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Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing on Ukraine

STAFF: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us today for this background call. Joining us today is (inaudible) will be on background today with attribution to "a senior defense official".

And with that, I will turn it over to (inaudible).


Good afternoon, everyone. I am proud to announce a substantial new package of security assistance for Ukraine. Let me first offer some broader context, and then what I'll do is I'll summarize the capabilities that are included in this package today.

The war is at an important stage. Fighting continues in the east, but there have not been significant recent shifts in territorial control. The front lines are relatively static with significant exchanges of artillery, but without significant maneuver gains by either side.

As we have said previously, our focus is on supporting the Ukrainians to change the dynamic on the ground. We want to help Ukraine advance and hold its positions in what we expect will be a Ukrainian counteroffensive.

We continue to pursue that objective in several ways, including by working with allies and partners to provide new and significant capabilities and training. First, we have focused on enabling a layered and integrated approach to air defense; second, we are delivering a steady flow of artillery rounds and other ammunition, as well as spare parts and maintenance support to help sustain Ukraine's fight; third, we have marshalled commitments of important armor capabilities to enhance Ukraine's ability to conduct complex maneuvers; and fourth, to bring all of these capabilities to bear in a coordinated manner, we have expanded U.S.-led training of Ukraine's forces to focus on combined arms and joint maneuver operations.

We are putting all of these pieces together to provide full, lasting, combat-credible capabilities covering all of the steps from the donation, to the training, to the maintenance and sustainment. The substantial resources the United States has committed to Ukraine reflects the American interests and values that are at stake.

Judging from the significant commitments that our allies and partners have made, the stakes for Europe and the larger world are widely-recognized, as well. Allies stepped up again two weeks ago at the last meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group chaired by Secretary Austin. In fact, when you look at security assistance for Ukraine as a percentage of GDP, among the top 20 donors, the United States is roughly in the middle.

And today, on all days, as we welcome Finland's accession to NATO, I want to point out that Finland is one of the highest contributors to Ukraine both in percentage of GDP terms and in total dollars spent on military assistance. We look forward to an even closer relationship with Finland now that it has officially become the 31st NATO ally.

The package we are announcing today will complement many of the capabilities our allies and partners are providing. So this is a two-part package. It includes $2.1 billion in additional commitments for procurement under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, as well as a drawdown of equipment from U.S. inventories valued at $500 million. As you know, drawdown and USAI authorities operate on different timelines, and our dual approach demonstrates our commitment to Ukraine's near-term needs, as well as its enduring strength over the longer term.

The full list of capabilities in this package was posted on the DOD website as always, so I'm not going to actually run through every single capability, but I want to summarize by describing three main categories of items.

First, the package includes important capabilities for air defense and to counter Russian unmanned aerial systems. This includes additional interceptors for both Patriot and NASAMS air defense systems, and it also includes new counter-UAS capabilities such as the 30-mm gun trucks to detect and intercept drones such as the Iranian-built Shaheds.

Second, in the category of fires, the package includes a range of items to help Ukraine sustain its fight. This includes additional Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, or as we call them, GMLRS, as well as 155-mm artillery rounds, including Excaliber precision-guided rounds. It also includes additional mortar rounds, which continue to help ensure Ukraine has a layered indirect fires capability, including to support the close fight as its forces maneuver to push back Russian lines.

Third, the package includes several capabilities to support U.S.-provided armor. That includes 120-mm ammunition, which will support Ukraine's newly-formed armored tank battalions, as well as Abraham -- Abrams tanks that the United States has committed, 25-mm ammunition, which can be used on the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles that the United States previously committed, and also recovery vehicles and refuelers to keep the armor in the fight.

As I said at the top, we are focused both on the here and now and on the future. This dual package combining drawdown and procurement reflects that approach. The U.S. remains committed to the cause of a free and secure Ukraine.

And now, I look forward to taking your questions.

STAFF: Great. Thank you to our senior defense official. For anyone that just joined, again, this call is on background with attribution to "a senior defense official".

And with that, we'll take our first question from Lita Baldor, Associated Press.

