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

MAJOR GENERAL PAT RYDER: All right, well, good afternoon, everyone. Just a few things to pass along, then we'll get right to your questions. 

So first, Secretary Austin, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense yesterday to underscore the importance of passing the Defense Department's Fiscal Year 2025 budget request. During the hearing, the Secretary emphasized the urgent need for approval of the department's supplemental request, highlighting the DOD's critical role in demonstrating American resolve to protect our nation and our national security interests, supporting America's allies and partners, and investing in our Defense Industrial Base. If approved, the funding request will provide essential aid to our partners in Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific. It would provide nearly $60 billion for the Department of Defense, with about $50 billion of that sum flowing through the nation's Defense Industrial Base, in turn, creating American jobs in over 30 states.

As the department actively works to address today's most pressing national security challenges confronting our nation, immediate passage of the supplemental remains the most important thing Congress could do to assist our warfighters in defending our country and enabling DOD to support our allies and partners like Israel and Ukraine. 

Speaking of Ukraine, tomorrow, Secretary Austin will participate in a virtual NATO Ukraine Council meeting with fellow NATO defense ministers. The Secretary and his fellow defense ministers will discuss the international effort to meet Ukraine's urgent needs, to include air defense and artillery. Additionally, Secretary Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General CQ Brown, Jr. will host the Ukraine Defense Contact Group virtually next week on April 26th. Both meetings underscore the unwavering commitment of the United States and the international community to support the people of Ukraine as they continue to fight for freedom and protect their sovereignty from Russian aggression. We'll have more information to provide on the UDCG next week.

Shifting gears, Secretary Austin also hosted the Norwegian Defense Minister, Bjorn Arild Gram, here in the Pentagon today. The two leaders discussed long-term plans for supporting Ukraine, and Secretary Austin expressed his gratitude for Norway's swift assistance to the Ukrainian people. A readout of this meeting will be posted to

Moving to the Indo-Pacific region, on Monday, more than 16,000 service members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the United States will commence Exercise Balikatan 24, our largest annual exercise with the Philippines. This year will be the most complex Balikatan to date, including combined joint all-domain operations, such as maritime security, air and missile defense, dynamic missile strikes, and cyber defense training. In the spirit of working shoulder-to-shoulder, 16 other nations will participate or observe, to include France for the first time. For more information, please reach out to US INDOPACOM Public Affairs.

And finally, I'd like to take a moment to recognize one of our OSD Public Affairs teammates who will be departing the pattern and retiring from the Air Force after 22 years in uniform. Colonel Brooke Brander has served in assignments around the globe during her career but most recently as the OSD Public Affairs Director for Strategy, Plans, and Assessment for the last two years and has done an amazing job. Her exceptional leadership and contributions have been instrumental in enabling the department to develop effective communications strategies and keep U.S. and international audiences informed about the role of DOD in defending our nation. On behalf of the entire OSD Public Affairs team and Air Force Public Affairs community, we want to congratulate Colonel Brander on her retirement and thank her for her superb leadership and dedicated service to our nation, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Air Force. We're all grateful to have had the opportunity to serve alongside her and wish her all the best as she embarks on her next chapter.

And with that, we'll take your questions. We'll go to Associated Press. Tara, welcome back.

Q: I wanted to ask about Ukraine. If the bill is passed by the House and Senate and signed into law, just how quickly can the Department of Defense get weapons moving to Ukraine? And have you done anything to speed that along, such as pre-position some things in Europe?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. Well, obviously, as I'm sure you can appreciate, I can't get into any specifics on timelines as it relates to pending legislative proposals. We obviously do look forward to an upcoming supplemental vote, but in the meantime, were the supplemental to get passed, we are poised to respond quickly with a security assistance package via our presidential drawdown authority.

As you know, we have a very robust logistics network that enables us to move materiel very quickly. As we've done in the past, we can move within days. Again, for operation security reasons, I'm not going to be able to get into the specifics of what that security assistance package could look like, other than to say it would of course include likely important things like air defense and artillery capabilities. But again, we'll have much more to follow and we'll keep our fingers crossed.

Q: ... in general terms, like -- so it moves to the Ukrainian border at that point. Do the Ukrainians take custody and then move it in via rail, or how will that flow work?

GEN. RYDER: Again, for operation security reasons, force protection reasons, I'm just not going to be able to go into those details, but I think we've demonstrated over the last two years that we do have a very robust system in place, which is effective in ensuring that we can get Ukraine what it needs, not only from the United States but from the broader international community. Thank you.


