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Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh Holds a Press Briefing

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH: Good afternoon, everyone. Just a few things at the top and then I'll go ahead and answer your questions. 

So, the U.S. Army Europe and Africa led exercise Defender 23, will begin April 22nd. This annual, nearly two-month long exercise is focused on the strategic deployment of U.S.-based forces, employment of Army pre-positioned stocks, and interoperability with European allies and partners. Approximately 9,000 U.S. troops and about 17,000 troops from 26 Allied and partner nations will participate. And portions of the exercise will stretch across 10 different European countries. 

Equipment from CONUS began arriving in Spain this week in advance of the exercise. And that includes roughly 7,000 pieces of military equipment which will be transferred to Europe for the exercise to be combined with 13,000 pieces of equipment drawn from pre-positioned stocks.

And then finally on Thursday, Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Hicks will travel to Chicago where she will visit Naval Station Great Lakes to hear from senior leadership, medical providers, and recruiters on their ongoing recruitment and health care efforts. She will also join the recruits for a lunch and participate in a facility tour. 

Following that visit, Dr. Hicks will participate in an interview with Jon Stewart -- I'm sorry, excuse me, Jon Stewart at the War Horse Symposium at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. This event will be live-streamed on the War Horse YouTube page. 

And then finally, on Friday, Dr. Hicks will travel to the Defense Innovation Unit and Manufacturing Times Digital for a discussion and tour. 

And with that, I'd be happy to kick things off with Associated Press. 

Q: Hi, thanks for doing this. I wanted to ask about the meeting going on right now between U.S. and Taiwanese leaders in California. Has the Defense Department, I guess, sent out any additional assets to the Indo-Pacific in case China responds like it did the last time when we had a speaker visit Taiwan? 

And I have a few more. 

MS. SINGH: Sure. At this moment, no, our posture has not changed or we've not sent out any additional assets as far as I'm aware. 

Q: Have you noticed any uptick in traffic as -- where there would be a potential China response to this visit?

MS. SINGH: I mean, there is -- there would be no reason for China to respond in any aggressive way. Transits like this are routine. I believe President Tsai has transited the United States six times since 2016. So at this point, there would be no -- no reason for an overreaction from -- from the PRC in any way.

Q: OK, and then I wanted to take the opportunity to ask about the status of U.S. training in Taiwan.

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: How many troops are in Taiwan right now? And is that number expected to continue to grow?

MS. SINGH: Let me get back to you on the exact numbers. I just don't want to misspeak on that. But I'd be happy to -- to -- follow back up with you on (inaudible) -- we've -- we made some announcements from the beginning of the year, as you probably recall, and during the secretary's hearing, he talked to ongoing training in partnership with -- with the Taiwanese. But I just don't have any further announcements from what was already announced previously this year.

Q: And then just one last…

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: With the EDCA announcement with the Philippines, would there be any potential for those bases being -- to be used to support U.S.-Taiwan exercises or training? Basically, would the Philippines be supporting that training, as well?

MS. SINGH: Well, again, we just made the announcement yesterday, so on -- on those additional bases that we -- we'll be using, so I'm not going to speculate or getting into hypotheticals. I'll -- when we have more to announce, I'd be happy to -- happy to let you know.

Yeah? I'll come to Liz, right here.

Q: Yeah. Does this visit to the United States by the Taiwanese present -- president damage relations with China?

MS. SINGH: No, I mean, not at all. We don't believe that this -- again, China shouldn't use this visit as a pretext in any way to increase any aggressive activity around the Taiwan Strait. I mean, these visits are -- these transits are routine. The transit is consistent with our One China policy. And again, these are not -- this is not an official visit. This is a -- a transit that -- by, as I mentioned, President Tsai has done before, six times since 2016. So we don't see this as in -- increasing or adding to any tension with our relationship with China.

Q: Thank you, and one more. 

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: Does the China -- does Secretary Austin's Chinese counterpart have any -- has he reached out to Secretary Austin to have any sort of discussion? Has anyone from China reached out from -- to the DOD?

MS. SINGH: I don't have any calls to read out from the secretary at this time.

