this have? Do you see this as potentially really changing the tide of of conflict there?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Well, we certainly, you know, as we've mentioned, we know that Ukraine -- or, excuse me, rather Russia, has been seeking to get additional capabilities from Iran. And you know, the NSC put out a fair amount of information on this last week. You know, in a lot of ways given this current state of Russia's munitions stockpile, it's not surprising that they continue to look at opportunities to work with countries like Iran and with -- and North Korea to try to gain additional capability.

Let's go to Heather, USNI.

Q: Great. I was just wondering if you could give us the maritime update on what's happening in the Black Sea and what we're seeing with the Navy from (inaudible) Russia?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, thanks, Heather. I don't have any additional updates to provide, per se. I'm sure you're tracking that Russia did use some Iranian-made drones to attack Odessa, causing damage there. I don't have additional specifics to provide on that front. But again, just another example of how Russia is using Iranian-made capabilities to attack Ukraine.

We do know that among the capabilities Russia is employing, when it comes to striking energy grid targets throughout Ukraine, they have employed Russian naval capabilities, specifically caliber missiles as part of those strike packages. But beyond that, I don't have any additional updates to provide.

Okay, let's go to Tony, Bloomberg.

Q: Hi, sir. Thanks for doing this again. The director of national intelligence a couple of weeks ago at the Reagan Center said that Russia could be running out of ammunition. Are you seeing any tangible evidence of that, in terms of the pace of attacks and the number of missile and artillery strikes diminishing over the last couple of weeks, or is it -- or has it remained fairly constant in terms of high numbers?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, so a couple of things on that, Tony. So, we assess that at the rate of fire that Russia has been using its artillery and rocket ammunition, in terms of what we would call fully serviceable and rocket ammunition, they could probably do that until early 2023.

Their stocks of, again, fully serviceable ammunition, you know, this would be new ammunition, is rapidly dwindling, which is probably forcing them to increasingly use ammunition in what we would consider degraded conditions.

So, this essentially puts Russian forces in a position to have to make a choice about what risks it’s willing to accept in terms of increased failure rates, unpredictable performance and whether or not these degraded munitions would require any type of refurbishment, which, of course, requires a certain amount of expertise in times.

And so, ultimately, broadly speaking, our assessment is that Russia -- the Russian military will very likely struggle to replenish its reserve of fully-serviceable artillery and rocket ammunition through foreign suppliers, increased domestic production and refurbishment.

So, again, this is why it's not surprising that they're reaching out to countries like Iran and North Korea to try to obtain some more dependable ammunition.

The last thing I'd say on this is, you know, we do -- we have seen that since February, since the invasion, they have drawn from its aging ammunition stockpile, which does indicate that they are willing to use that older ammunition, some of which was originally produced more than 40 years ago.

Q: All right, in layman's language, does degraded mean dud rates? And you're finding -- the Ukrainians are finding a number of unexploded ordnances, i.e. degraded ordnance?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: That's correct. That's correct. So, in other words, you load the ammunition, and you cross your fingers and hope it’s going to fire. Or, when it lands that it's going to explode.

Q: Or not -- Okay, thank you. Or not explode in your face. Okay.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, exactly. All right, thank you.

Q: Thank you.


Q: Hi. Since you have so much data on artillery ammunition do you have similar data on precision-guided munitions? And then I have another question.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, thanks Luis. So, I don't have specific numbers to provide on precision-guided munitions, other than, you know, as we've talked about we do assess that they have used quite a bit of their stockpile and that their numbers -- the numbers available to them have really diminished their ability to sustain their current rate of fire when it comes to PGMs.

Q: Okay. And the next question is, is there a potential -- is there discussion about a potential increase of the number of military personnel at the embassy who would be responsible for counting the weapon systems being provided to Ukraine? And why is it necessary to increase the accountability of those weapon systems right now?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, so first of all, you know, what I would say at the top is that for operational security and force protection reasons we won't discuss the specific numbers of personnel that we have assigned to the U.S. embassy in Ukraine.  
You know, stepping back a bit, just for context, more broadly speaking about the inspection mission, as you know, as soon as security conditions permitted in late May the DOD reopened the Defense Attache Office and the Office of Defense Cooperation at the embassy in Kyiv to perform mission-critical functions there.

And so, we coordinate our personnel levels in connection with the State Department and the interagency as part of the overall embassy footprint. And as we would anywhere else in the world, we'll continue to review our presence in country as security conditions evolve. But I don't have any announcements to make or, you know, numbers to provide, again, for OPSEC and force protection reasons.

Q: So is that an active discussion about this or no?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes. I'm not going to have anything to provide beyond what I've just laid out for you, Luis.

Q: Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Okay. Let's go to Dan, Washington Post.

