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Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Gen. Pat Ryder Holds an On-Camera Press Briefing

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  I've got a few things to pass on, then we’ll get right to your questions.

As most of you are aware, Secretary Austin welcomed Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to the Pentagon earlier today, and reaffirmed the steadfast support of the United States for Ukraine and their fight for freedom.  During their meeting, Secretary Austin provided an update on U.S. security assistance to meet Ukraine's most urgent battlefield needs and review the outcomes of the 15th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which was conducted up Ramstein Air Base, Germany, earlier this week.

Afterwards, President Zelenskyy, Secretary Austin, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Milley participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Pentagon's 9/11 Memorial.  A readout of today's meeting will be available on our website later today.

In other news, earlier today, the United States delivered more than 13 metric tons of critical life-saving humanitarian supplies to northeastern Libya.  The U.S. Air Force's 86th Airlift Wing conducted the C-130 airlift mission in support of the U.S. Agency for International Development's response to the devastating floods in that country.  Of note, USAFRICOM Commander Gen. Michael Langley and U.S. Special Envoy Ambassador Richard Norland were on board the C-130 flight to accompany the aid into Benghazi.

To date, the U.S. has provided $12 million in response to this humanitarian disaster.  The supplies were immediately consigned to the International Organization for Migration and other relief agencies in distribution to people displaced and affected by the floods.  I would refer you to USAFRICOM's press release for further details.

Separately, as a quick recap, the department announced yesterday a proactive effort to review military records of veterans whose service records indicate their administrative separation was the result of their sexual orientation and who received a less than honorable conditions discharge.  This new initiative will significantly simplify the process for don't ask/don't tell-era veterans, and demonstrates Secretary Austin's continued focus on taking care of our people, one of his key priorities since becoming secretary of defense.  You can learn more about this at the don't ask/don't tell resource page located on

Also yesterday, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks announced the award of $238 million in creating helpful incentives to produce semiconductors and Science Act funding for the establishment of eight microelectronics commons regional innovation hubs.  This is the largest award to date under President Biden's CHIPS and Science Act.  The Microelectronics Commons Program has been spearheaded by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering in conjunction with the Naval Surface Warfare Center -- Crane Division, and the National Security Technology Accelerator.  More information on the program can be found at

Looking to next week, Secretary Austin will travel to Africa beginning this Saturday, September 23rd, for a week-long trip to underscore the United States' commitment to building and reinforcing security partnerships with African nations and to promote African-led initiatives and regional -- regional solutions to security issues.  The countries he'll visit include Djibouti, Kenya, and Angola.  We posted a travel advisory to the DOD website with additional details regarding the trip.

And finally, on behalf of Secretary Austin, the department congratulates U.S. Army Gen. Randy George on his confirmation today by the Senate as the Army chief of staff.

As you know, the secretary also issued a statement last night congratulating Air Force Chief of Staff General C.Q. Brown Jr. on his confirmation by the Senate last night to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Secretary Austin also expressed his thanks to General Milley, his wife, Hollyanne, and the entire Milley family for their selfless decades-long service to our nation.

Importantly, while this is very positive news, Secretary Austin also emphasized that we have over 300 other military nominees awaiting confirmation and reaffirmed his commitment to staying personally engaged with members of Congress in both parties until all general and flag officers are confirmed.

And with that, I'll be happy to take your questions.  We'll go to Associated Press, Tara Copp.

Q:  Thank you, Gen. Ryder.  Can you talk just about the purpose of President Zelenskyy's visit today?  What was he and Secretary Austin trying to accomplish in this meeting?

And also, the Polish prime minister has announced that Poland will no longer be transferring weapons to Ukraine.  How does this affect -- how does this create additional pressure on U.S. stockpiles or European stockpiles to keep weapons flowing there?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.  So in terms of the -- the conversation -- and again, we'll have a -- a readout later today.  As -- as I highlighted in our topper, it was really an opportunity for the secretary to provide President Zelenskyy with an update on the security assistance that we're providing to Ukraine.  He reaffirmed that we're going to continue to work very hard with Ukraine and our international allies and partners to ensure they have what they need to be successful on the battlefield, highlighting his personal commitment and involvement in working with international leaders on that front.  And then there was also an opportunity to discuss Ukraine's longer-term capability requirements and how to support them in the future in terms of deterring Russian aggression.

