BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: All right, well, good afternoon, everyone. So a few things at the top, and then we'll get right to your questions.
So first, as you can see, we are conducting press briefings here in our temporary Press Briefing Room while our primary location undergoes extensive technical renovations and upgrades. We do greatly — greatly appreciate your patience and flexibility as we work to install some long-overdue upgrades to the Pentagon Press Briefing Room.
Because we do not have Internet or phone capability in this area of the Pentagon for a variety of reasons, our normal call-in options will not be available; so for those who have had to call in, we apologize for the inconvenience. However, we will aim to get our briefing transcripts and the audio up as quickly as possible for reporting purposes. We'll also aim to answer your questions through our DOD Press Desk when you send them to us.
Moving forward, we'll look at ways to improve our briefing operations and the facilitation, and expect that our regular press briefings will resume back in the Press Briefing Room in middle- to late-May. So again, we appreciate your patience and flexibility and extend our thanks to the Department of the Air Force for allowing us to use Airman's Hall as our temporary briefing home.
In other news, Secretary Austin returned yesterday from a very productive series of meetings in the Republic of Korea and the Philippines. The Secretary and his Korean counterpart, Minister Lee Jong-sup jointly reaffirmed measures to enhance extended deterrence on the Korean Peninsula. The two leaders additionally pledged to closely cooperate regarding U.S. strategic assets in the future, as well as further expand and bolster the level and scale of combined exercises and training.
In the Philippines, Secretary Austin had his first in-person meeting with his counterpart, Secretary Galvez, and reiterated that the U.S. commitment to Philippine security is ironclad. The Secretary expressed his appreciation for the Philippines' approval of four new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement locations, and both Secretary Austin and Secretary Galvez noted that the EDCA is a key pillar of alliance cooperation and supports combined training exercises and interoperability.
Separately, the Department of Defense announced today a significant new package of security assistance for Ukraine. This includes the authorization of a Presidential drawdown of security assistance valued at up to $425 million, as well as $1.75 billion in Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative funds.
The presidential drawdown is the 31st such drawdown of equipment from DOD inventories for Ukraine. In total, the U.S. has now committed $32 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since 2014 and $29.3 billion since Russia's unprovoked and illegal invasion nearly one year ago this month. Today's announcement includes critical air defense capabilities to help Ukraine defend its people, as well as armored infantry vehicles and more equipment that Ukraine is using to affect — so effectively, including Javelin antitank missiles, artillery ammunition, and conventional and long-range rockets for U.S.-provided HIMARS. Additional information on the security package can be found on defense.gov.
In regards to our announcement last night regarding the high-altitude surveillance balloon, I'm not going to have much new information to provide other than to say that the North American Aerospace Defense Command continues to monitor it closely. While we won't get into specifics in regards to the exact location, I can tell you that the balloon continues to move eastward and is currently over the center of the continental United States. Again, we currently assess that the balloon does not present a military or physical threat to people on the ground at this time, and we'll continue to review — or excuse me — continue to monitor and review options.
Finally, Secretary Austin will host a bilateral meeting today here in the Pentagon with Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Richard Marles. The Secretary looks forward to discussing bilateral defense cooperation and our mutual security efforts within the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. A full readout of the engagement will post later today to defense.gov.
And with that, we'll go ahead and move to your questions. We'll start with A.P., Tara Copp.
Q: Hi, Pat. Thank you for doing this. China has said this is just a weather balloon that has veered off course. Why is the Pentagon convinced that this is a surveillance balloon? And then can you give us a little bit more on the status of the balloon? You said that it's in the central of the — central U.S. What state? Do you have any guidance for people as they see this balloon, or they're trying to photograph it, or maybe try and interfere with it?
GEN. RYDER: Sure. Thanks, Tara. So, first of all, we are aware of the PRC's statement. However, the fact is we know that it's a surveillance balloon, and I'm not going to be able to be more specific than that. And we do know that the balloon has violated U.S. airspace and international law, which is unacceptable. And so we've conveyed this directly to the PRC at multiple levels.
