April 19, 2022
Senior Defense Officials Hold a Background Briefing, April 19, 2022
Senior Defense Official
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Okay, good morning, everybody. (inaudible) here. We'll -- we'll -- we'll start today's backgrounder.
And the -- the way I want to start it today is with a -- a special guest. I've got (inaudible) with me, (inaudible), and I've asked (inaudible) to talk to you on background as Senior Defense Official #2. I've asked him to just walk you through a little bit of process on how the security assistance is being provided and the -- the -- the way we do that.
(inaudible) not going to be able to talk about individual platforms or weapon systems or -- as you well know, we do not and have -- have tried to stay away from providing a specific inventory list on -- on everything that's being provided and -- and on -- and on what shipments. You guys know we're being very careful about that. But I did think that because we've done so much that a -- a -- a broader sort of deeper dive into the actual process would be useful for you, since some of your questions get at that process, and I'm not an expert on it.
So I'm going to ask our -- our -- our second senior defense official here to have a -- a -- a couple of comments at the top, and then -- and then we'll go through and -- and -- and take questions.
Now, I know you didn't know (inaudible) was going to join me, so when you said you wanted to ask a question on our little sign-up sheet, I recognize not all of you may have a question for (inaudible). I'll just go through one by one. We'll see if you do. If you don't, that's perfectly fine. Once we've exhausted the -- the -- the Q&A with -- with our second senior defense official, we'll excuse him and then -- and then I'll -- I'll get -- I'll -- I'll come back on and we'll go through the normal operational update that we've been doing every day.
So with that, our Senior Defense Official #2, I'm going to turn it over to you, sir.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #2: All right. Good morning. Thanks for inviting me to participate in this on-background session with the media.
You know, the current crisis in Ukraine really has demonstrated the important role that the Defense Security Cooperation Agency plays in executing U.S. foreign policy. DSCA's mission is wide-ranging. We do defense trade and arms transfers, institutional capacity building, international military training and education, humanitarian assistance and development of our security cooperation workforce. And since 1971, when DSCA was founded, it's relied upon its partnership with the State Department to lead U.S. security cooperation in order to help solve complex U.S. defense and foreign policy challenges.
The crisis we're in right now is one of those challenges, and security cooperation has enabled a strong U.S.-European defense and security relationship, and suitably prepared Ukraine to face Russia in this premeditated, unprovoked and brutal invasion. And since the beginning of the invasion, DSCA has executed $2.3 billion in presidential drawdowns so far, and $300 million under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative as of April 1st, 2022.
This is a time of higher OPSTEMPO and faster movement than we've really ever done in our history, and it really brings a couple of important takeaways about our mission. One is the important role that security cooperation plays in military crises and in crises in general. Together with our colleagues in the interagency, the Joint Staff, U.S. European Command and State Department, we've been working around the clock. Our teams are working essentially 24/7, and security cooperation really is the focal point of where we are in our work on this crisis at the moment. And then I would say that it also has really shown the importance of the broad network of experts that we have from across the interagency and within the Defense Industrial Base. And finally, that we've worked strongly and closely with allies, and that the NATO alliance really has -- has stood up strongly on this, and we have been working to coordinate assistance with those allies.
So I was asked to talk a little bit about the process, and so what I thought I'd do is just walk you quickly through how a presidential drawdown would work. First, working together with the Ukrainians and with the U.S. European Command, a list of requirements is developed. That is done through military judgment by European Command, and then run by our folks who do policy here in the Pentagon. We then at DSCA turn that around to the military departments for them to tell us if they have the availability within stocks -- because these presidential drawdowns are from current DOD stock -- whether they have the availability of that equipment, what the pricing of it is in order to fit within the resources or the -- the limitations on the drawdown, and they will also tell us what the readiness impacts are of drawing down that equipment from U.S. stocks.
We'll build a package which meets the target that is met, or that has been stated by the leadership, and we forward that around for coordination. The readiness impacts are assessed. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff provides a recommendation as well and makes his military judgment and assessment of the readiness aspects. And then a memo goes through the Secretary of Defense to approve the drawdown plan. At that point, the President will actually direct the drawdown. The Secretary of State signs a memo directing DOD to execute, and then the Defense Security Cooperation Agency actually puts out the execute order. That whole process has been known in the last several months to be possible to do in as few as 24 -- or 48 to 72 hours, which is unprecedented.
The moment that the execute order starts is when we start pulling equipment out of stocks, preparing it for transport and movement to Europe and transfer to the Ukrainians. All of that happens as quickly as possible, often in a matter of days, depending upon the individual equipment. And then EUCOM will work on coordinating the in-theater logistics to make sure that the -- the transfers are completed as efficiently as possible, and also to coordinate with other donors who may also be providing equipment.
I was also asked to say a little bit about the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, USAI. This year, there was about $300 million for that authorized for DOD. We have notified Congress of how we intend to use that money, and that is generally done through contracting for new procurement, so the timelines can be a little longer on providing that. And then the other source of funding for Ukraine security assistance is foreign military financing, which is under the authority of the State Department, and is also used for -- generally, for new procurement, although it could also buy things out of DOD stocks.