And then on Poland -- on Poland, you know, obviously, I'll refer you to Poland to speak about their own internal decisions.  You know, we've always said that -- that it's a sovereign decision for any country to decide what level of support that they are going to provide.

I will highlight, however, that Poland has been one of the leading countries when it comes to providing security assistance to Ukraine, and not only security assistance, but also in terms of providing significant humanitarian aid and support for more than a million displaced Ukrainians who have gone to Poland as a result of Russia's invasion.

Q:  But a lot of those eastern flank nations who were very early providers of weapons were very vocal out front even a year ago that the pressures on their own stockpiles were immense.  Are you concerned that ultimately, it's going to be up to the U.S. to keep providing the weapons for this war?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, I would -- I would point back to the Ukraine Defense Contact Group as a -- a prime example of the fact that unity and resolve is still very strong within the international community.  We had more than 50 nations participate in that Contact Group, the 15th Contact Group, as I highlighted.  And so we still see very strong international support across the board when it comes to ensuring Ukraine has what they need to defend themselves.


Q:  Thank you.  Questions on two different topics.  First, why has the U.S. not decided to send ATACMS to Ukraine?  And why not send them now?

GEN. RYDER:  Look, I don't have anything to announce.  I will say that -- that later today, DOD will announce an additional tranche of security assistance to meet Ukraine's critical security and defense needs on the battlefield.  I'm not going to get ahead of that announcement.  What you can expect the package to include will be more air defense and artillery capabilities to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces.  But as it pertains to ATACMS, I just don't have anything to announce.  Thank you.

Q:  Sec- -- second topic:  On the -- the path -- the confirmation of Gent. Brown and Gen. George, are these one-by-one confirmations something to celebrate?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, I -- I think Secretary Austin's statement was very clear in that it's positive news and -- and we welcome the confirmation of Gen. Brown and now, Gen. George.  But the statement was also clear in that these holds present a national security and military readiness risk.  And so if you will allow me to extend my football analogy that I used recently, with the -- with the confirmation of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we have a quarterback solo on the field, on the line of scrimmage facing players of the opposing team, and we owe it to our team to -- and to the coach to put all of our other players in the field and enable them to win the game.  And so as I highlighted, the secretary remains committed to working with members of Congress to do exactly that.

Q:  How will it be determined who is voted on one by one, and who is still held up?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, that's really a question for -- for Congress to address.  Thank you.


Q:  A -- a follow-up question on -- on Senator Tuberville.  As part of the statement we got last night from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, he said he'd continue to personally engage with members of Congress in both parties.  Since the confirmation vote for Gen. Brown, has he had more conversations with members of Congress?  And is there another conversation planned with Sen. Tuberville, now that we've seen two, or three soon, votes advanced?

GEN. RYDER:  Thanks, Oren.  Well, as you know, the -- the confirmation came late last night.  The secretary was on the Hill yesterday in a closed session with the full Senate, so he will continue to stay engaged with -- with members of Congress.

As for -- again, as for what's next for the Senate in terms of any potential votes, that's really something I'd have to refer you to the Senate on.

Q:  Do you see a window opening here to advance 300-plus other nominees?

GEN. RYDER:  From the Department of Defense standpoint, we've been very clear that we would like the holds to be lifted so that we can ensure that we have the right officers in the right jobs at the right time.  But again, in terms of any type of Senate actions, it would be inappropriate for me to tell Congress how to do it and when to do it.  Thank you.


Q:  Thanks, Pat.  Just on Ukraine, can you tell us when you expect the Abrams tanks to arrive on the battlefield?  And then separately, can you give us an update on when the F-16 training is going to begin?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.  So in terms of the Abrams tanks, everything is -- is on schedule.  For operations security reasons, I'm not going to be able to go into specifics in terms of when exactly those tanks will arrive, other than to say we expect them to arrive in Ukraine in the coming days and weeks.

