March 4, 2022
Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing, Mar 4, 2022
Senior Defense Official
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Good morning, everybody.
I've -- I've asked Senior Defense Official 2 to be with us this morning --
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: (Off mic)
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'm sorry --
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Ms.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Ms. (inaudible). I apologize. Everybody has a Ph.D. around here but me.
I -- I've asked Senior Defense Official 2 to come talk to you about one thing and one thing only, and that is the security force assistance process, the way that we go from a presidential drawdown, the decision, to actually getting things into the hands of the Ukrainians.
That's what she's going to talk about, and questions directed to her need to be about that topic. I will stay on after (inaudible) leaves to do our normal daily update on things going on. But -- but I thought that, given the increasing interest that all of you had in security assistance, that it would be useful to have her walk you through a little bit of the process.
Senior Defense Official 2 is not going to confirm particular inventory items, either in scope, scale or -- or type, just so you -- you're aware of that. And we are also -- she is not going to give too much detail on the modalities of how, physically, geographically, where things are -- are getting into Ukraine. I think you all can understand that we want to be able to preserve these venues as much as possible. So we don't want that information out there.
I -- I understand you -- you can ask whatever you want, but I just want you to understand that -- that those are two restrictions that we're -- that we're going to be applying in the -- in the way we -- in the way we talk to you about this.
So -- so with that, I'm going to turn it over to our senior defense official, to walk you through some process stuff.
We'll take a few questions. She does have a hard stop here at 10 after the hour to get to her next meeting, so I won't hold it up any longer.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thank you.
Good morning, everyone.
Before I get into the specific process issues, I just have to say at the outset how tremendously proud the entire team here at the Pentagon is of our ability to provide security assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces and how impressed we are with how they are fielding these capabilities right now, as we speak.
So I might be talking about some, you know, details that might seem bureaucratic or boring, but the meaning of it is definitely not lost on anybody I work with here at the Pentagon; and, I should say, with my State Department and NSC colleagues as well.
So just by way of context, I want to talk about, kind of, the foundation process that we're working from, and then how unprecedented it really has been to execute the presidential drawdown that we are executing right now.
In terms of the foundation, of course the security assistance we're providing right now comes on the heels of assistance we've been providing since 2014, more than $3 billion committed to date. But more than a billion of that was just in the past year. So this has been a massive uptick in volume over the past year, providing security assistance to Ukraine, as we saw the threats from Russia increasing.
In terms of the -- the foundation also, I think it's important to note that this has been a significant U.S. effort, but all along, it's also been a multinational effort. So I know that everyone is so excited and proud to see our allies and partners standing up right now to provide security assistance to Ukraine, but I think it's important to note that, for the past several years, we've been working closely with the United Kingdom, Canada, Lithuania and Poland to collaborate on security assistance and to work together with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense to identify what their priority capability needs are.
So even though, right now, we are turning on requests for capabilities faster than ever before, we've been working with the Ukrainians for years now to understand what their military needs in the event of defending Ukraine against a Russian invasion.
So we've been able to build on that understanding and then dramatically speed up our processes to -- to field capability.
In terms of some of the -- the specific details on the packages, just to remind, we had a $60 million drawdown package back in August. And to give you a sense of timelines for that package, by November we had actually transferred all of the equipment for that package.
And then we -- we had another presidential drawdown package that -- that President Biden approved in late December. That was a $200 million drawdown package. And from late December until late January -- by the end of January, we had delivered the majority of the package. We are still delivering some ammunition from that package, but you can see how the time frame really -- we compressed that process to be getting that capability out to the field as quickly as possible.
Well, today we are working on the $350 million drawdown package, the largest presidential drawdown package in history. And we have already delivered to the Ukrainians $240 million worth of that package, including some of the most needed capabilities, like anti-armor capabilities. So you can see how fast we are -- we are moving to get those -- those capabilities to the field.
Before the Defense Department even begins to start to move -- move capabilities to the Ukrainians, there is a -- a back end process, and that includes the State Department taking the lead on requesting presidential draw down authority from the President and it also includes the Defense Department doing a careful analysis of what capabilities we should specifically include in the package, what capabilities we have available, because draw down is taken from the stocks of the services. So we're not going out on the market and purchasing new items, so we have to actually have it in hand to be able to deliver it.
And as you can imagine, in a more routine situation, you might have those processes play out over the course of, in fact, weeks or maybe even months, depending, and we have been able to compress those back end processes into hours and days, in fact. So that is how we have been able to -- to move so quickly.
When we talk about us fielding capability to the Ukrainians and the sizable -- sizable amount of assistance that we've delivered just since February 26th, I think it's also important again to go back to what the allies and partners are doing, because we have been tremendously impressed by how fast they have been moving.
Since the invasion, we have seen 14 countries -- 14 separate countries actually deliver security assistance to Ukraine. And since some of these countries don't have a record of providing as substantial assistance to Ukraine as certainly we have been, that also represents a real bureaucratic feat for their ministries of defense to be able to move that quickly. So I think we have to -- we have to give credit to -- to our -- our allies and partners here.
I thought it -- it might be useful to -- before I open it up to questions -- and -- and again, happy to talk about any of these process issues in -- in greater detail -- to mention that, you know, this is a continuous process. We are always, always looking at what Ukraine needs and we've been doing this for years now.
