DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH: Hi. Good afternoon, everyone. I just have a few items to pass on at the top, and then I'd be happy to take your questions.
Today, the Secretary hosted the minister of defense from Albania at the Pentagon. The two leaders discussed their -- followed up on their discussions last week at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, and while also discussing bilateral defense cooperation and security efforts. We will have a full readout soon on -- that will be available on defense.gov.
Also, today marks the conclusion of Exercise Juniper Oak. This exercise was the largest U.S.-Israel-partnered exercise in history. Juniper Oak integrated U.S. and Israeli fifth-generation fighter assets, the USS George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group, command-and-control elements, rescue and refueling aircraft during a long-range, large-force exercise that included live-fire exercises with more than 140 aircraft and roughly 6,400 U.S. troops alongside more than 1,500 Israeli troops participated in the exercise.
This week, the U.S. Marine Corps will reactivate Camp Blaz in Guam, part of an agreement with the Japanese government to reposition Marines from Okinawa, as well as contribute to the overall integrity of integrated deterrence and bolster U.S. operational security in the Indo-Pacific region. Camp Blaz will serve as a strategic hub and training area for joint forces, allies and partners in the region. The Marine Corps has a deep history in Guam, and we are committed to continuing that strong relationship.
And finally, today, the Department is releasing our new comprehensive small-business strategy. The strategy will guide DOD in its ongoing effort to leverage the exceptional creativity, innovation, and range of capabilities that small businesses bring to our nation's Defense Industrial Base. Expanding small business opportunities is an absolutely vital part of the Department's commitment to fostering a robust and resilient industrial base, and the strategy will be released via defense.gov.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. I'll go ahead to Lita.
Q: Sabrina, I'm hoping you can fill in some blanks from yesterday on the tank issue, now that we're a day out of the announcement. Can you give us some better granularity on the training? How soon will it start? When, maybe, and will it be done, even if you can't say exactly where you expect it will be done, in the continental United States or, I mean, there are obviously some in Europe that could be used. Can you just kind of space that out for us at least a little bit? And will it look sort of like the Stryker training, you know, at a couple hundred -- you know, several hundred here or there?
MS. SINGH: Sure. So unfortunately, I think you're going to be a little bit disappointed with my answers today. In terms of how soon, I just don't have a timeline for you. We are trying to get the training set up, but as of a timeline when -- where that's going to be and when, I just don't have that available at this moment. But I know that's something that is certainly going to be of interest, so when we have more updates, I'll certainly be able to read that out.
Great. Yeah, Jen?
Q: Sabrina, is there a shortage of M-1 Abram tanks? Is that why you're having to go through the procurement process that's not going to allow them to be there until, you know, almost a year's time? Why not just take them off the shelf to get them in the fight sooner?
MS. SINGH: That's a great question. We are using the USAI because that's exactly it. We just don't have these tanks available in excess in our U.S. stocks, which is why it is going to take months to transfer these M1A2 Abrams to Ukraine. And I think that you have to remember, I mean, as you probably know, these tanks are going to require training, maintenance, sustainment that is going to take a very long time to also train the Ukrainians on. And so, because of that -- and we took that into account -- that's why we are using the USAI capability in order to procure these tanks for the Ukrainians.
Q: And what changed from Tuesday to Thursday, when here at the podium we heard that the M1 Abrams was too difficult logistically to support, it was the wrong weapon to be sent, and then hearing that the President had authorized 31 to be sent?
MS. SINGH: Well, I don't think that -- I would just say that, you know, we stand by the statements that we made from here at the podium, and that you've heard Secretary Austin and the chairman say before. These are going to be difficult capabilities to maintain and sustain. We stand by that. There's going to be challenges to them.
That said, following the Secretary's visit to the Ukraine Contact Group, meeting with partners and allies, we saw a commitment in immediate capabilities that could be rushed to the battlefield right now or in the -- in the near term, and part of our commitment to giving the Abrams is a long-term show of commitment. And so, the timing made sense, along with our partners and allies announcing other capabilities that they were going to give to Ukraine. And so, again, I wouldn't -- I wouldn't say that decisions changed. We've always been very honest about the challenges with these capabilities.
Q: Let me walk a little bit through “Tank Build 101.” You mentioned this is the M1A2.