Dan, nice to see you in the briefing room. I'll -- over to you.

Q: Hey, thanks for your time. Logical follow on the -- on these Taiwan questions. China and U.S. officials have both acknowledged that there's an aircraft carrier that China has placed in close proximity to the island at this point. Does the Pentagon have any concern about that? Is there any communication about that? And -- and then I hear you saying that they -- the Chinese should not be responding to this in any kind of aggressive way; but that doesn't mean they won't. What kind of Pentagon preparations are underway for that? Thank you.

MS. SINGH: Yeah, thanks, Dan. So we've -- I've seen the reporting that -- and I believe that there are additional carriers operating within the Taiwan Strait or nearby. These naval operations are happening in international waters. It's something that we do on routine and do exercises within international waters. But again, we don't see any reason for China to overreact or to take this visit -- take this transit as a pretext for any aggression. Again, this is something that we've seen before. President Tsai has transited the United States before. This does not go against our One China policy. And so I don't want to get into hypotheticals on, you know, what would the United States do if -- if something were to happen? Again, we don't see this as -- this transit as a reason for any -- any pretext that China should use for any additional aggression.


Q: Thank you, Sabrina. This is easy one.

MS. SINGH: Is it, or...?

Q: Easy one for you. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Milley said at the congressional hearing last week that the United States has spent a huge amount of ammunition in the war in Ukraine. How is the U.S. replenishing the -- its ammunition stockpile? Thank you.

MS. SINGH: That's a great question. I don't know if that's easy, Janne. No. We are -- we are, of course, focused on our -- our military readiness and our stocks, and that's why we have a whole division here focused on our acquisitions and continuing to contract to not only supply Ukraine, but to also backfill our own stocks. We know that ammunition is something -- that -- it's one of Ukraine's priorities, so we're going to continue to work with our partners and allies to give them what they need on the battlefield, but also maintaining our own military readiness.

Q: The United States purchased ammunition from South Korea. You know that. And is this for stockpile, or going to be sent to Ukraine?

MS. SINGH: I'm not going to get into more specifics. We, of course, have stocks all around the world that we can pull from and choose to use and move at our -- at our -- when we decide to. But again, I just -- I'm not going to get into more specifics on that.

Q: Thank you.

MS. SINGH: Yeah, of course. 

Carla in the back?

Q: Thanks, Sabrina.

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: Can you please give us and speak -- can you hear me OK?

MS. SINGH: Yeah, I can (inaudible).

Q: Can you please update us on the traumatic brain injuries that occurred based on the Iranian-backed attack in Syria? What's the count at now, or have you completed the -- have you completed the checks into how many in all those bases?

MS. SINGH: So I don't have an update for you just yet on -- from the initial assessment when we announced that there were six additional wounded with TBI. It is something that we continue to assess, and these are things that take time, and our servicemembers will continue to go in for screenings to assess if there are -- if they have -- or -- or screening for TBI. But at this moment right now, I just don't have more to provide.

Q: Can you commit to giving us, once the assessment's complete, to getting us the final count on that? And if you don't mind, can we also find out, have there been any additional attacks on co -- U.S. and coalition forces in Syria? And has -- have U.S. forces retaliated for any of the previous attacks that were not retaliated against yet?

MS. SINGH: Sure, and I will probably forget one of your questions, so apologies. 

In terms of additional attacks, I'm not tracking any additional attacks on U.S. forces within -- since I was last briefing up here on Monday. But I will certainly -- certainly keep you updated on any additional wounded or any updates on our servicemembers that were impacted by those attacks. Again, this is something that can take time as we continue to do screenings. I would expect we could see the numbers increase, and so I'd certainly be happy to get back to you on that front. 


Q: (inaudible) not conducting any additional strikes?

MS. SINGH: Correct, yeah.

Yeah, (inaudible)?

Q: Sabrina, thanks. Is -- so Finland is now a NATO member.

MS. SINGH: That's correct.

Q: And then, can you tell us if there's a plan to deploy new equipments, troops to Finland based on the NATO defense posture?

