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Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds a Press Briefing

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: All right. Good afternoon, everyone. Just a few things at the top and we'll get right to your questions.

First, as some of you may be aware, July 1st marks the 50th anniversary of America's All-Volunteer Force. Over the past 50 years, our nation's All-Volunteer Force has recruited and retained talented people from all walks of life from across the country and beyond.

Since the elimination of the draft in July 1973, those who have joined the ranks of America's Armed Forces have done so out of conviction and not compulsion and to be a part of something bigger than themselves. 

Today's U.S. military is the most combat-capable, combat-credible fighting force the world has ever known, and that's due to the millions of exceptional and selfless men and women who have raised their hand over the last five decades and taken an oath to protect and defend our country, our Constitution, and our American way of life.

To commemorate this important milestone, Secretary Austin will release a statement to mark the anniversary and is also planning to travel to Fort Meade, Maryland on Wednesday, where he will swear in approximately 100 new recruits into the Armed Forces at a Military Entrance Processing Station.

More details regarding the swearing-in ceremony and the Secretary's travel to Fort Meade will be provided in the very near future.

Separately, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and [Capabilities] Dr. Mara Karlin is in Australia this week for a series of counterpart and defense personnel engagements. She is slated to conduct meetings in Canberra to discuss Australia's defense strategic reviews and our U.S. National Defense Strategy and will meet with U.S. Marines assigned to Marine Rotational Force Darwin.

Dr. Karlin will conclude her trip with a visit to Naval Base Sterling as part of ongoing AUKUS discussions, and a full readout of her engagements will be posted to at the conclusion of her travel.

Also in other news, Exercise Resolute Sentinel '23 kicks off today within the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility and will be conducted through July 13. Resolute Sentinel '23 is a joint, combined, multinational field training exercise focused on joint all-domain operations, rapid response capabilities, civil military operations, and wartime mission essential tasks.

Approximately 970 U.S. military personnel from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Space Force, Marine Corps, Army, and Coast -- Coast Guard will participate alongside interagency personnel from the FBI, DEA, Homeland Security, and seven Partner nations, to include Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Panama, Uruguay, and the UK. For further details, I'd refer you to U.S. Southern Command Public Affairs.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. We'll start with Tara Copp, AP.

Q: Thanks, General Ryder. Just following up on the activities this weekend in Russia, what fallout has this building seen following the revolt? And do you have any indications that Putin has begun to purge his ranks? You know, we've seen the reports of General Surovikin being detained. What -- what light can you shed on this?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. As it relates to the security situation internal to Russia, obviously something that we continue to keep a close eye on. 

As it pertains to press reports involving the potential detainment of -- of Russian military personnel, I don't have anything to provide from the podium on that. Certainly, our focus is on ensuring that we don't see anything that would portend strategic instability. In other words, nothing to indicate that any concerns regarding Russian nuclear forces -- we have not seen anything to this stage that concerns us. And certainly nothing that has required us to change our own force posture.

So again, we'll continue to -- to follow the situation there closely, but in the meantime, our focus remains on supporting Ukraine and its fight to defend itself.

Q: And then, on a second, unrelated topic, can you talk about Secretary General Stoltenberg and reports that he may be staying on for another year as the war in Ukraine continues?

GEN. RYDER: I don't have anything to provide on that, Tara. Certainly, that's a -- a NATO decision to be made, but I don't have any information to provide on that.


Q: General Ryder, can you respond to reports that suggest that, onboard the Chinese spy balloon, were found off the shelf American equipment? Were there -- was there any sensitive American equipment onboard? How do you think that American equipment was obtained? Did -- were there any laws broken? And what was it capable of doing? What can you tell us?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. Thanks, Jennifer. So -- so look, I don't have any specifics to provide as it pertains to the PRC high altitude balloon and any potential U.S. components. That said, I will say that, you know, we are aware, in previous cases, for example, things like drones and -- and other capabilities, what have you, where off-the-shelf, commercial U.S. components have been used in capabilities. So that, in and of itself, is not surprising.

In -- in terms of, you know, the balloon and -- and the capabilities that it has, as you heard at the time, we were aware that it had intelligence collection capabilities, but it was our -- it's -- and it has been our assessment now that it did not collect while it was transiting the United States or over-flying the United States. And as we said at the time, we also took steps -- steps to mitigate the potential collection efforts of that balloon.

Q: So you believe your efforts stopped it from collecting and transmitting or was it able to collect but just not able to transmit?

GEN. RYDER: We believe that it did not collect while it was transiting the United States or flying over the United States, and certainly the efforts that we made contributed, I'm sure. 

