Jun 16, 2022

Pentagon Officials Hold Press Conference on Russia and Ukraine 6/15/22 Transcript

Pentagon Officials Hold Press Conference on Russia and Ukraine 6/15/22 Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsPentagonPentagon Officials Hold Press Conference on Russia and Ukraine 6/15/22 Transcript

Pentagon Officials hold a press conference following the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting in Brussels. Read the transcript here.

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Secretary Austin: (00:02)
… and on June 1st, President Biden authorized an additional $700 million to meet Ukraine’s critical needs for today’s fight. And that included HIMARS rocket systems with guided MLRS munitions.

Secretary Austin: (00:18)
This package also included Javelins, helicopters, counter battery radars, and ammunition. And I’m especially pleased to be able to announce today that the United States will provide an additional $1 billion security assistant package for Ukraine. And that includes our 12th drawdown from DOD inventory since August of 2021.

Secretary Austin: (00:45)
And it includes guided MLRS munitions, 18 more M777 howitzers, and the tactical vehicles to tow them, and 36,000 rounds of 155 millimeter ammunition. This package also includes $650 million in Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative Funds. And that will help Ukraine defend itself with two additional Harpoon coastal defense systems, and thousands of secure radios, night vision devices, and thermal sights and other optics.

Secretary Austin: (01:22)
Now, our allies and partners have also risen to the moment. We heard some significant announcements this afternoon about new security assistance packages for Ukraine. And many countries are providing Ukraine with urgently needed systems and ammunition.

Secretary Austin: (01:38)
Other friends have made new commitments to train Ukraine’s forces and sustain its military systems. But there are too many countries to properly thank here. I’ll just take a moment to highlight a few.

Secretary Austin: (01:54)
I want to thank Germany, which announced today it will provide three multiple launch rocket systems and guided MLRS munitions to Ukraine. We’re working shoulder-to-shoulder with both the UK and now Germany, as we develop Ukraine’s long range fires capabilities.

Secretary Austin: (02:13)
This effort also builds upon our transfer of HIMARS. Let me also thank Slovakia, which announced a significant donation of MI series helicopters, and of urgently needed rocket ammunition.

Secretary Austin: (02:28)
And we also discussed important new artillery donations from many countries, including Canada, and Poland, and the Netherlands.

Secretary Austin: (02:38)
These are key investments in Ukraine’s long range fires capabilities, and they’ll be crucial to Ukraine’s efforts to repel Russia’s assault in the Donbas.

Secretary Austin: (02:49)
I’m very thankful to these countries and to all of the countries that are helping Ukraine to defend itself, even as the war shifts, and Ukraine’s most urgent continue to evolve.

Secretary Austin: (03:01)
Since the contact group first came together nearly three months ago, we built tremendous momentum for donations and delivery of military assistance. And after this afternoon’s discussions, we’re not just going to maintain that momentum, we’re going to move even faster and push even harder.

Secretary Austin: (03:22)
We’ll deepen our coordination and cooperation, and we’ll bolster Ukraine’s armed forces to help them repel Russian aggression now and in the future. So we’ll continue working closely and intensively together with this contact group. And we’ll keep on strengthening our support for Ukraine’s self defense, and we’ll continue to stand up for the rules-based international order that protects us all.

Secretary Austin: (03:48)
Thank you. And I’ll turn it over to General Miller.

Chairman Milley: (03:51)
Thanks Secretary Austin, for your words, and for your leadership in putting together this contact group, it is indeed making a significant difference, and it frankly wouldn’t be happening without Secretary Austin.

Chairman Milley: (04:00)
And I want to thank also, as Secretary Austin said, the around 50 countries who participated in this third iteration of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. And I also want to thank Ukrainian’s Deputy Chad, who attended Lieutenant General Moysoup to today’s meeting.

Chairman Milley: (04:20)
The collective efforts of this group have helped achieve undeniable effects on the battlefield against the Russians. And we collectively will continue to support Ukraine as they defend against unprovoked war, the illegal war, being waged by Russia on Ukrainian sovereign national territory.

Chairman Milley: (04:39)
In the current phase of this conflict, the Ukrainians are fighting hard, tooth and nail, every day, inch by inch, yard by yard, kilometer by kilometer, against the Russian advance in the Donbas. The minister of defense and the chiefs of defense who have met today are committed to providing Ukrainians the means to halt Russian aggression and defend their sovereign territory.