And in terms of specific locations, I'm not going to be able to go into specific locations, again, other than to say it's moving eastward at this time.
Yeah, you had a follow-up?
Q: Just a quick follow-up on, as people start to see the balloon, do you have any guidance for, should they try not to interfere, not photograph?
GEN. RYDER: So the balloon is currently assessed to be at about 60,000 feet; so again, well above the range of civilian air traffic, or where civilian air traffic would normally fly. Certainly aware that there are cameras, you know, civilian-owned commercial cameras that could spot this balloon. In terms of guidance to folks, again, this is something that NORAD is closely monitoring. We do assess at this time that it does pose a physical threat, as I mentioned, to people on the ground, so we'll just leave it at that.
Q: General Ryder, who is controlling this balloon right now?
GEN. RYDER: Again, we know that this is a Chinese balloon, but beyond that, I'm not going to have specifics.
Q: But is it — you say that it's moving eastward and it's over the continental U.S. It's change — it's not over Montana anymore. Is the Chinese government controlling the movement of the balloon, or is it just floating with air streams?
GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Jennifer. So I'm not going to go into any specific intelligence that we may have. Again, we know this is a Chinese balloon and that it has the ability to maneuver, but I'll just leave it at that.
Q: And once it's over a body of water, will you shoot it down?
GEN. RYDER: Again, right now, we're monitoring the situation closely, reviewing options, but beyond that, I'm not going to have any additional information.
Let me go to Tony.
Q: One quickie on the — on the balloon. Can you confirm the photos that are out there, that this is not the man in the moon and that is the actual balloon?
GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Tony. So certainly aware of photos being posted online. I — I'm not going to get into the business of confirming whether or not those are — you know, where those photos come from. Again, I can tell you that the U.S. government, NORAD, is monitoring this closely and we will continue to review options.
Q: How close was the U.S. to ordering a — was the President to ordering a shoot down of the balloon?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so again, I'm not going to get into discussions — internal discussions within the White House, again. Right now, we assess that there is no threat — a physical threat or military threat — to people on the ground. So we're continuing to monitor, you know, and we'll just leave it at that. Thank you.
Let me go to Janne and then we'll go to Ryo.
Q: Thanks, general. Welcome home. I have two questions — is (inaudible)? Okay. In response to Secretary Austin's recent remarks that more U.S. strategic assets will come to South Korea, North Korea warned of stronger provocations in the near future. What is your comment on this?
GEN. RYDER: Well, it's certainly not surprising, given North Korea's track record of making bellicose statements. Again, what we're focused on is on preserving peace, security, and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
And so, Secretary Austin's visit was an opportunity to again reaffirm our strong and close alliance with the Republic of Korea. And so that will remain our focus, is on working with South Korea and other nations in the region to deter aggression and ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.
Q: One more. South Korea has announced that it will test a high-powered monster ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead (inaudible). Is the — this is defense against North Korea's nuclear warhead. How do you (inaudible)?
GEN. RYDER: I'm sorry, Janne, I'm — I missed the first part of your question. Can you repeat that?
Q: South Korea has announced the — that it will be — test the high-powered monster ballistic missile with the war – nuclear warhead (inaudible). This is the — the — the —
GEN. RYDER: — I don't have anything on that. I'd refer you to the government of South Korea. Thank you.
Let me go to Ryo and then I'll come back over here.
Q: Okay, thank you very much. Two questions on the Chinese balloon. So there is speculations that the Chinese balloon flew over Japanese airspace before reaching the U.S. — continental U.S. Can you confirm that?
GEN. RYDER: I've seen those press reports. Again, as we acknowledged in our statement that we posted last night, we have seen this type of balloon activity elsewhere before, but again, I — I'm not going to get into intelligence and I'm not going to have any further information to provide.
Q: Okay. Secondly, how will this incident affect the Secretary's future engagement with his Chinese counterpart to maintain the open lines of communication?
GEN. RYDER: I think we've been very clear that we're always open to maintaining an open line of communication with the PRC, and in that regard, nothing has changed. Thank you.
