BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: Hey, good afternoon, everybody. Just a couple things at the top, and we'll get right to your questions.
So as you are aware, DOD announced in January that the United States would be providing 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative with the intent of providing the M1A2 variant. However, ever since we made this announcement we've been committed to exploring options to deliver the armored capability as quickly as possible, and after further study and analysis on how best to do this, DOD, in close coordination with Ukraine, has made the decision to provide the M1A1 variant of the Abrams tank, which will enable us to significantly expedite delivery timelines and deliver this important capability to Ukraine by the fall of this year. It will also give Ukraine a very similar capability to the M1A2, which includes advanced armor and weapons systems, to include a 120 millimeter cannon and 50 caliber heavy machine gun. Again, this is about getting this important combat capability into the hands of the Ukrainians sooner rather than later, and we'll be sure to keep you updated as additional information becomes available.
On a separate, but related note, DOD announced yesterday the authorization of another presidential drawdown of security assistance to meet Ukraine's critical security and defense needs. The authorization was the 34th drawdown of equipment from DOD inventories for Ukraine since August, 2021, and is valued at up to $350 million. This security package included ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, additional 155 millimeter artillery rounds, 25 millimeter ammunition mortar rounds, small arms and various additional capabilities. The full details of this security package and the current fact sheet can be found on defense.gov.
And finally, Secretary Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Milley will testify Thursday before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense in support of the president's budget request for fiscal year 2024. The secretary and chairman look forward to speaking to members of Congress on the department's efforts to build a budget aimed at keeping America secure in the 21st century. As Secretary Austin will highlight, this is a strategy-driven budget that will help the department continue to implement our 2022 National Defense Strategy and the president's National Security Strategy.
And with that, I am happy to take your questions. We'll go to Reuters first today. Idrees?
Q: You said the -- the change in tanks would significantly expedite the timeline. What was the original timeline? And how much faster is -- are they going to move? And then I have a separate question.
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, great, great, Idrees. So we never got into the specifics other than to say we were projecting it would be probably over a year or so before we'd have been able to deliver that A2 variant. And so again, this approach will allow us to get that combat capability to them quicker.
Q: Yeah. And then separately, have you seen the Russians pick up any pieces of the downed drone in the Black Sea? And secondly, Britain today said that they were going to send munitions with depleted uranium. Is the U.S. sending any munitions with depleted uranium to Ukraine?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so on your latter question, not to my knowledge. We are not. As far as the Russians go and the MQ-9, again, we'd seen press reports that they may have picked up some surface debris. We can't corroborate those reports. To the best of our knowledge, as I've mentioned previously, it's our estimation that the MQ-9, when it crashed, went very deep and has not been recovered. OK?
Let me go ahead and go over here to Tony.
Q: Can you say a little bit more -- can we walk through the details of the tank a little bit more? These are not M1A1s from U.S. stocks. My understanding is these are refurbished hulls that will become M1A1 SA models. Is that accurate?
GEN. RYDER: So my understanding, Tony, is that these will be excess hulls in our inventory that we will refurbish, refit through a combination of USAI and security assistance packages in order to make them combat-ready.
Q: OK. These will be retrofitted -- refurbished in Lima, Ohio at the Army's tank plant, as far as you know?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I'm not going to get into the specifics of where they will be refurbished, but yeah, I'll just leave it at that.
Q: One more: How much money, roughly, will General Dynamics get from USIA funds to refurbish the hulls?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so the initial announcement in January was $400 million for the USAI. We'll come back to you with any updates on the overall total cost, but at this time, I don't anticipate it would be very much beyond that.
Q: Thank you.
GEN. RYDER: Thanks.
Q: Two questions. Back when the tanks announcement was made in January, your colleague, Sabrina Singh, had said the U.S. doesn't have these tanks available in U.S. stocks. What changed? Did the U.S. find more in stocks that you have these in excess? And the second question relates to the MQ-9 encounter with the Russians last week. The U.S. has resumed drone operations over the Black Sea since then, but has there been any change or adjustment to those operations that you can speak to?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Oren. So really, what -- you know, to put that in a context, what we were talking about at the time was whether or not we had M1A1s that were going to roll off the, you know, M1s in general were going to roll off the line ready to go forward. So we're talking about a different thing here, right? We're talking about refitting, refurbishing these hulls to make them ready on a quicker timeline for Ukraine.
As far as Black Sea operations go, you are correct. We are continuing to conduct operations over the Black Sea, flying in international airspace in accordance with international law wherever it will allow us to do so. I'm not going to, for operation security reasons, not going to get into the specifics of routes, missions, you know, timelines and things like that. But we are continuing to conduct those operations.