Chairman Milley: (05:03)
The world has a significant stake in the outcome of what happens in Ukraine. The so-called rules-based international order is at stake that has been in place since the end of World War II to prevent great power war, and to prevent large powers from conquering smaller countries with military force.

Chairman Milley: (05:25)
Ukraine is under threat. They are at war, and we will continue to support them. But the rules-based international order is also under threat due to the actions of Russia in the Ukraine.

Chairman Milley: (05:41)
The international community is not allowing this unambiguous act of aggression by Russia to go unanswered. To do so the risks to the world returning to an era when large powerful countries can invade smaller countries at will, that is what the international community is up against.

Chairman Milley: (05:59)
Since the initiation of hostilities in late February, the global community has responded in an unprecedented manner. The Ukrainian Security Assistance Program has been calculated, responsive, and relevant to Ukrainian defense requirements.

Chairman Milley: (06:14)
Our close and ongoing relationship with Ukraine’s military leaders has informed our process to provide a tailored, timely assistance based on Ukrainian needs. Leaders at multiple levels, including the US European Command led by General Wolters have maintained consistent contact with Ukrainian counterparts.

Chairman Milley: (06:35)
Additionally, I have remained in active communication with the Ukrainian chief of staff Generals Zaluzhnyi each week, several times a week, sometimes several times a day.

Chairman Milley: (06:47)
At the onset of the Russian invasion the global community took action in the form of security assistance to help Ukraine defend itself. This immediate assistance had exceptional impact on the battlefield; Russia halted and turned back their initial advances in the face of fierce Ukrainian resistance. As Russia now invades the Donbas Region, which began this offensive on 16 April, some 60 days ago. We, along with our allies and partners have provided dozens of 155 millimeter howitzers, and almost a half a million rounds.

Chairman Milley: (07:24)
By the end of this month, we will transfer HIMARS systems, ammunition, trained crews for operational use in the defense of Ukraine. We and other countries are building a platoon at a time in order to certify the Ukrainians to make sure that they can properly employ and maintain the system. And in a few weeks, the Ukrainians will have trained long range rocket artillery in the fight.

Chairman Milley: (07:50)
To date, we have trained 420 Ukrainians on the M777 howitzer, 300 Ukrainians on the self-propelled M109, 129 on the 113 armored personnel carrier, 100 on unmanned aerial systems, and 60 most recently graduating today, on the HIMARS.

Chairman Milley: (08:14)
Additionally, the United States has provided over 6,500 Javelins, and 20,000 other anti-armor systems. Collectively the international community has provided almost 97,000 anti- tank systems, more anti-tank systems than there are tanks in the world.

Chairman Milley: (08:35)
We have also provided over 1500 Stingers, more than 700 Switchblade tactical unmanned aerial systems, 20 MI-17s, and hundreds of thousands of small arms ammunition.

Chairman Milley: (08:50)
The speed that we have delivered security assistance is without comparison; from the time the requests are validated and authorized it’s only a matter of days until the requirement is sourced, shipped, and in the hands of Ukrainians. In some cases-

Chairman Milley: (09:03)
Shipped in the hands of Ukrainians. In some cases it may take a week, but most of the time it’s measured in days. While more work is required, we could not have achieved this progress without the active assistance from the countries who were present today. We gathered today, both in the defense of Ukraine and really in the defense of the world. It is only through the preservation of the rules based international order that we are going to continue to have a peaceful international system that everyone benefits from. As we move together, we will continue to coordinate with our allies and partners around the globe to help support the Ukrainians with the training and the tools they need to fight and maintain their country’s defense. I look forward to your questions.

Speaker 1: (09:45)
Peter Martin, Bloomberg.

Peter Martin: (09:48)
Yeah. Thank you very much. Secretary Austin, Ukraine is publicly asked for a long list of weapons, including 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks and 300 multiple launch rocket systems. You’ve repeatedly stressed that US assistance needs to be driven by Ukraine’s needs. And with that in mind, do you think that this latest package risks providing Ukraine with too little too late? And then for Chairman Milley, at this point, do you see the consolidation of Russian control in Eastern Ukraine as inevitable? Thank you.