Again, often will be for longer-term requirements. And we need to remember that as we work at this, it's not just the tomorrow situation that we're looking at as we do security assistance for Ukraine, but we need to have a longer-term process. And so that's why we're using some of these contracting authorities.
But I'll leave it there as a description of the process and happy to take any questions.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Thank you, sir.
We'll just go on down the list here. Bob, do you have a question?
Q: Not for this session, thank you.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Okay. Tom Bowman?
Q: No thanks. I'll wait for Official #1.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: All right. Dan Lamothe?
Q: Yes. I would be interested, to the extent you can, can you clarify when you're looking at the effects on readiness, has there been anything that has popped up that did flag -- did raise a flag with readiness that, you know, is not something the Pentagon can do at this point? I understand you may be not be able to be specific, but I would be interested -- it would be interesting to see if there is, I guess, things already rising to that level. Thanks.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #2: So I think it's important to note that every time we do one of these drawdowns, there is a very careful look at this given, and the chairman in particular does a very careful assessment. One of the things we have been working hard on, and you've heard about elsewhere, is the need to make sure that the industrial base is capable of coming on-line and refilling these stocks over time. And the U.S. Congress has also given us some money to replenish some of the stocks. So, yes, we're very careful about that. I don't want to point at any individual cases.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Tom Squitieri?
Q: Not at this time, I'll wait for #1. Thank you.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: All right. Howard Altman?
Q: Waiting for SDO #1. Thanks.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: All right. Courtney? Courtney?
Q: Sorry. Nothing from me, either. Thank you for your time, though, Senior Defense Official 1.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Thanks, Court.
Q: Taking into consideration the amount of arms that we are shipping to the Ukrainians, can we safely say at this time that we are the biggest provider to the Ukrainians? And maybe we did not hear much about other suppliers or other countries giving much to the Ukrainians, are we the lone suppliers?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #2: So we are certainly not the lone suppliers. I don't want to talk in any detail about what other countries are doing. I think it's almost certainly true that we are the largest.
Q: Thank you.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Heather from USNI?
Q: I'll hold my question until the second defense official.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: All right. Tara, Defense One.
Q: Thanks for doing this. My question would be, how does this amount of security assistance compare to previous conflicts? Is this the largest US provision of arms to another country to help it defend itself when compared to other major conflicts?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #2: So just taking that question carefully. If you are talking about in a conflict, how far back you go, I'm not sure I would want to compare this to, say, the Vietnam War or something, but this is certainly the largest recent supply to a partner country in a conflict.
Q: And then when you guys were looking at readiness, kind of bouncing off of Dan's question, how much did you look at the supply line pressures that defense industry -- defense firms are facing right now for their ability to actually replenish some of these stocks?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #2: So we are -- we are very focused on that question. And you probably have seen reports of recent meetings where this has been discussed. We are very -- very intently looking at how the industrial supply chain is -- is working and what can be done to improve its -- its efficiency and productivity.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Okay, Jeff Schogol?
Q: Thank you.
Can you say is the U.S. military running low on stocks of things such as Javelins, Stingers, anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons as a result of the weapons transfers to Ukraine?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #2: So again, the -- the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff makes a readiness assessment on each and every one of these transfers. To date he has not highlighted any readiness concerns that are reasons to not make the transfers.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: All right, Jack Detsch?
Q: Hey, thanks.
There have been concerns that the rate of assistance that's even coming from the United States to -- despite the scale is still a fraction of the rate of depletion on the battlefield. I'm curious, especially, when you look at Javelins, Switchblades, those types of anti-tank, anti-air systems how long are these capabilities expected to last the Ukrainians? And also would add the artillery that's -- that's going forward?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #2: Yeah, so we know that they've certainly had an impact. I am not going to -- to discuss the particular data we have on any -- any of the usage rates or so on.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Barbara Starr?
Q: Thank you, I'll wait for Defense Official 1. But thank you, sir. We appreciate it.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Thanks, Barb.
Q: I'm going to echo, Barbara. Thank you.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Thank you.
Q: You mentioned the 24- to 48-hour process, which used to take months. Is that going to be the new norm?
And I guess why did it take this crisis to be able to speed things up knowing it was possible? Why was that not always the case? Why was it months long and is that now going to be a lot quicker for other stuff as well?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #2: Well, I would say this that when we have done presidential drawdowns for emergencies in the past we have moved very fast. I can even go back to Bosnia conflict and say that I essentially had to move things on this sort of timeline.
What is unprecedented here is the amount of successive drawdowns that we are moving at this speed.
Q: I guess what I'm getting at is why not always move fast?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #2: Well, I would say that we move as fast as we can in most cases. But there is a difference between what you were doing when you were supplying allies and partners in peacetime, and what you do when there's a war on.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Okay, Sasha?
