Senior Defense and Military Officials Hold a Background Briefing [Re: Ukraine]

Aerial Photo of Pentagon and Environs

(U.S. Department of Defense – Sept. 28, 2022)

STAFF: Hey, good afternoon, everyone. This is Todd Breasseale from the Department of Defense. I’ve got a short statement I’d like to give you first before we go into this background call. Today we have joining us again, (redacted) and (redacted). Please refer to them as the Senior Military Official when you are hearing from (redacted) and as the Senior Defense Official when you hear from (redacted).

Again, my name is Todd Breasseale, I am the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Media Operations. And let me just get into this real quickly and then I’ll turn it over our guests.

Today the department continues to closely monitor the situation as Hurricane Ian makes it way across Florida. Clearly this is an extremely dangerous storm that is brining heavy rain, wind and storm surges to the state’s west coast. As of 0700 hours this morning, Florida National Guard had more than 4,500 soldiers and airmen on state active duty with another roughly 500 in the pipeline.

Florida has prepositioned National Guard soldiers, airmen and equipment at bases and armories around the state and they are sheltering in-place ready to deploy to areas impacted by the storm once it passes.

These guardsmen will provide route clearing, search and rescue, flood control and security assistance to FEMA and other local first responders. Aviation assets like helicopters are also on standby for assisting in recovery operations.

Additionally, more than 2,000 Guardsmen are on standby in five neighboring states ready to mobilize to Florida as needed once the storm passes.

FEMA remains the lead federal agency on this response and the Department of Defense remains in close communication and coordination with FEMA as the storm and the recovery unfold.

If you have any questions about the Department of Defense or National Guard participation in this effort, please reach out to the Defense Press Operation and they will help you out.

Let me turn this over now to (redacted).

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Good afternoon. Today I’d like to begin by commenting briefly on recent developments including Russia’s sham referenda in Ukraine and Russia’s ongoing mobilization. Then I’ll turn to today’s security assistance announcements to give you some additional detail on that.

So first, to underscore what President Biden said at the U.N., Russia’s sham referenda and attempt to annex parts of Ukraine is an extremely significant violation of the U.N. charter. The United States will never recognize this territory as anything other than a part of Ukraine.

Russia’s mobilization is yet another sign that Russia is struggling to salvage its illegal and unprovoked occupation of Ukraine. It’s an indication of the profound personnel and manpower problems Russia continues to face.

Russia’s challenges with troop morale, operations and logistics are compounded by Ukraine’s progress in its ongoing counteroffensive. The mobilization indicates that Russia continues to believe that it can win the long game by outlasting the Ukrainians and international support. This is yet another Russian miscalculation.

We are confident that Ukraine will continue to push back on Russian efforts to conquer its territory. The United States along with the international community will continue to support the Ukrainian people in their fight to defend their country. For that end, today the Department of Defense is announcing approximately $1.1 billion in additional security assistance for Ukraine under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative or USAI.

This USAI package underscores the U.S. commitment to supporting Ukraine over the long term. It represents a multiyear investment in critical capabilities to build the enduring strength of Ukraine’s armed forces as it continues to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression.

Unlike presidential drawdown authority, which DoD has continued and will continue to leverage to deliver equipment to Ukraine from DoD stocks at a historic pace. USAI is an authority under which the United States procures capabilities from industry. This announcement represents the beginning of a contracting process to provide additional priority capabilities to Ukraine in the mid and long term.

So I want to now turn to each of the capabilities and I’ll give you a brief description of the capabilities in this package.

The first is the HIMARS system. And we are providing 18 of what are known as High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, again or HIMARS, and associated ammunition. HIMARS provide a highly effective precision fires capability. We’ve all seen how Ukraine has leveraged this system to push back against Russia’s war of aggression, disruption ammunition depots, supply lines and logistical hubs far behind the front lines.

This package of HIMARS, these 18 HIMARS and associated ammunition will constitute a core component of Ukraine’s fighting force in the future. One that can deter and defend against all threats. The procurement and deliver of these HIMARS systems and associated ammunition will take a few years. Today’s announcement is only the beginning of a procurement process.