Q: Thanks, Pat. First, I have a follow-up on that. Can you say whether or not the department is considering maybe a larger drawdown than we've seen in past aid packages, since the -- it's been some time and that Israel is in such great need of things like artillery and air defense?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Matt. I really can't, at this stage, get ahead of the process, other than to say again we certainly understand and appreciate the urgency and are poised to move quickly if the supplemental is passed. Thank you.
Q: Secondly, we've heard from an Israeli source that the Israelis have made significant progress and preparations to evacuate roughly a million people out of Rafah ahead of any possible operations there, and that the U.S. is aware of these efforts, which include preparing areas to the north with repairing pipes and setting up tents. Can you speak to those efforts? And does the relocation of these people meet with the sort of recommendations the U.S. is making to the Israelis as they proceed?

GEN. RYDER: I really can't. That's a question that's best addressed by the Israelis. As you're probably aware, the White House was hosting a session today with senior Israeli representatives to discuss the Rafah situation. So, you know, I'd refer you to that readout once it comes out. Again, our position has not changed, in terms of the importance of ensuring that humanitarian assistance and civilian safety are taken into account as Israel conducts its operations against Hamas.

Q: Great. Can you say who was representing DOD on the -- in those meetings today?

GEN. RYDER: I can. As I understand it, three representatives we had, performing the duties of Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Melissa Dalton, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy Dan Shapiro, and then also Major General Joseph McGee, the Joint Staff Vice Director for Strategy, Plans, and Policy. Thanks.

Q: Can I follow up on this? Thank you, General. So as you said, we're going to wait for the readout from the White House, but as far as you know, have you been presented by -- Israeli plan for an operation in Rafah, whether limited or a major invasion?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, again, I'd refer you to the readout. As I understand it, Fadi, at this point, there's been discussions -- you know, ongoing technical discussions in terms of, you know, enabling the Israelis to understand the key points that we're making and incorporating those into any plans. And, you know, beyond a broad concept, is what I'm tracking right now, but again, we'll see what comes out of the meeting.

Q: And are you able to -- to say -- like, previously, the answer has been "we haven't received any plan."  Do you -- does -- your sense, there's been some progress on the issue of Rafah and discussions between you and the Israelis?

GEN. RYDER: I think the discussions continue, in terms of, again, enabling the United States to share with Israel what our concerns are and to provide lessons learned that we've gleaned over the years in conducting these type of operations, and I think we'll have those conversations going forward. Again, our position has been pretty clear -- we understand the need for Israel to go after Hamas and to eliminate or defeat Hamas as a threat. And so we believe there's a way to do that while also taking into account civilian safety and ensuring humanitarian assistance. Thank you.


Q: Thanks, Pat. So CIA Director Bill Burns said in testimony today that without additional aid, Ukraine could lose by the end of 2024. Does DOD share that assessment?

GEN. RYDER: You know, I'm not going to speak for the CIA. I know from a DOD standpoint what we're focused on right now is ensuring that we can get Ukraine the assistance that it needs. We're focused on working with international allies and partners to ensure that Ukraine gets what it needs, not only in the near terms but also for the long term. And this is through mechanisms like the capability coalitions which are looking at the long-term defense of Ukraine so that it can deter future aggression from Russia. You know, the Ukrainians have demonstrated their resilience and their courage under fire. We have no reason to think that that's going to change. But we also understand the dire situation there right now which is why again we would like very much to see the Supplemental passed. And we'd like -- would like very much to be able to rush the security assistance and the volumes that we think they need to be successful.

Q: And then as a follow up you said there would be a meeting coming up with NATO. Is NATO -- is it possible that NATO is going to take control of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group? Is that something that's -- is that plan one that's moving along now?

GEN. RYDER: You know, right now the Ukraine Defense Contact Group continues to be hosted by the Secretary. That's the plan into the foreseeable future so I don't have anything to announce in terms of any potential changes. Thanks.


Q: Thanks Pat. On Balikatan, are there any concerns that the USS Boxer which is I believe by all accounts slated to participate in the exercise but had to turn around last week and cut its deployment short? Won't be able to make it. It's in port. Are there any concerns over that?

GEN. RYDER: I'll have to refer you to the Navy and INDOPACOM to talk about that. Thanks.

All right. Let me go to the phone here real quick.

Idrees from Reuters.

Q: Hey Pat? Do you have any updates on when the Secretary last spoke with Minister Gallant? And you know, what the conversation was about? And do you have any update on the findings of the strike, Israeli strike against the World Central Kitchen? Have you gone through it? Do you have an understanding of whether that Israeli initial investigation is something you agree with?