Let me go to Phil and then I'll come over to Kassim.
Q: Okay. Is the — is the position of the balloon classified?
GEN. RYDER: Phil, right now, what we're not going to do is get into a hour-by-hour location of the balloon. Again, we're monitoring it closely. As I mentioned, right now it's over the center of the continental United States. That's about as specific as I'm going to get.
-Q: — but I understand it might be inconvenient, but does the public not have a right to know —
GEN. RYDER: The public certainly has the ability to look up in the sky and — and see where the balloon is. Thank you.
Q: General, you said the balloon is maneuverable. So do — does that mean that it's not drifting?
GEN. RYDER: So the balloon is maneuverable. Clearly, it's in — it's violated U.S. airspace. And again, we've communicated that fact to the PRC.
Q: And if possible, can you tell us if the balloon, when it enters the — entered the U.S. airspace, has it changed its course in any way?
GEN. RYDER: The balloon has changed its course, which is, again, why we're monitoring it, but that's about as specific as I can get. Thank you.
Go to Matt.
Q: Thank you, sir. Sir, you've said at this point the balloon doesn't pose — to have any — to pose any risks to citizens. How is it that the U.S. can assess that, given that the balloon is at such an altitude, you know, without actually getting eyes on it up close and assessing the equipment that's onboard?
And, secondly, are there any alternatives being considered to shooting it down? Is there any option to take this balloon out of the sky intact to maybe get a better look at that equipment?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so again, this is a surveillance balloon, hover — you know, operating at about 60,000 feet. Clearly, you know, we did a — a very close assessment, in terms of what it's doing. And as I mentioned, military commanders have assessed that there is no physical or military threat to people on the ground. And so in that regard, we'll continue to monitor.
In terms of way ahead, we will continue to review options, but I'm not going to have anything further to provide on that. So thank you.
GEN. RYDER: Ma'am?
Q: Thank you, Pat. You said that this is a — violating our airspace, so why not take it down?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so, you know, clearly, as we assess options. And considering the — the size of the payload on this, looking at the potential for debris and the impact on civilians on the ground or property damage — again, running through the various factors and looking at — in terms of does it pose a potential risk to people while in the air, and right now, as I mentioned, we — we assess that it does not pose a risk to people on the ground as it currently is traversing the continental United States.
And so out of an abundance of caution, cognizant of the potential impact to civilians on the ground from a debris field, right now, we're going to continue to monitor and review options.
Q: And if I may, you mentioned that we've seen this kind of activity before. So why are we sharing this one and — and why last night if you were following it for a few days? Is this some sort of sign that we should take from China ahead of Blinken's visit or from the activity that we had in the Philippines?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so in terms of any, you know, hypotheticals about messaging from PRC, I — I'd refer you to them on that front. Again, I think what makes this different — different is the duration and the length of which it has been over U.S. territory. But beyond that, I'm not going to be able to go into any more specifics.
Q: Thanks, Pat. Yesterday, a senior defense official said that the intelligence-gathering capability of this balloon would be no better than any Chinese satellite in low Earth orbit. If that's the case, why would Beijing go through the trouble and expense to send this balloon on such a — a journey?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I'd have to refer you back to the PRC on that.
Q: Any opinion why —
GEN. RYDER: Again — look, we're — we're monitoring this. As I mentioned, it's violated U.S. airspace, it's violated international law. We've communicated that back to the government of China. But again, I'd refer you back to China, in terms of — of —
Q: But I would assume that you're — that — that the Pentagon is trying to figure this out itself, why — why they're bothering to do this if they can already — if it's offered no better intelligence gathering than from a — a satellite.
GEN. RYDER: Right. Yes. Again, I mean, that's a statement, not a question. So yes.
Q: There's a question mark at the end of it, though.
GEN. RYDER: Yes. Again, I'm not going to have anything other to provide. So, ma'am. Yes, go to her and then come back to Nancy here.
Q: I was wondering is there any way that the Pentagon is able to gauge how long it could potentially loiter, comparing to balloons that have been in the past and how long do you anticipate that it could loiter?