We have just accelerated our process of identifying requirements and accelerated our -- our consultations, as well, with the Ukrainians. I'm talking to them daily as opposed to, you know, periodic meetings that we did before this crisis.
But we're not stopping here. As you may be aware, the administration has -- has made a request for additional funding. So we do plan on continuing to provide presidential draw down assistance to the Ukrainians and we are seeking the assistance from the U.S. Congress to replenish the stocks that we have been providing to date from the -- the military departments. So this will continue, and as President Biden has -- has stated, we will continue to support the Ukrainians moving forward.
I will stop there and open it up for questions, and also happy to talk about the robust coordination efforts that we have centered at EUCOM, working with all of these countries and the European Union to make sure the Ukrainians get what they need.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Okay, thank you very much. We'll -- we'll go first to Bob Burns. Are you there?
Q: I am, (inaudible). Thank you.
So I do have a question. I -- I'll -- I guess I'll -- the way this is going to work, is I'll save my question for the first official until later, I guess. But --
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Okay.
Q: If that's all right or do you want to do both at the same time? I don't know.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: I mean, if you have a question about security assistance, please go ahead and -- and -- and ask that of -- of our Senior Defense Official. I'm going to stay behind when -- when she's done in about 10 minutes and I'll take all of the other questions that we've been dealing with every day.
Q: Okay, thanks.
So my question, I guess, is -- is kind of a broad one in this area, which is you just described how closely you are trying to align the security assistance packages with what Ukrainian Armed Forces actually need. And so my question is are they going to -- are they putting this materiel to use and will they be able to continue putting this to use in a way that will -- or that can actually change the tide of war, or are they just delaying their ultimate defeat? Thank you.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Thank you. I think all of us have been tremendously impressed by how effectively the Ukrainian Armed Forces have been using the equipment that we've provided them. And I think that, you know, Kremlin watchers have -- have also been surprised by this, at how they have slowed the Russian advance and performed extremely well on the battlefield.
So what we are seeing today is, you know, a very strong Ukrainian Armed Forces but of course in the face of formidable challenges from the Russians. And so even though I think we've seen some setbacks for the Russians, we are also watching to see what their next step would be.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Okay. Mike Birnbaum from the Post, are you on?
Okay. Eric Schmitt, New York Times?
Q: I -- sorry, this is (Kyrine ?). I'm kind of standing in for (inaudible) got counter-scheduled with something. If -- if I could just toss you a question on (inaudible) -- the -- you -- are you seeing any -- at this point, you know, what type of -- what type of logistical hiccups are you seeing with the transfers of -- of these weapons? Are the Ukrainians, you know, adequately able to distribute them to the places that they need to go, once -- once they've crossed the border?
And, you know, is -- is there any sort of timeline you're seeing on, you know, what -- I know you said that the -- the support for Ukraine is -- will continue but in terms of, you know, the -- the speed of -- of how quickly that they need this -- these arms to be coming? And if -- if the -- the -- the supply -- the supply chain is actually meeting that demand?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: So from where we sit and from our conversations with Ukrainian officials in the Ministry of Defense and in the Armed Forces, what we're seeing is they are able to distribute the -- the equipment very quickly and that they are able to make use of it.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Okay. Eric Schmitt?
Q: You -- you described the -- how much has already gone in, almost 70 percent of the $350 million. When would you anticipate that amount to close? When do you think it will all be -- can you describe a little bit more about this coordination center at EUCOM that's helping to funnel all of these weapons, not just from the U.S. but from these 14 allies? And have you seen any efforts yet from the Russians to interdict any of these weapons that are coming in?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Okay, great.
In terms of the specific timeline, I don't have a specific timeline for the exact date when we will be finished delivering the $350 million package. I do anticipate -- you're talking days and, you know, maybe weeks, but not -- not longer, certainly. The vast majority of the capability will be delivered within the next week. And so, you know, so I hesitate to give more specific timelines than that because we keep exceeding what we thought we could do.
In terms of the coordination center, I -- I think about this coordination as happening at three levels: strategic, operational and tactical. At the strategic level, I had referenced how we've been working very closely with a handful of allies, including the U.K., to coordinate security assistance to Ukraine for a very long time, so that's at the -- at the ministry level, and that -- those kinds of conversations continue, and the U.K. hosted a donor's conference to expand that strategic-level coordination to all allies and partners. So at the strategic level, we're very engaged with our -- with our allies.
But then, at the operational level, EUCOM is building on the foundation of the liaison officer network that they have built up over time, with allies and partners having seats, essentially, at EUCOM to be able to coordinate in real time with the EUCOM Headquarters staff. And so they are leveraging that to build this coordination cell to be able to have, you know, real-time understanding of what allies are prepared to provide and how they might be able to get it to Ukraine, and common understanding of the Ukrainian requirements.
Then, of course, at the tactical level, we are also coordinating -- you know, EUCOM is coordinating, again, alongside the -- the U.K. in particular in terms of the specific delivery process to ensure that we are using our -- our resources to maximum efficiency to support the Ukrainians in -- in an organized way.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Okay --
Q: And the question about the Russians, Russian interdiction?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Oh. Oh, sorry. I -- I have no -- I have no evidence of any -- any Russian interference.
Q: But what's your plan if they do start interfering?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: I don't want to get into specific operational details on such a sensitive matter.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Okay, Paul McLeary, Politico? Paul, you there?