Q: General, thank you. I have a few questions from last week. Your partner, SDF, made a statement that two of their helicopters carrying their members to northern Iraq crashed in northern Iraq, and the statement say they were on a training exchange mission. What role do U.S. military play -- did U.S. military play in this so-called exercise -- exchange of training in northern Iraq? And also, was -- were any of the funds provided by the United States used in that mission?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks. I know we talked about this earlier, but I'm happy to answer it again here in front of your colleagues. So again, the United States had nothing, no participation whatsoever in the SDF helicopter flights. As you know, the SDF is its own force. They conduct their own operations. We do partner with the SDF on Defeat ISIS operations regularly, but again, there was no U.S. or coalition involvement in the helicopter incident, nor do we have any knowledge either before that mission took place.
Q: And then just to follow up on that, so you say you don't have any knowledge and you were not involved. But you know, United States is training this force. United States is equipping this force. How confident are you that this capability is provided by the United States; the funds provided by United States are not going to be used by this group against your NATO ally, Turkey, in the future?
GEN. RYDER: Again, the SDF has been a very valuable partner in confronting ISIS, and we'll continue to partner with SDF to confront and defeat ISIS in an enduring way. We train a lot of forces around the world, many of which conduct their own operations, but again, in this case, we will -- you know, again, we had no involvement, no participation -- I'm not sure how else you'd like me to say that, other than just to keep repeating ...
Q: ... I'm just wondering if -- you have any concerns or -- how are -- confident are you that this group getting into Iraq, coming back into Syria, and is being trained ...
GEN. RYDER: ... I'll allow the SDF to speak for themselves but thanks, Kasim.
Q: Thank you. Thanks. So on Russia's claim that it intercepted two B-52 bombers in the Baltic Sea today, the U.S. has pushed back against that language. How would you define what did happen in the Baltic Sea? And is -- do you consider this Russian propaganda?
GEN. RYDER: I don't know that I would necessarily call it propaganda. Perhaps bad information, inaccurate information, and I'll leave you to characterize it. The U.S. Air Forces in Europe did post a statement to their website and I'm happy to provide the details here.
We had -- yesterday, two B-52s were conducting a long range bomber task force mission with NATO allies and partners in Estonian airspace. The mission was part of normally scheduled training operations coordinated months prior to execution, in accordance with the flight standards specified within International Civil Aviation Organization guidelines, to include filing international flight plans and operating with due regard for safety of all aircraft.
The important thing here is that the flights remained within Estonian airspace the entire flight, with an approximate distance of 50 nautical miles from Russian airspace, and at no point did the B-52s make contact with Russian aircraft. So those are the facts.
Q: North Korea launched ballistic missile from underground silo. How do you assess the -- this North Korean capability? Do you think that this make the United States more difficult to deal with North Korean missile threat?
GEN. RYDER: Well, I think we've been aware for a very long time the challenges associated with North Korea's missile program. It's something that we continue to watch, monitor very closely, something we continue to consult about with our allies and our partners in the region to address. So we'll continue to do that. Thank you.
Let me go back over here. Ryo? And then we'll come over here.
Q: Thank you. Thank you very much. I have two questions. First, the Secretary had a phone call with his Philippine counterpart yesterday. Then -- this is the second phone call between them over the last one month. Does the Secretary have any particular concerns about what's going on around the Philippines today, particularly the Chinese behavior in the South China Sea?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Ryo. So first of all, the most important thing is, as emphasized in the readout, the Secretary, as does the Department of Defense, very much appreciates the relationship that we have with our Philippine allies. And so use this as an opportunity to again reaffirm our unwavering alliance commitment to the Philippines.
As the readout highlighted, he did express concerns about recent China -- Chinese activity, in particular the lazing incident which was highlighted in the readout. And so again, our focus is on continuing to work with the Philippines and other allies and partners in the region to ensure that the Indo-Pacific stays free, open, secure and stable. Thank you.
Q: Thank you. Separately, the Japanese Prime Minister Kishida made a surprise visit to Ukraine today. How much do you think that support from ASEAN countries, like Japan, could matter to stop Russian invasion, and more broadly, to maintain the rules-based international order?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I obviously won't speak for Japan but I do think, broadly speaking, this is again demonstrative of the international community's support for Ukraine and demonstrating that the kinds of activities Russia has taken in terms of invading its peaceful, sovereign neighbor is unacceptable.
And so you've heard other leaders, to include Secretary Austin, talk about the impact of the international rules-based order on keeping the peace, most notably to include in the Indo-Pacific region. So I do think it is significant and we do continue to appreciate Japan and other countries' support for Ukraine, when it comes to securing an international rules-based order. Thank you.
We'll go back here and then up here.
Q: Thank you. (Inaudible) Times. So China and Russia have recently pledged strategic support and are trying to kind of establish a new multi-polar world order. Is the military doing anything to prevent further aggression from other democratic nations?
