Pentagon Press Secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura K. Cooper Hold a Press Briefing [Re: Ukraine]
(U.S. Department of Defense – Oct. 4, 2022)
BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: All right. Well, good afternoon, everyone. Thank you very much for joining us today. Here in the briefing room with us today is Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, Laura Cooper, who will provide some brief remarks about today’s announcement regarding approval of the 22nd presidential drawdown authorization in support of Ukraine security assistance. DASD Cooper has agreed to be available afterwards to answer any questions regarding the PDA and then we’ll pivot to a few other non-Ukraine related updates afterwards.
Thank you very much, ma’am, over to you.
DASD (RUE) LAURA K. COOPER: Good afternoon. Today, I’m proud to announce a new security assistance package to provide Ukraine with more weapons, ammunition and equipment that its forces are using so effectively on the battlefield. This authorization of a presidential drawdown of security assistance, valued at up to $625 million will contribute to meeting Ukraine’s critical defense needs. It is the Biden administration’s 22nd drawdown of equipment from DOD inventories for Ukraine since August of 2021. It is also the first presidential drawdown for Ukraine in the new fiscal year. I want to thank Congress for its support for the continuing resolution, which enables the administration to continue providing timely assistance to Ukraine. The capabilities in this package are tailored to meet Ukraine’s immediate needs, the highlights of which include four High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or as you know them HIMARS, and associated ammunition. Secondly, 16 M-777 155-millimeter howitzers, along with 75,000 155-millimeter artillery rounds, and 500 precision guided 155-millimeter artillery rounds. Third, 1,000 155-millimeter rounds of remote anti-armor mine or RAM systems, 16 M-119 105-millimeter howitzers, 30,000 120-millimeter mortar rounds. And then the last item I want to touch on is 200 Max pro Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, which provide Ukraine with a resilient capability for transporting troops in heavily mined terrain. This package will provide the Ukrainian Armed Forces with additional capabilities and munitions that it needs to maintain momentum in the East and in the south, including additional artillery and precision fires.
Ukraine has demonstrated the ability to use these capabilities to degrade Russian logistics and command and control, creating opportunities for Ukraine to maneuver and to advance. This has created as Secretary Austin said recently a change in battlefield dynamics. Even as the Russian government moves legislation today to claim parts of Ukrainian territory illegitimately, the reality on the ground is that the Ukrainian armed forces continued to reclaim territory and to consolidate their gains. The liberation of Lehman was a significant operational accomplishment, and Ukrainian forces continued to make deliberate progress in the Kharkiv region, and also further south around Kherson. The Ukrainian counter offensive in Kherson has made significant advances over the last 24 hours, and Ukrainian forces continue to liberate villages as they press forward. The United States will continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons and equipment to meet its urgent needs on the battlefield, while also building Ukraine’s enduring strength to defend its sovereignty over the long term. In total, the United States has now committed more than 17.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, including more than 16.8 billion since the beginning of Russia’s invasion on February 24. The United States will continue to consult closely with Ukraine to meet its evolving battlefield requirements in coordination with our allies and partners to provide Ukraine with the capabilities it needs. As President Biden has said, the United States will continue to stand with the Ukrainian people and provide them with the security assistance they need to defend themselves for as long as it takes.
GEN. RYDER: Thank you very much, ma’am. As mentioned, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY COOPER has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about the PDA and Ukraine security assistance, I’d ask that you limit your questions to that topic while she’s here. And afterwards again, I’ll stay around to talk about any other questions that you might have.
Let’s go ahead and start with AP.
Q: Hi, thank you, Miss Cooper for doing this. Two questions. One is, can you address if possible, specific ways that this most recent package was tailored to Ukraine’s apparent battlefield successes, if there’s specific elements that were added or taken away because of how Ukraine is doing? And it would also be great if you could address the question of ammunition broadly of how, how much Ukraine is short ammunition compared to Russia, and how, you know, there’s been a lot of discussion of how they’ve made selective use of ammunition to make up for the number of disparity. But if there’s — if it’s possible to get specific ratios or numbers of how much Ukraine has versus Russia has based on the assessment of the Pentagon.
MS. COOPER: Great. So, first, I would say in terms of how this package responds to what the Ukrainians need, the capabilities that I discussed, these are capabilities that the Ukrainians have received previously, and have requested additional capabilities. And it also responds to in terms of you know, the the volume of ammunition that they need on the battlefield today. We’re looking very closely at their consumption rates for ammunition to make sure that they have what they need for the counter offensive. And then the types of capabilities. I think, at this point, the HIMARS are pretty famous, because you’ve seen how the Ukrainians can use these capabilities to take out critical Russian logistics nodes, command and control nodes, ammunition depots, etc. And really weaken the Russia, the Russian forces’ ability to respond. So, having these additional four HIMARS is going to enable the Ukrainians and the other capabilities as well to have flexibility in how they employ these capabilities with their forces as they look for additional opportunities to seize the strategic advantage.