Okay. We've only got time for one more before we need to let (inaudible) go, so I'll just go down the list here, the first one, and if you have a question for (inaudible), great. If you don't, we'll move to the next one.
But Tara Copp?
Q: Hi, thank you. And I'll also have a question on our second session, but for our official, following up on Eric's question, why do you think that those weapons deliveries have not been targeted? It seems like the Russians have targeted civilian targets and schools. It -- it seem strange that they wouldn't target a -- a weapon-replenishing mission.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: I -- I think, you know, I can't really speculate on what Russia is choosing to target and -- and how they are operating. They have made clear publicly their disapproval of support to -- to Ukraine, including security assistance, so we are certainly aware of their objections. But the -- the specific operations, I just -- I can't speculate on that.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Okay, what --
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Go --
Q: (inaudible), can you take the questions from the chat? There were two in the chat.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: I -- I -- I'm not seeing a chat. Is that you, Jen?
Q: Yes. If I could just read them, one was from Luis, and it was a good question about training and how -- he said, "How are the Ukrainians being trained on all this new equipment? They're not necessarily easy to use, and aren't those with knowledge already on the front lines, making it difficult to have previously-trained people doing the training?" And then also, can you list the 14 nations providing assistance?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Okay, I'll -- I'll let SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2 take -- take those in turn, and then that'll have to be the end for -- for her this morning.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 2: Thanks. I'll let the 14 countries speak for themselves.
But in terms of the training, we have had an extensive training program with the Ukrainian armed forces leading up to today, so we were able to tailor the equipment that we're providing to the Ukrainians to equipment that they have already been trained on. There were a few systems that they got some, I would say, just-in-time training back in December/early January timeframe, but the vast majority of what we have been providing, they are already familiar with and they are already able to use proficiently.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL 1: Okay, thank you to our Senior Defense Official 2.
Guys, I'm just going to take a quick break here while we reset the room, and I'll be right back. So I'm just going to mute you for a second. We'll be right back.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL : Okay, everybody, back again here. So I'm also "senior defense official", I guess, the other one. So just, we'll walk through sort of where we think we are today, or where we think things are today.
We still see fighting and -- and efforts by the Russians along all their major axes of approach. We still assess there's no appreciable movement of the Russian forces that are forward in the north and the east, in other words, those approach -- approaching Kyiv, and I think we're -- we're still estimating that they -- that -- that the closest that they are, their advance elements are from city centers, about 25 kilometers. So basically where they were yesterday.
Obviously, shelling and -- and strikes continue to occur. There's no -- no doubt about that.
Same with the -- the population centers of Chernihiv and Kharkiv. We estimate that the -- that the Russian forces are still, in both cases, about 10 kilometers from city centers. But in Kharkiv, you know, that equates to really being, sort of, on the outskirts of -- of the city, because it is such a sprawling population center.
We do continue to see Russian forces advancing in the South, where they have had more success. We're not disputing the reports that they have -- that they've taken Kherson. We're were not in a position to independently verify that. But we're certainly in no position to dispute those accounts, although we -- we noticed today that there -- there does seem to still be some clashes, conflict, between Russians and Ukrainians around the city.
But they -- we have -- and we've also started to observe fighting near Mykolaiv, which is that town that I was talking about yesterday, to the -- to the northwest of Kherson.
So we're -- we're seeing -- we're seeing fighting around Mykolaiv. I can't really describe it in more detail than that. I don't have a -- a firm picture of exactly what that fighting looks like. But -- but we have observed some of it around -- around that city.
Mariupol, to -- to the south of the -- of Donetsk and Sea of Azov, continues, in our assessment, to be under Ukrainian control. We have observed Russian forces continue to advance on Mariupol. But we don't assess that they're in there.
They are obviously bombarding that city as well. And you've seen for yourself reports coming out of the city of utility outages, water and electricity. The mayor has, I think, been pretty public about that.
And as we said before, we continue to believe that the -- that the Russians want to move on Mariupol from the north out of the Donetsk region, as well as moving up that coast on the Sea of Azov.
So that's our -- that's our latest -- latest assessment there.
On the nuclear power plant, I know this is a -- an issue of interest. We have no reason to doubt Russian claims that they are now in possession of that nuclear power plant. And we do not see -- do not assess any radioactive leakage. And we -- you know, we do believe that the fires in the associated buildings have been put out.
We don't have a firm sense on -- on the nature of the attack on the power plant. So I can't give you a blow-by-blow of exactly how that occurred and who -- who the Russians employed and what they employed to -- to make that assault on the power plant. But -- but the main thing is we -- we don't see any radioactive leakage.
The -- this is a Department of Energy lead. The -- the response, working with allies and partners, is really being led by DOE, not DOD. Yes, there -- their incident -- incidence response does include consultations with the Department of Defense, so we have offered some guidance and advice. But this is a DOE thing. So I just want to level-set with you before we go to questions, that -- that there's not a -- this is not a DOD-led effort. This is by DOE. And we are -- our participation is, again, providing advice and counsel, because we know -- we have quite a bit of experience and knowledge about running nuclear power plants. So I'll leave it at that.
In the maritime environment, we have not observed any significant activity. We have not observed any new amphibious efforts in or near Odessa or, frankly, anywhere else in the northern Black Sea or the Sea of Azov, nothing of significance.
In the airspace, air environment, we continue to assess that the airspace over Ukraine is contested. Ukrainian air and missile defenses remain effective and in use. The Ukrainian military continues to fly aircraft and obviously to employ air defense assets as they -- as they needed -- need to do it.