Secretary Austin: (10:21)
Well, thanks for the question. You’re right we remain focused on Ukraine’s needs and we understand what those needs are because as you heard the chairman say, he’s in contact with his counterpart, sometimes a couple of times a week. I talked to the Minister of Defense Reznikov routinely. And one of the key benefits of having this contact group is that we have the ability of bringing the Ukrainian leadership in, Minister of Defense, the Vice Chief of Defense, and have them give us a lay down of the battlefield dynamics and then talk again about what their current requirements are. And as you know, the battlefield is dynamic, the needs will evolve over time. And they’ve identified those needs currently to be long range fires capability, armor, and some mid-range anti-aircraft capability, and also howitzers, which is different from the HIMARS.

Secretary Austin: (11:41)
So we remain focused on what their needs are currently, and also in the near term, looking out several weeks and months. Eventually we’ll want to work with our allies and partners to build a capability to sustain themselves over time. But we really are focused on what the leadership believes that its current needs are in this fight. I think the international community has done a pretty good job of providing that capability, but it’s never enough. And so we’re going to continue to work hard to move things as much capability as we can as fast as we can to ensure that Ukraine can be successful on the battlefield.

Chairman Milley: (12:29)
So, on your question of the… But on the numbers just real quick. I’m not sure what you’re referring to. But I talked to General Zaluzhnyi, we get lists. These are official requests from their Department of Defense. They asked for 10 battalions of artillery, 12 battalions of artillery were delivered. Again, I say 97,000 anti tank systems, that’s more anti-tank systems and tanks in the world. They asked for 200 tanks, they got 237 tanks. They asked for 100 infantry fighting vehicles, they got over 300. We’ve delivered, roughly speaking, 1,600 or so air defense systems and about 60,000 air defense rounds. When I say us, I mean the international community, you’re looking at 260 artillery tube systems, either rocket or tube artillery have been already delivered, 383 committed. And like I said, almost half a million rounds of artillery. I can go down the whole list of everything.

Chairman Milley: (13:28)
Bottom line is everything General Zaluzhnyi asked for as rapidly as possible we get it source through the international community, through the United States and allies and partners, and we get it done as rapidly as we can. So I don’t know where those numbers are that you’re coming from, but we, the international community, are taken it very seriously. And we are supporting the Ukrainian military is rapidly as humanly possible.

Chairman Milley: (13:49)
With respect to, is it inevitable that the Russians will consolidate power in the Donbas? As I said that the war started on 24 February, they were defeated in and around Kyiv, they took their forces, they marshaled them and amassed them in and around the Donbas. And so right now that’s where the battles taking place. Two oblast are in the Donbas, one is Luhansk, the other is Donetsk. It’s really the Luhansk Oblast where most of the significant fighting is happening in and around Severodonetsk. Right now, Severodonetsk, the city is probably three quarters taken or so by Russian forces, but the Ukrainians are fighting them street by street, house by house. It’s not a done deal. There are no inevitabilities in war. War takes many, many turns.

Chairman Milley: (14:41)
So I wouldn’t say it’s a inevitability, but I would say that the numbers clearly favor the Russians in terms of artillery. They do outnumber, they outgun and outrange, you’ve heard that many, many times. And they do have enough forces, but the Russians have run into a lot of problems. They’ve got command and control issues, logistics issues, they’ve got morale issues, leadership issues, and a wide variety of other issues. So the Ukrainians are fighting a heroic fight. This fight down in the Donbas has been going on since 16 April. And the advances that the Russians have made have been very slow, a very tough slog, very severe battle of attrition, almost World War I like, and the Russians have suffered tremendous amounts of casualties.

Speaker 1: (15:20)
Jonathan Beale from the BBC.

Jonathan Beale: (15:26)
Thank you very much. If I can ask Secretary Austin. I think the Deputy Defense Minister of Ukraine has said that the West has given Ukraine 10% of what it’s asked for. Do you recognize that figure? And if I can ask General Milley, do you really think that US sending four HIMARS systems, the UK sending three MLRs rocket launches and Germany selling three is really going to tip the balance in the Donbas in Ukraine’s favor? It doesn’t seem that much when you look at the numbers. I know you’ve given me lots of other numbers, but do you think it’s really going to tip the balance? Thank you.