Q: I'll wait for Defense Official 1, thank you for your time.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Thank you.
Matt -- Matt Seyler?
Q: Hey, thank you.
Some of these weapon systems have shelf lives. I'm wondering: Is it another thing that's taken into consideration? So not just choosing Stingers or -- or Javelins, but which -- which Stingers and Javelins? Mainly possibly ones that are going to be working their way out of U.S. stores in the near future anyway? Is that a factor?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #2: Yeah, that is considered by the military departments as they select the items for drawdown. And, you know, we are not -- I want to say that we're not transferring expired systems, but we are looking at shelf life when we select which ones to go.
Q: Thank you.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Kellie?
Q: Hi there. I do have one for #1, but if I could for this one, we had someone from the Ukrainian parliament on our air last night and they were calling for more long-range missile defense systems. I know we've sent all these packages over already but is there anything you could preview of what may be to come or anything that you're preparing?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #2: I don't think that I'm at liberty to discuss future -- future assistance at this time.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: And last, Liz at Fox.
Q: Hi. Nothing from me, but thank you very much for your time.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Thanks, Liz.
Okay, folks. Thank -- thanks -- thanks a lot. We're going to just put this on mute for a second as we take a break and reset here, we'll come right back. So just hang on if you have other questions.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Okay, everybody, thanks for your patience. We're back here. Day 55.
Our best count is more than 1,670 missile launches. I want to make it clear at the outset that weather has been a factor over Ukraine and so there is some limit to our ability to see everything and that includes missile launches. So that's our best estimate of total since the beginning of the invasion.
And that same weather affects our ability to obviously see everything on the ground too. So there will be things that we -- we can't independently verify and confirm. We do the best we can and to share with you what -- what -- what we have been able to see.
So I know you've seen comments by President Zelensky yesterday and even Foreign Minister Lavrov and -- you know about this new -- new offensive beginning. And some of you have held the Pentagon press secretary to task yesterday because he didn't go that far.
I would say that we -- we have seen some limited offenses at operations begin southwest of Donetsk and south of Izyum. We think that these -- that these offenses are preludes to larger offensive operations that the Russians plan to conduct.
So we're not -- we're not pushing back on the notion that offensive operations have begun but, again, we think that this is a prelude of larger offensive operations that are -- that are potentially still in the offing here.
Even as they do that we also continue to see them conduct what we call shaping operations. In other words continue to reinforce, continue to make sure they have logistics and sustainment in place, continue to make sure that they have proper aviation and other enabling capabilities.
So it's not -- it's not binary; it's not stop one thing and start another. I think you're going to continue to see a more blended approach here as they -- as they ramp up their activities in the Donbas.
Mariupol is still contested but I think you know that. And the preponderance of airstrikes continue to be delivered to Mariupol and the Donbas region by the Russians. There's been no significant activity in the maritime domain. We assess that the Russian naval vessels continue to remain near Crimea and at a greater distance from the coastline after the sinking of the Moskva.
So there's been no demonstrable naval activity to speak to and that that we do see is really designed more like in the Sea of Azov to help support ground operations there. No imminent amphibious assault that we can -- that we can see although they -- I would point out that the Russians have the capability to put troops ashore still. But again we haven't seen anything that's imminent in that regard.
On the security assistance front, I know you had a good update from our -- from our other senior defense official but just in terms of where we are on some of the packages. Again, the flights continue to arrive in the region from the $800 million that the President signed out last Wednesday.
Another one just arrived yesterday and in the next 24 hours we expect they'll be more than half a dozen, probably more like seven flights coming from the United States into the theater with a various amount -- various amounts of material based on the -- based on the $800 million security assistance drawdown package approved last week.
So they are -- they are still arriving every day and in the next -- in the next 24 hours there will be quite a lot in terms of aircraft shipments arriving. Now when that gets into Ukraine, again, we're careful about that. But just to remind that none of these shipments sit around very long before being off loaded off of aircraft and on loaded appropriately in ground transportation to get them into Ukraine.
Let's see if I had anything else. I don't have anything to speak to specifically on the training. I know that that's going to be an interest item. But I don't have any developments today to speak to. I suspect we'll have a little bit more context to be able to talk to in the next day or so. But plans are proceeding to conduct some train-the-trainers training outside of Ukraine. It's moving forward.
We're just not in a position right now where we can offer a whole lot of detail. And as soon as we can -- to the degree that I can we will -- we will provide some context. But that -- but the plans are proceeding and we're confident we're going to get there in relatively short fashion.
And I think with that we'll start taking questions. Bob.
Q: Yes, thank you. You described the Ukrainian -- I mean the Russian earlier offensive as a blended -- a blended approach. And I'm wondering whether you can elaborate a bit on that? Are you talking about what could be called like a rolling start where they are simultaneously using air and long-range fires to degrade the Ukrainian infrastructure before they launch a larger ground offensive or can you just elaborate on that concept?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Yes, I mean look, what I would say is that what we're seeing right now are actual ground movements against the places to the southwest of Donetsk and south of Izyum. These are -- these are -- these are actual ground offensives and they are being supported of course by some long-range fires, mostly artillery which is right out of the Russian doctrine. So that's occurring now in some areas.