GEN. RYDER: Absolutely. If you look at our National Defense Strategy, I mean, that's squarely what it's focused on, highlighting that we consider China to be the pacing challenge and that Russia is an acute threat, and that strategy does address the relationship between China and Russia.
And what we're going to do to protect the American people, to protect our national security interests, deter aggression, and ideally, work with our international partners and allies to ensure that the world does remain stable under an international rules-based order.
Q: And if I could do one quick follow-up, the jets have recently been promised by Poland and Slovakia. What factors are going into your guys' consideration as to whether the U.S. would provide them?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so as you have heard us say, we don't have anything to announce at this point in terms of fighter jets. We certainly welcome countries providing security assistance to Ukraine in their fight. And so I'll just leave it at that. Thank you.
Q: Thank you, General. It's a follow-up on one of the subjects that you've just spoken to, it's the helicopter incident in northeast Syria and northern Iraq. It's just -- just trying to understand, cause I'm really struggling to understand the fact that the United States didn't have any information at all about these helicopter flights that are taking off from northeast Syria, where there's a U.S. base with about 1,000 troops, that we just heard last week from the -- from Mr. Milley as well.
Is it really the case that the United States didn't know these helicopter flights that were, you know, in the vicinity of a massive U.S. base in the region? Is that the case, sir?
GEN. RYDER: So first of all, again, just to put things into perspective -- on any given day, we're monitoring a lot of different activities around the world. And I'm not going to get into what specific operations outside of U.S. coalition operations that we may or may not be monitoring.
The -- my response to Kasim's question was that the United States was not involved in any helicopter operations or SD operations, cross-border operations, and my understanding is it was a training mission, but again, I'd have to refer you to the SDF to talk about their operations.
Q: Because we also heard last week, for example, the Russian unsafe and irresponsible flights also over the U.S. base in northeast Syria. So the United States is very well aware of all of the activities in the vicinity. So I understand that the U.S. may or may not be involved and -- but (inaudible), you know, the optics of it, you didn't have any idea? I'm just trying to verify ...
GEN. RYDER: ... I said that the U.S. did not have any involvement with the operation.
Q: Thank you, General.
GEN. RYDER: I'm choosing my words very specifically there.
Let me go to Tom and then Joe.
Q: Thanks, sir. On that phrase, choosing your words very specifically, it's perfect. When you responded to Ryo about his question about the Philippines, you described the U.S. support for the Philippines as "unwavering alliance commitment." That's not a phrase we often hear. Usually, it's "rock solid" or "ironclad." Is there a difference in nuance in that because it's a newer relationship with the Philippines?
GEN. RYDER: Well, on, you know, we have had a very longstanding relationship with the Philippines, and it is rock-solid and ironclad. Thank you.
Let me go to, Joe.
GEN. RYDER: And unwavering.
Q: Unwavering (inaudible). Thanks, Pat. We've been hearing in recent weeks that Army officials say that they are working on a way to speed up Abrams deliveries. But some of the considerations were impacting Army readiness, and also deliveries to allies. Can you tell us how those concerns were mitigated in this plan?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Joe. So, I don't want to speak for the Army. I'd refer you to them to talk through their specific, you know, their specific aspects in terms of readiness considerations.
As I mentioned at the top, from the very beginning, when we made this announcement, our team here in DOD, working with the Army, working with the Ukrainians, we're looking at ways that we could expedite this process to get them that capability. And so, this, again, based on that further study and analysis, this was the approach that we landed on that we feel confident we'll be able to get those tanks to them by the fall timeframe.
Q: And Poland has been in line for M1A1s, maybe other countries. Are any of those deliveries going to shift at all or, you know, where -- what's going to take precedence here?
GEN. RYDER: Yes. So, to my knowledge, this will not affect any foreign military sales. But let me take that question, specifically as it relates to Poland and we'll come to back to you.
Thank you. Let me go to Mosh.
Q: Thanks. One quick question on Fort -- out of Fort Sill. There's been reporting that U.S. Patriot systems are going to be deployed to Ukraine faster than originally planned. I was wondering, could you confirm that or provide any more details.
GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks Mosh. So, for operation security reasons I'm not going to get into delivery timelines other than to say we're confident that we'll be able to get the Patriots there on an expedited timeline. I'll just leave it at that.
Q: And would that be ahead of the spring offensive?
GEN. RYDER: Again, I'm not going to get into Ukrainian operations, timing of offensives, timing of operations. Again, we made the commitment to provide them with this Patriot capability as quickly as we could. And so, that's what we're endeavoring to do. But again, I'm not going to get into delivery timelines for all the obvious reasons. Thank you.
Yes, ma'am. Then I'll come back to you, Fadi.