So Janne?

Q: Thank you, general. As you know, this month is the 73rd anniversary of the Korean War. What message can the Pentagon deliver on the 70th anniversary of U.S.-South Korea Mutual Defense Treaty?

GEN. RYDER: Well, from a -- from, you know, a DOD standpoint, certainly we remain committed to working with the Republic of Korea and our partners in the region to ensure peace, stability, and security in the region, and -- and that's what we will continue to do.

You've heard the State Department and the White House talk about an open door when it comes to being willing to talk with North Korea, in terms of resolving disputes diplomatically. So I'd refer you to them for further comment. But certainly, from a DOD standpoint, we'll continue to work alongside our partners and allies in the region to prevent potential future conflict.

Q: On other issues, the U.S. will dispatch a strategic nuclear submarine into South Korea. Will this nuclear submarine stay in South Korea permanently or just a short time?

GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Janne. So first of all, I won't get into, you know, future deployments and timelines and things like that. My -- my understanding again is that, at some point in the future, as you highlight, a -- a U.S. nuclear-capable submarine will visit -- an Ohio-class -- will visit South Korea for a port visit.

Q: This will be carrying nuclear warheads?

GEN. RYDER: An SSBN. I'm not going to get into specific armament on specific systems, but a nuclear-capable submarine. Thank you.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: Thank you, general. In your point of view, do you think the reason why African countries align with Wagner Group is because there is no other options or countries available to work with those countries, in terms of security strategies?

GEN. RYDER: So, you know, I'm -- I'm hesitant to talk in platitudes, when it -- or speak for other nations when it comes to why they're making the security decisions that they're making. And so certainly, as it relates to individual countries, they would be in the best position to -- to explain why they may choose to hire a company like Wagner Group to provide with -- provide their security.

What I would say is that, from a United States perspective, from a DOD perspective, we're going to continue to work with nations in Africa, those that are seeking our support, to address shared interests, shared challenges, like terrorism. And where they seek and ask for our help, we will be available to do that.
Again, I think we all have a common interest in a stable and secure Africa. And so we obviously -- and our track record has shown that our -- like we talked about earlier this week, our vested interest is in long-term, sustained support for the benefit of the African people and for the international community.

So again, I can't speak for why someone would want to hire a transnational criminal organization to provide their security. That's something individual countries would have to answer.

Q: And, general, can you talk a little bit about the cooperation between United States and Angola in terms of military cooperation -- cooperation?

GEN. RYDER: I'll have to -- to come back on you. I don't -- I don't have that here in front of me. Thank you.


Q: Thanks, Pat. First, just a point of clarification on the balloon, make sure I heard you right. You said that it's assessed that, not only did it not transmit, but it also didn't collect any data on its path?

GEN. RYDER: What I said, Matt, is that we assessed that it did not collect while it was flying over the U.S.

Q: Secondly, the Wall Street Journal reported today that the U.S. might be coming closer to approving ATACMS for Ukraine. Can you tell us, has there been any movement towards approving that? Is that something we might see in upcoming aid packages?

GEN. RYDER: So I've seen the reporting. I will tell you I don't have anything to announce regarding ATACMS, and certainly I'm -- I'm not aware of any imminent decisions as it relates to ATACMS.

Q: Thank you.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you very much.


Q: Two questions. First, on the early May incident, the CENTCOM strike that may have killed a civilian that is now being investigated, will the new Civilian Casualty Office stood up by Secretary Austin be investigating this episode for lessons learned, including how it was announced publicly via Twitter? And if -- will there be further investigation outside of CENTCOM to see what can be learned from this?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so -- so right now, Chris, what I would tell you is that CENTCOM is investigating, and certainly at the conclusion of that investigation, I'm sure they'll share the results with the Department, but -- but at this point in time, they're really the best folks to address that.

Q: Thank you. Second question, on the extended deterrence dialogue that happened at Whiteman, the delegation toured a B-2 -- (inaudible) to the B-2 simulator. Are there any plans to deploy the B-2 in Japan?

GEN. RYDER: I don't -- I don't have any announcements to make regarding future force deployments. Thank you.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: Thank you, general. Back to Russia, I have two questions. First, why the Department's still assessing and monitoring the consequences of what happened in Russia? Do you think, because of this new situation, you'll have to look differently to -- or at the needs of the battlefields in Ukraine and maybe include the new systems in future pack -- assistance -- security assistance packages?