MS. SINGH: I don't have anything to announce today in terms of deployments to Finland. We certainly welcome Finland as the 31st member to NATO. You saw the secretary put out a statement I think just to -- to hammer home the point, that, you know, a year ago - or over a year ago, I think President Putin thought he would break the alliance, and today, standing here, it's even stronger, growing with an additional member, but I just don't have any updates on any - anything additional to - that would be deployed or coordinated with Finland.

Q: ... should we expect posture or - let me ask it this - this way - do you think that the - the Finland membership to NATO will change the U.S. posture in Europe significantly, or how?

MS. SINGH: I don't - I - it's a bit of a hypothetical, as - as the ascension just happened yesterday, but no, I mean, we're going to keep our - maintain our force posture in Europe and continue to work with Finland. We were working with Finland before they joined NATO. So I don't anticipate any significant changes at this time, but if anything does, we'd be certainly - get back to you on that front.


Q: Hi. Thank you so much for taking my questions. I have a couple and then a follow-up on what you said about Deputy Secretary Hicks.

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: So first, NBC reported this week that defense officials confirmed the Chinese spy balloon was able to gather intelligence from several sensitive American military sites before it was shot down. DOD pointed back to previous claims that the balloon had limited additive value and, for intelligence collection, that was over and above what China is likely able to collect through things like satellites in low Earth orbit. But the intelligence that China collected via this balloon was mostly from electronic signals, which are very specifically and inherently different from satellite data. So what then do you mean by "limited additive value" of what was collected by China?

MS. SINGH: I can't confirm the - that that was what was collected. We're still doing an analysis of the high altitude balloon that - that we shot down ... 

Q: ... reporting yesterday, DOD said - they pointed us back to that last thing we've heard months ago, that it was limited additive value. So what I'm trying to understand is do you mean they already had this information from satellites that are up there, or is it different from the signals? We're just trying to understand. The balloon flew over American people on the ground. What was collected? What do you mean by "limited additive value?"

MS. SINGH: Right. So what we mean by "limited additive value" is what Chinese satellites can collect on - on - as they orbit versus what the balloon was able to collect, and the precautionary measures that we were able to put in place to guard against our sensitive data. We limited their ability to collect on our sites.

Q: Are you …

MS. SINGH: So let me just finish here. So again, I'm not going to comment on the specific reporting that - I saw the reports in the NBC story. I'm not going to comment on what was being collected. We still are doing our analysis right now. The international - the Intelligence Community is involved in that. 

And again, it - this is something that the administrative - the administration identified the problem, we addressed the problem, we feel confident in the precautionary measures that we were able to put in place, that the balloon was not able to gather sensitive information that would have provided any additional information that a satellite wouldn't have been able to collect.

Q: So you're suggesting it's the same data that satellites would be collecting, that's what you're saying?

MS. SINGH: I'm suggesting that we're still doing an analysis, Brandi, and when we have more to provide, I'd be happy to do it.

Q: Please let me know when you do. Two more for you.

Senator Blumenthal, he and two legal firms just filed a lawsuit against the Department of Defense that claims that DOD is withholding information about toxic chemicals on military bases from Afghanistan veterans, some of whom are still reportedly suffering from sicknesses associated with this. So is the department withholding this information? And what's OSD's response to this lawsuit?

MS. SINGH: I wouldn't be able to comment on pending - any lawsuit right now.

Q: OK. And then just finally, you mentioned DSD Hicks going to DIU. Tell us a little bit more about what she's going to be doing there. Is she meeting with Doug Beck? Has Doug Beck met with Mike Madsen at this point? What is DIU's response now that they've also found out who their Director is? Anything more you can share on her trip there would be helpful.

MS. SINGH: Sure. Great questions. I’m not going to get ahead of this – the Deputy Secretary's trip. I'm - I will be going on the trip and looking forward to it. But when I have more to share, I will share it. But right now, I'm not going to get ahead of her trip and - and what she'll be doing.

Q: So you have nothing to add on what she's looking to get from DIU on this trip?