And then, as of this morning, we are up now a cumulative count of 500 missile launches -- actually just slightly more than 500 missile launches since the -- the invasion began by the Russians. These are 500 by the Russians, and they are of, again, all different types of missile systems.
Since yesterday we said it was over 480, so now we're -- we're over 500. Again, you can see that, over the last few days, it's roughly been, you know, a couple of dozen per -- per day. So -- in the last -- in the last couple of days.
I think -- I think that's about it. I think we can start taking questions now.
Go ahead, Bob.
Q: Thank you. Regarding the nuclear site, so what would you say is the military significance of the Russians having control there?
And how does it (inaudible) the Ukrainians, militarily, in terms of their -- their defenses, overall, in the country?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, you know, when we talked about -- we talked about this hydro-electric power plant a few -- last week, you might recall. And so, if your goal is to control population centers; if your goal is to supplant the government of Ukraine and replace it with one that -- that's more suitable to you; if your goal is to control Ukraine, one can surmise that you would want to control the infrastructure and to make sure that you can meter it to your needs. And so a nuclear power plant would certainly be on that list.
I cannot say definitively what -- what the Russians are thinking on any given day. But you can see that -- that -- where that might be of interest to -- to you as a -- trying to become an occupying power, to be able to control the infrastructure, particularly electrical power. And you could use that, obviously, to -- to preserve -- to preserve electrical power going forward and to be able to deliver goods and services to a population.
You could also use it to -- before you -- before you've reached occupational status. You -- you can use your leverage in that regard to -- to punish a population, to make it harder for that population to resist you.
So, again, I don't want to speak with certainty about what the Russians are thinking, but there is a -- there is a -- there -- you can see, in some regards, that that -- that might be a logical step for one that -- an occupying -- or a power that wants to be an occupying power.
It doesn't take away from the fact and there's no excuse to be made for this invasion and the recklessness with which the Russians are -- are conducting it, to include a kinetic attack and -- and fighting in and around a nuclear power plant. Nuclear power plants are, by design, not -- not -- not built to -- to withstand armed conflict.
And so while we -- while we aren't seeing radioactive leakage here and we assess that the Russians are in control of it, that doesn't excuse the move, using combat power to try to take a nuclear plant -- nuclear power plant over. It's just another indication, it just underscores the -- the recklessness of -- of this -- of this Russian invasion.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: -- go ahead, Bob.
Q: Just -- sorry, quickly, did you say that -- so the Russians are controlling the site. Does that -- that's in -- does that include control of the reactors?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We -- we -- I -- I -- I would -- maybe go -- be very precise here -- we are in no position to refute claims that they are in control of the nuclear power plant but we don't know exactly right now what that control means and what it looks like.
So I -- I -- I would be loath to -- to say that we know with specificity, you know, how many people they have there and what -- and -- and -- and what their control over the power plant looks like, in -- in -- in terms of continuation of operations.
And again, that -- that's -- that's one of the things that deeply concerns us, is that, you know, we don't -- we don't know what -- what expertise they have, what -- what they've applied to this, what their intentions are in the near term. I mean, all that is of -- is -- is of great concern.
Q: Thank you.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah.
Okay, Jen Griffin?
Q: Hi, (inaudible). Is there any evidence that the deconfliction line with the Russians has been employed? And is that deconfliction line under General Tod Wolters, as the Supreme Allied Commander? How is it working?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It's a -- it -- it is -- it is based -- the deconfliction line, as I -- I -- I said, I -- I think yesterday, it's basically a -- an open phone line and it's -- it exists at -- at European Command headquarters. It -- so it's definitely under the purview of General Wolters, as the European Command Commander.
It's -- it's bilateral, Jen, it's -- it's -- it's a U.S.-to-Russia deconfliction line, so it falls under him, in his EUCOM hat, but it is being staffed at the staff level on a daily basis. And I -- I don't have any updates for you, in terms of how much it's been used or to what degree it's been used, but it is in place.
The Russians have acknowledged it. The -- you know, in our -- in our initial test of it, you know, they answered the phone. So we know that they -- that -- that they know who's calling and that they -- and that they will, at least in terms of the initial -- initiation of it, the step -- setting up of it, they -- it -- it worked and they -- they did answer the line.
But again, I'd -- I'd point you to EUCOM to speak to anything that -- more specific, in terms of the degree to which it's -- it's been used. It's -- it's only been in -- in -- in use or set up in -- for the last couple of days.
Demetri, Financial Times?
Q: Hi, (inaudible). Can you talk about the strategic significance of the fall of Kherson and whether it opens the way for the Russians to use the -- the Dnieper River for operations either for logistics or moving things inland from the Black Sea?
(And just ?) separately, are there any indications that it's actually Chechens in control of the nuclear power plant?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't -- I honestly don't have any more detail -- I mean, I -- I -- than -- than what I answered last time, in terms of who they have at the nuclear power plant. We -- we just don't know. And -- and frankly, it's -- it's -- that -- that is one of the things that concerns us about it.
On Kherson, again, I -- I -- I'm really reticent to get into trying to detail what the Russians are thinking and what their planning is. We don't have intimate knowledge of their -- of their planning. But I would just say a couple of things.