And so when people say the offensive has begun that's what they're referring to. And we're not pushing back on that notion. I guess what I was just trying to stress is that even while they are -- even while there are these -- these -- these ground battles, they are still continuing to add to their enablers, logistics and sustainment capability. They are still refitting units outside of Ukraine for insertion in Ukraine.
They have added over the last 24-hours another two battalion tactical groups into the country. Again, I don't know exactly where but I'm just trying to let you know that that has been added. So now we count 78 operational battalion tactical groups in Ukraine.
So even as these line of contact, if you will, fights are happening, the Russians are still trying to improve their ability to sustain that going forward and to prepare for what we believe will be larger offensives in the -- in the future. So that's what I'm -- I don't know if I described that well, Bob, but that's kind of what I'm talking about.
Did that get -- did that scratch the itch?
Q: Yes, thank you.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Yes, okay, Bowman.
Q: Yes, getting back to the reinforcement, so and I think we asked this yesterday. I wonder if you have anything more. Do we have any sense of the combat power of these BTGs coming in? How much they've been degraded? And also the Russians apparently have grabbed a town northeast of Kramatorsk. Can you say anything about that?
And it looks like maybe they're going kind of grab that line from Kharkiv down to Kramatorsk to box the Ukrainians in. Can you say anything about the likely route or what you're seeing there?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Wow, Tom, that's very specific. I don't have that level of movement by the -- by the Russians. Hang on a second, there's one other map I had, where's that map that I had, the other one that you gave me? Yes, hold on, but I'm sorry, you guys are watching the sausage here. You're looking to the sausage get made, I'm looking at different maps.
Okay, so, I'm sorry, Tom, I hate to ask you to ask again because -- you were asking about Kramatorsk, can you repeat it?
Q: Yes, there was a town northeast of there I guess that the Russians supposedly grabbed according to Reuters. So I just wondered if you have any more on that? Is there any resistance maybe you're seeing or was it completely...?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: I think you're talking about -- I think you may be talking about a town called Kreminna?
Q: Exactly, right.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Yes, Kreminna is -- depends on what kind of map you're looking at. But if you -- it's to the northeast of Kramatorsk and almost exactly due east of Izyum. It's basically along -- or roughly along that -- right on the -- on the eastern side of what we would call sort of the line of contact --
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: -- where the Russian forces the -- are almost right across from where many Ukrainians are. And we've seen -- we've seen some sporadic reporting that Kreminna is in their hands, but we can't independently verify that.
But it is right on that line of where the Russians have advanced to the west. So, there could be truth to it, Tom, but I just -- we -- we're not -- not able to call it as taken.
But we do think and I hope this gets to your second question, that as we've been talking now for several days, they -- they are moving generally south, but they're kind of -- I mean, remember, they've already got forces in the east of the Donbas region along that line of contact.
And now we see them trying to bring forces down from the north and coming down towards -- out of Kharkiv, Valuyki, Belgorod, coming down south towards Izyum and then once they get past Izyum they -- they -- they tend to want to bend towards the southeast, kind of coming down but then down and then in towards that line of contact.
Q: Right, got it. Yes.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Does that make sense?
Q: It does make sense. And as far as the combat power of the 78 BTGs, any estimate -- I know earlier on you were kind of talking about how much some of the units had been degraded. You had little specific information. Anything you can offer?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: I don't really have -- I don't really have, you know, battalion -- by each group what their readiness is. I mean, we just don't have that ability. But they are -- they are replenishing and resupplying and reinserting these battalion tactical groups as they -- as they see ready to do so.
And again, we're -- I'm just telling what we're seeing today, another two over the -- over the course of the last day, so that's 78. And we'll see -- we'll see where we are tomorrow. But we don't have a -- we don't have that level of detail to know exactly what the readiness is of each BTG.
And remember, not -- you know -- BTGs are not all the same, depending on what their function is, their manning could be very different. And their -- the equipment, the systems, the weapons they use are all very different based on the function of the BTG.
But if I can just scope out a little bit, just in general, when you look at all the available combat power that Mr. Putin had available to him when this started, that he -- that he amassed around Ukraine, we believe that he's roughly at 75 percent of his -- of his combat power that he had originally when he started at 100 percent.
We -- and this is across all functions, Tom. It's infantry, it's artillery, it's aviation, both fixed and rotary, it's -- it's ballistic missile, cruise missile, when you just add it all up, our general assessment is he's about 75 percent of his original combat power. And that's the best I can do for you. We don't -- we just don't break it down by BTG.
Q: Got it. Okay, thanks.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Yes. Dan Lamothe?