Now for most of the other capabilities in this package we expect delivery timelines to be between six and 24 months. So now I’ll go through those capabilities.

First, we’re providing 150 armored Humvees, that stands for High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles. And you’ve seen us provide these before to the Ukrainians and they’re very effective at maintaining and sustaining them. These Humvees can conduct multiple missions, they can mount weapons and radar, they can transport personnel and support other maneuver functions.

We’re also providing 150 tactical vehicles to tow weapons. So these are vehicles that could be used for towing and resupplying artillery or MLRS systems, for instance.

We’re also providing 40 trucks and 80 trailers to transport heavy equipment. These trucks and trailers will be able to transport equipment up to 60 tons.

In addition, we’re providing two radars for unmanned aerial systems. Now these particular radars will enhance Ukraine’s existing unmanned aerial systems by augmenting their surveillance and employment range.

We’re providing 20 multi-mission radars. These are radars that can track a number of airborne objects and threats, including mortar and artillery fire, as well as UAS systems, Unmanned Aerial Systems.

And then we’re also providing a suite of counter unmanned aerial systems. So this suite of counter UAS capabilities will be able to detect, track, and disrupt unmanned aerial systems.

Finally, a number of items including tactical secure communications systems, surveillance systems, optics, explosive ordnance disposal equipment, as well as body armor and field equipment. And as with every package, we provide funding for training, for maintenance and sustainment of this equipment.

So this — with this package it brings the United States to approximately $16.9 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration. And since 2014 the United States has committed approximately $19 billion in security assistance.

And if you’re just counting from February 24th since the invasion, it’s $16.2 billion. Through both USAI and through our presidential drawdown authority we will continue to work with Ukraine to meet both its immediate needs and as with this package some longer term security assistance needs.

We are confident that with our allies and partners our unified efforts will help Ukraine to continue to be successful today at even as we build their strength for the future. Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Hi, everybody. Good to be back with you on the 217th day of Russians illegal and unprovoked large scale invasion of Ukraine. Right now — and I’ll just give you a quick understanding or a quick view from my perspective on how we’re seeing the battlefield.

So we continue to see the Ukrainians consolidate gains that they’ve attained over the last several week, particularly in Kharkiv where, as you all have reported now for quite some time, the Ukrainians did a pretty amazing number on the Russian forces outside of Kharkiv to the east of Kharkiv.

They — and I’ll talk a bit about the continued gains and net in that portion of the theater. In the past several weeks we’ve seen Russian forces continue to employ precision strikes, hitting critical civilian infrastructure; dams, power generation stations at an increasing rate.

Throughout the conflict we’ve seen a general disregard for civilian infrastructure and the lives with the use of artillery and missile strikes that has not abated. And so as you all have reported, we’ve seen a number of dams, in particular, and power stations here recently.

Around the battlefield then on the ground, in vicinity of Kharkiv, as I mentioned, we’ve seen, again, over the past couple of weeks some really impressive Ukrainian gains and we continue to see them hold the northern border. So along the border with Russia to the north.

And then there have been artillery exchanges in that portion of the battle space to the southeast generally in the vicinity (inaudible). We assess that Russian forces have lost territory and the Ukrainians continue to gain. In fact, are across on the east side of the Oskil River and they continue to press east against the Russians and that portion of the battle space.

A little further south, vicinity Lyman, east of Izyum; we asses that Russian forces are continuing to cede territory there as well to the Ukrainians. And that progress, although not as lightning fast as it was at the beginning of operations in the Kharkiv AOR continue to press forward.

Further south in the Donbas region near Bakhmut we have seen in the last — in fact the last time I talked to you all we were seeing some Russian gains in that portion of the battle space. They were small incremental gains, very similar to how we’ve seen in Severodonetsk a couple of months ago (inaudible) where the Russians were making progress but at heavy expense.

That has not necessarily changed. There are some incremental gains but again, those gains are very small and a pretty expensive price for the Russians. No real adjustment or update for you in Zaporizhzhia.