Q:  And then on the F-16 training?

GEN. RYDER:  On F-16 training, to my knowledge, that training in Denmark has already begun, but as it relates to the training here in the United States, we do expect Ukrainian pilots and maintainers to arrive in the United States soon to conduct the initial English language training, and then the pilot training to start in the -- in the weeks after that.  So again, we'll continue to keep you updated as we have relevant updates to provide.

Q:  And can you tell -- tell us how the -- a potential shutdown is going to impact that training?  Is that something that -- you know, typically, training would not continue under a shutdown.  Is that something that's important enough that the defense secretary would create an exemption for it?

GEN. RYDER:  So as I understand it, for F-16 training, work or delivery of any equipment funded on previous USAI notifications such as F-16 pilot training, that would continue.  Execution could be impacted by furloughs and DOD's suspension of non-excepted activities.  So in other words, the training would happen, but depending on -- on whether or not there were certain personnel that were not able to report for duty, for example, that -- that could have an impact on it.  But, again, we'll keep you updated.

Q:  Will the secretary make an -- an exception for some of that training and some of those furloughs for that specific mission?

GEN. RYDER:  So at this stage I don't -- I don't want to get into hypotheticals.  So we'll keep you posted.


Q:  Thanks, Pat.  A follow-up on the F-16 question.  When you announced it originally, you said about several pilots would be coming over.  Do you have any update for us in terms of numbers, 10-ish, more, or is it --

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, at this point, Chris, I don't.  As -- as you highlight, we expect several Ukrainian pilots and dozens of maintainers.  So, again, as we have more to provide, we will.  Thank you.


Q:  I wanted to ask for an update on the missing F-35 that has now been found.  What exactly happened that caused the pilot to eject himself?  Where does the no-fly order stand now?  What does all this mean in terms of our broader national security and things?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.  So as it -- as it relates to the F-35, as you -- as you are aware, the Marine Corps is currently investigating that.  So it would be inappropriate for me to -- to provide any comment while they conduct their investigation.  We have no doubt that it will be a thorough investigation and when there is information to share, they will.

And -- and similarly for the -- the stand-down that the Marine Corps -- the acting commandant of the Marine Corps initiated, I'd refer you to the Marine Corps to talk about that.

It's important to take a step back, you know, as far as national security goes.  It -- it's always unfortunate any time we lose an aircraft.  In this case we're very thankful that the pilot was okay.  But, broadly speaking, we're confident that we can continue to defend the nation and do what we need to do.

Q:  I understand you said the investigation is still ongoing with the Marines.  But there's a lot of questions surrounding this, a lot of headlines right now.  Is there anything that you can share to people that are wondering what happened here?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, that's exactly what the investigation will tell us.  And that's why it is important that we not jump to conclusions, that we not speculate, that we don't allow our imagination to fill gaps.  We have a very methodical, very deliberate, very tried-and-true process that will take a look at exactly what the situation was, get the facts, and then, as appropriate, apply those facts to prevent these kinds of things from happening again.  Thank you very much.


Q:  Could you just go back to the Zelenskyy visit, could -- could you let us know, was he briefed on this upcoming announcement on the package assistance?  Does he know it was going to be announced later on today?

And then separately, is there any kind of anecdote or anything that struck you from that meeting that -- that we should know?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, so, you know, again, we -- we'll have a readout that will going into more details.  What -- what I would tell you is that it was a very warm meeting.  It was a very engaging meeting.  Both leaders had -- had a great conversation.  It was -- it was very clear that President Zelenskyy very much appreciates the support that the United States, the people of the United States have provided to Ukraine.  And, again, as I mentioned, the secretary gave his personal commitment to stay engaged, to work with our allies and partners to ensure that they have what they need and just leave it at that.

Q:  As far as the announcement, did he -- was he briefed on the upcoming package assistance?

GEN. RYDER:  Phil, what I would tell you again is that what they were focused on was an update on security assistance that we provided.  And then, again, talking briefly about what -- what we will do to work with Ukraine to ensure they have what they need in the future.  So I'll just stay there.