And in terms of the, you know, the comparison with Russia. You know, I’m not I can’t get into, you know, specific numbers for you. I would just say that, you know, what Ukraine has on its side right now, is not just its own capabilities, but you know, the capabilities of all of its allies and partners. And what you’re seeing is, you know, the United States is providing additional ammunition, but we’re also investing in ammunition production. And we’re seeing our allies and partners investing in ammunition production. We had Undersecretary LaPlante last week, meeting with allies, armaments directors, talking about ways to sustain the industrial base to continue to support Ukraine, whereas you see Russia, what is Russia doing? Russia is turning to North Korea, for assistance, it’s turning to Iran. It doesn’t have that depth of support.
GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Let’s go to Sylvie and then Tom.
Q: Thank you very much. The Ukrainian armed forces are consuming every month, much more munitions than the U.S. industry is capable of making every month. So, how — how confident are you that you can help Ukraine as long as it takes, as you said?
MS. COOPER: So, that’s where we get into the question of production. And we are confident that we are investing in production. It’s ramping up. And we see our allies also ramping up in production. So, while you know today, you see very high rates of consumption of ammunition. But you also see an incredibly high op tempo on the battlefield, as the Ukrainians press forward very successfully. We are increasing production and we see over time that we will be able to have a sustainable rate, both for ourselves and for the Ukrainians.
GEN. RYDER: Let’s go to Tom, and then we’ll go right here.
Q: Just a quick follow up on that and a second question Secretary. One is, there seems like there’s a balance between how much we’re producing to supply, we and U.S. allies are producing, to supply the Ukrainians, as well as their consumption. And we’ve spoken before about the clock in the sense of seasonal, you know, there’s going to be fall and winter coming without asking you to project you know, what the Ukrainians may or may not do tactically. But is there part of the calculation is that there has to be a slowdown at some point because of mother nature, that would help production ramp-ups meet the demand of the Ukrainians?
And my second question off the top off that, not on that, as announced earlier about this, this drawdown authority mentioned Claymore mines were supposed to go as well, and you didn’t mention it. Were they removed from the package?
MS. COOPER: Sorry about that. Yes. Claymore mines were in the package? Yes. Yes. And we’ve provided they are they are in the package and we have provided those before. That’s that’s for sure. That’s correct. Yes. And in terms of, you know, your question about seasonal aspects to the fight, absolutely weather. Weather plays a big factor in in any war. And here, what we would anticipate is, you know, as the as the weather changes maneuver will be much more challenging. I mean, you get really muddy ground. It of course, you know increases just the challenge to the the average fighter, the average soldier in terms of the impact of the weather on the conditions. Now, for us, we know that we have been looking to the Ukrainians for what their needs are for the winter, you’ve seen allies taking a Leadership role in providing winter equipment, to the Ukrainian soldiers, making sure that they they have what they need to sustain themselves throughout this winter. Before we were talking about ammunition, but cold weather gear is going to be really, really important. But I’m confident that us with our allies are actually meeting those needs. Not as sure about about the Russian forces.
GEN. RYDER: OK, we’re gonna go to Jennifer Griffin, and then we’ll go to the phones.
Q: There have been reports that the Russians have a train that might be carrying tactical nukes toward the Ukrainian border. Are you seeing any evidence of that? Is that true?
MS. COOPER: I have, I’ve seen these reports. I have nothing to corroborate.
Q: Is there anything that you will be providing to help Ukraine protect themselves against a possible nuclear strike?
MS. COOPER: Well, here in terms of protective equipment, we’ve already provided a considerable amount of protective equipment against chemical, biological and radiological threats. Going back to I believe it was our seventh presidential drawdown, we actually provided a number of personal protective equipment items. And we have also had a long-standing tradition of cooperating with the Ukrainians through the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. And we’ve provided significant quantities of personal protective equipment through that program.
GEN. RYDER: Thank you. We’ll go ahead and go out to the phones here. Phil Stewart, Reuters.
Q: Yeah, thank you. Just to just to double down on the on the nuclear issue, could you just give us a bit greater sense of whether you’ve seen anything to indicate that, that Russia is contemplating the use of nuclear weapons? And secondly, is there any evidence that’s been uncovered so far, by the U.S. or its allies, as to who is behind the ruptures of the NordStream pipelines? Thanks.
MS. COOPER: Phil, so in terms of the the nuclear question, we have certainly heard the saber rattling from Putin. But we see no no signs that would cause us to alter our posture in terms of the the nuclear piece. And on the pipeline issue I don’t have any any new information for you.
GEN. RYDER: Thanks very much. Lara?
Q: First, I just wanted to on the nuclear question your answer to Jen, you said you’d seen nothing to corroborate those reports about the convoy heading toward the border.
MS. COOPER: I only have seen the open-source reports. I don’t I don’t have anything else, but the open-source reports.