And then in the vicinity of Kherson, really deliberate and calibrated operations by the Ukrainians as they continue to employ fires and hold the gains that they made about a month ago, about three and a half weeks ago in outside of Kherson and that continues.

In the maritime domain we’re seeing about a half dozen ships that are on the way in the Black Sea, about half of those that are caliber capable. And then in the air we continue to assess that the air space over Ukraine remains contested, which is a big deal.

In training, now up over — upwards of 2,000 Ukrainians that have been trained by us to include about 500 that have been trained on HIMARS.

And just to touch on it because I know folks are going to want to ask, relative to the Nord Stream Pipeline in the Baltic Sea, you know we, as is the case with the rest of the global community continue to monitor the situation and the circumstances. I think we’re as perplexed as anyone else and would — are very interested in knowing how this came about, whether it’s an accident or otherwise.

And I will hold there pending any comments or questions.

STAFF: All right. Let’s go to the phones. Lita Baldor from Associated Press.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. For (redacted), there’s been — just two things, there’s been a lot of discussions but this was apparent sabotage. Is the — does the U.S. believe that it is — was indeed apparent sabotage and is there any evidence pointing to Russia?

And then a broader question. Have you seen or has the U.S. seen any movement of any of these new Russian conscripts into the battle space? Can you just paint us a picture of Russian force posture changes over the last week or more? Thank you.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Hi, Lita. So let me answer the first one. I think, you know, the jury is still out. I think think many of our partners, I think, have determined or believed it is sabotage. I’m just — I’m not at the point where I can tell you one way or the other. I think we’re very interested in figuring out what has occurred here and we’ll continue to stay connected to our partners as we proceed.

And the conscripts, and there has been open source reporting on the conscripts. I think the first portions of the — of the mobilized members of Russian society have, in fact, made it into Ukraine in small numbers. There was reporting I saw this morning that was talking about the first death of a mobilized soldier.

I think it was — and I want to say it was social media where the mother was going back and forth on social media about the loss of her son. But again that was social media reporting.

I think just to address the mobilization piece. You know this is — I mean it’s certainly something to be concerned with. You know when you about the mobilization of upwards of 300,000 people, it’s much harder to generate that force than I think folks will say.

You know we certainly have seen protest across the country and concern from the Russian population about the mobilization but just the mechanics of outfitting that size of a force is very difficult. Then when you consider the fact that the majority of the people who would train those individuals, those individuals are in Ukraine.

And you know, we know that their ability to train — in fact, the open source I saw on the individual I was talking about before said that they had reported — when they were mobilized they had reported they received one day of training, and then they had been sent to Ukraine. I just think about the level of training that we put in our own armed forces, and know that that’s far — pretty inadequate.

A bunch of other things on mobilization. I’ll just hold there, Lita.

STAFF: Thanks, Lita. Jen Griffin, Fox News.

Q: Thank you, Todd.

I just want to go back to the issue of the Nord Stream 2, and I understand that the jury is out in terms of sabotage. But can you rule out how deep were the explosions? Does it look like there were submarines involved? Can you rule out that there were divers who placed explosives? Does it look like this is a state actor who was behind this? What do you know at this point?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: The only thing I think I know there, Jen, is that we think the water is between 80 and 100 meters at that location where the pipeline is. Other than that, I don’t know anything more. Those were all interesting things, I just don’t know anything more than the depth of the water at the location that we think there’s a leak.

Q: Can you rule out that the U.S. was involved?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yeah. Absolutely not involved.

Q: Thank you.

STAFF: Thanks, Jen. Tom with National Public Radio.

Q: Yes, could you get back to the conscripts you’re seeing heading into Ukraine? Can you say where they’re heading and a ballpark on the numbers? And also for the Senior Defense Official, you know, could we get an overall breakdown, a fact sheet in how much military material has been sent into Ukraine? 105, 155 rounds, you know, MRAPs, drones, et cetera?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure, Tom. So that’s a very lengthy answer because we’ve provided just so much equipment, and everything that we provide by a presidential drawdown authority goes into Ukraine within days or weeks. So we can certainly give you the fact sheets that we have, and I think I’ll provide those offline, because it would be so extensive. There is one fact…

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Oh, sure — no, no, that’s fine…

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: …that’s actually posted.