Q:  At the -- I guess there are polls out now that are showing eroding support for support to Ukraine.  Is Secretary Austin worried about that?  And there is something that he can do to perhaps buck up that support?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks, Jim.  So I -- I think you're alluding to some of the -- the press reports about congressional support as it -- as it relates to Ukraine.

Q:  (inaudible) the support of the American people.  I guess CNN came out with a -- you know, a poll saying roughly 50% of Americans say that we've done enough for Ukraine, which is down from, like, 68% at one point.

GEN. RYDER:  Yes.  So -- so I'll touch on both those things then.  You know, certainly from a congressional standpoint, we have enjoyed bipartisan congressional support.  We don't take that for granted, as evidenced by the secretary and the chairman being on the Hill yesterday to talk about the Ukraine supplemental.  We will continue to work very closely with Congress to ensure they have the information they need to make informed decisions.

And -- and when it comes to the public, I think it's important, again, to reemphasize why Ukraine matters.  In addition to helping our Ukrainian partners to defend themselves from unprovoked aggression, the implications not only on European security, but also on U.S. and international security are very stark.  And -- and you've heard me say before, if Russia were to succeed in eliminating Ukraine as a nation, they won't stop there.  I mean, you only have to look at other gray-zone efforts in places like Moldova, Belarus, Georgia and other places to see that if they can get away with subsuming or invading other nations, their neighbors, not to include threatening NATO nations, they will.  And -- and I have no doubt that countries like China are watching and seeing how the U.S. and the international community have rallied and -- and responded in support of and aiding Ukraine, so there's definitely a deterrent effect there, as well.  Thank you.


Q:  Yes, just a follow-up on the Tuberville confirmation holds.   You mentioned the -- a range of others are still held up, and Sen. Tuberville said he was pleased to have those nominees moved forward on an individual basis.  So is the DOD worried that confirming this batch of nominees only emboldens Sen. Tuberville's holds and will make him dig in until the Pentagon rescinds or changes its reproductive healthcare policy with regards to travel?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, again, when it comes to how the Senate handles the holds, again, I'd refer you to the Senate on -- on the way that -- from -- what the DOD worries about is ensuring that we have qualified, capable leaders confirmed by the Senate in place so that we can carry out the mission that the nation has entrusted us to do, which is defending the nation.  And so we'll continue to stay focused on working with the Hill and providing whatever information is necessary to ensure that -- that those holds are lifted and that we can continue to do the work we've been entrusted to do.  Thank you.


Q:  So last month, I asked you about Pentagon language about fighting and winning our nation's wars, and I asked you, given that language in the context of Afghanistan, did we win or lose?  And you said at the time last month that you didn't want to oversimplify our experiences in Afghanistan.

This past Sunday, Gen. Milley gave an interview to ABC News.  He was asked, you know, to characterize the withdrawal. He said it didn't -- he said, quote, "It didn't end the way I wanted it and it didn't end the way any of us wanted it," unquote.  And then he goes on to say, quote, "In the broader sense, the war was lost.  We were fighting the Taliban and their allies for 20-plus years."

So my question is, is this the personal view of Gen. Milley, or is this the view of the Department of Defense?  And given this, can you now say whether -- is it a win or loss?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks, James.  So you know, again, Gen. Milley provides his perspective, and I'm not going to speak for General – Gen. Milley or try to analyze his words from the podium.  I think he's very clear in terms of how he feels and very clear and very well-respected in terms of his experience in that war.  And -- and so I'll just leave it at that.

But look, I mean, you've been following the situation in Afghanistan just as long as I have. I know you served.  I know you fully understand the -- the blood, sweat and tears that went into the mission in Afghanistan.  And -- and again, what I'm talking about when I say, "Don't oversimplify it" is let's not reduce this to ones and zeros.  I -- I think that dishonors everybody that ever served there and anything we were trying to accomplish there in terms of, look at the good that was accomplished.  Granted, to Gen. Milley's point, it did not end the way that we wanted it to end.  But you also cannot discount the efforts that -- that servicemen and women, the interagency, the world, actually.  But what we did and what we were trying to do to help support the people of Afghanistan, and also regional security and stability when it came to the broader reason we were there in the first place, which was when Al Qaeda attacked the United States on 9/11, which was planned from inside Afghanistan, and to be able to -- to stop and check that external threat of terrorism, we did that.  We accomplished that.