Q: OK, so you OK, so you’re not telling us that you have not been able to corroborate that.
MS. COOPER: I have only the open-source reports. I have nothing else. And just, I see what you’re saying. No, no. OK.
Q: And then separately on on the HIMARS. It’s been it’s been quite a few weeks I think since we’ve seen the HIMARS launchers being transferred to Ukraine. Can you just talk about that decision to send for more right now? And how do you balance Ukraine’s need for additional HIMARS with our own our own needs for contingencies.
MS. COOPER: So, with every drawdown package for each equipment item, and HIMARS is just one of them, we look at the readiness implications for U.S. forces. And we are comfortable that we are not incurring any, any serious readiness impacts in terms of the HIMARS or any other capability in this or any previous drawdown package. And that that is something that we will continue to do with every single package. In terms of HIMARS specifically, what we’re seeing on the battlefield is that they will be able to use these additional HIMARS and it’ll give them additional operational flexibility. I should mention that I think we always focus on the U.S., the U.S. HIMARS. And I just want to remind everyone that we’re not the only ones providing MLRS systems, actually, the Ukrainians in addition to what will now be 20 U.S. HIMARS, there’s 10 from allies, and there’s two more from allies that are on the way.
GEN. RYDER: Let me go to the back here and I’ll come right back to you. Gordon?
Q: As you know, Ukrainians would like the next level weapon, namely the ATACMS to provide distance far into other places, particularly Crimea. Can you kind of help us understand what the administration’s position is on ATACMS, given what’s been said about supporting Ukraine’s efforts to restore its territorial integrity. And if there were assurances provided to the U.S. by the Ukrainians on targeting would that suffice to make that provision.
MS. COOPER: So, in terms of this capability, but again, with other capabilities as well, we’re looking at what the battlefield needs are. And it’s our assessment that with the existing GIMLRS capability that they have on the HIMARS and that we’re providing more of, with this package, that they can reach the vast majority of targets on the battlefield.
Q: Into Crimea, though they can’t with any of the weapons that they’ve provided us.
MS. COOPER: We think they can reach the vast majority of targets, including Crimea. And just to be clear, Crimea is Ukraine.
GEN. RYDER: OK. We’ll go out to the phone and then I’ll come back into the room here. J.J. Green, WTOP?
Q: Thank you very much General for the opportunity to ask this question. DASD Cooper, what kind of conversations are you having with allies about the concerns that have come up? Regarding the possibility of Russia’s nuclear activity? They’ve been threatening to do this and I’m sure you’ve been talking with allies about this, because allies are talking about it independently, but what kinds of conversations have you had with them? And can you share anything about where they go?
MS. COOPER: Thanks, if I heard correctly, it’s a question about consultations with allies on the nuclear threat. And you know, what I would say to that is, you know, we have continually consulted with allies about the Russia threat and the nuclear threat that Russia poses is just one aspect of that. And certainly, the NATO forum is our premier forum for consultation on these issues. So, this has been, you know, a long standing topic of consultation for us.
GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Let’s go to Oren.
Q: Two questions, one on MRAPs. You’ve provided 40 back in August, where there was quite a bit of speculation that it was for a counter offensive and now you’ve just quintupled that — why? What is it about the MRAP that the Ukrainians found valuable on the battlefield? And then another question, President Biden signed Lend-Lease back in May, it’s a new fiscal year, are there plans to use Lend-Lease anyway, to transfer weaponry? Or is it are you sticking with drawdown in USAI at this point?
MS. COOPER: OK, so I’ll take the Lend-Lease one first. So, we appreciate Congress’s support for Ukraine with the Lend-Lease legislation. However, right now, we’re really focused on presidential drawdown and using that as our primary authority for being able to provide equipment directly from U.S. military stocks, because unlike Lend-Lease, it doesn’t have any provisions that would require, you know, reimbursement for say, damaged equipment and that sort of thing. So, we’re sticking with with PDA for now.
In terms of the MRAPs, you know, this is this is just a capability that, you know, we think will be useful on the battlefields, we see it as useful for maneuver in the areas that, you know, that Ukraine is seeking to retake. And so, the the time was right for us to increase the total amount.
GEN. RYDER: A few more. We’ll go to Janne.
Q: Nuclear weapons. Do you think that if President Putin uses nuclear weapons to Ukraine, then North Korean Kim Jong-un’s obsession with using nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula? Will it become stronger?
GEN. RYDER: I don’t think we’re gonna get into hypotheticals. Clearly, we’ve communicated that there would be consequences for any use of nuclear weapons. But yeah, well, we won’t get into the hypothetical situations, thank you.
Let me go to Tony.
Q: Yeah well, one nuclear question and one conventional question, what signs was the U.S. looking for to launch weapons? You said that we see no signs that would cause us to alter our posture now, what signs are you looking for?
MS. COOPER: Tony, I’m not going to get into the specifics of our intelligence and warning posture.