MS. SINGH: I don't right now but when she's there - I mean, she's going to be meeting with folks there on the ground but I don't want to get ahead of her trip and - and what she'll be doing, so I'll just - I'm going to - I'm going to go ahead and move in a ... 

Q: ... (inaudible) Doug Beck yet?

MS. SINGH: I'm not going to get into any - any specific meetings.

Yeah, right here in the back.

Q: Hi, thank you. So Secretary Blinken said today that the U.S. and its allies are working to build up Ukraine's military to NATO standards and NATO - increase NATO interoperability.

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: What specific steps is the DOD taking to increase interoperability between the two countries?

MS. SINGH: With - with - but - with Ukraine and - NATO and Ukraine? Well, some of the equipment, the capabilities, the assistance that we're giving are NATO - NATO equipment and NATO - the compatibility's the same. So it is about transitioning over from old Soviet equipment into NATO standard equipment and - and systems. And so that's one way to do it.

I mean, also, you - you're seeing the world rally around Ukraine in this - in the war that was launched a year ago. I think that certainly shows Allies and partners are standing with Ukraine and that certainly increases interoperability with Ukraine and between NATO and the United States.

Q: And just a quick follow-up. Is the Pentagon concerned that there are escalatory risks with this, you know, the U.S. Secretary of State kind of implying - at least from, you know, the Russian standpoint, it might seem like we're - we're working towards Ukraine becoming a de facto member of NATO. So is there a concern about how Putin might view this?

MS. SINGH: Well, we have an open door policy when it comes to NATO. Should a country decide and want to pursue a membership with NATO, that is between the NATO allies and the country that wants to apply. So we certainly have that open door policy, but right now, what we're focused on and what Ukraine is focused on is defending its sovereign territory.

And so I don't see us, in terms of supplying, working with, partnering, supporting Ukraine as escalatory. What was certainly escalatory was the invasion of Ukraine that was launched a year ago. So I think I'll just go ahead and leave it at that.

I'm going to ... 

Q: One quick question ... 


Q: ... on China. There's a report out of Nikkei Asia that China might be considering a ban on rare-earth materials to the U.S. Do you have any information? Can you confirm that? You know ... 

MS. SINGH: I'm sorry, I haven't seen the reports. I just wouldn't be able to speak to that.

Q: OK, thank you.

MS. SINGH: Yeah, great.

Chris? Right here in the front, yeah. And then I'll go behind you.

Q: If I could follow up on the Ukraine aid, the Senior Defense Official noted yesterday there's some drawdown assistance and there's some USAI assistance, which is focused more on medium and long-term needs. In - in that USAI assistance are these counter-drone systems, which the Defense Official noted would be for the Iranian drones. So does the Pentagon believe that Russia is going to continue to have a strong supply of these Iranian drones or perhaps even produce them themselves, that Ukraine is going to have to deal with this problem long term?

MS. SINGH: I don't - we certainly don't see it going away, this problem. We are seeing the increasing use of - of Iranian-made drones and -- and the shipment of those drones to Russia. We're seeing Russia employing them on the battlefield. So in terms of, you know -- that would be more of a supply question of -- of -- to -- between Russia and Iran. But in the long term, we can -- I think we can anticipate that Russia's going to continue to use these drones, which is why we're giving them the counter-UAS equipment that we did. And I think -- and I'm just looking at -- I know you -- you mentioned the -- the senior defense official that spoke to some of this, but one of the things that we announced in the package yesterday was counter-UAS laser-guided rocket systems. These are just one of the systems, along with the VAMPIREs that we are -- that we have promised to the Ukrainians; these are all going to help with the counter-UAS capabilities.

Q: And these capabilities, are they particularly expensive to use? Is -- is that a concern going into the Pentagon's thinking? For example, a -- a counter-UAS gun is a little cheaper than -- than firing some exquisite missiles. Are -- are you looking to -- to help the Ukrainians defeat these drones for cheaper than having to use advanced air defense systems?

MS. SINGH: We're giving the Ukrainians what they need right now on the battlefield, whether -- no matter the expense, as you can see from our commitment. And we're going to continue to do that. We -- the president, the secretary have said we're with Ukraine for as long as it takes, and so we're going to keep providing them the capabilities that they need.