One, if you just look at a map, as you rightly said, Kherson is really the last major population center on the Dnieper River, just before it empties out into the -- the -- the northern Black Sea. So it's a key port city in that regard, just in general -- in -- and -- and certainly allows Russian -- the Russian military to have a -- a -- a measure of control over at least that part of the river and -- and the entrance into the Black Sea.
Also, though, and we talked about this yesterday, just from what we're seeing now, it appears that they needed to take Kherson so that they could move on this town called Mykolaiv, which we are now seeing being attacked by the Russians.
And -- and some of the thinking could be -- and I stress "could be" -- that one of the reasons they want Mykolaiv is because that puts them just to the northwest of Odessa. And if they want Odessa, it -- it -- it could be that they would want to move on Odessa from the -- from the northeast, on the ground, out of Mykolaiv but also could potentially reinforce whatever -- whatever maritime power they might want to apply against Odessa from the -- from the Black Sea.
It -- it would be of a piece of what we're kind of seeing around Mariupol, where they made an amphibious assault to the southwest of Mariupol, moved up the coastline, and are now on the outskirts of Mariupol, using that naval infantry, but they're also coming down from the north with -- with -- with land forces out of Donetsk.
So one could see a scenario where that's -- this -- a -- a -- a similar play, but again, I -- I -- I want to stress that that is the -- that's about as -- as speculative as -- as I'm willing to go and -- and we don't really know perfectly what the Russian plan is.
But I don't know if that answered your question.
Q: Yeah -- no, thank you. Appreciate it.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah.
David Martin, CBS?
Q: One question I would've liked to have asked the -- the first briefer was whether security assistance to Ukraine includes targeting information?
And then for the second official, we didn't get the daily percentage of Russian forces committed.
And the Secretary General of NATO is now saying that Russia has used cluster munitions. Can you confirm that? And what is the status of thermobaric?
And finally, the Ukrainian Armed Forces' Facebook page is saying that Russia is starting to mobilize its reserves, presumably for committing them to battle. What can you tell us about all of those?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, that -- that's an awful lot. The -- when we talk about security force assistance, we're talking about material, and that's what the first official was -- was trying to explain in terms of process. It -- when -- security force assistance is really about the material, the arms and ammunition and the weapon systems that we continue to flow into the hands of the Ukrainian armed forces.
On -- on the intelligence thing, we -- we -- we have and we continue to provide intelligence and information to the Ukrainians to assist in their ability to defend themselves. I won't get any more specific than that because we just don't think that -- that it's wise to get any more specific than that. But we do continue to provide them intelligence and information that we believe can be helpful for their ability to defend themselves.
I would remind that -- that we -- we don't have aircraft over Ukrainian airspace. We don't have U.S. boots on the ground, so we -- we're -- we're doing the best we can in -- in as timely a fashion as possible to provide the Ukrainians with -- with useful intelligence. It's also worth reminding or remembering that -- that they are in the fight and they can see things in real time that we aren't going to be able to see. They -- they have pretty robust intelligence capabilities of their own.
On the percent committed, you're right. I forgot that. We assess that about 92 percent -- so that's only two percent more than what I said yesterday -- of their arrayed combat power, that is, combat power that was pre-staged by the -- by the Russians is now inside Ukraine. I appreciate you reminding me that I forgot that.
We cannot confirm the existence of the use of -- of cluster munitions inside Ukraine, nor can we confirm the use or existence of thermobaric weapons inside Ukraine.
We've seen reports of them mobilizing their reserves. We -- we cannot confirm those reports, so rather than speculating about what that might indicate, I would just tell you that we -- we -- we've seen them, but we -- we can't confirm those reports.
Okay, Eric, did you have any more questions or something for me?
Q: Just, (inaudible), when you talk about the contested airspace, can you talk at all about the Ukrainians' use of drones and how effective they've been so far as part of the overall air picture?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I would just tell you, Eric, we -- both -- both sides we -- we assess to be -- to be in possession of and use of -- of unmanned systems, and -- and we believe that they are, both sides, using unmanned -- unmanned aerial systems, drones in -- in the fight. And I -- I think I'm going to wave off talking about the effectiveness of that. Again, I want to be careful that we're not -- we're not damaging Ukraine's ability to continue fighting.
Let's see, Luis Martinez?
Q: Yeah, hey, (inaudible). Quick question on, you know, we've talked about the stalled effort in the north. Is part of that at Hostomel, at that airport? Is that where you're seeing continue -- continuing to see, like, a major defensive effort on the part of the Ukrainians? And is that really what's been stalling that effort up in the north?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't think I would go that far. I mean, the -- the -- the airport, obviously, is a -- a key piece of terrain that -- that we know the Russians have wanted. We have no reason to doubt that they -- that they are certainly there at the airport, but we also have seen even as recently as yesterday, the Ukrainians continuing to try to foil Russian plans to -- to possess and to use that -- that airport. But I wouldn't describe that as -- as the -- as the -- the blockage here of -- of their progress in the north. I mean, it's been -- we -- we continue to assess that it's been a combination of factors, not least of which has been Russian -- I'm sorry -- Ukrainian resistance and attacks on their -- on their advance elements, to include that -- that convoy that I know everybody's still fascinated with, as well as their own logistics and sustainment problems. So I -- it's -- it's a -- it's a combination of factors. I -- I would maintain that that's still the case today, and -- and I wouldn't just chalk it up just to the -- just to the airport issues.