Q: OK. The this is the second round of those artillery launched and anti-tank mines. It’s kind of interesting. How are they being used are they being used to blow up Russian tanks like the javelin or to block Russian tank movements? Clearing or block off corridors? How are they being used?
MS. COOPER: So, you’d have to check with Ukrainians to get kind of a full sense, but you know, my sense is that they are incredibly useful for being able to block Russian maneuver forces, as Ukrainians are trying to press forward.
GEN. RYDER: Let me just do one out on the phone here. Joe Gould, Defense News.
Q: Thank you. My question is about the precision guided munitions. DOD budget documents have acknowledged that the U.S. is sending Excalibur rounds to Ukraine — are those the munitions in this package, and then separately on HIMARS is the number here for about Ukraine’s ability to absorb them, or primarily about controlling readiness implications.
MS. COOPER: So, on the first one on Excalibur, yes, when I, when I refer to 500, precision guided 155-millimeter artillery rounds, that was a reference to the Excalibur round. And in terms of the the HIMARS, but again, the other capabilities as well, we’re looking at what is needed on the battlefield for drawdown, we tend to look in terms of more immediate timeframes, because we know that we can get it there within days or weeks or at most months. So, we’re looking at what those needs are in that timeframe. When we do our Ukraine security assistance initiative packages, like we did last week where we’re actually procuring, then we’re looking out at a much longer time horizon and envisioning what the Ukrainians will need on future battlefields to defend themselves.
GEN. RYDER: Thank you. Cognizant of your time, ma’am, so we’ll just do one or two more here and then let you go.
Q: Thank you, General, thanks for doing this. I have two questions. On speaking about immediate needs and winter fighting — it is clear that Ukraine has been demanding tanks at the highest level and they think it’s an immediate need. So, why hasn’t the U.S. and allies have met that need so far? And then on the other question, is looking to, you know, long terms of providing the Ukrainian weapons capabilities, Ukrainian military with the capability they need. Can you address the merits of maybe having centralized mechanism for training? And is this something to be that is being considered right now? Or not? And why? Thank you.
MS. COOPER: Great, excellent. So, on tanks, we absolutely agree that the Ukrainians need tanks. And, you know, I don’t have the breakout of numbers. But you know, the U.S. has worked with allies to support Ukraine with 1000 armored tanks and other you know, armored APCs. So, far, so we definitely see the need for tanks, the easiest to provide immediately and be immediately deployed on the battlefield, are the, you know, Soviet type tanks that the Ukrainians already know how to operate, but more importantly, that they know how to repair and that they have spare parts for. So, one of the challenges with introducing other Western type tanks is the maintenance and the sustainment piece. And with every single capability we give to Ukraine, or with every capability we encourage our allies and partners to provide, we want to make sure that they have the right maintenance and the right sustainment and that they’re supporting the Ukrainians with being able to do that.
Now, on your question about training. So, far, we have focused now, first of all, it’s important to note, we’ve been training the Ukrainian since since just after 2014. And we’re very proud of the training that we have done of the Ukrainian Armed Forces over the years. But since the invasion, our focus has really been on training them for new equipment, so that those new equipment items that we provide, they can immediately put to good use on the battlefield, whether you’re talking, you know, the M-777, or the HIMARS, or new UASes that we’re providing. So, that has been our focus. And we have been coordinating that training. And we’ve been coordinating it with allies, via the team, the U.S. and UK led team in Germany, to make sure that the Allies can work together in different locations, and also to reinforce each other’s training programs. But certainly, we really welcome additional training that is being provided right now by the Brits, the UK has started a major training program to train at the basic training level. And we’ll continue to see how we can evolve our own training program, and, you know, coordinate with allies using that central coordination hub in Germany.
GEN. RYDER: Thank you.
Jennifer, and then Kasim, and then we’re gonna let Ms. Cooper go.
Q: Can you rule out that the U.S. was involved in any way on the attacks on the pipeline, the Nord Stream pipeline?
MS. COOPER: The U.S. was in no way involved.
GEN. RYDER: Kasim, last question.
Q: A question about nuclear. I know that you won’t talk about what you see on the ground. And I know that United States haven’t changed its posture. But what extent are you concerned that Russians might use tactical nuclear weapons in on battlefield in Ukraine? And also another question as a general question, what is the biggest lesson that you learned out about Russians in this war in Ukraine?
MS. COOPER: OK, well, that one’s really hard. So, on the nuclear piece, certainly we always have to try to take the threat of nuclear use seriously. And so, we do. And that’s why we are watching very closely. And that’s why we do consult closely with allies. But at the same time, at this point, its rhetoric is only rhetoric and it’s it’s irresponsible saber rattling that we see at this point, you know, the greatest lesson about about Russia, it’s hard to come up with just one lesson. But I think that most of us watching this have been appalled and horrified at the state of the the Russian Armed Forces, you know, from the ground all the way up to the top in terms of the poor quality leadership, the brutality of the tactics. And with every day, we continue to see this horror unfolding.