Q: …that’s just — if we could at some point…

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, OK, good.

Q: …get a fact sheet on that. So we just have a sense of how much stuff is arriving.

And again, for the Senior Military Official, conscripts, numbers, where are they going? Do you have a sense?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, so I don’t necessarily have a sense on the numbers that have entered into Ukraine at this point. And in terms of where they’re going, I’m quite honestly, I don’t know that I’ve seen a particular location that they’ve gone as much as they’ve entered Ukraine. My guess is over the course of, you know, the next several weeks we’ll start to have an idea as to where they’re going out.

If you look at where the Russians are having problems, it’s really all over the battle space. So they’ve got a requirement to reinforce — you know, in the north near Bakhmut in the center, as well as down in Kherson. So, a tough problem for the Russians.

Q: And lastly…

(CROSSTALK)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And Tom…

Q: I’m sorry, go ahead.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So I just wanted to let you know, my PA colleagues just said that they actually did just update on the website our fact sheet. So that should be available to everyone. But if it doesn’t answer your question, feel free to come right back to us.

Q: And just quickly, as far as the conscripts, do you see any more armor going in, or is it just — they’re just dropping them off wherever?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: No, I — you know, we haven’t seen an increase. And that’s part of the problem they’ve got is the Ukrainians have done a pretty good job of destroying Russian equipment over the course of the last seven plus months. And as you would guess, that equipment is in most cases irreplaceable.

I’ve seen — and this is again, open source stuff. I’ve seen them talking about — I’ve seen a report that they’re talking about using T-55 tanks, as an example. You know, the thought that you’d employ a T-55 tank in a fight tells you how bad off you are in terms of your ability to equip people.

STAFF: Thanks, Tom. Lara at Politico.

Q: Hi, thanks so much for doing this. Two questions.

For the Senior Defense Official, I just wanted to ask what is the reason for doing this through USAI? I know we’ve seen you give — transfer HIMARS through PDA previously. So what’s the reason we’re not transferring HIMARS through PDA now? It’s kind of interesting to me that these weapons are going to take two years to get to the battlefield. Does this — do we not have any available in inventory now to give the Ukrainians?

And then secondly, for the Senior Military Official, just on the conscripts. What’s your assessment whether Russia will be able to get to the goal of 300,000 conscripts for this fight?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: OK, hey there. So I’ll talk about the USAI question. So if we don’t invest today to procure HIMARS for the future, they won’t be there when the Ukrainian Armed Forces need them down the road. And this is a really sizable investment, it’s 18 HIMARS.

If you consider we’ve provided them with 16 to-date via presidential drawdown authority and the allies have provided another 10 equivalent MLRS systems — this is a really sizable investment and it’s intended so that down the road Ukraine will have what it needs for the long haul to deter future threats. But in no way rules out us continuing to invest in their current force with capabilities that are available today and that we can drawdown today from U.S. stocks.

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: And, Lara, on the mobilization piece, you know, so I think the thought is that they — by opening up to mobilization they had the ability to mobilize up to 300,000. I don’t know that they’ll get to 300,000, Russia is a pretty big country.

I think what’s more interesting about it is the fact that they’ve had to do this, quite honestly. I mean, they mobilized twice before this, one was in 1914 and one was in 1941. So if you think about the consequences that they kind of feel that they’re in right now and you compare that to World War I and World War II, that certainly says a lot about what the Ukrainians have been able to do to the Russian Army.

STAFF: Thanks, Lara. Ellee, CBS News.

Q: Thanks. Have you guys seen any indications that the Russians are going to try and mobilize Ukrainians in some of these areas that they’re holding the referendum?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: We haven’t. Now, I think a lot of people are speculating that the referendum, that there are some thoughts behind why a referenda right now? But that speculation, I’d kind of turn you to the Russians, and I’m sure we’ll hear soon.