GEN. RYDER: Sure. Yes. So as I mentioned, we'll continue to monitor it. Right now, we assess that it'll probably be over the United States for a few days, but we'll continue to monitor — review our options and keep you updated as we can. Thank you. Okay, let me go to Nancy here.
Q: Hi, general. I want to go back to a couple things you said. You said several times the U.S. is reviewing its options. I'd like some clarity. Is the option of shooting down the balloon, particularly as it's going over more populated areas, off the table? Is that still amongst the options that the U.S. military is considering? And if so, under what conditions would it do so?
GEN. RYDER: Yes. Thanks, Nancy. So at this stage, what I can tell you is, again, we’re reviewing options. I'm not — I'm not going to go into more specifics than that. And when and if there's any updates to provide we'll let you know.
Q: It's been ruled out, shooting?
GEN. RYDER: Again, we're monitoring it and we're reviewing options. Let's leave it there.
Q: And then a senior defense official yesterday said that similar incidents had happened under the previous administration, and yet some of those administration officials have come forward and said they're not familiar with it. Is there any way you could give us more details on when it's happened over — whether it was over the continental U.S. or over U.S. territories? Is that something you would potentially take to provide to the public more details about the extent that these things happen?
GEN. RYDER: Yes. So what I would tell you right now is that information is classified. I'm not able to provide it other than I can confirm that there have been other incidents where balloons did come close to or cross over U.S. territory.
Q: And I just want to reiterate something that Phil said earlier that given that it's not classified and the public can see it, I just ask that you take the question that we have more specifics on where it is given that there's not clear security reason by your own estimation in terms of keeping that information from the public.
GEN. RYDER: Sure. Yes. Absolutely. And again, we're just not going to get into an hour-by-hour where the balloon is. So we will do our best to keep you and the public informed in general terms on where the balloon is and try to be helpful in that regard.
Q: (inaudible) we’re in a guessing game where people think it's flying over.
GEN. RYDER: Yes.
Q: I just think some fidelity would be in everybody —
GEN. RYDER: Understood. And again, I think a key point here to make and to purposefully belabor the point, which is that, again, as this balloon traverses the continental United States, we assess that it currently does not pose a physical or military risk to people on the ground. So we will continue to monitor. We'll continue to review our options and provide information and updates as we're able to. So Jennifer.
Q: As it approaches Washington, D.C., will you shoot it down?
GEN. RYDER: Again, Jennifer, we're reviewing options, but I'm not going to get into hypotheticals or speculate on potential future actions. So let me go to the back of the room here and then I'll come up to Joe.
Q: Thank you, general. Thinking about the route of the balloon, was it impossible of the DOD to deal with the balloon before it reached to the, you know, air space of the United States?
GEN. RYDER: Yes. So we've been monitoring the balloon. You know, we are aware, again, as I mentioned it is a maneuverable craft, and we continue to assess and make appropriate decisions based on how we're going to address what we perceive as a potential threat or not.
The safety and security of the American people is paramount. And so, again, at this time we assess that it does pose a physical threat to people on the ground. We'll continue to monitor it, and we'll continue to review options. Thank you. Let me go ahead and go to Joe here and then I'll come back to this side of the room.
Q: So you said that this is the first time — this isn't the first time we've seen a balloon fly over the continental U.S. In the past, has it flown over other sensitive areas such as military bases? You've only — you haven't been very specific. It's just the continental U.S.
GEN. RYDER: Yes. No, I appreciate it. I haven't been very specific because that information's classified and I'm just not going to be able to talk about it, so thank you. Idrees?
Q: The Canadian Defense Ministry yesterday said they were tracking a second potential spy balloon. Are you tracking a second potential incident? And when the balloon was coming — I guess what I'm confused about is, when were there discussion to shoot down the balloon? Were there any discussion about shooting down the balloon when it was not over the United States, when it was potentially over international waters? Or were the discussions only when it entered U.S. air space?