GEN. RYDER: Thank you very much for your time today, ma’am, I appreciate it.
Alright, so, in addition to today’s PDA announcement, I do have a few other updates to provide. As you are aware, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conducted a ballistic missile launch last night that over flew Japan. The United States condemns these actions and calls on the DPRK to refrain from further unlawful and destabilizing acts. In response to the DPRK’s ballistic missile launch over Japan, U.S. Marine Corps fighters joined Japan Air Self Defense Force fighters in a bilateral exercise over the Sea of Japan on October 4. Japan time. In addition, U.S. Indo Pacific Command and Republic of Korea personnel conducted a bilateral exercise over the West Sea on October 4 Korean time. These engagements were taken to showcase combined deterrence and dynamic strike capabilities, while demonstrating the interoperability our nations share. In addition earlier today, Secretary Austin spoke with his counterparts in Japan and the Republic of Korea to discuss the threats posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and their nuclear missile programs and to refer — reaffirm our mutual resolve to maintain regional stability. The leaders agreed that yesterday’s missile launch was a clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and threatened regional peace and security. Secretary Austin also reaffirmed that the U.S. commitment to the defense of Japan and the Republic of Korea is ironclad. We’ve issued readouts on both of these calls, which you should have already received. The U.S. remains committed to peace and prosperity through the region — throughout the region in order to secure a free and open Indo Pacific. Our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad. And again, we call on the DPRK to refrain from further unlawful and destabilizing acts.
I do want to get to your questions. But first, I’d also like to provide a brief update on the Defense Department’s Hurricane Ian recovery efforts across Florida and in support a FEMA. As of this morning, the National Guard had more than 5198 soldiers and airmen on state active duty from Florida, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, Washington, Georgia and Montana. Under the command and control of the dual status commander, Army Guard Brigadier General Sean Boyett, Guard soldiers and airmen are providing route clearing, sustainment support, logistics, security, satellite communications, search and rescue, 32 commodities distribution sites, shelter support to FEMA and other local first responders. The National Guard has 24 helicopters involved in recovery operations and have rescued more than 2100 people and 50 pets thus far. The Florida Guard also has more than 1300 ground assets actively engaged including high wheeled transports, fuel trucks and wreckers and 50 rescue boats. More than 180 Guard troops have been airlifted to Captiva, Sanibel and Pine Sslands for security assistance and food, water and commodities distribution. National Guard support to hurricane recovery efforts in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina have concluded but 65 Virginia Army Guard soldiers and three helicopters remain activated in state active-duty status for potential high water missions in southeast Virginia.
And separately as I speak here today, Secretary Austin is hosting Pakistan Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa for a scheduled meeting here in the Pentagon today. This year marks the 75th anniversary of relations between the United States and Pakistan. We will be issuing a readout later today. And finally, on behalf of the DoD public affairs team and Secretary Austin, I want to welcome Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Chris Meagher, who arrived on station this week. As the Department Senior Public Affairs leader, he will oversee DoD media relations and public outreach efforts and serve as Secretary Austin’s Senior Advisor on public affairs and strategic communication. He brings deep communications experience, and we all look forward to his leadership.
And with that, I will take your questions. We already went to AP, so I’m gonna go to Janne first.
Q: Thank you very much. You mentioned about the North Korean launch of the missile. I have two questions. Regarding North Korea’s continued provocations. Is there any immediate military response to North Korea?
GEN. RYDER: Is there any military response to North Korea? Well, as I highlighted in my comments, the United States conducted bilateral exercises with both Japan and the Republic of Korea to again demonstrate our solid alliance and our firm commitment to working with one another and to enable interoperability. Thank you.
Q: The South Korean government has said North Korea had launched medium range missiles, but today, White House National Security Council saying that it was the long range missile. I mean, why are the two countries making different announcements about the missiles?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, sure. So, what I would say right now is that we’re still assessing the launch assessing the missile. And so, when and if we’re able to provide additional details on that, we’ll certainly make sure that…
Q: (OFF MIKE)
GEN. RYDER: Again, we’re assessing the missile launch. So, that’s OK.
Q: This is very important, because we need a lens.
GEN. RYDER: And I understand, understand, I mean, the missile overflew Japan. But in terms of the type of missile, the point of impact, the range — all of that’s being assessed right now. So, I’m not going to have…
Q: (OFF MIKE)
GEN. RYDER: I’m not going to characterize it again. We’re gonna assess it. OK. Thank you, ma’am. I’m gonna go back here.
Q: Thank you, Pat. I wanted to ask you about the hurricane response. I know that this probably up to the state. But do you have any sense of how long this military assistance is going to be needed? You know, due to the devastation there? And secondly, on that, is do you have any sense of how this response compares to responses to other past large storms? I mean, just numbers wise, is this a particularly large military response? Or does it kind of, is it similar to other large storms we’ve seen?