MS. SINGH: Yeah, that's what I specialize in, yeah.
Q: That's why I asked. So this -- this implies that you're going to upgrade older-model M1A1s that are not in the active Army inventory into this A2 configuration. Is -- is that accurate?
MS. SINGH: We're working through the details right now. We're trying to procure new tanks through the USAI. But, again, we're working through those details right now, so I don't have any additional updates on that.
Q: So new tanks implies building from scratch, taking pieces together putting -- that's not the way the Army's done it for the last 20 years. Wanted to check into that, actually.
MS. SINGH: Well, it would -- it would entail working with industry and -- and contracting those out, and part of that is acquiring new tanks. So that's where the process -- that is our goal in the process. In terms of final delivery, again, we'll keep you updated on that, but that is the goal of what we announced.
Q: New versus -- new, meaning upgraded model to the older models, the A1 (inaudible) wondering if you could pull that string and get some clarity with that.
MS. SINGH: Yes.
Q: That would helpful. And on training question, can you check also -- is there going to be, like, a simulation in Europe? You're going to fly simulators over there? Or is there going to be, like, distributed test -- training from, like, Fort Benning's Armor School where guys could be at computers in Ukraqine …
MS. SINGH: Right.
Q: ... Ukraine and do it virtually like that? That would be useful to know.
MS. SINGH: Well, we have many different ways to train on the Abrams. Again, we haven't started that training, so I don't want to put the cart before the horse here. You know, when we have more details, I'd be happy to get back to you. And I'm sure I could've made a tank joke there, but I -- I didn't.
Q: Thanks, Sabrina.
MS. SINGH: Yeah?
Q: I had a question about Camp Blaz in Guam. The last I had checked earlier today, the Marines hadn't given a number for the number of Marines that would be going to new camp. Can you provide that number? And additionally, there was a new unit that's going to be located on Okinawa; so is that a backfill? It's my understanding that for decades, the U.S. and Japan have been working to move U.S. forces off of Okinawa to Guam. So can you explain the math there? Is there going to be a reduction of forces on Okinawa, and what are the numbers?
MS. SINGH: No, this was an agreement that was set up in 2012 to establish this base, Camp Blaz, and there will be 5,000 Marines stationed there. Sorry, I should've read that out at the top. No, this doesn't reduce the presence at Okinawa.
This is something -- the -- Camp Blaz was already an agreement that has taken a while to get up and running, to establish this -- to establish Camp Blaz; but in terms of our commitment to Okinawa, we're still going to have a presence there as well.
Q: So if I could just follow up . The Japanese are paying for part of this move though, correct? And if so, why are they paying if there's not a net reduction in the number of forces on Okinawa?
MS. SINGH: I would have to get back to you on the funding aspect there. I just don't have that here right now, so I'm happy to take that.
Q: What would be the benefit to them strategically to move Marines away from Japanese territory?
MS. SINGH: Well, I mean, it's about establishing our presence in the region. We're establishing, I think, a wider presence, you could say, there. So it's not about necessarily being far away. I think it, in fact, recommits our presence to the region, that we are, you know, solidly behind Japan. And this is just one other place where we will have our Marines based.
I'm going to go to the phones. Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose?
Q: Thank you. The Marine Corps recently divested its fleet of tanks. Is there some reason the U.S. can't send them to Ukraine?
And also, I spoke to an expert who said it doesn't make sense to give the Ukrainians 30 Abrams, 14 Leopards, et cetera. Give them 100 of each and that will justify having multiple maintenance systems. I wanted to know if you could respond? Thank you.
MS. SINGH: I'm happy to take that -- I'm happy to respond to that question. I'm sorry but you broke up on your first question, I couldn't hear that. Could you repeat that?
Q: Sure. The Marine Corps has divested its fleet of M1 Abrams tanks. Couldn't they be sent to Ukraine?
MS. SINGH: So again, a part of this USAI package that we rolled out is trying to procure new tanks for Ukraine. Again, I don't have an update of when those will come. It's going to be not weeks, it's going to be months. So I will keep you updated on that.
In terms of your second question on -- I think it was on why aren't we supplying hundreds of -- and then you -- you listed Abrams, Leopards, all of that. Again, these are sovereign countries making decisions on security assistance for themselves and what they can give to Ukraine.