Q: Hey, (inaudible), one follow-up. The airport itself -- I mean, the Ukrainian air force, are they still at full capacity or are -- have their numbers been reduced? And are they able to keep flying at a high pace?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I -- again, without getting into order-of-battle stuff, I would say that -- that the Ukrainian -- the -- the Ukrainians still have a -- a significant majority of their air combat power available to them, both fixed wing and rotary wing, as well as unmanned systems and -- and surface-to-air systems. They -- they still have a -- a majority of that -- of those systems, those -- those platforms and -- and that capability. But I -- I really don't want to quantify it.
They have, of course, suffered some losses in all those categories. Some of those losses are due to just inoperability. Some of it is -- some of it from -- from Russian action, clearly. But we assess that they have a strong majority, a significant majority of that air combat power available to them.
Let's see, Heather from USNI?
Q: Thanks so much for taking my question. I know that you've mentioned there's not a lot of movement of maritime operations, but I was wondering if that comes as a surprise, or if you expected to see more maritime movements during this invasion.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, and look, without having perfect knowledge of Russian plans, it's -- it's -- it's difficult for us to say we are or are not surprised by things not happening. I mean, we -- we're watching this as closely as we can, and we just haven't seen much action in the maritime domain. That does not mean that it -- it won't happen or that they aren't making moves. And -- and as we see something happening, we -- we'll certainly talk about it the way I did when we saw that amphibious assault to the -- to the southwest of Mariupol, but we're just not seeing it. So, again, hard to say -- to -- to express surprise or not surprise when we don't really have a perfect picture about what the Russians and what their intentions are.
Q: Thank you. The Pentagon -- or I'm sorry -- defense officials have repeatedly said that the Russians are making more progress in the south than they are in the north. I'm wondering, is it possible to say that the Russians are winning in the south? And is their goal to cut Ukraine off from the sea?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Jeff, I'm -- I'm going to stick away from -- stay away from qualitative assessments like that. I -- I'm comfortable saying what I've said before, and which is true today; that they have made more progress in the south the -- than in north. As we talked about yesterday, there -- there's probably a lot of reasons for that, not least of which that -- that their lines of communication and supply and sustainment are shorter -- geographically shorter because they started out in Crimea. I think I'd leave it at that.
And then as for overall strategic intentions, all I can say is that we continue to believe -- and this is certainly supported by Mr. Putin's public comments -- that they -- they do not believe that Ukraine has the right to exist as a sovereign state.
Mr. Putin has made it clear that he wants to take that sovereignty away. And we still believe it's his intent to occupy and control Ukraine, to supplant its democratically elected government with one appointed by him. And that -- that's -- that's what our belief is in their -- their strategic intentions.
Beyond that, at the operational or tactical level, very difficult for us to -- to speculate.
Phil Stewart, Reuters.
Q: Hey there. A couple questions, first on the nuclear plant, I mean, Ukraine has four nuclear plants. Do you assess that, you know, given what you've seen so far, it's local that Russia will move on the other two?
And then yesterday you talked about potential moves on Odessa. And you know, obviously some of the things that you had talked about have come to pass.
I'm just wondering whether you see it now more likely that Russia is indeed preparing for, you know, an assault on Odessa from both the sea and land. Thanks.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: On Odessa it's -- again, I -- as I said a few minutes ago, Phil, it's -- we haven't seen -- we haven't seen any muscle movements towards Odessa, you know, today. But it certainly in the realm of the possible.
Again, we have to be somewhat careful because we don't have, again, perfect knowledge of the Russian plan.
But -- but it's possible that one of the reasons why they've moved past Kherson and in -- and towards this town of Mykolaiv is so that they can make a -- they can make a left turn and threaten Odessa from the ground, as well as the -- the capability they have to threaten it from the sea. But we just haven't seen that happen.
So again, what we're trying to do is give you what we're seeing in real-time and that's -- that's as far as we can go --
Q: So you don't think it's more --
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: (On the ?) --
Q: -- likely that -- okay, I'm sorry. Go ahead.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You know, I -- I'm really reticent to -- to go there, Phil. Without having knowledge of Russian plans, it -- it's -- it's difficult to speculate. All I can do is tell you what we're seeing.
And then on the nuclear plants, again, we haven't seen any other moves on any other of the nuclear power plants. So again, all I can tell you is what we're seeing now in -- in -- in this plant that was up in the north there -- the Zaporizhzhia, I think that's how you say it -- on the -- on the river. That's the only one that I -- that we can speak to.
We have not seen similar moves on other Ukrainian nuclear power plants. But again, it -- this attack that happened just speaks volumes of the recklessness here of the Russian -- of the Russian invasion and the potential just of -- of additional damage and destruction that could have resulted from -- from this attack.
Q: Hey, thanks. One quick thing on that, do you have any -- I know this is hard to say, but do you have any indications that there's power issues -- that there's -- like, they're -- that there's concerns that they aren't able to cool the reactor at the power plant?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I -- I don't have that level of detail, Court.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: All -- all we know from talking to the Department of Energy is that we haven't -- we assessed -- as of this morning, we assessed that there hasn't been any -- any leakage.
As for the -- the cooling and containment, I mean, that's just -- that -- a -- a level of detail and visibility we just don't have right now.
Q: Okay. And then two other quick things.