GEN. RYDER: Well, I think, you know, to your last question there. I think every single situation, in and of itself, you know, will merit the size and scope of the military response, certainly in this particular case, given the swathe and the destruction that the storm has caused. It’s a significant amount of military support to FEMA and to the States. In far as far as how long this will last, I’d be speculating. Clearly, we’ll continue to work — the National Guard, the Department of Defense will continue to work with FEMA, continue to work with the states and support them for however long it will will take. Thanks. Let me go ahead and share the wealth a little bit now. I’ll come back to you.
OK. Yes, sir.
Q: Sir, Matt Syler with ABC, thank you. I had another North Korea question. What’s the Pentagon’s latest assessment of the likelihood of North Korea launching a nuclear test and whatever that assessment is, has now become more likely, from your point of view, given this most recent launch over Japan?
GEN. RYDER: So, I don’t want to speculate on whether they will or not. As you know, there has been indications in the past that the DPRK is preparing a test site for what would be its seventh nuclear test. If they do do such a test, from our perspective, that would clearly constitute a grave escalatory action and seriously threaten regional and international security stability. Regardless, we continue to work with our Republic of Korea and Japanese partners for all contingencies. And again, we’re calling the DPRK to cease these type of destabilizing and unlawful actions. Thank you.
Q: One follow up. And then one general question. Of those bilateral exercises being conducted right now, when you say demonstrating interoperability between partners. From a technology perspective, what do you mean?
GEN. RYDER: So, interoperability, the ability to fly and fight together is not something that you can just wake up in the morning and do right, as evidenced by our operations during the counter-ISIS campaign, as evidenced by the current effort in Ukraine, our ability to work and fight and deter alongside our partners, is critical in terms of deterrence, demonstrating that we do have the capability to fight together when and if we need to. And so, these exercises are an opportunity for our military members to work together to exercise those capabilities, to one, send a message that we are prepared, and two, that if we need to fight, we can and we can do it together. Thank you.
Q: Really quickly, the classified version of the NDS was sent to Congress in March and we’ve been waiting for an unclassified version since then. Last week, the President’s coordinator for defense policy, said that we could expect the unclassified version coming out soon. What is the timing look like on that?
GEN. RYDER: It would probably be a huge mistake for me to give you a time from this podium. All I can say is that when we have something to announce, we will announce it.
Q: You know, why hasn’t been released?
GEN. RYDER: Well, first, there has to be the unclassified National Security Strategy released. And then after that, then we’ll be in a position to release the national defense strategy, the unclassified version.
Q: Why not at the same time? National Security Strategy…
GEN. RYDER: Again, I’m not going to sit here and do action officer work at the podium. But thank you very much.
All right. Let me go back over to Kevin.
Q: Kevin Baron, and I’m a friend of Gordon Lubold.
GEN. RYDER: We’ve met before.
Q: I have a question. Mike Pompeo was coming out with a series of ads to his PAC on wokeism in the military, and part of a political conservative accusation that wokeism was affecting recruiting, among other things here. Is the Pentagon doing anything to dig into this? Do you have any data showing yes or no, that wokeism, that all the programs that have been put in place in the last couple of years here on racism and extremism, et cetera, are negatively affecting, or in any way affecting recruiting and retention levels?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks for the question, Kevin, as I’m sure you can appreciate, I’m not going to comment on anybody’s particular election campaign. So, thanks for the question.
Q: That’s fine. All right. Do you have any data? Are you studying this issue?
GEN. RYDER: As it pertains to an individual’s election campaign no.
Q: As it pertains to the recruiting difficulties that services have been reporting…
GEN. RYDER: I think we’ve been very public in terms of the challenges that we face as a department in terms of recruiting to include a lot of the reasons that we assess why that is to include a propensity to serve, to include to include the recruiting age population. And so, the department continues to work very, very hard — all the services do to find ways to demonstrate to the American public that this is is an attractive, and great way of life. I mean, the opportunities that you get while serving in the military are unparalleled, no matter what walk of life you come from, or what your background is. So, I am confident that each of our services will continue to, to research that and look at it and find ways that we can connect with the public. Because at the end of the day, this all-volunteer force needs volunteers, and it’s essential to defending our country and our way of life.
And we’re going to go to the next question. Roe.
Q: Thank you very much. Two questions on North Korea. During the Secretary’s phone call with the Japanese and South Korean counterpart this morning. Did they discuss deployment of more U.S. military assets to the South Korea and Japan to reinforce deterrence? Do you still believe that denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a realistic and the goal of the U.S. policy on North Korea?
GEN. RYDER: So, denuclearization continues to be the policy, as we’ve said in the past. In terms of the phone call this morning, I think the the readout that we provided, provided the the contours of the discussion to include a discussion about the exercises that our two countries have conducted in the past and the exercise that we conducted today. Thank you.
Q: As the nuclear, the North Korean missile flew over Japan, apparently there was no engagement against the missile — was there and can do allow that there was no engagement against the missile?