Q: Good morning, thanks. Looking for any update you might have on the steel and iron plant in Mariupol, in particular with the reports that civilians holding up there for safety. And then any update you have for Kherson, Berdiansk and some of the other southern cities? Thanks.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Yes, we -- we don't have, again, but -- weather's been a factor in our ability to glean stuff. But our assessment is that the Ukrainians are still in Mariupol, they are still fighting for Mariupol and that that plant has not been taken by the Russians. I don't know, to be honest with you, Dan, how many people are there and whether they're civilians or fighters or both. I just -- we just don't have that level of granularity.
On Kherson, we have seen fighting continue there in the Kherson area, with no reported shifts over the last 24 hours in any territorial -- any -- try it again -- with any shifts in territory controlled. In other words, basically status quo, but there is active fighting in the Kherson area. It's not just static, there is fighting.
But there hasn't been any change in -- in -- in who controls what. I would add that, you know, Mykolaiv, to the northwest of Kherson, we do continue to assess is in Ukrainian hands. The Russians never did take Mykolaiv.
Q: Good morning. Recently it was said at a briefing that the Pentagon does not have a plan to help defend Finland should it be threatened or invaded by Russia before it becomes a NATO member. How has it changed, if at all, since that pronouncement was given? Thanks.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Look, I'm not going to get ahead of where things are in the decision-making process of the -- of the people of Finland and their government or the -- or the alliance. There's -- we do not see an active threat right now to Finland. And there's been no request by Finland for any outside support for their defense. And I --
Q: I know that, but I was talking about a plan, you know, you always say it is a planning organization. You sort of joked about how sometimes we don't plan for everything. And I was wondering if the plan, the Pentagon has a lot of plans involved, if that's changed? That's all.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Look, nothing -- nothing's changed about the answer I gave and I wasn't being -- trying to be funny or flip. We do plan for a lot of things, we don't plan for every -- everything. That wasn't meant to be humorous, Tom, it's a fact. And -- and I have nothing to -- nothing more to speak to with respect to Finland right now.
Q: Thanks. As Russia shapes the battlefield in its latest push, do you have any sense of how much artillery and long-range fires they've been able to mass? And conversely, can you talk about the Pentagon's assessment of how Ukraine can defend against that, given the more open terrain, the more likely a shorter and more secure logistic tale that the Russians enjoy, and a more likely Russian air dominance given a number of factors?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Look, your question would require me to have a keen sense of their inventory and their stockpiles and we just -- you know -- we don't have, again, that level of granularity, Howard.
They still have a significant majority of their assessed available combat power available to them and that includes in artillery. Both in artillery pieces and in artillery rounds.
Again, in -- just in general, just artillery alone, we assess they have more than 80 percent still available to them. But I couldn't give you a whole number on that, at least not in a way that would make me feel comfortable giving it in terms of accuracy. So, that's just artillery.
They still have a majority of their fixed-wing aircraft available to them. A great -- a great majority of their rotary-wing assets are still available to them. They still have a majority of their ballistic missiles. And many of their cruise missiles. So, they have long-range fires available to them.
But the -- the Ukrainians also have a lot of their available combat power still -- still accessible and still in the fight, and it's important to remember that they are getting replenished every single day with a variety of systems and weapons, and that that flow is going to continue. So -- so there -- there's -- they -- while -- while they are certainly facing a numerically superior Russian force, that doesn't mean that they don't have advantages of their own or the ability to -- to actively defend themselves. And you don't have to look any further than what they were able to do around Kyiv to see how capable they can be even if they are out -- outnumbered. And we're going to continue to get them the kinds of systems that they need to -- to continue to defend themselves and defend their territory in the -- in the Donbas.
People speak about this as if -- if it's inevitable that -- that Mariupol's going to fall, that it's inevitable that Donbas will be taken by the Russians. We don't see it that way, and we're doing everything we can to -- to -- to make sure that it's not inevitable.
Q: But -- but given the -- the -- the -- the, again, the logistic, the short logistic tail, or the more open battlespace there. How much more difficult is it going to be for Ukraine to defend, given the difference that Kyiv was much more urban? How much more difficult is this going to be, do you think?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: I mean, certainly, because of the geography, the -- the -- the supply lines will be of shorter length and easier for the Russians to manage because that Donbas region borders Russia. So they will have -- they -- they will have a -- a -- a shorter tooth-to-tail ratio, if you will. But it doesn't mean that they have overcome all their logistics and sustainment problems. We have seen them try to learn from the mistakes they made. Clearly, when I talk about shaping operations and the fact that they're -- they're -- they are moving in enabling capabilities even as -- even before they started limited offensives. It shows you that they're trying to learn from their mistakes, and they will have shorter lines, as I said, to -- to -- to deal with. But it doesn't mean that -- that we believe they fixed all their problems, or that they're still not going to have trouble with potential sustainment going forward.