We are incredibly grateful for what our partners and allies have given so far. As you saw, we just announced 31 Abrams just this week. I think that is -- it's certainly not a symbolic commitment, it is a commitment that we're in it for the long term, we're in it for what Ukraine might need on the battlefield in the coming future and then further out in the future.
And so, I certainly think that is a commitment that you've not only seen from us but you're seeing it from other European countries and allies, give their additional weapons and capabilities.
I’m going to go to Lara, Politico?
Q: Hey, thanks, Sabrina. Sorry for a delay, I needed to unmute myself. Just wondering if you could tell us whether we are sending the depleted uranium bullets along with the tanks?
MS. SINGH: I can't get into any more details about what we're sending. You've seen the release. It's posted on defense.gov. That's -- that's as -- about as far in detail as I will get right now. Thanks. I'll come back into the room. Janne?
Q: Thank you, Sabrina. Upon Secretary Austin visit to South Korea this weekend. What agenda will the two secretaries discuss?
MS. SINGH: Yeah, well, I think you'll see the Secretary certainly highlight our commitment to the region. I don't want to get ahead of the Secretary and his trip that you just mentioned, as you know, is coming up and heading out on Sunday. But, again, our commitment to South Korea remains rock solid and he's looking forward to meeting with his counterparts there.
Q: Do you have any plan for meeting with the South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol?
MS. SINGH: I don't have any -- anything to read out about a meeting now, but when more details -- when we're ready to release more details on the trip, would be certainly happy to get them to you.
Q: Last one.
MS. SINGH: Sure.
Q: What is your view on the weapons deal between Russia's Wagner Group and North Korea?
MS. SINGH: Well, we've seen the Wagner Group try and procure and be successful at procuring weapons from North Korea. I think that shows further isolation, that Russia is depleting its stocks pretty -- pretty quickly, and, you know, again, when you're turning to a country like North Korea, Iran, these are countries that are already isolated from an incredible alliance that has been built around support for Ukraine. And so, I'll just leave it at that.
Q: Thank you, Sabrina. This morning, AFRICOM announced that the U.S. military conducted a successful counter-terrorism operation in Somalia. I just wanted to see if you can give us any details on that? Was that a drone strike? Who did it target? Was it an ISIS target? Can you name the target? How did it go?
MS. SINGH: Yeah. As you know, AFRICOM put out their statement. It was a successful operation, but I just don't have further details to announce at this time. I believe they will be providing some soon.
Q: OK, thanks.
MS. SINGH: Yeah.
Q: Sabrina, yesterday, when President Biden announced this tank and the aid -- tank aid to Ukraine, he said Secretary Austin advised him to do that.
MS. SINGH: He did.
Q: And could you tell us, based on -- because we heard from this Department several times that it's not a rational -- I guess not -- tactically, it's -- they are -- it's difficult to maintain, sustain -- and could you tell us what was the rationale behind Secretary Austin's advice? Was it a political or was it a military, tactical advice?
MS. SINGH: Well, I think the Secretary and the Chairman's position, when it came to the Abrams, has not changed. I mean, it is going to be a challenge to sustain and maintain these tanks. That said, following the Contact Group, following meetings with partners and allies there -- and again, these are almost 50 nations participating in the Contact Group -- the Secretary came away from those conversations feeling that we needed to provide a long-term commitment to Ukraine.
And we know that it's not just going to be armored personnel carriers, it's not going to just be infantry vehicles, tanks. I mean, these are all capabilities that are going to enable more maneuverability but it's not just one system that's going to be the -- you know, the magic wand that all of a -- suddenly ends this war. But providing a long term commitment was something that the Secretary felt very strongly about, and that is why he recommended to the President that we do provide these Abrams.
And, you know, I've seen people say "Well, this -- is this symbolic of, you know, something just given to Ukraine so you could unlock other allies to -- to give their tanks?" And I would say to that that I -- I don't think a battalion of Abrams given to -- to Ukraine is at all symbolic. This is a real capability that will certainly give Ukraine an upper edge on the battlefield.