Q: Hi. Thank you. Two things. If you could just update us, for the senior defense official. Can you give us an update on training numbers, the total that have been trained, including on the -- on the Abrams, but as well, on all of the other training that's been going on in Europe?

And secondly, can you give us a better sense of the -- the communications, the satellite communications that's being provided. Is that Starlink, or is that paying for the -- an ongoing capability that the Starlink has provided, or is it a -- a different capability? Can you just help us understand what that is? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure. I took down three -- three things then. In terms of the -- the training numbers, at this point, I think our numbers stand at more than 4,000 Ukrainian soldiers making up two brigades that were trained recently. Now, one of those brigades was for the Bradleys, and one was equipped with the Strykers. That was the training program in Grafenwoehr. But you know, when you look at the total training numbers since -- since the invasion last year, we -- we're up to more than 7,000 members trained of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Abrams training has not yet begun, so we will -- we will give you a heads-up as we start that training program. We are still working on the equipment procurement, so we haven't -- we have not yet begun the training, but I would expect that that will happen relatively soon.

In terms of satellite communications, in this particular package, we are looking at a number of equipment items, but I can't comment on specific vendors because there is a -- a contracting process that is -- that is underway, so I just -- I can't get into that.

And did I -- did I get all your questions, Lita? I feel like I missed one.

Q: No, -- you did. Thank you. And do you have a time when you think the Abrams training will actually begin, since they did speed up the acquisition?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, we just -- we just sped up the acquisition. I don't have a specific training date, a start date for you yet but, you know, when we do, we will -- we will get that for you.

STAFF: Great, thank you. Our next question, we'll go to Howard Altman, War Zone.

Q: Thank you so very much. I actually have a couple of questions.

One is equipment specific. Can you provide more details about what kind of gun trucks -- the 30 millimeter gun trucks, what kind of counter-UAS laser-guided rocket systems and what kind of precision aerial munitions are in this package? That's the first question.

Second question is is there any concern about the equipment that's been provided to Ukraine being used in Bakhmut? And is there any concern about the amount of effort and casualties that Ukraine is taking to defend that city, in terms of a -- a -- whether that affects the counter-offensive that's looming? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thank you. OK, several things.

So on the equipment, the specific equipment items, the gun trucks are a new item from -- from the United States. We're providing nine. They're called counter-UAS 30 millimeter gun trucks, and our expectation is that these will be able to detect and intercept drones, including the Iranian-built Shaheds, and it's -- it's a -- it's literally what it sounds like, a 30 millimeter gun mounted on a truck. Because that's procurement, it's going to take several months to be able to actually provide that to Ukraine.

And then I think you also asked about the 10 -- these are 10 mobile counter-UAS laser-guided rocket systems. These are going to enable -- this is also a new item -- this will enable Ukraine to fire precision rockets from mobile positions and they will use the APKWS, Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, laser-guided munitions, again, to counter the drone threat, and the APKWS is something that was previously provided.

And then let's see here. On the precision -- the precision aerial munitions, that is -- that is a reference to JDAM, the Joint Direct Attack Munitions, and that also is through -- through procurement. So it will take a bit of time.

And in terms of your question more broadly about, you know, equipment being used in -- in Bakhmut, as -- as you know, we are in very close communication with the Ukrainian leadership team, the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Ukrainian political leadership, and, you know, we -- we understand the -- the strategy that they have decided to pursue.

We absolutely are seeing the devastating loss of life that Russia is experiencing, with Wagner forces essentially being, you know, thrown -- thrown into a meat grinder and Russian forces being fixed in position because of the -- the robust Ukrainian defenses.

And so certainly we understand Ukraine's strategy and we are very confident that they do have the equipment that they need and that, as we are -- as we are helping them to field these newly trained forces, they do have the capabilities to be able to pursue whatever this next phase -- next phase looks like on the battlefield.

STAFF: Great, thank you. Our next question, we'll go to Alex Horton, Washington Post.