Yeah, just right behind you, and then I can come back to the front.

Q: Thank you so much, Sabrina.

MS. SINGH: Hi. Yeah, of course.

Q: Russia President Vladimir Putin had allegations today that Western intelligence services were contributing to Ukraine's ability to carry out acts of sabotage. How do you respond on these allegations?

MS. SINGH: I wouldn't really respond to Russian allegations of -- of that. I'm not -- I'm not -- I'm not aware of the -- I'm not -- I did not see that, so I just don't really want to speak to it.

Q: (inaudible) question.

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: How do you -- would you describe the level of Chinese military activities in recent days around Taiwan? And has there been a significant -- significant increase?

MS. SINGH: We're not seeing a significant increase. We're seeing routine naval operations continue. Right now, we're continuing to see PRC -- the PRC operating in international waters. And again, I know -- I know I sound like a broken record here and I don't mean to, but this transit is -- should not be used as a pretext for any type of aggression or overreaction. Again, this is something that has happened before, and -- and we're going to continue to monitor what's happening in the region. But we just -- we do not see this as a -- as a means for an overreaction by the PRC.

I'll go to Ryo right next to you.

Q: Yeah, thank you very much. Just quick follow-up on Taiwan again.

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: So are you less concerned about the Chinese military activity this time than you were last summer?

MS. SINGH: Well, we continue to monitor. We continue to monitor the activity in the region. Again, we are -- our commitment to Taiwan remains rock-solid. We are always going to make sure that we have the capabilities and resources within the region to maintain peace. But right now, we're just continuing to monitor the activity.

Q: And then just a quick follow-up.

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: The -- the -- when then-Speaker Pelosi visited Taipei...

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: ... the Biden administration disclosed concrete steps that the Chinese military might do as retaliation ahead of the speaker's arrival...

MS. SINGH: Right.

Q: ... in Taipei. So do you have the similar preview on what Chinese military might do in response to the meeting in California at this time?

MS. SINGH: I don't, but that's because there shouldn't -- there really is no cause for any type of overreaction here. President Tsai's transit is routine. We've seen this before with other presidents from Taiwan, with President Tsai herself visiting here six times since 2016. So we don't see any cause for concern or overreaction within the region.

I'll go to Ellee and then I'll come back up to Tara. One day, we'll be back in the PBR.

Q: On the Chinese aircraft carrier, did you say there were reports of "carriers," plural, near Taiwan? And is Chinese carriers near Taiwan part of the routine naval operations?

MS. SINGH: We're seeing - I - I believe I was referring to the report, which I think mentioned carriers, but we are seeing - we're seeing nothing that is out of the ordinary or - we're - what we're seeing is routine. We're seeing these naval ships operating in international waters. Again, we do not believe that this is any - that President Tsai's transit is any cause for any type of pretext for aggression or overreaction.

Tara, right here? Yeah.

Q: Thanks. Just two quick follow-ups.

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: I'm - I'm curious why you're describing it as a transit instead of an official visit to the U.S. Is that out of deference to China to not provoke an overreaction? And then I have a Ukraine question.

MS. SINGH: Sure. No, the transits are private, they're unofficial transits through the United States, and that's how they've always been.

Q: But it - it's a visit, right?

MS. SINGH: Well, I - I would - we characterize it as a transit as it is not an official visit to the United States. Again, these are routine, this is something that we've seen from former presidents of Taiwan before. We've always characterized them as a transit. And we've seen - I believe even President Tsai, in one of her visits, visited New York and Los Angeles. So again, this is just routine.

Q: OK. And then on Ukraine, yesterday's aid package ... 


Q: ... included more SATCOM terminals and services. Could you provide an update on DOD's efforts to diversify the types of SATCOM terminals and services it's able to provide, or are these all still going to be Starlink's?