GEN. RYDER: Yes. Thanks, Idrees. So the last phone call that the Secretary had with Minister Gallant was on Tuesday, which I believe we read out and so no phone calls since then. And then in terms of the World Central Kitchen, I don't have any updates to provide. As you know, NSC was reviewing that. And so I'd refer you to them for any updates on their review. Thank you.

Come back into the room. Yes sir?

Q: Thank you. And the proposed House Bill on Ukraine. There is a nonbinding requirement to provide Ukraine with the longer-range ATACMS, is this something that the Pentagon might be looking into?

GEN. RYDER: I don't have anything to announce. You know, we've provided readouts in terms of the capabilities that have been associated with the PDAs. Of course as you know, we've always said nothing is off the table but I don't have anything to announce today.

Q: One more. Do you have an update on the training and the knowledge base of Ukrainian pilots, what stage are they now, can we (inaudible) about the graduation timeframe here?

GEN. RYDER: I'd refer you to the Air Force for the specifics. In terms of the status, as I understand it things are progressing well. They are you know, in the advanced stages of their training. I don't have a specific date to highlight other than everything seems to be on track and on schedule on that front. And of course, certainly as we get closer to that we'll have much more to provide. Thank you very much.


Q: A couple questions. One, you talked about the 30 states would benefit from the supplemental. Can you get a chart that lays out that -- the -- what states and roughly the dollars. This is a repeated claim from the Pentagon. It'd be useful to have a chart that shows the states that would benefit.

GEN. RYDER: Yes. We actually have one posted to right now so we can get you that link.

Q: This is the -- on the Supplemental. This isn't like past aid that's gone to states?

GEN. RYDER: I'll double check. But yes.

Q: (inaudible) on Iran, the world's fixated on a potential Israeli retaliation. Do you have any sense of the state of Iran's Air Defense System in terms of how well integrated it is? DIA, a couple -- about four years ago had a report that came out, that they had the S-300. They're fairly well integrated but for -- fast forward four years later, do you have any thumbnail assessment of how well their air defense system is integrated, radar, human observation posts, and missiles?


Q: (inaudible).

GEN. RYDER: Yes. You know, for understandable reasons I can't get into specific intelligence. Clearly Iran has an integrated air defense system as you highlight but I'm just not able to go into the specifics of what advanced capabilities they may have. And I'm not prepared to do that from the podium.

Q: Can you at least -- do they have the S-400? There's always been rumors that they may or may not get it. You know, that's pretty sophisticated as a system. Can you address whether they had the S-400?

GEN. RYDER: I really can't. But thanks, Tony.


Q: Thanks Pat. If I could just follow up on the F-16 question. Is the training timeline affected by the lack of supplemental at all?

GEN. RYDER: Not to my knowledge.

Q: Do you have funding? Do you need a Supplemental would continue funding that going forward for say the next cadre, is it?

GEN. RYDER: So the funding as I understand it Chris you know, a lot of ways what this is about is enabling us to replenish our own stocks which then enables us to draw down from our own inventory to be able to provide security assistance to Ukraine, right. So that's one piece of it. The other piece of course is the USAI piece, in terms of being able to let contracts to work with industry to provide them with capabilities. So you know, on the training front while certainly there's a budget aspect to that, really what we're talking about here is you know, working with the Ukrainians, working with the air coalition, capability coalition, in order to identify the pilots, to identify which partners are going to contribute aircraft, munitions, those kinds of things. So the supplemental of course is incredibly important. But as I understand it, we're able to continue to do some things when it comes to training of pilots, with of course you know, one of the long poles in the tent being working with Ukraine to identify those individuals who they want to nominate for that training. And again because you have multiple nations involved, the training pipeline has some flexibility built into it in terms of being able to absorb those pilots, and train you know, the numbers that Ukraine has.

Q: (inaudible) mentioned looking at munitions among the Coalition. Has there been any progress on that?

GEN. RYDER: I don't have any updates on that front. But again you know, as we get further down the road and you know, again for operational security reasons at this point, I can't go into the specifics but we'll certainly keep you informed. Thanks.

Yes sir?

Q: Thank you, General. So on Tuesday the House of Representatives passed a resolution that deeming the slogan "From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free," is antisemitic and it's use should be condemned. Does the Pentagon have a statement on this passing for that slogan and whether it's problematic or not?

GEN. RYDER: I don't. Thanks.


Q: (inaudible) topic used in China. So why was the discussion between the Secretary Austin and Chinese Defense Minister, Dong Jun, held by via teleconference instead of just calling? So which side made the offer to like the video style?