GEN. RYDER: Like in terms of trying to intercept the missile? No.
Q: And also, you mentioned that there was an exercise with Japan. And also, you tried to characterize it as a way of a response.
GEN. RYDER: It was in response, correct. That was it. It was a demonstration of our commitment to working with one another, and interoperability again, sending a message to the DPRK that the alliance between the United States Japan and the Republic of Korea is very, very strong, and that we are prepared to work together to deter any type of threats. So, those were conducted in response to that, that launch.
Q: General I have more on this topic.
GEN. RYDER: I’ll come back to you — I want to give other folks.
Q: Mike Brest, The Washington Examiner, U.S. Africa Command said they launched a strike this weekend targeting al Shabaab militants. It’s the fourth strike since about mid-August, could you give us an update about the situation on the ground there and if the threat from al Shabaab is increasing?
GEN. RYDER: So, I’ll talk in general terms really, I would encourage you to talk with AFRICOM, who can give you more of a deep dive. Clearly, Al Shabaab is a concerning organization, you know, as an offshoot of ISIS. And we continue to work closely with the Somali government to try to train, advise, assist, as they confront that threat to try to prevent it from spreading further. Clearly, the strikes are meant to try to prevent that from happening. We’ve all seen in the past, what can happen when it does, and so we’ll continue to work closely with Somalia on that, but I would, I would recommend you contact AFRICOM.
OK, let me go here, and then the back and then I’ll come back to Sylvie.
Q: Thank you, sir. I’m Mohammed Mahdi with Al Mayadeen Network. Regarding North Korea, General, are you willing to sit with North Korea officials and on what principles table for this talks if it’s going to be held between the U.S. officials and North Korea?
GEN. RYDER: In terms of diplomatic relations with North Korea, I think that’s really a question for the State Department to address. Clearly our focus as the Department of Defense is working with our partners and allies in the region to deter and you know, certainly, I think it goes without saying that any constructive positive communication is welcome. Firing missiles is not a good way to do that. So, you know, we would again, ask them to stop with the destabilizing actions. And in the meantime, we will continue to be prepared to defend our allies.
Let me go to the person behind you. Yes, ma’am.
Q: Yes. Erin with Kyoto. And how does the Pentagon assess North Korea’s capabilities in terms of accuracy?
GEN. RYDER: That’s really a subjective question. Right. So, without knowing what a particular, what particularly they were aiming at, you know, and I really don’t want to get into intelligence on that. So.
Q: It’s the second time it’s gone over Japan, correct?
GEN. RYDER: I’d have to double check, but I think that’s right. But, but in terms of accuracy, if you’re talking about precision guided capabilities, and things like that, yeah, I don’t I don’t have an assessment to provide for you. But thank you. OK.
Yes, ma’am. And then we’ll come back to you guys. Sorry.
Q: Long range ballistic missiles that are rumored that North Korea might be working on. Is there any update on that?
GEN. RYDER: I don’t have any updates. Thank you.
Q: Any worry about that program that’s escalated.
GEN. RYDER: The issue here is North Korea’s behavior and the destabilizing impact that it has on the region. And so, that of course is concerning to everyone.
Yes, we’ll go here and then I’m going to go to Sylvie.
Q: I am curious on how seriously the U.S. government is taking the most recent missile launch. I mean, it flew 4600 kilometers, which is long enough to strike Guam. More development could allow it to maybe hit Hawaii, Alaska, possibly the West Coast. Has there been a change in U.S. strategy due to this launch on how to react, how to handle these missile launches from the DPRK?
GEN. RYDER: Well, I think we’re taking it very seriously, as evidenced by the fact that again, we conducted two bilateral exercises with the Republic of Korea and with Japan shortly after the launch. And also, you saw the series of communications between, you know, not only senior leaders throughout the U.S. government, but Secretary Austin talking to his counterparts in Korea and in Japan. Thank you.
Q: Thank you. Can you confirm that the Secretary has decided to deploy the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in the Japan Sea in response to the to the missile launch.
GEN. RYDER: So, as you know, the Reagan was in South Korea, it’s departed. In terms of its future movements, I’m not going to talk about that. But when and if we have anything to announce on that, we’ll we’ll certainly be sure to do that.
Let me go to the phone real quick, Tom. Let me go to Hyon Kim.
GEN. RYDER: OK, Heather Mongilio from USNI.
Q: I was actually wondering if you can talk a little bit about the Secretary’s meeting, when he went to Red Hill, I saw that the Department of Defense released a new supplement to the plan that’s now looking at a reduced timeline of 30 days instead of 120 days, for defueling, as if it is, if that is a possibility, and I was wondering if you had any comments on whether this is something that the department is pursuing seriously?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Heather. So, as you highlight, the Secretary did visit, Joint Task Force Red Hill, this last week, when he was in Hawaii, he had the opportunity also to visit the bulk storage facility and meet with the INDOPACOM commander, and with the Joint Task Force, Red Hill commander, Rear Admiral Wade. And as part of those discussions, the emphasis on de-fueling this facility as swiftly as possible, was a was a key aspect of the discussions, as well as doing it as safely as possible. Rear Admiral Wade has taken command of JTF, JTF Red Hill. I know that he and his team are working very hard toward that end. And certainly, they’re going to work it again as fast as they can. But just as importantly, as safe — safely as they can, given the environmental and community impacts. Thank you.