It's also an area that the Ukrainians know well. It's their country, and they've been fighting over this area for eight years, so they know the terrain. They -- they -- they know -- they have good interior lines of -- of their own, and they're using them. And we know that -- that stuff -- that -- that materiel is still getting to them every single day, even as they refocus their own defensive priorities on the Donbas, and they are. They still have good interior lines of communication and -- and -- and a -- and a strong ability to replenish their own stocks and their own -- and their own forces.
So again, that is all -- you know, you've heard the chairman talk about this -- the potential for this to -- to become a prolonged fight. All of that is one reason why we think the chairman's right, that this could -- that we don't know how long it could go, but it -- it -- it certainly -- it -- there's a -- there's a real possibility that this could go on for a while because both sides can be fairly dug-in here, and to be dug in fairly well.
Q: Thank you. Can we safely assume that the next priority, or the priority at this time for the Ukrainian and for our help to the Ukrainian is to make this campaign of linking up the Russian forces from Izyum south and Mariupol north, make it fail?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: I won't speak to Ukrainian strategy and their future operations, Pierre. Our -- our -- our focus is on making sure that we get the Ukrainians the kinds of weapons and systems that they need to defend themselves in the moment they're in. That's why you saw howitzers and artillery rounds as part of this latest package. We're -- we're focusing on what their needs are now, and we are in constant conversations with them about -- about those capabilities and what they need going forward. That's what we're focused on, and I'll let the Ukrainians speak for how they're going to operate their troops on the ground. I wouldn't -- I wouldn't pretend to -- to speak for their -- for their future operations and their strategy.
Q: Thank you.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Courtney?
Q: Sorry. Nothing for me. Thanks.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Okay, Heather?
Q: Thanks so much. Russian sources are reporting that the commander of the Russian ship Caesar Kunikov died in the invasion. Is there any confirmation on that, or any information on what might have caused the damage to the ship that resulted in the captain dying?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: No, I'm afraid I don't have anything that I can confirm on that one. Sorry.
Tara Copp, Defense One?
Q: Hey, thank you. Based on what you're able to see -- and I realize weather has been an issue -- does it seem like the Russians have learned from their first convoys? And do the -- do the convoys seem better prepared? Are they taking different tactics? Will they -- do you assess that they are going to have the same supply issues, recognizing that they will be able to resupply much easier?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: What -- what I would say, Tara, is that we see indications that they are trying to learn and to adapt to some of the mistakes they made earlier in the war, particularly around Kyiv, and specifically, their logistics and sustainment problems. They are trying to learn how to fix and overcome those logistics and sustainment challenges. We also see, in the appointment of a -- of a overall commander, an -- an effort by the Russians to also try to learn from their mistakes with -- with -- with respect to command-and-control. But as I've said before, it remains to be seen whether their efforts to learn and to adapt will be sufficient to the task at hand. We'll just have to kind of see how this plays out. But we certainly have seen indications that they are trying to -- to -- to learn from their mistakes.
Q: To the extent you --
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: All right --
Q: -- can give any examples specifically on what they've learned on logistics?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: I mean, I kind of just did. I mean, the -- they -- they moved in -- you -- we -- we've talked about moving in logistics and sustainment capabilities and enabling capabilities, command-and-control capabilities before these -- these offensive ops really began in earnest. They -- they -- that was not the way they did it in Kyiv. They moved operational forces, maneuver forces in. They -- they fully expected to be able to take Kyiv in very short order, and did not factor in fuel, food, spare parts, other sustainment capabilities, and -- and -- and they suffered for that.
We're seeing them now put -- put more of that tail behind the tooth, actually in front of the tooth. So they're -- they're -- they -- they -- that's one example that I can -- that I can give you.
Q: Thank you. I actually defer to my colleague, Mary Walsh, who came in a little late.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Jeff, I -- I did hear that Mary wanted a question, so I'm -- I'm happy to give you both. It -- it -- it -- we -- we -- we can move through it. Do you have one?
Q: Yes, just -- I know in general sense, I know your situation -- the -- your situational awareness is limited, but can you say, have the Russians broken through the Ukrainian lines anywhere in the Donbas?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: I -- I haven't -- again, we -- we can't see perfectly, so I -- I can't -- I can't go so far as to say that, Jeff.
We have seen, again, some limited offensive operations southwest of Donetsk and south of Izyum. That -- that's where the preponderance of the ground activity that we've seen has been occurring but I don't know that I could go so far as to say broken through. The Ukrainians are clearly fighting back against these -- against these initial Russian offensive moves.
Q: Thank you.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Yes. Jack Detsch?
Q: Hey, (inaudible). I was wondering what at the moment the Pentagon's assessment is of -- of Russia's overall strategy when -- when you talk about the coordination between the south and the east? Is there still -- you assessed sort of a plan to link up, potentially pushing out the Crimean land bridge.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: We're not exactly sure. Again, you know, Jack, we're always careful about getting ahead of where things are today. So I don't want to say we know perfectly what the -- what the Russians are planning to do.
But in general, our assessment is that they still want to move up from Mariupol and down from the Kharkiv area. We are starting to see the southerly move from the north as we've been talking about. They have not been able to make the northerly moves out of Mariupol because they're still fixed in Mariupol.