MS. SINGH: I believe we are still - if I am remembering correctly, that the SATCOM terminals and services were announced through the USAI, so that will be through a procurement process. I don't have anything to announce in terms of a contract. I believe earlier, when we've talked about Starlink, there are also other satellite communications and capabilities that we would completely seek out. But again, Starlink is one of the main ones that Ukraine still continues to use at this time.

Q: Sure. That's what I was wondering about, is if you could give us a status report on DOD's - kind of the progress you've made in looking at these other companies or other potential vendors?

MS. SINGH: I can when we have more to announce, but right now, since we just announced this package and - we'll go through the contracting process, and you know that does take a while, but when we have more to announce, I'd be happy to get back to you, but at this time, I just - I just don't have anything else to share on any other contracts.

Yes, right over here? Hi.

Q: Hi. A follow-up on the - on the SATCOM issue.

MS. SINGH: Yeah.

Q: Is - is DOD currently paying for the - for the Starlink terminals or is that - or are those still being provided for free?

MS. SINGH: We - well ... 

Q: ... service, I mean.

MS. SINGH: Yes, we - Starlink does - or continues to provide services over Ukraine, and I believe that was announced last year that they were going to continue that service. Yes, we have a contract with Starlink for operating some of the terminals over Ukraine. That was also something that was - that has not changed since we last announced that. 

Great. All right. We'll keep it short and sweet. Great - oh, do we have one more? Luis? OK, never mind, we'll keep it long.

Q: ... (sorry ?).

MS. SINGH: No, you're fine.

Q: Looking for an update on the Abrams. 

MS. SINGH: Yes. 

Q: We still haven't seen any paperwork that defines the accelerated schedule and how that's going to come out. 

MS. SINGH: So I don't have anything new to announce on that. Training hasn't started and I don't have anything in terms of -- because we combined it with a PDA package and a USAI. So that is going to take some time. Our goal is to have those to Ukraine before the end of the year. But that's the only time frame I can give you right now. 

Q: And yesterday, a senior defense official provided some training -- some numbers for how many Ukrainians had been trained recently...

MS. SINGH: Mm-hmm.

Q: ... on combined arms tactics and -- and overall. Is -- that it's essentially two brigades' worth. Is that going to continue? Is that a process that's going to go throughout the year, or was that only intended for this original shipment of Bradleys and other vehicles? 

MS. SINGH: Well, the combined arms training is something that we were doing since 2014. So we would expect it to continue, and as long as Ukraine wants to continue that training as well. I don't -- you know, I think we could make adjustments in terms of -- you know, if -- if things work on a certain time schedule for them. But, yes, I mean, I think we would continue that -- that training, just as we had been doing and was routine since 2014.

OK. Mm-hmm? 

Q: (inaudible) 

MS. SINGH: OK. No, you're fine. 

Q: Starlink. 

MS. SINGH: Yes. 

Q: I seem to recall that there was a, you know, word that DoD had received a letter from Starlink saying that Starlink was going to cut off. And then you said, well, we don't comment on internal communications, right? So when you said you're looking at other vendors, is that because you are moving away from Starlink, or you're continuing -- you've worked out an arrangement with Starlink that we're unaware of? 

MS. SINGH: I'm just trying to remember the -- the letter from -- you're talking about from last year. No, I mean, we continue to use Starlink. We continue to work with Starlink and have communications with them. There are other capabilities that other providers can also provide and -- and create another layer of communication that we're going to continue to pursue. But I just don't have more into what Tara was asking. I just don't have more to announce in terms of any specific contracts that have been awarded. 

Q: So in other words, what was communicated by Starlink at the time has not happened? That, in other words, you are continuing with Starlink...

MS. SINGH: Mm-hmm.

Q: ... and you've worked out an arrangement as -- which laying out...


MS. SINGH: We (inaudible) -- we're...

Q: ... that they were going to end the services (inaudible)...


MS. SINGH: We're continuing to talk and communicate with Starlink in terms of the services that are being provided to Ukraine. But I just don't have any update from what was -- from -- from the previous -- I think it was last year when we were discussing this. I just have no update from that. 

Q: OK. 

MS. SINGH: Yes. Great. OK. We'll wrap it up. Thanks, everyone.