September 31, 2022
Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition and Sustainment) LaPlante and Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Policy) Baker Hold a Media Roundtable on the Recent Meeting of the National Armaments Directors Under the Auspices of the Ukraine Defense Contract Group
STAFF: All right, good afternoon, everybody. Today, I'm joined by Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Bill LaPlante and Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Sasha Baker (who will) discuss the recent meeting of national armaments directors under the auspices of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. However, if you have other questions about USAI Tranche Six that came out the other day, they can address those questions. I would ask that you keep your questions within these bounds for today, as we are limited on time and have about 25 or 30 minutes. And also, unless you are asking a question, please keep your phones on mute.
With that, I will turn it over to Dr. LaPlante.
UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE WILLIAM LAPLANTE: Well, hi, everybody. Good afternoon, and happy Friday. Thanks for joining us. It's great to join you today to talk about the last few days, including the National Armaments Directors meeting in Brussels, which was very successful on Wednesday. I'm happy to answer questions about the session, but also want to highlight a few key takeaways.
For the first time under the auspices of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, we had all of these acquisitions and Defense Industrial Base specialists in the room together. So that was basically the equivalent of myself -- "national armaments director" is the term they use -- for 45 nations, including the Union -- the European Union, as well as NATO. Throughout the day, we heard from nearly 20 of our partners who discussed efforts that they are doing to strengthen and expand their own industrial bases and deal with supply chain issues, all the issues we all are dealing with right now.
The meeting resulted in commitments to stand up smaller working groups among ourselves to continue the conversation, drive actionable progress. These working groups will define multinational strategies to mitigate supply chain constraints, increase production and pursue not just interoperability, but interchangeability. This frank and open dialogue was exactly what we hoped to see as we went into the meeting, and I'm proud of the collective efforts to support Ukraine in the long term. The ability for us to work together across our nation -- these are all the nations of the contact group -- to solve challenges is inspiring.
With that, I'll turn it over to Ms. Baker for any opening comments that she has.
DEPUTY UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE SASHA BAKER: Thanks, Bill, and thank you to the members of the press for joining us on the heels of our travel to Brussels. I apologize. I'm joining you remotely today, so if you have any trouble hearing me, please shout and I will try to see what I can do about that.
As Dr. LaPlante outlined, this was the first time that we gathered the armaments directors under the auspices of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, and what I think is important about that is it's really joining up the policy and the acquisition and the Defense Industrial Base specialists from all of the nations that Bill described to put our collective heads together and tackle some of the challenges that we know we're facing.
The level of dialogue and unified action among the participants I think really underscores our unwavering global commitment to stand with Ukraine as it defends its sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression, and we were fortunate to have Ukraine's Deputy Minister Havrylov with us to really kind of give us a first-hand perspective of what they're facing on the ground.
Russia's brutal and premeditated invasion of Ukraine is really a fundamental attack on our international rules-based order. Their efforts have not succeeded, and we are committed to ensuring that they will not succeed. As we've made clear at basically every level of the Administration, we are committed to strengthening Ukraine's hand in their fight for sovereignty and in their fight to retain their territorial integrity. So I'm really delighted that our meetings this week were able to advance the ball in strengthening the position of this collective group of Allies and partners who've all made the same commitment.
So that's really, I think, all I'll say at the top; happy to take questions, but for now, let me hand it back over you, Jessica.
STAFF: Thank you, and just one clarification note. Everything today is said on the record, attributable by name.
So with that, we'll go ahead and get started. Lita Baldor, A.P.
Q: Hi. Thank you. Question for either or both of you: What -- how much discussion was there about efforts to energize the industrial base? And what concerns are there among countries that they are -- as they provide all of these weapons and equipment, that the U.S. and others are reaching the point where you're -- a PDA is not as likely because you're reaching some risky limits on some equipment and some weapon systems, and you'll have to turn to a greater effort to energize the industrial base? How much did you hear of that during the conversation, and how big of a concern is that for the U.S.?
DR. LAPLANTE: Yeah, I'll start, and then maybe Sasha can pick it up, too.
I don't know that there was a lot of concern about, you know, the supply -- the supplies and individual stockpiles or anything like that, not like what sometimes you hear in the press. It was much more about how do we -- as we all get our production lines going, and not just going for Ukraine, but also to replenish ourselves in anticipation of the future, what are the -- what are the tools and the common signal or ideas that we have between us that we can share with each other, and maybe even cooperate together?