And as I said yesterday, again, if -- we're not predicting it will happen but if they're able to take Mariupol, that would free up manpower and resources that they have dedicated to that fight to then do other things in the Donbas region.
So we still believe it is their intent to come both from north and south and to cut off the Donbas and obviously to fix Ukrainian forces that are there now. But again, remains to be seen whether they'll be successful in that.
Q: Thanks. And then I was just curious about the air superiority picture. I know you've said before that it differs around Ukraine. I'm just wondering what the assessment is of, you know, how much control of the skies Russia has over the Donbas?
And as you've talked about the weather if that is hindering Russian plans from the air?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Yes, so weather is certainly, we believe, has been a factor in their -- in their ability to operate in the airspace. In general we still believe the airspace is contested, that the Ukrainians still have a viable, active, and energetic air defense that they -- that they're being very -- let's just say they're being very agile in how they use it and very effective.
And just to give you one anecdotal piece of evidence of that, I mean when -- in the -- in the fixed wing air strikes that they are conducting down in the south, we continue to see sort of a similar wariness by Russian pilots that we saw up in the north where they either will not enter Ukrainian airspace before launching their strikes or they will skirt briefly inside Ukrainian airspace and then immediately egress out of that airspace because they have such respect for Ukrainian air defense capability.
Q: Thanks. My question was asked and answered but can you give us an update on the number of Russian missiles that have gone into Ukraine at this point?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: I did that at the top, Carla. We -- our best estimate is more than 1,670 missiles. And again, I caveated that by saying there's been some pretty bad weather in the last 24 hours.
And so that's our -- that's a best estimate. It could be off, we'll see what the number looks like tomorrow. We just -- there's a limit to what we've been able to see from the air.
Q: Okay, thanks.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Idrees Ali.
Q: Hey, thanks for the full name.
What was I going to ask? Oh yes, so a couple of weeks ago you talked about Georgia and some Russia troops moving. What ever happened with those? Did those end up moving to Ukraine and any other mobilizations in -- in some of the countries bordering Russia and Ukraine that you've seen?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: I don't have anything else to add in terms of other countries. And we do believe that they moved some forces from Georgia into Ukraine, we do -- we do believe that happened but we couldn't tell you where they are now, how many's left, where they're operating.
Again, we just don't -- we don't track units like that, we're not able to do it. But we do believe that that movement happened. And again, we continue to see the Russians try to reinforce their -- their capabilities.
And -- and largely speaking through refitting and resupplying BTGs that were applied up in the north and now are trying to make their way east for refitting and then back into Ukraine. So they're still, I think -- I mean there's -- you know still about the same number I talked about yesterday of BTGs that -- that were not reintroduced yet that are still going through some level of refit and resupply.
Again, it's a little bit different today because we know they added two back in. So they're up to 78. But -- I mean most of the -- I guess the point I'm trying to make, Idrees, is that most of the reinforcements that we see them drawing on are -- are reinforcements -- are units that were already involved in the north and are being refit and reapplied in there.
Q: Thank you.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Sasha from Newsy?
Q: Hi, I know you can't get to what is going on with the steel plant in Mariupol but can you give me a sense of how things are trending there with the Russian forces surrounding the city and inside the city?
And as you had said yesterday that is about -- I think you'd said 12 BTGs that can move on to other operations if Mariupol falls. Do you have a sense that these Ukrainian forces who are holding out, if -- if they're essentially holding out just to keep the Russians distracted in that location so that those other operations have less reinforcement on the Russian side? Thanks.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: No -- no change in what we think they have in and around Mariupol. Still about a dozen -- like I said yesterday -- look, it's clear that the Russians want to take Mariupol. It's also clear that the Ukrainians are not willing to give it up, certainly not without a fight. And that fight continues.
I don't have a -- again, we just don't have the level of specificity to tell you how many troops are in each part of the city and what they're doing and we just can't see that. But -- but broadly speaking Mariupol is still being fought over.
We believe the Russians wanted for a number of reasons. One is it gives them, you know, an unencumbered land bridge from the Donbas to Crimea. Now -- so they would have that -- they would have that whole territory now. That whole ground passage from -- from places like Donetsk all the way down into Crimea.
And also to the question, I can't remember, maybe it was Jack asked about it gives them the flexibility, freeing up forces and gives them the flexibility to move north out of that southern stretch from Mariupol to Melitopol up into the north into the Donbas to -- to complete what -- what they -- what we believe they want to achieve in the Donbas which is occupy -- occupation and the defeat of the Ukrainian forces there.
But, again, I mean they're still fighting over it. And they're still hitting Mariupol with long-range fires at a pretty -- at a pretty aggressive clip every day. So I don't know if that answered the question but that's the best that we can do right now.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Matt, ABC.