I -- I -- I want to -- and -- and maybe this is something on -- you may have to take -- but does this -- the first Senior Defense Official, did she say that the $350 million presidential authority was the largest in history? I -- I -- I can -- I -- I thought that's what she meant but I don't know if that's true, I don't know if that's something that you know or you can take?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: -- whether the $350 itself was the largest tranche?
Q: Yeah, it --
Q: -- presidential draw down authority?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'll ask the -- I'll ask the Defense Official if -- if that's -- if -- if -- if that's the case. I -- I'd have to take it. But what is true is that with the $350, we are now up, in just this year alone, $1 billion, which is the most that's been given in a given year ever to Ukraine since 2014.
But whether the $350 itself is the biggest tranche of a -- on its own, I'd -- I'd have to check.
Q: Okay, thank you.
And then the only other thing is I -- I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit more, since I know you -- you like to talk about the convoy so much, if you can talk -- is -- is there any kind of an assessment that the -- when the Ukrainians blew up that bridge, I mean, is that really what's holding this up here at this point? Cause if you look at where it's blown up on a map, it -- that -- I mean, they -- they've -- that's basically where they're stalled and there aren't a -- a whole lot of other highways for them to go from there. So, I mean, I -- I guess is there any kind of an assessment, is that really what caused the -- the hold up here? Thanks.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The -- we certainly believe that the Ukrainians blowing up that bridge absolutely had an effect on -- on stopping and -- and -- and curtailing the movement of that convoy, but we also believe that they have -- they have hit the convoy at other places, as well, in direct attacks. And so we know that that is a -- that -- that has had an effect. So I think it's been a combination of things.
Mike Brest, Washington Examiner?
Q: Good morning. Two quick questions.
The first is with President Zelensky calling for foreigners to come fight for the Ukrainian military, is DOD aware of any Americans who have traveled overseas?
And secondly, I'd love to get your take on Senator Graham calling for the assassination of President Putin.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: On the first question, we don't. I -- I have -- I have -- I have no indication of that.
And as I said -- or as -- as the -- as the -- the -- the department has said before, Americans wanting to help Ukraine, the -- the -- the best way they can do that is to -- to find ways to contribute to the humanitarian assistance efforts that's being -- that are being pursued by so many non-governmental organizations and -- and volunteer organizations. That's the best thing that you can do to -- as an American citizen, to -- to help the people of Ukraine. The State Department has been very clear about the dangers of physically being in Ukraine right now and urging Americans not to travel and not to live -- or not to be in Ukraine.
And look, I -- I -- certainly aware of the Senator's comments. I would just tell you that our -- our -- our focus here at -- at the Department of Defense is twofold -- one, making sure Ukraine can defend itself, and two, making sure that NATO can defend itself. That -- that's where -- that's where our efforts are and I'm going to leave it at that.
Tony Capaccio? How we doing here, Tony? Okay, buddy, nothing heard.
Oren Liebermann, CNN?
Q: Yeah, thanks, (inaudible). Two quick questions.
With Ukrainian air defenses still active, have you seen the Russians shifting to flying more of their -- their aircraft and -- and their missions and their sorties at night instead of the day?
And have you seen any indication that Belarus is joining the fight or that Belarusian forces are -- are preparing to join the fight?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Still no indications that Belarus is in the fight or preparing to get into the fight.
And all I would tell you on the -- the air -- we -- we don't, again, have perfect visibility into their air operations plans but they continue to fly -- the Russians continue to fly aircraft, as well as being able to -- to use their missile systems inside Ukraine.
Most of the missile strikes -- the -- that we see, although we're not seeing that many every day, I mean, they -- they certainly do a -- a lot of them during periods of darkness but not exclusively. You guys have all seen footage of missile strikes during the day too.
And as for their night flying, again, I just don't have that level of granularity into their air operations schedule and -- and what they're -- what they're doing. They're certainly capable of flying manned aircraft in -- in the -- in -- in the -- in the night hours.
Q: Thank you.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah.
Q: Hey, (inaudible). I -- I -- I know earlier today, you mentioned specifically that the U.S. -- or, I mean, the U.S. had spotted the Ukrainians had blown up the lead cars of -- of the convoy. I'm just curious sort of what -- what you're seeing in terms of direct attacks from the Ukrainians on that convoy?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I -- I don't have -- I -- I don't have -- unfortunately, I'm -- I -- I -- I just don't have a lot of granularity on a -- a day-by-day basis about what they're -- what they're doing to that convoy. So I don't have anything new from yesterday to report, in terms of -- in term -- in terms of what attacks they may have conducted.
What I can tell you is that we believe -- well, we know that they have conducted attacks on that convoy, that those attacks were effective in slowing and stopping it, and -- in -- in addition to -- to -- to knocking out the -- the -- the bridge that -- that we knew the convoy was heading for.
And -- and what's going on today on the convoy, I -- I just don't have that level of -- of detail.
Q: Got it. Thanks.
And maybe this is -- this is a taken one but I'm just curious, like, you know, ballpark, do you -- do you have a sense of how quickly the Ukrainians now are able to put in a request to the U.S. and -- and just get -- get weapons off the shelf, given the process speed ups that -- that the first official mentioned?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I mean, I -- I think she -- she handled that pretty well. I -- I don't have more context to offer than what -- than what the first official talked about, in terms of process. We are in direct communication with the Ukrainians on -- on multiple fronts, quite (inaudible), multiple lines of communication directly with them, and they have every opportunity to refresh their requirements with us in -- in many -- on -- on many different levels, many different ways, and we take all of that on board and that -- that -- that is very much factored into the decision making process of the -- of -- of -- of what is accumulated and what is delivered to them.