STAFF: Thanks, Ellee. Felicia, Financial Times.

Q: Thanks so much.

For (SMO), can you speak a bit more about what’s happening in Kherson right now, and maybe just kind of take a step back and say strategically why the south is important heading into winter? And I guess, if also you could just say anything about how winter will affect the fighting?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Sure, Felicia.

I guess, let me start with winter. So we know just because of the way that the terrain and the way that the typically the climate that in the November timeframe things gets tough in terms of mobility just based on pre-freeze. So the – it’s pretty muddy. So I think we’ll see the terrain certainly change and become very difficult for fighting on both sides. Now it doesn’t last, it freezes back up later. So anyways that on the terrain.

Why is the south important? I would tell you to the Ukrainians all of it’s important. I think that’s probably their perspective. Kherson is very important it’s kind of the gateway to Odessa. If you can control Kherson you can certainly prevent folks from getting to Odesa which I think we all believe that the Russians really wanted Odesa. That makes a lot of sense given the strategic aspect associated with the port.

And then the river certainly and the ability to where in the country and how that’s divided. So in terms of the fight, initially and I think we talked about this maybe a month ago. Some really quick gains by the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians have been setting conditions since then from our perspective.

Now the weather’s been pretty lousy for the past couple of weeks. So I think that’s impacted a bunch of folks. We know that Russian morale is very bad in Kherson. The Ukrainians did a pretty good job of isolating the Russians on the western side or the northern side, the right bank, as they call it. And as a result the Ukrainians were able to kind of inflict some damage using their artillery against the Russians.

The morale was bad already and the numbers in terms of percentages were pretty low when they started this. We do believe that the Russians have been able to reinforce across the bridge in some numbers but not to the level that would we think inflict any kind of damage on the Ukrainians.

But I’ll hold there. I probably – I don’t know if I gave you enough there, Felicia, or if I didn’t answer anything.

STAFF: Felicia, thank you.

Q: No, that was helpful.

STAFF: I appreciate it. Thanks, Felicia. Tony with Bloomberg.

Q: Hi there. For the Senior Military Official one quick question. Can you talk a little bit about Ukraine’s tank operations? Their size and scope? Are they using T-80s and T-84s indigenous to their country or have they received NATO types of tanks yet? Just a little bit on that.

And to the Senior Defense Official, can you – have we committed and actually delivered all 16 HIMARS to date? What is the rough value to Lockheed of building these additional 18? And can you talk a little bit about how fast Raytheon is pulling together these first two NASAMS? I thought they took years to build.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: OK, I can start with the latter questions and then we’ll turn to Senior Military Official on the tanks. Sixteen HIMARS, yes, those were delivered earlier this year. And in terms of – I don’t have kind of value for production on your question about Lockheed. That’s not information I have available.

In terms of NASAMS it’s important to know that there are two packages here for NASAMS. And the initial NASAMS purchase via USAI tranche three, this was earlier in the summer, it just was two and it was able to be procured quickly because it was – the bulk of it had already been produced. So the later procurement under USAI tranche five will take more time because of the production timelines.

I hope that helps explain it.

Q: It does, yes. And (SMO), sir, can you talk a little bit about the tank conflict?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Yes, sure, Tony. I was trying to get after my – I was trying to pull up some data for you and I couldn’t find it. What I would tell you is that we know the Ukrainians have been operating Soviet style tanks. So I’ll leave the series in terms of T-80s or otherwise to the Ukrainians. But we know they’ve been employing them to pretty good effect.

We also know, as you might expect, they’re using a number of tanks that they were able to secure from the Russians. And so most recently in Kharkiv, but also before that at the beginning of the fight back in the March and April timeframe when the Russians were abandoning equipment. And some of that – and some of that equipment was abandoned because it was employed in places where the terrain didn’t support it and they literally had to leave it.

The Ukrainians, as you probably recall, four or five months ago seen some amazing pictures of them hauling tanks out of mud pits with tractors and others. So we know that they’re using that as well. And I’ll kind of leave it that. They are, as you would imagine, they are using an armored force to conduct these operations. And quite honestly doing pretty well.