Q: Hey, thanks for doing this, SDO. I -- I -- I'm glad you brought up Bakhmut and equipment there. I was just outside the city a couple of weeks ago and I spoke to a battery commander who has D-30s. He wants M777s, doesn't have them, and his problem is running out of artillery shells for that. I see USAI is going to provide the 122 millimeter that would be used for this -- for this piece but it's simply becoming a math problem. Your ability to sustain artillery rounds is for the M777, not -- not what they mostly have, which is Soviet caliber.

So I'm -- I'm curious if -- if you are doing anything to combat this math problem? Are there any issues that you could, you know, address, like procuring the Soviet ammunition? And do you think maybe that the drip and drab approach to meter, you know, U.S. and NATO stockpile of howitzers, have -- have you come to see any flaws in that, now that they're running out of ammunition that you can't readily supply?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Great. So yeah, there's a lot of things that we are doing collaboratively with the Ukrainians on this question of both -- both the howitzers and the actual ammunition supplies.

So I'll start with just the fact that we're incredibly transparent with the Ukrainians. So they have a really good understanding of what ammunition we are planning to provide, when we are planning to provide it, you know, what caliber is this for -- you know, for the M777, as -- as you mentioned. Is this for Soviet-type artillery pieces?

So that enables them to be able to plan their operations and understand where they need to flow their -- their equipment. So that's the first thing. And again, we have this continual conversation with them, not just about what they need right now but what – but what are they going to need in the future, and that's where we can plan to be able to time our deliveries to support what they need on the battlefield.

In terms of the -- you know, the challenge of -- of maintaining sufficient supply of ammunition of whatever caliber, I think we're at this really helpful inflection point right now because previously, the U.S. and most of the allies were just drawing down from their own stocks when it came to Western caliber -- you mentioned the, you know, 155 for the -- for the -- say, the M777 howitzer, for instance. And obviously, there's a finite supply in our own stocks.

But now, we're at this point where we are also doing a healthy amount of procurement because of increased production of ammunition. And the U.S. was -- was really at the front end of this wave, increasing production and procurement of 155 ammunition. 

So today, when Ukraine gets their deliveries of 155 from the United States, they're getting deliveries that include ammunition we procured from USAI many, many months ago. So that is starting to come online. But other allies are also starting to boost production. You -- I'm sure you heard about the EU announcement to significantly increase ammunition production in Europe.

So all of this is coming online in the next several months to be able to enable -- enable this to be a sustainable support mechanism for Ukraine.

Now, you also mentioned the -- the availability of -- of howitzers, and I want to emphasize that this is another area where we feel like we have provided the right -- the right capability, the right numbers of -- of howitzers, both the M777, as I mentioned, but also we've had a number of allies providing other Western-type howitzers, whether you're talking, you know, the -- the French CAESAR or other capabilities.

We want to make sure that those howitzers can be kept in the fight, and so that's why you see us focusing also on things like barrel replacement. These -- these howitzers are getting a lot of use. So we have redoubled our efforts on -- on -- on making sure that they are capable.

And then on maintenance, we -- we have tele-maintenance that -- that is possible so that, whether it's a howitzer or -- or -- or, you know, an infantry fighting vehicle, Ukrainian Armed Forces, you know, soldiers far -- far into the field can call back and get assistance from U.S. and allied partners to be able to repair and not necessarily have to actually take that capability offline.

But lastly, you can tell this is a topic I like to talk about. Lastly, in terms of the -- the, what we call non-standard caliber, this is basically Soviet-type artillery and ammunition, we have found many sources of this around the world.

So, you'll -- you did notice, I think, in this USAI package we have a number of different caliber of non-standard ammunition, mortars, et cetera. And so, we will continue to procure the use -- the use capabilities for the Ukrainians because we recognize that they still do have a lot of Soviet-type equipment. And if we can keep it in the fight we can enable their effectiveness.

All right, thank you. 

Q: Great. What about -- a question to that. I appreciate it. What's the plan when they run out -- the Soviet and Russian-type of ammunition and they don't have enough M777 to replace them?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, I think we're always looking at what their total capability needs are. And we are always able to look at providing them with more, whether it's through procurement or through our own stocks. And that -- and that's not just true of Howitzers, that's -- that's across the board true. So, we're always evaluating those -- those total requirements. 