GEN. RYDER: Yes. Thanks, Idrees. So on your first question, we are tracking one balloon. So in regards to statements by Canada, I'd refer you back to them on that. In terms of the discussions about whether or not to shoot down this balloon, that was an option, right? And so, that was something that was taken into consideration. Again, because we assess that, currently, it does not pose a physical or military risk to people on the ground, for now we are continuing to monitor and review options.
Thank you. We'll go back to Ellie, and then we'll come up here.
Q: Thank you. How big is the balloon that you're tracking? And is it — have you guys picked up — is it leaving anything in its wake like sensors?
GEN. RYDER: Yes. So on your latter question, I'm not - I'm not going to get into intelligence. We do continue to monitor the balloon. We do know that it is a surveillance balloon.
In terms of the size, I'm not able to get into the specifics other than to say that it is big enough that, again, in reviewing our approach we do recognize that any potential debris field would be significant and potentially cause civilian injuries or deaths or significant property damage.
So again, this is part of the calculus in terms of our overall assessment, but again, we'll continue to monitor it. We'll continue to review our options and keep you updated as able. Let me go here and then over here.
Q: Thank you. Following up on the balloon question, during your conversation with the Chinese, have they indicated to you what is inside the balloon to prove the point that it's not a — it's a civilian balloon over the monitoring thing? And does that assessment differs from your assessment of what is inside the balloon, what it's trying to do?
And secondly, on the India question, this week India and U.S. launched an initiative on critical emerging technologies. This has quite a bit of defense component in it. Can you give us some more details about it and how it's going to strengthen, build up your relationship with India?
GEN. RYDER: Sure. On your second question, I'll have to take that because I just don't have that information in front of me. On the first question, I appreciate it. As I mentioned, we have contacted the PRC. I'm not going to get into their reaction. I'd refer you to them for that, but we have clearly communicated that this balloon is violating U.S. air space and international law, and that this is unacceptable. Thank you. Over here, and then we'll go over here.
Q: Thank you, sir. Is the Pentagon looking at any possibility of maybe altering the course of the balloon so it's — take it to a location where they could shoot it down in a rural area?
GEN. RYDER: Again, monitoring, we're reviewing options, but I'm not going to go into any further specifics. Thank you.
Q: Thank you, general. Considering that this is a surveillance balloon, as you said, does it have ability to collect very sensitive data, given that it flies over nuclear sites in the state of Montana?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so again, I'm not going to get into intelligence. You know, as we mentioned in our statement last night, once the balloon was detected, we acted immediately to protect against the collection of sensitive information, and I'll just leave it at that. Thank you.
Q: Is there any possibility that there's any nuclear or radioactive material aboard the balloon or is there anything that's aboard the balloon that — that makes you believe that it could pose a risk if it were shot down?
GEN. RYDER: Short answer's no, but again, right now, we do not assess that the — the balloon, in its current configuration at approximately 60,000 feet, poses a physical or military threat to people on the ground. Thank you.
Q: Ukraine question. The Small Diameter Bomb in the latest Ukraine aid package has the potential to target Crimea. Is that the intent behind providing it now?
GEN. RYDER: So — thanks for the question, Joe. So — so yes, as part of the USAI package, we will be providing Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs to Ukraine. This gives them a longer-range capability – long-range fires capability that will enable them, again, to conduct operations in defense of their country and to take back their sovereign territory in Russian-occupied areas.
When it comes to Ukrainian plans on operations, clearly that is their decision. They are in the lead for those. So, I'm not going to talk about or speculate about potential future operations, but again, all along, we've been working with them to provide them with capabilities that will enable them to be effective on the battlefield.
Q: And just as a follow-up to that, can you talk specifically about this particular group of capabilities? You know, how are they tailored to what's happening in Ukraine now? For instance, there's equipment that connects the various air defense systems. Just can you speak to why this specific package now?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, sure. So again, it's important to look at this from a — from a evolution standpoint, in terms of adapting to the conditions on the ground. And so we've been focused on several key areas in the last few months to support Ukraine, specifically air defense capabilities, armor capabilities, long-range fires capabilities, and then combined with training in order to enable them to have the — the ability to conduct combined arms.