Q: May I — one quickly, is there any discussion right now of sending them M1A1 tanks the U.S. Army was going to divest over the next couple years?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: I’ve seen that in recent writing. We haven’t looked at any particular provision of M1 tanks.

Q: OK, thank you.

STAFF: Thanks, Tony. Alex, Washington Post. Hey, Alex, you there?

Q: Yes, I’m here, thanks. I was curious if there is going to be another PDA before the end of the fiscal year here in a couple days? Or if not are you leaving anything on the table? And two, when it comes to cold weather, is – are any of the future procurements coming going to be focused on things like cold weather gear and other things that will be unique to a more winter fight?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure, I can tackle both of those. In terms of the cold weather gear, we have provided some of that, I don’t have the numbers handy. But I can also tell you that with our allies there is a considerable effort led by the U.K. to provide a whole range of cold weather gear and equipment so that the Ukrainians will have what they need this winter. That’s something that we’ve discussed in the Ukraine defense contact group meetings and our next meeting is right around the corner. So we’ll continue to push for that there.

In terms of presidential drawdown, it’s important to note this isn’t actually money to be left on the table. This is authority. So it’s authority that enables us to draw from U.S. stock. And we are very closely watching to see whether the U.S. Congress will continue to be so incredibly supportive and generous in providing us with this authority. We have requested an additional $3.6 billion in presidential drawdown authority. And certainly if that is enacted that would enable us to continue along with our drawdown process starting as soon as the very beginning of the fiscal year.

But I want to assure you that we have mechanisms to be able to continue to use the current authority should that be necessary. But again I’m very hopeful because the U.S. Congress has just been so supportive to date. Over.

STAFF: Thank you. Paul, Agence France. Paul, are you there? All right, hearing nothing I’ll move on…

Q: Yeah, I’m here, I’m here. I’m sorry, had problems un-muting. A couple of things, one is, (SMO), you mentioned that the Ukrainians are holding the border near Kharkiv well. Is there any, or is there much cross border shooting? And is that a risk?

My second question is on the nuclear issue. If Russia did use a tactical nuclear weapon in the Ukraine area, does the U.S. feel that it needs to consult with or come to an agreement with NATO on a response?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: Let me answer the border one. So, on the border we are seeing some cross border fires between both the Ukrainians and the Russians. Is it concerning? You know, if you’re on the receiving end, it certainly is concerning. But the — we’re not seeing anything where they are firing long-range, they’re shooting their standard artillery systems back and forth, and employing those in a tactical way.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And then on the nuclear issue, I think you’ve heard National Security Advisor Sullivan speak about this recently, certainly President Biden has spoken about this. We have clearly warned Moscow that any use of nuclear weapons would result in serious consequences. And you know, we’re not going to get into the specifics of what those specific responses would be.

In terms of allies, we are very much in close consultation with our allies on all matters related to Ukraine, but also certainly on all aspects of the Russian threat. But of course, the United States also has its own prerogative to employ a U.S. option.

STAFF: Thanks, Paul. Phil Stewart, Reuters.

Q: Hey there. Just back to the Nord Stream ruptures. Could you give me any sense of what U.S. military role there might be in investigating what went on here? Any undersea assets, or aviation assets, or anything being used or any U.S. military role whatsoever in investigating this?

SENIOR MILITARY OFFICIAL: We’re, like a number of other, you know, countries out there with capability that could certainly assist. But we haven’t been asked to do so. And again, there are a lot of countries out there that have underwater capability.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And I’ll just say, Phil, that Secretary Austin has had the opportunity to speak with his Danish counterpart today and just offer that if there’s any support that they need, we’re there for them.

STAFF: All right. We’ve got time — we have two minutes left. Let me go to Oren at CNN and we’ll wrap this up.

Q: My question was asked. Thank you, though.

STAFF: No problem at all. Everyone, thank you very much. Let’s have a great rest of the week. Bye-bye.

[post also appeared at defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript/Article/3173997/senior-defense-and-military-officials-hold-a-background-briefing/]