And second question, a satellite image from a former military base in southern Belarus shows new structures within the compound. I'm -- I'm not sure if you saw this, but if yes, what's your assessment? There's media reports that this might be the new home for Wagner Group. And also, do you think, from your experience with so little time, that group is able to build maybe a permanent camp there?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah. So on -- on Wagner Group and its disposition, what I would tell you is, right now, we continue to see some elements of the Wagner Group in Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine. 

As it relates to Belarus, I don't have any updates to provide on that front. I've seen the press reports that you're talking about. Clearly, that's something that we'll continue to keep an eye on.

But in terms of the future of Wagner Group, that's -- that's really a question best addressed by Russia, which of course, as you know, funds the Wagner Group, and -- and how they will be employed going throughout the rest of this -- this conflict and -- and elsewhere around the world, since, you know, as your colleague highlighted earlier, they also conduct operations in Africa, as well as Syria. So that's something that we'll continue to keep an eye on. It's just too early to tell right now.

And then I apologize. The first question?

Q: If -- if you're looking differently at the needs of the battlefield ... 

GEN. RYDER: Needs of the battlefield. So, you know, look, I -- I think that we have a very dynamic and iterative process that we've been employing when it comes to supporting Ukraine, ever since the beginning of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and that entails very frequent communication between the U.S., the Ukrainians, our allies and our partners, in terms of what their needs are.

And when it comes to the -- the battlefield capabilities that they need right now to conduct operations, we believe that we have given them significant combat capability in order to prosecute those operations on their timeline, at a time and a place of their choosing. And so that will continue to be our focus.

Secretary Austin has taken a – obviously, a very personal interest in terms of making sure that we're actively communicating with our allies and partners around the world. You see that as evidenced through the Contact Group, which is held monthly, as well as the multiple phone calls that he makes to those allies and partners and Ukraine, the Ukrainian Minister of Defense.

So we're confident that, with that open line, that we're going to continue to get them the capabilities they absolutely need, like ground-based air defense, artillery, armor, and -- and spare parts, maintenance capabilities, all those things they need to continue to prosecute this fight. Thank you.

Let me go to Ryo.

Q: Thank you very much.

GEN. RYDER: And then I'm going to go to the phone. I haven't forgotten about you guys on the phone.

Q: I want to follow up about the Extended Deterrence Dialogue with Japan. The -- the U.S. statement gives us more detail of the dialog than is usual, including a -- tabletop exercises and (inaudible) simulations. So what message are you sending to -- to North Korea and China by releasing more information of the dialogue to the public?

GEN. RYDER: Well, I -- you know, I mean, broadly speaking, we always try to be as transparent as possible when it comes to talking about what we're doing in consultation with our allies and -- and our partners around the world.

You know, in -- in terms of the dialogue and extended deterrence, you know, we will continue to highlight where we can work together to ensure stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. 

So, I don't have any specific announcements today to make in regards to additional outcomes of that dialogue, but needless to say, you know, going forward, we look -- we do look forward to continuing to work closely with Japan and our other allies in the region to ensure that we can continue to deter potential aggression, but more importantly, preserve peace and stability in the region. Thank you very much.

OK, we'll go back to this side of the room. Yes, ma'am?

Q: I'd like to follow up on ATACMS. Is it a stockpile issue of these planes? And if so, are you looking to potentially land the Army's Precision Strike Missile, which is the ATACMS replacement, as mass-produced? That would be the opportunity to potentially send it to Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks for the -- the question. Again, you know, through -- through the course of this campaign, we're going to constantly look at the variety of capabilities, again, based on what Ukraine's most urgent needs are. Again, on the ATACMS, I don't have anything to announce. And so again, we'll just continue to keep that dialogue open, and when we do have something to announce, we will. Thanks.

Let me -- let me go the phone here real quick. Howard Altman, War Zone?

Q: Hey, thanks, Pat. Taiwan just retired its Hawk air defense system. Do you think that might be in line for Ukraine? Are you talking to Taiwan about providing that to Ukraine? Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: I'm -- just to make sure I understand your question, is Taiwan providing Hawks to Ukraine?

Q: Well, they just retired their Hawk air defense system, so I'm wondering if there's a way -- if the Pentagon is looking into a way to bring that to Ukraine, considering its needs for ground-based air defense.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Howard. So I -- I don't have anything on that. I'd -- I'd refer you to Taiwan to talk about their capabilities and -- and potential disposition. Thanks.

I'm going to go one more here. Jeff Selden?