OK, back to you, and then to you, Tom, and then Fhadi. And then we’re going to start to wrap it up.
Q: The wokeism question and kind of the cultural wars going on around the military, specifically transgender service, that was granted, and then it was reversed. And then that reversal was reversed again, and now we have open service. But advocates say that there should be a law that enshrines the ability for transgender people to serve in the military, because it could be potentially reversed again, by another administration. Does the Pentagon believe that a law is needed to protect service by those troops?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I appreciate the question. Again, I’m not going to talk about or speculate about potential legislation. That’s the role of Congress and our elected leaders. Our job in the Department of Defense is to implement the policies that we have. And we continue to implement those policies.
Q: What would you say to transgender troops who feel a certain amount of insecurity? And, you know, the future may feel uncertain to them?
GEN. RYDER: What would I say to transgender troops as a U.S. Air Force officer currently serving in the Department of Defense is that if you’re wearing the uniform, and you’re next to me, and we’re going to fight, we’re going to fight together. And you’re my teammate, and I’m your teammate. OK?
Q: When the Secretary announced the extremism program, and there was a stand down earlier this year, then press spokesperson John Kirby said the new regulations permit DOD to investigate possibilities of extremism in the ranks when the information came forward through various media or other ways. As you know, we talked a couple weeks ago, how at least 110 members of the military were identified in a report by the ADL of having possible links to the Oath Keepers. And I’m wondering what step, that was two weeks ago, and that stuff has come to light — what steps if any, has DoD taken to begin to investigate these individuals who were cited in this report?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I don’t I don’t have any specifics in terms of individual cases. Right. But what I would say writ large is, again, we have clear guidelines and policy on what is and is not acceptable behavior within the Department of Defense. And if you violate those policies, or those guidelines, or there’s a reason to investigate, we will, and we’ll take appropriate action on those. I mean, again, I don’t have any information on individual cases that you’re, you’re talking about.
So, I would recommend you contact the individual services, and they they may be able to provide you with additional details, because depending on the agency, that would be the responsible agency for investigating. Thanks.
OK, Tony. And then I’m going to do one more from the phone.
Q: While Afghanistan is on everybody’s mind, there’s still a classified after-action report. Can you check the status of that and when the Secretary is going to be able to release it and the unclassified summary?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, and just to — yes, I can do that.
Q: And we’re six months into the Ukraine invasion by Russia. Is there any attempt to name the U.S. and NATO operation to arm the Ukrainians?
GEN. RYDER: At this time, I’m not aware that there’s any request to formally name the operation.
Q: Interesting. OK. Thanks.
GEN. RYDER: OK. Fhadi, last one.
Q: Yeah, so these two exercises in response to the missile launch by North Korea, can you explain to us the significance of using the JDAM with what South Korea? What do you mean? What kind of message are you sending with using those? And how exercise with fighter jets is relevant to a missile launch? How you defend that? And a separate topic. The Secretary spoke with his Saudi counterpart. Do you have anything on that?
GEN. RYDER: So, we will, we will issue a readout on the phone call. And thanks for for mentioning that I should have mentioned that in my my topper.
In terms of fighter aircraft, in terms of any type of exercises that we conduct, again, it demonstrates the full range of capabilities that we have. But I think if you look at the forest through the trees here, it’s the fact that our militaries can work together across multiple different types of platforms, capabilities, environments, that we can fly together, we can fight together and that are, you know, not even in the air, not just in the air, on the sea and on the land, that we have capabilities that enable us to integrate and synchronize and to deter and defend. And so, your question in terms of what’s the significance of using JDAMs as we have seen in multiple conflicts, the ability to conduct precision strike, to be able to strike a target that you want to strike when you want to strike it is a distinct advantage on the battlefield. And so, our militaries, in this case, the Republic of Korea, and the in the United States military, the ability for them to fly together and to conduct precision strike again, sends a clear message.
So, actually, I’m sorry, I got one person I did not call, John Tirpak, Air & Space Force Magazine.
Q: Thank you, General, the President or the White House last night, issued a change to the Defense Production Act, relative to the draw down relative to production of weapons. Can you talk about what some of the practical aspects are to that and how it directly or perhaps is separate from the Ukraine weapons announcements that were made earlier in your briefing?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, John. Unfortunately, I can’t, because I just don’t know. So, let me take that question. And we’ll, we’ll get back to you on that one.
OK. Thanks very much, everybody. Appreciate it.