And so looking at things like further enhancing and enabling their integrated air defense, which I think everyone continues to watch with horror as Russia conducts aerial bombardment on civilian targets throughout Ukraine, so working with them in those areas but also through those combined — through — through the combined arms training, enabling them to be able to change the equation on the front lines, not only to defend their territory but take back sovereign territory. Thank you.
Q: Just a (inaudible) to specify on that one — within the — in the announcement, there's a — one line that says "precision-guided rockets." Is that the Ground Launched —
GEN. RYDER: That is the — that is the Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb.
Q: Thank you.
GEN. RYDER: Yep.
Q: Just going back to the Ukraine package, can you talk a little bit more about integrating the air defense systems, particularly all the systems that have been sent by different NATO partners, and how do you integrate those with the systems Ukraine already has?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so without going into operationally sensitive matters, broadly speaking, so — so a couple of things. So first of all, it's important to recognize that the Ukrainians already have done a fairly remarkable job of protecting, you know — of employing the air defense capabilities that they have. That said, we do recognize that as they — they take these new pieces and parts and integrate it into their system, support — continued support is required.
And so we consult regularly with the Ukrainians and our international allies and partners in how they can best integrate those systems. So that is ongoing work, you know. But again, they've been doing a — a pretty remarkable job of intercepting Russian missiles and drones. Thank you.
All right, time for just a couple more. Oren?
Q: Two questions on the balloon. First on maneuverability, can it maneuver up and down, as well as latterly? In other words, turn as well as change altitude? And — and in terms of tracking, how are you tracking this? Is it radar? Is it aircraft? And is it continuous tracking, or is it more intermittent than that?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Oren. So beyond saying that we are continuously tracking the balloon, I'm not going to go into the specifics in terms of how we track other than to say that we have multiple means at our disposal to do that.
In terms of more specifics on the balloon. Again, I'm not going to get into intelligence again, other than it is maneuverable, and I'll just leave it at that.
All right, two — two more questions. Phil, and then to Kassim.
Q: Thank you. You said it changed course. Did it change course following your disclosure of its presence over the United States? And secondly, is the — what — you — you know, to — to the point about its capabilities, you know, how — how does — how is it powered? How is it moving? How — how does it — how is it maneuverable?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Phil. So again, on your latter question, I'm not — I'm not going to get into intelligence. Clearly, it's a balloon that has a payload underneath it. It — you know, I'll just leave it at that. It —
Q: (inaudible) —
GEN. RYDER: What's that?
Q: What — what do you mean by "payload"?
GEN. RYDER: It's got a large payload underneath the surveillance component, underneath the actual balloon piece of it. So just leave it at that.
And then in terms of the — the maneuverability, again, all I can say right now is at this point, again, it's moving eastward across the United States, currently over about the central United States.
Q: And did it change course after you disclosed (inaudible) —
GEN. RYDER: I — I don't have that information.
GEN. RYDER: Yeah.
Q: Could you clarify "payload"? That sounds like munitions or something that would pose a threat to US citizens —
GEN. RYDER: No, again, there — there is a — it is a surveillance balloon, right? So there is a — there is a surveillance capability underneath this large balloon, right? So look at a blimp. A blimp has a basket, right? So there's a basket underneath it, in layman's terms. So again, large enough to be concerning if there were a debris field, so —
All right, Kassim? Last question.
Q: Has there been any mil-to-mil communication with China with respect to the balloon?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, and we've — we've communicated at multiple levels, and I'll just leave it at that. Okay.
GEN. RYDER: Yeah?
Q: But is it armed? What — is it munitions?
GEN. RYDER: It is a surveillance balloon.
GEN. RYDER: Again, does not pose — we currently assess it does not pose a physical or military risk to people on the ground.
Q: Okay, with the payload, then, is it an engine? I'm — I'm just — I'm trying to get —
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I can't go into more details, so —
Okay? Thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate it.