GEN. RYDER: Sure. You know, on your latter question we've been working at the staff level for months ever since the president, President Biden, held his meeting with Xi Jinping to arrange the call. And so oftentimes you know, in terms of whether that's a phone, whether it's video teleconference, that's coordinated between the two staffs. The key point here though is that they had the opportunity to communicate. And so, again, we'll continue to look for opportunities to continue communicating in the future. 

Thank you very much. Yes, sir?

Q: General, regarding to Rafah, when do you expect to have any updates from the Israeli sides about their plan, they want to an operation, (inaudible) operations in Rafah. 

GEN. RYDER: Well again, when it comes to timelines, that's really a question for the Israelis to address, as I mentioned earlier. Our discussions continue to be ongoing with the Israelis, in terms of what their thoughts are as it relates to Rafah. Again, and it affords us an opportunity to highlight our concerns and our key points, which are that we want to see humanitarian assistance and civilian safety taken into account in going after Hamas. 

Q: Can I ask another question about that topic. Regarding to the Niger, is there any change to the U.S. military footprint in Niger? Have you seen the reports that the Russian sent some troops to the region there? So, do you give me an update about that? Thank you. 

GEN. RYDER: So, our footprint in Niger has not changed at this time. And as it relates to, you know, media reports of Russian forces going into Niger, certainly aware of those reports, but I don't have any comment to provide. 

Go here and then I'll come back.

Q: Thanks, so much. The U.S. 7th Fleet announced their aircraft transit through the Taiwan Strait one day after the Secretary's phone call with the Chinese defense minister and China criticized this transit through the Taiwan Strait as provocative. So, do you have any response to China? And what was the U.S. message by conducting the transit just after the Secretary's phone call with the Chinese counterpart?

GEN. RYDER: Well look, that -- the transit was long scheduled. And as we've made clear on multiple occasions, the United States is going to sail, fly and operate wherever international law allows. And we're going to do that safely and responsibly. 

Thank you. Yes sir?

Q: Thank you, General. According to some reports, U.S. forces have deployed (inaudible) air defense system in Syria and Kurdistan (inaudible) of Iraq. And the defense system intercept thousands of Iranian missiles and drones in their last attack. What do you have on this?

GEN. RYDER: I just -- let me make sure I understand. You're asking if we've deployed -

Q: Defense (inaudible) -

GEN. RYDER: -- capability -

Q: -- in (inaudible) Syria and Iraq?

GEN. RYDER: So, what I would tell you is I don't have any specifics to provide, you know, broadly speaking, throughout the Middle East region. We have deployed air defense capabilities and as part of our efforts to ensure force protection as well as to defend our interests and our allies and partners throughout the region. As I'm sure you can appreciate, I'm not going to get into any specifics for operation security reasons, in terms of particular locations, other than to say that that is a capability that we maintain in the Middle East. 

Q: One more question, if you don't mind. Did the Iraqis in their meeting with Secretary Austin last Monday, discuss with withdrawing U.S. force in Iraq?

GEN. RYDER: They were able to have a discussion about the transition from the coalition -- the international coalition mission to defeat ISIS to the -- to the enduring bilateral security relationship between the United States, Iraq and other coalition partners. So, I don't have anything to announce today in that regard. But that was part of the discussion.

Thank you. Yes, sir.

Q: Thank you. Can you tell us whether Israel has actually decided to respond to Iran?

GEN. RYDER: I mean, at the end of the day, that's really a question for Israel to answer, right? So, you know, you've seen publicly that they've said that they're going to something. I don't know what that could be or what it could look like. Certainly, we are maintaining close communication with our Israeli partners, you know. And as I mentioned earlier this week, we do not want to see escalation in the Middle East region. But we won't hesitate to defend Israel or our forces if they're threatened. 

Q: What kind of conversations are you having with Israeli officials about this? And do you have a sense if they're listening to your advice?

GEN. RYDER: Well, you've seen the readouts that we've put out from Secretary Austin, as it relates to his discussions with Minister Gallant. Importantly, I would highlight that he's also spoken to many other leaders throughout the Middle East to get their sense of the situation. And, you know, if you, again, take a step back, ever since October 7 we've been working very diligently to prevent a wider regional conflict. And that continues to be a priority for this department and for the U.S. government. We don't seek conflict with Iran. We're going to continue to work with partners to deescalate the situation. But at the same time, just to be clear, if Israel is attacked, we will defend Israel and we will defend our forces if they're threatened. So, we'll leave it there. 

All right, thanks very much, everybody. Appreciate it.