Q: The Ukrainians are asking for many other complicated, sophisticated systems as well ... but tanks. Can you explain to us, elaborate on how these Abrams are going to play into the long-term commitment? What do you mean by that? I really don't know.
MS. SINGH: Well, the long-term commitment is, we don't know when this war is going to end. I mean, it could end tomorrow if Vladimir Putin decided, but it doesn't seem that he is going to make that decision. So, this work could go on till the end of the year, it could go on for many years. And so, by giving these Abrams through the USAI package, that shows a long-term commitment to Ukraine. And, I think, really sends a message that our allies and partners are united in our support for Ukraine. And we are not going to stand for Russia's, again, illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Q: Can you just (inaudible) why not F-16s and, but tanks?
MS. SINGH: I'm sorry, I don't understand the question.
Q: As we are talking about the long-term commitment, why we are not discussing F-16s to Ukraine? Instead, we are sending these tanks?
MS. SINGH: Well -
Q: (Inaudible) it's going to be a longer commitment and Ukraine…
MS. SINGH: But we haven't -- we have other -- we haven't announced other packages. Again, we have authorization from Congress to continue to have presidential drawdowns, other security assistance packages. So, we are going to continue to provide Ukraine with what it needs in the short term and the long term. Let me move on. Yes?
Q: Hello. A couple of questions.
MS. SINGH: Hello.
Q: Is the M1 models going to Ukraine going to be the same as the M1s that are going to be going to Poland? Because General Dynamics says Poland's getting the M1A2 SEPV3, the top-of-the-line -
MS. SINGH: Right.
Q: -- M1. I mean, is it -- was it going to be the same in Poland's getting?
MS. SINGH: I'm just going to say that it's going to be the M1A2. I'm not going to get into further specifics on that.
Q: And also, when -- could you comment on Russian -- the Russian ambassador here said that this is an -- you know -- it's an escalation of the war …
MS. SINGH: I mean, I feel like I've heard that talking point before from them when it was -- whether it was the Javelins that we were giving or the HIMARs and then the Patriot. Everything seems, I guess, to be an escalation. I don't view it as that.
This is a war that Russia started, invading a sovereign state. And I -- the only escalation here is the continued barrage of whether it's Russian strikes against an electrical grid or killing innocent Ukrainian civilians. That is -- that is the escalation that we're seeing. So, I don't view our support for Ukraine as any escalation at all.
Great. Yes. Hi.
Q: Hi. Thanks, Sabrina. So, we're sending in the tanks. They could be susceptible to air attacks. Does it make sense to send in air defense, like they were mentioning, the F-16s? Is that next? And it seems like we keep pushing the envelope on what we're sending as the war evolves. So, I was curious what is the new line for us here?
MS. SINGH: Well, I don't know that we've ever drawn a line. We've certainly -- you know, we're not going to take anything off the table here. We are given air defense capability systems and, you know, we're training the Ukrainians on the Patriots right now. They've -- we've seen them make incredible use of some of the air capabilities that not just we have given, but other countries and other partners.
In terms of what's next, you know, again, I'm not going to get ahead of any packages that haven't been announced or any decision by the President or the Secretary. But I think our commitment remains, as you've seen, pretty forceful with Ukraine.
Q: It just seemed like Ukraine, that was the next thing they were asking for just after this decision was made yesterday with the tanks, was the F-16s. And I was just curious if that was on the table or up for discussion.
MS. SINGH: Yes, I saw -- I have nothing to announce today. Thanks. Yes. Hi.
Q: (Inaudible). My question is about the follow-up on procurement of the tanks.
MS. SINGH: Sure.
Q: You just said that you will provide M1A2, the top-of-the-line of the Abrams, to the Kyiv. But some reports suggest that, because of the secret armors of the Abrams in U.S. Army, the United States doesn't want to send its tanks and decide to order from the manufacturers rather than pulling from the stockpiles to prevent these secrets to be discovered by Russians. Can you confirm these reports?
MS. SINGH: I cannot, no. I have nothing to say -- I -- I cannot confirm that report. We're giving the M1A2 variant of the tank. Again, this is something that we're trying to newly procure through the USAI. But I would just -- I have nothing else to comment on that.