Q: Thank you. Tom Boman asked a very good question I was planning to ask, so I'll move to plan B. Could you please elaborate on what you're seeing of late, in terms of de-confliction in Syria with Russia forces, how well that's going, how well they're picking up the phone, those sorts of things? Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, thanks, Dan. So I'm going to answer your question just for the sake of answering the question, but broadly speaking I want to keep the discussion today focused on Ukraine.

No indications of any changes when it comes to our de-confliction line with Russia as it -- you know, in regards to air operations over Syria. Again, that's a capability that we have, but no changes in the status quo on that front that I'm aware of.

Q: And then if I could follow a quick tie in Ukraine, any signs of senior Russian officials there moving from the Syria mission back to the Ukraine mission?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: I don't have anything on that to provide. You know, anecdotally I've seen press reports where the Russians purportedly are looking at that, but I don't have anything from my end to provide specifically on that.

Q: Thanks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Okay. Let's go to Lara, Politico.

Q: Hey. Thanks for doing this. I wanted to go back to the situation on the ground in Bakhmut you were talking about at the top. Can you put the -- you said that Russia had been making incremental gains. Can you just put that into context here? How significant is this in the grand scheme of back and forth fighting over the last couple of months? Is this more intense than it has been for several months now? And what is making that difference for the Russians?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes. Thanks, Lara. So if you step back and look at the battlefield holistically here, for a while now Russia has been pouring in troops and equipment into that region and have been very focused on it for a while. That was happening concurrently with the Ukrainian counteroffensive happening in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions.

So that in and of itself, you know, the fact that there's intense fighting near Bakhmut is not necessarily new. But for whatever reason we continue to see Russia prioritize this particular area, and as I've mentioned, they've taken back or taken rather some incremental territory, amount of territory. Not a lot, but for obvious reasons Ukraine continues to hold the line and defend its city that's under attack here.

And so, we'll continue to observe. Obviously our focus is on working with them broadly to provide them with the security assistance they need so that they can be successful on the battlefield to include places like Bakhmut.

Q: So if I could -- yes, yes. If I could just follow up, would you characterize this as Russia trying to grind them down in Bakhmut?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Based on the way that Russia has prosecuted this campaign, you know, their way of combat is through heavy artillery strikes and throwing forces at the problem and certainly, you know, we've seen -- I don't have numbers to provide, but we've certainly seen the reports of significant casualties. And so, the last thing I'd say on this, again, the battlefield is fluid and dynamic. And so, we're going to continue to see these two sides push against each other as they try to gain an advantage. And so, that is, you know, what war's like. And so, again, we're going to focus on supporting Ukraine and giving them the security assistance they need to be successful on the battlefield. Thank you.

Let me go to Brad, Aviation Week.

Q: Hey, it's Brian Everstine, Aviation Week. I wanted to go back to the latest draw down announcement of the counter air defense capability. More broadly, can you talk about Ukraine's needs for countering and suppression enemy air defenses? How has that changes singe the delivery of HARMS that were announced a couple months ago? I assume that this capability is different.

And then I have a second question. We had talked about the dwindling stocks. Can you -- do you have any impressions of what that means for Russia's air defenses, ammunition for SA-15s, S-300s, and also their air-to-air missiles such as R-37s, R-77s, et cetera?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes. Thanks, Brian. Sorry I called you Brad. So again, on the PDA announcement, I'm not going to be able to go into specifics on those systems. More broadly speaking as we've watched this campaign unfold, the air defense needs of Ukraine have obviously evolved, particularly as Russia has opted to launch a heavy number of strikes, missile and drone strikes, against targets throughout Ukraine to include civilian infrastructure and the energy grid.

And so, the United States as well as our allies and our partners, as you know, have worked closely with Ukraine to identify what their air defense needs are, and that discussion continues to happen, and it's something that's a priority for us.

So, you know, working with them to help integrate the different capabilities that they have available to them, advising them on how best to do that so that they can successfully deter or stop aerial attacks.

I would say on that front, broadly speaking, Ukraine has done a magnificent job of deploying those capabilities and striking down a number of these missiles and drones, but obviously, you know, as you -- all you got to do is turn on the television to see that some of those missiles and drones do make it through. And so, we're going to continue to work with them to give them the capabilities that they need.

And then, I'm sorry, what was your last question?

Q: I was -- if you had an impression on Russia's stocks of SAMs and air-to-air missiles?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes. I don't have anything more specific to provide beyond what I provided earlier. Certainly when it comes to the air space over Ukraine, it continue to be contested. And you know, we have seen in some cases where Russian forces have used surface-to-air missiles as surface-to-ground missiles to strike targets. More broadly speaking, though, as they have expended, you know, as I highlighted, artillery and rockets, we do see those capabilities being depleted or at least what we would consider fully serviceable become depleted, but I don't have any more specifics to provide beyond that. Thank you.

All right, and last question will go to Courtney Kube, NBC.

Q: I actually didn't have a question, but thank you for calling on me.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: No problem. All right. Well, thank you all very much. Appreciate you joining us today. And we are out here.