I'll give you a very specific example: Everybody hears this term from industry called "We need to see the demand signal. We need to see demand signal." All the countries hear the same thing. We discussed exactly, well, what that -- what does that really mean, right? Because we see lots of demand, right? You just have to read the newspaper or just go online and see it. What's really meant by that is that the industry both in our country and around the world want to know, is there a sustainable longer-range plan for these production so that they can invest themselves and put production lines together that will be enduring, and not that this will be something which has traditionally been feast or famine; that we go into panic mode, we increase production, and then when the crisis passed, we just go back to minimal production again. So I think that's what really, the focus is on that.
And then when you follow that discussion you get to things like multiyear contracting ideas, pooling our requirements together so we can maybe have a combined procurement so there's larger quantity that's more stable for industrial base, coproduction even, and then also getting our political processes and our dialogue in our own countries and many of democracies on getting the understanding that the way we've traditionally done procurement of munitions in peace time where we've basically produced the minimal amount, and then we turn it off even below that, we may have to change that, looking at the world ahead, not just the immediate crisis in Ukraine, but a long -- longer term. So that's really where the conversation was.
But I'll let Ms. Baker also comment.
MS. BAKER: Yeah, I think I completely agree. The only thing I would really add to that is I think what you're seeing is a recognition amongst the partners and allies that we've made a commitment now for the long haul. And so what we need is a mix of different mechanisms for providing assistance to Ukraine. So we have PDA, which is very effective in the short term in terms of addressing urgent requirements that the Ukrainians are conveying to us. But if we want to, you know, work with Ukraine to get them to a NATO standard and get them to a place where they can sustain their military and their defensive abilities over the long term, we have to start that now because we know that some of the contracting timelines and the production timelines, specifically, for some of the equipment that the Ukrainians will need is going to take six, 12, 18 months.
STAFF: OK, thank you. Let's go to Joe Gould, Defense News.
Q: Hi, thanks so much. Dr. LaPlante, I just - just wanted to ask a follow up on your point. I - how much are you hearing from industry that they don't have the - you know, the - they don't have the production capacity right now? And - how much are they dependent on actual contracts to go ahead and put out the kind of equipment that - that Ukraine's going to need in the long term?
DR. LAPLANTE: Yeah, you - well, you hear different things. It depends. Even within a single industry company, you'll hear different things, depending on which level of the company you're talking to.
The real issue is what happens is when you go to industry, a particular company, and say hey, you're producing this at 1,000 a month - I'm making this up - can you get it to 2,000? And they'll have to come back, and it's not an easy question to answer because the answer is always going to be yes, then you - then you say how long is it going to take? Is it going to take a year, year and a half? What's your critical chokepoint? And then you look and you see - work with them to see if it's realistic.
The money part of it, the contracting part of it gets all the attention in the press. Contracting, actually, we can be very - we're very fast with contracting. We push money very quickly out to contractors. That's kind of a red herring. It's not the contracting, it's actually the physically getting the production line either restarted or getting it to be doubled.
And a lot of times, the key items that make these things take a year or two are long lead items, some - something you have to order well ahead. Think of your own life, how long you have to order things.
Second will be obsolescence of parts, key sub-components, like microelectronics, even ball bearings, actuators. And a lot of times, many production lines, they don't really know off the top of their head which is the key chokepoints. They have to do the analysis.
So it's really about the companies and their capability, regardless of getting the money - if they got the money today, how quickly they can get to those numbers. And just to remind everybody, this is always the case with production. Production doesn't just start and stop overnight, it takes time.
And so to - back to Ms. Baker's point, that's why we're having this conversation now, because, you know, this isn't going to help in the next week, right? The next week, it's all about the drawdown and the things like that that we're doing. But this is to show the commitments in the long run.
STAFF: All right, thanks. Let's go to Jon Harper, DefenseScoop.
Q: Thank you. I was wondering if loitering munitions were a big topic of discussion at this meeting? And, you know, do you have concerns there about production rates or the supply chains?
And then with regard to this latest tranche of USAI aid, there was a mention of counter-UAS systems. Can you provide any more details about that? Are these primarily the VAMPIRE systems that were included in a previous tranche or are these new capabilities?
DR. LAPLANTE: Yeah, I'll answer the last thing first, which is that we're - we're not giving details, at least right now, on which counter-UAS systems were in the tranche yesterday that was announced.
I would just say, on the broader category of loitering munitions, well, you know, there is - broad categories of capabilities - I'll call them capabilities - that always come up. They typically are long range fires, air defenses - integrated air defenses, including counter-UAS, some types of - of air-to-ground and ground-to-ground. These always come up in these conversations, and then, of course, ways to do C2 and targeting.
So there's not any one - only one topic that comes up. And again, back to loitering munitions, there's lots of different options that the U.S. has and other countries have that all have different capability of endurance, different warhead sizes, et cetera.
So I just - there's lots of options out there. It's not really a supply chain or industrial base issue.
Q: Great, thank you.
STAFF: Tom Bowman, NPR?