Q: Thank you very much. I want to get back to the Russian allegations about this is an escalatory step by sending the tanks. You said that you've heard that type of language from Russia time and time again. Is it the sense in the Pentagon that Russia's rhetoric is just bluster and that they don't have the capacity now to really strike back or further escalate or draw some sort of red line that would escalate the conflict, perhaps to a nuclear level or something else?
MS. SINGH: No, I would -- I mean -- you know, we of course take what Russia says seriously. I think we've just heard that line before that every time we announce a new round of security assistance they always seem to say, well, this is escalatory.
Again, what is escalatory is them continuing this war each and every day where, you know, Vladimir Putin could make the decision tomorrow to end it. You had a question on -- I'm sorry and I'm blanking on the second part of it.
Q: Is the sense in the Pentagon that there is no red line now that would cause Russia to do something to -- to take the war to a level that would involve NATO or an attack on NATO or the use of tactical nukes, as they've threatened before?
MS. SINGH: Well, again, we've seen no indication that Russia intends to use a nuclear weapon. You know in terms of a red -- a line that would be crossed, you know, I would leave that to Russia to answer that.
All we can continue to do is to continue to support Ukraine with what it needs on the battlefield. And that's why you're seeing immediate support going -- flowing in right away to the country and then also seeing long-term commitments.
But in terms of, you know, what Russia says, again, we do take seriously their threats against Ukraine, against any of our partners and allies, but, you know, the constant barrage of missiles coming down on the Ukrainian civilians, on electrical grids and infrastructure, again, this war could stop tomorrow -- today.
And so, you know, I -- we're going to continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.
Q: Would it be fair to say then that there's less pause here in the U.S. when Russia makes those threats regarding the provision of more advanced weapon systems?
MS. SINGH: I mean I'm -- I feel like I've answered that question. But I just want to say that, again, we've heard these comments from Russia before. We do take what Russia says seriously, if they are going to threaten a partner, an ally, us. But we've heard them say before that these actions are escalatory.
We are going to continue to provide Ukraine what it needs. And we are in this for the long term. And, you've heard the President say that, you've heard the Secretary say that, and I think our announcement this week just reaffirms that.
I'm going to take a few more before we have to head out. Yeah.
Q: Recently there was a media report saying that U.S. decided not to withdraw its ground-launched and the intermediate range missiles to Japan. Could you give us comment on this? And also I'm wondering what could be the significance of the growing U.S. medium-range missiles in the -- in the Pacific region?
And also I'm wondering if this (inaudible) running could be effected by the recent decision by Japan to have counter strike capability, including long-range missiles?
MS. SINGH: OK. So a lot there. So I've seen the reporting. You know the -- the Department has no plans to deploy capabilities to Japan with a range beyond 500 kilometers. So the reporting, I would, you know, dispute that. I think this press speculation on the intermediate-range missiles that you were just asking about, that's inaccurate.
We're not going to further comment on internal discussions, but our commitment to Japan remains rock solid, as you saw from the meetings that we had just a few weeks ago with the Secretary in the 2+2. So again, we are always going to continue to modernize and enhance our security capabilities in the region but I just have nothing more to add on those reports.
Great. Yeah, Chris?
Q: If I could just follow up on the F-16 issue. You've talked and the Department has talked a lot about providing Ukraine with a comprehensive ability, a combined arms ability. I'm not asking you to get ahead of any specific announcements on specific aircraft, but why does the Department -- why has the Department view aircraft -- fighter aircraft as not something that Ukraine needs so far?
MS. SINGH: Well, I don't think that we've said that, but we are providing them capabilities that they need on the battlefield right now. Part of that is the armored personnel vehicles, the -- the infantry vehicles that we are providing, the tanks.
We have not said that they don't need air support. That's why we're providing them air defenses. So I'd kind of push back on the characterization of that question. But again, I'm just not going to get ahead of any future package that we -- that we have to announce.
I'm going to go back to the phones here. Caitlyn, New York Post?
Q: Hi, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Hey, I'm just wondering, you know, can you tell us at all, you know, why the German and British tanks are easier to get to the battlefield sooner? You know, is it really only the M1's gas turbine and jet fuel logistics issue that's kind of making it slower and needing more training?
And then also, to come back to Jeff's question, why can't the -- the divested Marine Corps tanks be sent? Is there some reason that Ukraine can only receive new tanks or -- I mean, honestly, was the decision to use these funds partly made to delay delivery?