So there's -- there's lots of different ways in which we're getting visibility on -- on what they want.
(Caroon?), do you have another one?
Q: Hey, (inaudible), this is -- this is (Alex ?). I hate to play musical chairs but (Caroon?) had to hop off for a -- another call.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay.
Q: -- just curious about, you know, if you've seen any indications in the last 24 hours, now that things have played out a little bit more, about the Ukrainian claims of a counteroffensive. Have you seen any -- any particular movements or any -- any actions that would indicate that they have done so? And two, have you seen any -- you know, now that this invasion has happened for more than a week now, I know you haven't said -- you said it's too early to tell some things, but have you seen anything that's surprising or new to you about Russian capabilities, whether it's a weapon system or how they're employed that you didn't know about that now, you're starting to fill in your portfolio of how the Russian military operates? Or is there anything that has been illuminating for you guys in the past week?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No new systems or capabilities that they've introduced into the fight that we weren't already aware of. So no, we haven't seen anything that has surprised us in that regard. We know that they've been surprised by the Ukrainian resistance and their own logistical and sustainment challenges. We don't think that they were preparing for that. But I don't -- I wouldn't say that we've seen capabilities applied that -- that we're -- that are surprising to us.
In terms of actual systems, I mean, clearly, this attack on the nuclear power plant was, again, reckless and dangerous. But in terms of systems, which I think your question was about, no.
And -- and I don't have anything to you offer in terms of counter-offenses by the Ukrainians. That's really something that they should speak to, their operations and -- and -- and to what degree they might be altering them or changing them to be more offensive and less defensive. All I can tell you is as we look at the situation today and as I talk you, we continue to see them defend very effectively throughout the country. I mean, think about, you -- you've got multiple lines of axes here by the Russians, as we've been talking about now for a -- a week, and the real -- the -- the only real progress that they have been able to make has been in the south, and -- and I think that's quite extraordinary, and I think noteworthy. So the Ukrainians are definitely being effective on the defense. I -- I really don't -- can't say that I -- that -- that -- I can't speak to any offensive operations that -- that they might be undertaking. I mean, they -- they and -- they -- they're the ones that have -- they -- they spoke to that, and I -- I think I'd defer to them for that.
Q: Yeah, (inaudible), yesterday, you talked about the Russians hitting civilian infrastructure on purpose, and I wonder with the targeting, if you can characterize it in any way. Are we still seeing a blend of military targets, civilian infrastructure targets? And is it different from the north to the south? I mean, in the south you see more civilian infrastructure being hit as they're kind of circling -- encircling the cities. And also, what the previous briefer said, $350 million is coming in; includes anti-armor. Can you possibly give us a percentage or ballpark of how much anti-armor's part of that package? And finally, I know you don't want to get into the specifics of how this -- this armor's getting into, and arms are getting into Ukraine, but is it coming from a singular country or multiple countries? And if not multiple countries, why not?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay. A lot there. On civilian infrastructure, when I talked about delivering target of infrastructure I -- and I said I was talking about, you know, the -- the -- the T.V. tower, media -- you know, media facilities, which we've -- which we've seen and we have every reason to believe was intentional. We obviously are -- are aware and watching, as you are, that other civilian infrastructure -- hospitals, schools, residential areas -- are being hit. It is not clear to us still the degree to which those strikes are intentional or not, but they are causing casualties. They are killing civilians. They are wounding civilians, and they are just another indication of the recklessness with which Russia continues to conduct this -- this invasion. But I can't be more specific than that.
I'm not going to get into a percentage of -- of -- of how much the -- these shipments are anti-armor versus airborne assets or small arms and ammunition. We have been scrupulously avoiding providing an inventory list or -- or being too detailed about that, and I think we're -- it -- it -- that's wise, and we're going to -- and we're going to stick with that. But I would just assert what the first official asserted, and that is that anti-armor capabilities are, in fact, continuing to flow through these shipments, so that's -- that's still happening.
And then you asked about whether -- whether this stuff is coming in through more than one country or not. I -- I would just tell you, there are multiple venues through which support is getting to the Ukrainians on the ground, multiple venues, and I -- I -- I really don't want to get more specific than that. I think you can understand, Tom, that we want to be able to continue to help the Ukrainians as -- as much and for as long as we can, and so we want to be -- we're going to be very careful about how we talk about how that support's getting into their hands. And then --
Q: No, I understand that, but you say that -- multiple venues. I would read that as multiple countries, correct?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I -- I'm just going to leave it as I -- as I put it to you, Tom.
My guy's handed me a note to help me out with Courtney's question. According to the State Department, the $350 million drawdown package that the president just approved is, in fact, the -- the -- the highest single drawdown authority in -- in -- in our history, and -- and apparently, that was, in fact, what Senior Defense Official 2 said today, as well. So hope that answers the question for Court so I don't have to take that one for -- for later.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: But yes, it is -- it is, in fact, the -- the highest.
Okay, with that, I'm going to -- I'm going to call it a day for today, and then the -- the department will be doing an on-camera briefing later this afternoon, so I'm sure we'll have a chance to -- to talk more about this kind of stuff.
Thanks. We'll see you later. Bye.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|