Secretary Austin: (16:05)
On the second part of that question, I think you have to be careful about equating HIMARS capability or an M270 capability to other MLRs systems. These are precision munitions and with a properly trained crew, they will hit what they’re aiming at and it provides some, some pretty good capability in terms of distance. But capability is a weapon, a trained crew and munitions. And so as we train those crews up, we’re able to provide them with systems and munitions, and then you have an initial capability and then you build on it. So, over time, yeah, we think the combination of what the allies and partners can bring to the table, it will make a difference. But again, this is a different kind of capability than what you’ve seen from other multiple launch rocket systems.

Secretary Austin: (17:11)
On a 10% issue. I don’t know if you’re quoting the Minister of Foreign Affairs or if you’re quoting the Minister-

Jonathan Beale: (17:21)
Deputy Defense Minister.

Secretary Austin: (17:22)
Deputy Defense Minister. Well, we just spent time with his boss in the room next door, and as we have on a number of occasions and gone down line by line of what they need it and is relevant in this fight. So we feel pretty confident that we’re working hard to give them what they think is relevant. In terms of where the big number came from, I can’t speak to that. You’ll have to let that gentleman explain his numbers. I would only say this, General Milley and I have been in a number of fights and when you’re in a fight, you can-

Secretary Austin: (18:03)
And when you’re in a fight, you can never get enough. You always want more. You always believe that you need more. And I have been there. And so, I certainly understand where the Ukrainians are coming from, and we’re going to fight hard to get them everything they need. But again, we want to make sure that we’re focused on what they think they need for this current fight and beyond. And I think this contact group brings together the right elements to be able to sort through that. And again, this is a constant effort. We don’t believe that we’re going to meet every need by tomorrow. In two weeks from now, requirements will probably have evolved a bit. So, I think we have to put things in perspective. When you’re in the fight, you can never get enough, and you can never get it quick enough. But having said all that, we’re going to work hard to make sure we’re doing everything humanly possible. We’re going to continue to move heaven and earth to get them the capability that they need.

Chairman Milley: (19:08)
So, let me… First of all, in warfare, no weapon system is a silver bullet ever. So, no weapon system, singular weapon system ever quote unquote turns the balance. It’s the combination of it’s a combined arms fight. It’s a combination of ground maneuver with air and artillery and so on, so forth. And that’s where the HIMARS comes in. In this case, in terms of fires, this is a battle of fires. So, the Ukrainians have mortars. They’re going to go out to 5, 7, 8 kilometers. Then, they’ve got the tube artillery. That’s going to take you out to 25 kilometers with precision fire or accurate fire with the triple sevens. Then, they’ve also got rocket-assisted projectiles, which will go out to 40 kilometers. And now, the HIMARS will go out to 85 kilometers. So, we’re providing them, as you said, with the Brits and others, about 10 systems. They’re going to have well over a hundred rounds of ammunition. That’s initial package.

Chairman Milley: (19:58)
We’re training a platoon at a time in Germany. The secretary has directed the next platoon to be trained and so on. So, this capability will build, but because it’s a precision weapon, the amount of ammunition that we’re given, if they use it properly, and we just ran the certification exercise in the last 48 hours for these guys, if they use the weapon properly and it’s employed properly, they ought to be able to take out a significant amount of targets. And that will make a difference in combination with the triple sevens hitting at 40 and 25 kilometers in the mortars. So, you want to echelon these fires. I will say this. The Ukrainians artillery, their skills, the artillery skills of the Ukrainians are very, very good. They’re topnotch gunners, and the effect that they’re achieving on the battlefield right now with the triple sevens has been very, very, very, very good, very effective. And we expect the same out of the HIMARS.

Speaker 2: (20:49)
Idrees Ali from Reuters.

Idrees Ali: (20:52)
Thank you [inaudible 00:20:52]. Mr. Secretary, in the past, you’ve talked about the United States aim in Ukraine being to help the Ukrainians win the war and weaken Russia. Is that still the United States goal, or is that out of reach now that Russia seems to be making incremental gains in the east? And, for the chairman, Ukrainians have talked about losing between a hundred and 200 soldiers a day. Is that your assessment? And is this level of attrition sustainable for a military the size of Ukraine’s?