Q: Yeah, for Bill LaPlante, you mentioned microelectronics, ball bearings, and you talked about increasing production. Any other items you can talk about in particular?
And then ...
DR. LAPLANTE: I apologize, I cut you off. Solid rocket motors.
Q: OK. Anything else?
DR. LAPLANTE: Let's see. I'm trying to think. Those are the big ones right now. Solid rock - sometimes, it's very specific casings for certain type of weapons that will come up but the main ones are individual parts and microelectronics that become obsolete. They were fine 10 years ago but they're not produced anymore, so we have to find a replacement for them.
Solid rocket motors, there's a very limited solid rocket motor industrial base in the world, not just in the United States, because the application of them is largely not commercial. And so that always comes up.
And then each munition or each capability, it's a little different. It's sort of like you just have to go into the full path of how many suppliers there are and find the critical path, but the common ones are there and they're common across - across industry.
Q: OK. And for Sasha Baker, you mentioned strengthening Ukraine's hand. Now, this issue keeps coming up. For many weeks, the Ukrainians have been asking for ATACMS. They are getting Soviet era tanks, of course, from Poland, Slovenia, but they want Abrams tanks. So are both of these items still unlikely to happen? And if so, why?
MS. BAKER: So I - you know, I don't know - we're in a constant conversation with the Ukrainians about their needs and what it is that they think that they need and why and what we can provide and how we can meet their capabilities.
On ATACMS specifically, you know, we believe that we're providing the Ukrainians with the range of capabilities that are commensurate with the fight that they're executing, based on the requirements that they've identified for us.
You know, we really believe that the most critical requirement for Ukraine right now is the GMLRS munitions that can reach most of the targets that they have identified within Ukrainian territory. And we've seen that they're using them to great effect.
So I don't have anything new for you in terms of additional capabilities that we may or may not provide to Ukraine.
Q: And as far as Abrams, which they've been asking for as well?
MS. BAKER: Yeah, I mean, we're in an ongoing conversation with the Ukrainians about, again, what will the future force look like. That analysis is underway in the Joint Staff and elsewhere in the department - I'll - you know, in - again, in constant coordination with the Ukrainians, but I don't have anything more for you today on that.
Q: Oh, OK. Thank you.
STAFF: All right. Let's go to Paul Hanley, AFP.
Q: Hi. Going back to the question about UAVs, is there a - can you talk about the technology changes and the - how hard it is to address advances? I'm thinking of - is it - is it - do you need new technologies to defend against Iranian drones? Do the Ukrainians need new technologies or better drones to overcome defenses from the other side? Is this - is there a kind of technology bottleneck in this situation?
DR. LAPLANTE: No, not really. Actually, contrary, perhaps, that - a lot of public perception, those UASs or whatever you want to call them are not that high tech. I mean, there's - many of them are things you can just buy off the shelf.
The issue is, as people get better, these are countries or warfighters get better at the tactics of using them, and how to -- you know, and then figure out what works, in many ways it mirrors the counter -- the IED and counter-IED struggle in CENTCOM that we experienced in the early -- earlier 10 years ago.
Whereas the adversary is constantly changing how they are using them and then the defenses are always try to change to how to counter them. And so it's a -- and that's really the race, it's about TTP, it's what they call tactics, techniques, and procedures. So, for example, if you know, if you want to use a UAS with -- that has a warhead on it, and you want to use it to crash into something with precision, basically use it almost as a one-way -- think of it as a controllable weapon, which is how some of them are being used, that is a tactic you can use. And the question is, what is the best way to defend against that?
And so there has been -- fortunately, over the last decade this has been worked very hard and there is lots of different techniques on how to defend against them. But every time there is a new defense against them, then typically the offense will figure out a way around that. It's very much analogous to the IED/counter-IED. So it's really not technology. It's really just rapidly changing your tactics on both sides.
Q: ... is there some -- oh, I'm sorry. Excuse me.
MS. BAKER: Well, I was just going to expound on what Bill was saying, but why don't you ask your second question and then -- and happy to try to...
Q: The follow-up is what can the West do to help (INAUDIBLE) the Ukrainians better defend against Iranian drones?
DR. LAPLANTE: Well, I think in general, now this is -- you don't have to worry -- you can talk about it in the context of Ukraine and Iran. But the U.S. particularly, we've had a whole series of counter-UAS initiatives going back a decade where we have done demonstrations, we've held contests, we've funded -- we have a lot of funding in our S&T community, our science community. A lot of universities are involved in it. So really I would encourage everybody to put their ideas forward.