That said, again, to Gen. Milley's point, it did not end the way anybody wanted it to end.  Thank you.


Q:  Thank you, sir.  On the Abrams, can you tell us what the immediate impact will be on the Ukrainian counteroffensive?  And do you believe this will be a catalyst that could change the pace of the counteroffensive?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks for the question.  So I mean, that will be up to the Ukrainians.  We are -- we are providing them with a significant combat capability.  You know, in terms of whether or not they will choose to apply that to the current operation, again, that -- that's a tactical decision for them.  But it will be another weapon in their arsenal that they'll have available to them.  Thank you.

Q:  I want to go back the question of Ukraine assistance.  In one of the pieces of assistance that you guys have repeatedly not talked about is the June Starlink contract.  This keeps coming up in every Musk story that the Pentagon refused to give any kind of details.  Three months later, what was the value of the contract?  And broadly, can you talk a little bit about what the Starlink services are providing?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks, Tony.  So to your point, you know, we -- we do try to be as transparent as possible when it comes to our contracts. We have acknowledged publicly that we do contract with Starlink for services in support of Ukraine, but as we've also stated previously, for operations security reasons due to the critical nature of these systems, we're just not going to be able to provide additional information regarding the specific capabilities or the operational details of these services.

We'll continue to review the current operational context to determine if more information can be released at a later date, but for right now, I'm just not able to go into more detail.

Q:  OK, but rough value of the contract -- it's tax dollars.

GEN. RYDER:  Again, right now, I'm just not able to go into more details.

Q:  I need to ask you, too, on the Isaacson book.  You -- you fielded a -- questions about the attack on the Crimea area, but within the book, they’re also talking -- quotes the star -- SpaceX CEO as saying that back in October, the Pentagon was ready to award a $145-million contract to Musk for Starlink services that he had threatened to withdraw.  You were up here talking about taking questions on it.  But the Pentagon -- they -- Starlink pulled back when the Pentagon leaked the story that the $145-million contract was going to come back -- come -- come out.  Was the Pentagon prepared at that time to issue a $145-million contract, as this book claims?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks, Tony.  So -- so I'm just not going to address any types of allegations or assertions from a book.

Again, I can confirm that we do contract for Starlink for services in support of Ukraine with the ultimate objective to be ensuring that Ukraine has the satellite communication infrastructure that it needs.

Q:  But you can't even confirm if the story was baloney or not, that --


GEN. RYDER:  Yes, I'm just not going to -- I'm not going to entertain the -- the assertions or the -- the allegations.

Q:  OK, fair enough.

GEN. RYDER:  Thank you.

OK, time for a couple of more.  Sir.

Q:  So on September 6th there was the missile strike in -- in the Donetsk region which killed about 15 civilians.  Initially the Ukrainian government came out and said this was a Russian missile.  This week, The New York Times put out an analysis that it was probably an errant Ukrainian missile.  Does the DOD have any intel share on that situation?

GEN. RYDER:  I really don't.

I saw The New York Times story, you know, and in that story it said that the Ukrainians were investigating it.  So I -- I'd refer you to Ukraine to talk about that.

OK, we'll do one more from the phone here.  Heather from USNI.

Q:  Hey, thank you so much.  To the Black Sea, there has been a lot of different attacks going on there with Ukraine knocking out some of the assets over Sevastopol.  Is there anything that these attacks tell us that what Ukraine and Russia might be doing in the Black Sea, and whether or not this might be a new front for them?

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks, Heather.  So, you know, really Ukraine is in the best position to talk about their -- their overall approach.  You know, it's not the first time that we have seen combat action in the Black Sea, as -- as you've seen the Russian attack Ukrainian targets in there -- you know, most notably putting at risk grain shipments going out of the region.

But I'd refer you to the Ukrainians to talk about their -- their operations.

All right.  Thank you very much, ladies and gentleman, appreciate it.