Q: Hi, thanks. We talked about Russia having a shorter supply tale. But now that the fighting is focused on the east it seems much longer for the Ukrainians at least in terms of the aid coming from the United States and other countries. Do you foresee any challenges or any problems with them getting that aid all the way across the country to the east? And how great is the threat, from you point of view, of Ukrainian forces concentrated there in the east being cut off at some point from those supplies?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Well I guess it's going to depend on how things go in the south there, Matt, and we just can't predict it. Right now we know that from our discussions with the Ukrainians that they are getting this material, it's getting into the hands of their fighters. How they do that is really for the Ukrainians to speak to. I wouldn't get -- I just wouldn't do that -- talk about their own logistics issues and how they're able to sustain themselves.
But clearly what the Russians want to do is cut them off and to -- and to defeat them in the Donbas. But they -- but they haven't yet. And again we don't believe it's inevitable that they will. But where it's going to go tomorrow we'll just have to -- we'll just have to wait and see.
What we're focused on is making sure that that flow into Ukraine continues at the same pace or faster than it already has. And so we're working on that. You heard from our previous briefer about what we're doing to make -- to make that happen every day. And that's what our focus is on.
As I -- as I said earlier, we are not dictating to the Ukrainians where -- once things get into their hands and get into their country it's their responsibility and we respect that. Their responsibility to get -- to get that material as it's needed to their -- to their front-line fighters. And through our conversations with them they are still able to do that.
Q: Thank you.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Kelly, NewsNation.
Q: Thank you, (inaudible). Thanks for doing this. Lavrov said today that they would not use nuclear weapons. Zelensky was telling people to stock up on anti-radiation pills with the nuclear threat. What does the Pentagon assessing in reaction to all of this?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: I -- I -- I won't comment on individual comments by -- by -- by leaders on this issue. I would just tell you that we've seen no indications that the use of nuclear weapons is in play or is imminent in any way. We watch this as closely as we can every single day. And as you've heard me say before, we're confident that we -- that we have the right strategic deterrent posture in place to defend the homeland and our allies and partners from nuclear weapons.
We just see no indication that there's any potential imminent use here.
Liz from Fox.
Q: Hey, (inaudible), it's Luis on behalf of Liz, who had to step away for a moment. So I'm going to read her question.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry earlier today released intelligence documents that it said -- showed evidence that the -- back in 2020 the Russian army was at one point planning to occupy Belarus after their elections. Is there any evidence that Russian troops were headed into Belarus directly from Russia at that time? Or are you seeing any other Russian troops headed into Russia -- into Belarus at this time that are separate from the ongoing mission into Ukraine?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: I have nothing on the 2020 timeframe, Luis. I just -- I can't help with that one.
On the second question, I mean, the movement into Belarus that we have been seeing is pretty much complete. It was a retreat out of Kyiv and Chernihiv into Belarus, and into Belgorod, Russia, and we continue to see that the -- the movement of -- of some -- a much smaller number now than before, but some battalion tactical groups moving eastward out of Belarus and into Belgorod and Valuyki as they -- again, that's sort of where we see them concentrating their resupply efforts and reinforcement efforts there. So the only movement of Russian troops with respect to Belarus that we've seen are leaving Belarus to -- to go further east to Belgorod and Valuyki for refitting.
Q: Can I follow up real quick?
Q: Can I ask for a quick clarification? I'm sorry. When you said earlier about the roughly 75 percent combat effectiveness that the -- what the Russians had in -- planned for the invasion, does that take into account that a lot of those BTGs had left, like gone into Belarus? And is it possible that that combat effectiveness will rise if -- as they re-enter Ukraine?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: It's a composite percentage that we assemble taking a look at all their combat capabilities. Battalion tactical groups on the ground, aviation, cruise missile, ballistic missile, air defense, it's a composite figure that we use based on everything. So it does include the units that -- that they still have available to them but they have not committed because they're still refitting.
Q: Thank you.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Mary Walsh, last question.
Q: Thanks for taking my question.
Our teams in Ukraine are -- have reports that Russians -- that the Ukrainians are actually surrounding Russian forces near Izyum. And I wonder if you have anything on that.
Also asking if howitzers were on any of the several flights that went in in the last 24 hours.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL #1: Mary, I couldn't confirm the -- the operational reporting your guys are seeing on the ground. I mean, we just, again, don't have that level of visibility. And I wouldn't be comfortable confirming individual -- individual tactical level operations. What we do see is, as I said, heavy fighting south of Donetsk and south of Izyum. We do see the Ukrainians being active in those efforts, but exactly who is surrounding who or where they're placed, I just don't know.
And I have -- I have nothing to report with respect to howitzers on the -- in the last 24 hours, arriving, but I -- what I can tell you is that they are being prioritized and I believe that you will see them begin to arrive in the region very, very soon. But I -- but I can't speak to any that were arriving in the last 24.
Okay. Thanks, everybody. I think we're back up at the podium later in the day, so -- so we'll say 3 o'clock, I'm being told. So -- so we'll see you later. Bye.
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