Q: Thank you. Thank you for taking my question. I would like to just follow up on Ryo’s question about Prime Minister Kishida's visit to Ukraine. So, did the DOD provide any security assistance or give any help in relation to the Kishida's visit to Ukraine? And going forward, what kind of support does DOD expect Japan to provide to Ukraine?
GEN. RYDER: So, not to my knowledge. I'd refer you to the Japanese government to talk about the visit. You know, so again, no participation to my knowledge. And then, I'm sorry, your last question?
Q: So, going forward, what kind of support does DOD expect Japan to provide to Ukraine?
GEN. RYDER: So really, that's a decision for Japan to make. And we'll continue to work very closely with Japan and other nations to look at what Ukraine's most urgent security assistance needs are and then provide what we can to ensure that they're successful on the battlefield, not only in defending the territory that they have but on enabling then to retake sovereign territory and sustain those gains into the future. Thank you.
Let me come back to Fadi and then Gordon and then I'll come back to you.
Q: So, two questions on the -- on the Abrams. First, the assay variant, if you can talk a little bit about the capabilities versus the initial announcement, what was going to be given to the Ukrainians?
And second, on the -- this expedited timeframe, we're hearing about the offensive or the so-called counter-offensive in Ukraine. So, this new timeline, the delivery in the fall, does it have any significance? And how would it help the Ukrainians in what everybody is anticipating going to happen in the spring?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Fadi. So, I'm not going to get into more specifics in terms of the specific capabilities other than to say, again as I highlighted earlier, that it's a very similar capability to the A2, and we'll definitely give the Ukrainians a significant main battle tank capability on the battlefield.
In terms of the significance of the timeline, you've heard us talk in the past about trying to work with Ukraine to meet not only their near-term needs but their medium-term needs. And so, taking territory, retaking territory, you know, as part of any offensive will be important. But, as well sustaining those gains at some point in the future, as well as being able to deter future Russian aggression.
So, this is all part of our broader near-term and longer-term support to Ukraine and their defense requirements. Thank you.
Q: Yes, Pat, just to go back on Patriots for a second. I know you won't get into timelines but you are confirming that there has been some acceleration of the -- or there will be some acceleration in delivery of the Patriots. And can you characterize by how much faster potentially they could arrive?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, I really can't, Gordon, other than to say, you know, you're seeing -- and this is an open press, so I'll go ahead and confirm it. But you're seeing that the Ukrainians that were undergoing Patriot training went faster than expected, just given their propensity and their eagerness to do the training.
And so, of course, that figures into this. And I really, again, don't want to get into when you're going to see the Patriot arrive in Ukraine, other than one day it will be there and we'll highlight that once the Ukrainians have done that. Thanks.
Yes, ma'am. We'll get a couple more. Back here.
Q: Thank you, General. So just to follow up on the question about Prime Minister Kishida's visit to Ukraine. Can you speak at all about whether the U.S. is planning to coordinate through NATO with Japan for any exercises or additional actions to assist Ukraine?
GEN. RYDER: Well again, so let me just kind of break that apart. So first of all, I'm not going to speak for NATO in terms of what, you know, the NATO Alliance may do as it relates to Japan.
From a U.S.-Japan standpoint, clearly, we do conduct exercises with Japan in the Indo-Pacific region. As it pertains to Ukraine, Japan, of course, participates in the Ukraine Defense Contact Group and we continue to look -- we look forward to continuing to work with Japan and other nations in that form. So, thank you.
Go here and then over here.
Q: Thank you, General. General, regarding to tanks, one, are you are on -- so do the Ukrainian soldiers or forces have been training about these tanks or they will need to do that maybe in the near future? Thank you.
GEN. RYDER: Yes, so that's a great point. So our intent is to ensure -- we will ensure that the Ukrainians receive the necessary training on these tanks in time for them to be delivered. So we'll have more details to provide on that training in the future, but again, that would be our intent and I'm confident that we will accomplish that. Thank you.
Q: It's a tank sort of three-parter. The Secretary, can you confirm that he signed off on the COAs? Can you talk about the other COAs that were looked at? And as a part of the contract authorization actions, have you worked it all the way out through the supply chain of what's needed for these M1A1s or is the fall timeframe sort of hand-waving language?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I'm not going to get into staff work here from the podium. Clearly, as I mentioned, looking at a variety of options on how best to deliver this capability as quickly as possible. And so the Secretary fully -- you know, approved, fully concurs with the approach that we're taking. And in terms -- and that was one of the factors, in terms of, can we get these tanks to the Ukrainians quicker? And based on the timelines that we're working, we're confident that we'll be able to get them there by the fall -- in other words, before the end of the year. So thank you.
All right, thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Appreciate your time today.