Q: General, thanks very much for doing this. Two -- two questions. First, what type of impact, if any, have the issues in Russia had on military-to-military communications with the U.S.? Are any of the hotlines like the one established in Syria, has there been any impact there? And secondly, we've heard again this week from Chinese officials who are demanding an end to sanctions in exchange for reopening military-to-military communications with the U.S. Does the Pentagon have any reaction or response to those demands?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Jeff. So on -- on your first question as it relates to military-to-military communications via the -- the hotlines that we've established, no, I'm -- I'm not aware of any impact. Those lines of communication remain open, and so no, nothing -- nothing new there.

As it relates to the comments about lifting sanctions in order to remove obstacles to communication, as you've heard Secretary Austen say previously, he can communicate with his Chinese counterpart right now. Those sanctions do not need to be lifted in order for him to communicate with his counterpart. And so from our perspective, there are no obstacles to keeping open lines of communications. We do think it's important, and so we will continue to make efforts to do that. Thank you.

All right. Yes, sir?

Q: Thank you, sir. Two questions, one on U.S.-India relations. As far as the U.S.-India military-to-military relations are concerned now, Prime Minister Modi was, of course, here for four days, and before that, Secretary Austin was in India. What was on the table during his visit to India before Prime Minister's visit to Washington? And also now, what is left on the table and off the table as far as military-to-military concern? Because India had had a big list of purchasing U.S. military.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thank you. So as you highlighted, the secretary did travel to India. He felt like it was a great visit and very much appreciated the -- the hospitality that he received, as well as the opportunity to engage in a robust dialogue with his counterpart.

In terms of what was on the table, what is on the table, I think what you saw the White House readout in terms of the results of those discussions, and so I won't repeat that here, as well as the roadmap that I highlighted at a previous briefing, so I would point you to the fact sheet that we have on the DOD website that goes into a lot of detail about what we look forward to in terms of our cooperation and partnership with the Indian Ministry of Defense and -- and Indian government.

Q: Last, there were many ups and downs as part of the U.S.-India relationship, military-to-military relations have concern because of Russia and all of that. Now you thinking there will be the largest military-military relations with the United States?

GEN. RYDER: You know, look, we -- we very much appreciate the relationship that we have with India, and we continue to want to build on that. India is obviously a -- a critical player in the region when it comes to ensuring stability and security in the region, and so we'll continue to work very closely with India toward that end.

But let me -- let me go ahead and move on to your colleague here.

Q: Yeah, sure. There've been reports that, based on satellite imagery, that Russian soldiers blocked a river and flooded fields to impede the approach of Ukrainian soldiers near the city of Kakhovka. I was just wondering if you could give us anything more on that.

GEN. RYDER: I -- I really can't. Yeah, it's -- it's -- I -- I appreciate the question, but a couple things. One, I'm just not going to provide an operational, tactical-level briefing about Ukrainian operations, and second, I really can't get into intelligence matters. Thank you very much.

Let me do one more from the phone here. Mike Brest, Washington Examiner.

Q: Can you hear me? Can you hear me, general?

GEN. RYDER: I can hear you now.

Q: First Q: You mentioned that some elements of the Wagner Group are still in Russian-occupied Ukraine, but could you give us some sort of ballpark on the number you see now compared to previously?

GEN. RYDER: I -- I really can't, Mike, other than, you know, they -- they have been conducting operations in Ukraine for a while now. And so you know, most recently near Bakhmut, and so elements of those units are -- are still in Ukraine, but I -- I'm not able to provide numbers from the podium here. Okay?

All right, hey, listen, before we conclude today, I just want to take the opportunity here to bid farewell to a couple of long-time Pentagon press corps journalists who will be heading out on new adventures. First, Mr. Kasim Ilari from Turkey's Anadolu News Agency. He'll be departing the Pentagon after almost 10 years of being here in the building covering the Pentagon and DOD. Like many of the foreign correspondents covering the Department, he has provided a unique and important international perspective when it comes to covering the U.S. military. So Kasim will be heading back to Turkey to pursue some opportunities outside of journalism. So on behalf of the DOD, we'd like to bid him farewell and -- and wish him and his family the best as they embark on their next chapter.

Also saying goodbye to Kevin Baron, who departs Defense One this week, where he has served as executive editor. Kevin's covered the Pentagon for nearly 20 years in a variety of roles, probably interacted with nearly everyone in this room, probably in this building. And during his tenure as editor, he's squarely established Defense One as an authoritative source on defense news and a reputation for excellence within his -- journalism excellence within his news -- newsroom. So on behalf of DOD, we wish Kevin and his family good luck as well as he moves on to other pursuits.

Thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate it.