Now and we did the request for information about four or five months ago to industry, that's one of the things we ask for. Give us all your ideas on defeating UASes. And there is lots of ideas. There's directed energy ideas. There's obviously electronic, like high-powered microwave. And, of course, there is kinetic kill or proximity fuse approaches. There's just attacking the link itself, taking away the (P&T ?). There's lots of counter-UAS ideas and techniques that are out there. We just encourage people to keep thinking about them and proposing ideas.
MS. BAKER: Yes, so on the Iranian UAVs in particular, just to add a little bit of additional color to what Bill has said, and he's completely right, there -- you know, there is a department-wide counter-UAS effort that engages the policy, A&S, R&E, the services, SOCOM, et cetera. And that's not unique to Ukraine. Obviously we're learning a lot from what we what we see in terms of the use of UAVs in Ukraine. But that is a challenge that we have experienced, you know, in other part of the world as well.
But we know that the Russians have sent operators to receive training in Iran on how to use the UAV systems that Iran has provided. And, you know, we've assessed, again, that they intend to use these UAVs for not only the kind of sort of additional air-to-surface attacks, but also potentially electronic warfare targeting on the battlefield in Ukraine.
But, frankly, you know, what I think it speaks to is not some kind of technological advance but actually, you know, a bit of desperation on the part of the Russians. We know their military is suffering from major supply shortages in Ukraine, in part because of sanctions and export controls. And it's forcing them to rely on some unreliable countries for supplies and equipment.
You know, we have seen some evidence already that the UAVs associated with the transfer from Iran have already experienced numerous failures on the battleground - on the battlefields in Ukraine.
So I think the idea that they represent some sort of technological leap ahead, frankly, we're just not seeing borne out in - in the - in the data.
STAFF: So we have time for one, maybe two more questions. So let's go to Tony Bertuca, Inside Defense.
Q: Thank you very much. Earlier this week, Mr. LaPlante, you talked about sort of wanting to use the meeting to talk about greater defense industrial cooperation between United States and its allies, not just to immediately help Ukraine but to prepare for the next Ukraine. How - what does that look like? Does that mean the U.S. buying more from allies, the U.S. selling more to allies?
And then Ms. Baker, the policy behind that would seem to kind of maybe fly in the face of many made in America policies. Doesn't doing this mean getting more relief from Congress? Thank you.
DR. LAPLANTE: Yeah, I'll address the first part. Yeah, I think - well, if you - I mean, one simple way to think about it is we've got the Ukraine fight that's happening now that we - that is - you know, is - the problem that we have, the top of the list, but we also - when you look at, for example, NATO, NATO's job - NATO's not at war right now. NATO's job is deter.
So what - when you talk to NATO countries, what you're - besides comparing notes about how you're helping Ukraine individually, you want to talk collectively as - what is the right NATO force in the future that will continue to deter, in this case - in - Russia's aggression. That's the point of having the Article 5 in NATO.
So when you have those conversations, you get into - very quickly, it gets - it goes in the following places. Number one, standards - we have what's called NATO standards - but standards of the equipment, of the interfaces, that therefore, we can - we can all use the different equipment.
Now, that's where we're getting to this word of "interchangeable." If the idea behind interchangeable - and think about it in a - in 155 rounds with the M777 - this isn't completely true because the details matter - but it's very nice when you can have 155 rounds that are produced in one part of the world be used in an artillery that's produced somewhere else, and it's the operator doesn't have to worry about it.
That's a simple version of interchangeable, and that's where we need to go in lots of these systems, but what that also means is it means we're going to have to agree on standards. And I think that that's where the conversation goes.
When it comes to industrial base, really where the conversations go - and it may need help from the Congress and it may need socialization - is multi-country procurements, even development and contracting for items, such that we would have production lines, maybe in (multiple ?) places, of the same item - multiple geographic places that are producing the same item by multiple countries. That's where we would like to potentially go, not for everything but where it makes sense.
MS. BAKER: And in terms of the policy implications, look, I mean, I think you've heard from Secretary Austin numerous times how significant an element of our strategy is relying on partners and allies to step up and do - and do their part, because we know that we are greater than - than the sum of our parts when we work in unison. That's true on the policy side, that's also true on the acquisition side.
So if we can help our allies to help themselves, to help each other, we believe that's sort of a rising tides lifts all boats situation. It's to our benefit as well. Certainly, there is no lack of demand for American-made munitions, American-made equipment, American-made capabilities.
We see that across the board, in terms of almost every signal that you can have - letters of (requests ?), conversations that we have with partners and allies, and I think what countries are seeing is the really tremendous technological capability and superiority, in some cases, that American-made equipment can bring on the battlefield.
Q: Thank you.
STAFF: All right, thanks, everybody. We are out of time for today. Thank you to Dr. LaPlante and Ms. Baker for joining us. And everybody have a great afternoon. Out here.
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