STAFF: Great. Our next question will go to Carla Babb, "VOA."

Q: Hey, thanks for doing this. Appreciate it. I just wanted to follow up some of the news we're hearing about Wagner Group, that there are reports out there from the U.K. Defense Ministry that they're seeing signs that the Russians are looking to replace Wagner Group. What can you tell us about that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, I'm not familiar with the -- the specific report that you mentioned, Carla. But I can say, you know, in general, what we have seen from Wagner on the battlefield is an incredible brutality in their -- in their operations. And on the part of their leadership, a real disregard for the lives of these Russian Wagner fighters. 

We also do certainly see, you know, tension and infighting at the leadership levels. This is not just in terms of, you know, Wagner leadership but really across the board within, you know, Russian leadership we certainly are seeing a good deal of squabbling, I would say. 

STAFF: Great, thank you. We'll get through a few more here. James Levinson, "Fox."

Q: Hey, thank you very much. I have two questions really quickly. First, General Valery Zaluzhny talked today to Milley and he said that there was -- the attention was paid to weapons and ammunition supplies issue. I was wondering if you can go a little bit more. Is that the issue that potentially that we're having short-term supply of getting onto the specific ammunition into the front or is it in terms of the medium-term, as Alex had asked?

And then also, in terms of the Patriot Defense System that you announced that there was going to be additional munitions, where are we on that in terms of the potential delivery and trending in country? I know that they finished in their initial training, but is that mean that the training and the system is going to be imminently coming into this -- into the country?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: OK, great. So, in terms of the specifics of today's call, I don't have a detailed readout for you, but I can say that, you know, in general, we are constantly talking to Ukrainian military leaders about their supplies, whether it's ammunition or other capabilities.

And, you know, constantly seeking to calibrate and adjust what we can provide to make sure that it meets their needs. So, I would imagine this would be another one of those conversations in a long line of conversations on availability of equipment. 

In terms of Patriots, it is true that the training at Fort Sill has concluded. I am not going to comment on the specifics of, you know, timelines for -- for the capability delivery for operational security reasons.

STAFF: Thank you.

Next, we'll go to Heather with USNI.

Q: Hi, thank you so much. So I was calling to ask if you can go a little bit over what's going on in the Black Sea. I know that that's not really your area of expertise, but we haven't gotten an update kind of on what the ships are. And now I'm hearing that the Russians may have some more abilities to mine the rivers in Ukraine. So I'm just wondering, have you heard anything from Ukraine in terms of things that they might need in the future or if you can just give some update in general about what's going on there.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, Heather, I -- I hate to disappoint, but I don't really have much new in terms of the Black Sea or Black Sea operations. And if you -- you may be tracking -- you mentioned riverine operations, in previous packages, really in our last drawdown package, in fact, we did provide some riverine capabilities. So we will continue to support the Ukrainians as they -- as they consider riverine operations for the future.

But I don't have any -- any substantial changes to report in the Black Sea.

STAFF: All right. Thank you.

And want to be sensitive of our senior defense official's time, so I'll take one last question from Sam Skove, Defense One, I -- I'm sorry if mispronounced your last name.

Q: No, that's perfect, ma'am. Thank you.

So as regard to the mobile UAS laser-guided rocket systems, is that part of the January JCO test that was aimed at finding systems like that? And if so, is this the first time the U.S. has sent a new experimental system that was designed explicitly for Ukraine in mind to Ukraine? Or is this part of an ongoing effort? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thanks. I would characterize this as part of an ongoing effort. But I am not familiar with the specifics of that -- that test. So I'd have to -- I'd have to get back to you with -- with that very specific detail.

Q: No worries. And -- and these are for the Shaheds as well, right?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, yes. This is -- this is aimed at countering the Shaheds, among other -- among other drone threats.

Q: Great. Thanks very much.

STAFF: Right. Thank you all. Thank you to our senior defense official. And with that, we will wrap up today's call.