MS. SINGH: No, I would say -- I would, again, we are using the USAI to show a long-term commitment but it's not about delay. We just do not have these Abrams available in our stocks to give the Ukrainians at this time.
In terms of the other tanks that -- you know, there are other specifications on -- whether it's the Challengers or the Leos, I'm not going to get into those specifically. I think there's information available out there that, you know, you could look into on why one is more mobile than the other. I believe they're also, I think, slightly a lighter tank, so just slightly easier to transport.
But again, I think, just on the notion that, you know, there was some type of delay, the USAI does show a long-term commitment here, but again, we did not have these Abrams available in our stocks to give the Ukrainians, and that's why we're looking to procure them and procure new tanks. And when we have more information to update you on, I will -- I will certainly do that.
I'm going to go to one more question on the phone here. Oskar, Polish News Agency?
Q: Hi, thank you for taking the question. I was wondering can you -- so since the tanks will be new, will it -- will the production impact the ongoing production of -- and deliveries of M1A2 to Poland? And will -- you know, so -- so the delivery to Poland is scheduled for 2025. So I'm wondering if the Ukraine delivery will not take months but maybe years? Thank you.
MS. SINGH: Thanks, Oskar, for the question. So again, just -- just to be clear here, our intent is to procure new tanks. Now, if we cannot or if there are updates to that, I will certainly let you know, but I'm not going to get into the specifications or technical details of what -- what is in the – like the tanks in -- in more specificity. All I can tell you is that it is the M1A2.
Now, I didn't put a timeline on anything, so I'm not sure where you're getting 2025 here. I just said that it's going to take months. This is a long-term commitment, but I just don't have a timeline for you of when these tanks will be delivered to Ukraine.
OK, I'm going to come back in the room and then we'll have to head out. Yeah?
Q: Thank you. I would like to follow up on F-16s.
MS. SINGH: OK.
Q: So without getting into specific cases, could you please talk about in general the possibility and the (inaudible) to provide such fighter jets?
MS. SINGH: Well, you know, this is a capability that would require training. It would require more people to come off the battlefield to learn a new -- an entirely new system. And again, the Ukrainians have proven that they can learn complicated, complex, challenging systems. It is more -- in terms of, like, the Abrams, it is more the sustainment, the maintenance when it's on the battlefield. With the F-16s, again, another challenging system that would require training.
And I'm not going to get ahead of any announcement cause I don't have an announcement today. So I'll leave it at that.
Q: Russia reportedly has a ship with hypersonic missiles on it in the mid-Atlantic. Should Americans be concerned?
MS. SINGH: We've seen reports of that. The Coast Guard -- I believe I spoke to this last week actually -- the Coast Guard is monitoring the Russian ship, but it's operating in international waters. We've seen this before. We haven't seen any unsafe or unprofessional behavior, so I don't think Americans need to be worried about that, but we'll continue to monitor.
Q: Just to clarify, he was asking about in the mid-Atlantic, not in the Pacific.
MS. SINGH: Oh, sorry. Same as that -- I'm sorry, I was remembering from last week about the -- the Russian ship off the coast of Hawaii. Again -- yeah?
Q: Sorry. Can you confirm it has hypersonic missiles on the ...
MS. SINGH: I cannot -- I cannot. I would have to look into that for you. I just don't know but I would -- again, we have not seen any unprofessional, unsafe behavior, and so there's no need for concern.
Yeah, I'll take one more.
Q: Yeah, on -- on (inaudible) about the divested Marine tanks -- I don't know if you -- you might not have it but can you take the question -- where are they now? What happened to those tanks?
MS. SINGH: I don't know where those are. I'm happy to take the question. But again, in terms of our procurement of these Abrams, we are looking to procure -- our intent is to procure new tanks, so.
Q: (Inaudible) they weren't transferred to the Army.
MS. SINGH: Sorry?
Q: As I understood it, they were being -- they were going to be transferred to the Army.
MS. SINGH: I would have to look in -- I just don't know off the top of my head right here so I'd have to get back to you on that.
Sorry. There's an event in here coming up soon so we're going to have to wrap up but happy weekend -- happy early weekend.