Secretary Austin: (21:26)
Thanks for the question, Idrees. I think you recall the op-ed that the president, President Biden published here just recently. And in that op-ed, I think he laid it out in straightforward terms in terms of what our goals are. And that is that we want to see a democratic, independent, sovereign, and prosperous Ukraine with the means to deter and to defend its sovereign territory. So, I think that addresses the question in terms of what our goals and objectives are. But again, we have said all along that we want to help Ukraine by providing it the security assistance, the means that it needs to do what I just said. What’s been impressive about the Ukrainian people and especially their soldiers, they’re willing to fight to protect their sovereign territory. And so, if we get them the means, the materials, the weapons, they’ve demonstrated they can put them the good use. So, we’re going to continue to support them with as much as we can and get it to them as fast as we can. And we’re going to remain in contact with them to make sure that we understand their needs as this battlefield evolves.

Secretary Austin: (22:47)
And so again, I point back to the benefit of bringing ministers from around the globe together. Again, 30 members are NATO, around 50 or so ministers of defense in this meeting today. And I think that sends a powerful message about how much people around the world care about making sure that countries have the ability to protect their sovereign spaces and that we respect the international rules of law. So, chairman.

Chairman Milley: (23:26)
On the assessment, let me caveat by saying casualties estimates in war are always extraordinarily difficult. And most of the time, the initial casualty estimates are inaccurate, and it may take months or even years sometimes to get accurate casualty estimates. But having said that, in the media, you see reported that Ukraine is taking a hundred killed and one or two or 300 wounded per day. I would say those are in the ballpark of our assessments. I don’t want to give you the actual assessments. And can they sustain that? For Ukraine, this is an existential threat. They’re fighting for the very life of their country. So, your ability to endure suffering, your ability to endure casualties, is directly proportional to the object to be attained. And if the object to be attained is survival of your country, then you’re going to sustain it. And as long as they have leadership and they have the means by which to fight, ammunition, artillery tubes, et cetera, then I think Ukraine will continue to fight.

Speaker 2: (24:26)
All right, one last question will be from Iurii Sheiko from Deutsche Welle.

Iruii Sheiko: (24:33)
Thank you very much. I have two questions also about numbers and artillery. So, secretaries said that there were some other countries that also announced some additional artillery. Can you say a little bit more what you can, of course? And another question, you said a lot about the advantages of HIMARS and also of advantages of three sevens because they’re very precise, it’s clear, but if we look really at the numbers of what Ukrainians got and we compare it with many, many hundreds of artillery systems that Russians had, and also hundreds of MLS systems that Russians have, and even if we look at what Ukraine had, it had also many hundreds of artillery pieces and also a lot of MLS, but Ukraine is running out of ammunition for these older systems. And if we look at this gap that Ukraine has now, as it’s running out of a ammunition, what Ukraine received from the West is not really close to close this gap. So, why now we hear only about like 18 additional howitzers, which is not really that much to close that huge gap? Thank you very much.

Secretary Austin: (25:50)
Yeah. So, I think you made the point in the first part of your question there that other countries are providing artillery systems and munitions, as well. And I’ll let the Chairman speak to the inventory, but I can assure you that the Ukrainians have a lot of 155 ammunition at this point. We, the United States, as you know, we’ve pushed on our own a hundred and eight 155 systems into country. And this next package includes another 18. But there are systems coming from a number of other countries around the globe. Some are self-propel systems, some are towed systems, and they’re also providing ammunition. Now, again, it’s a combination of the howitzers, the cannon artillery, and the long-range rockets that will create a pretty good capability. And again, as you target things with that long-range capability, you’re going after things like Command and Control Nodes and-

Secretary Austin: (27:02)
… things like command and control nodes and logistical nodes and those kinds of things, which will begin to attrite the adversary’s ability to sustain itself and command and control itself. But yeah. I mean, with the systems that we provided them to date… I mean, the M777s have been absolutely lethal. The problem with the 152 howitzer is that you’re no longer making munitions for those howitzers and so we’re going to very quickly have to transition completely to the 155s, but other countries are providing capability in addition to what we’re providing. And even today, other countries stepped up to the plate and volunteered to provide more. Chairman.

Chairman Milley: (27:48)
So first of all, the Russians do outnumber. In terms of artillery, they outnumber the Ukrainians. The estimates vary. Some say four, five, six to one. Others say 10, 15 to one. Others say 20 to one. What the true accurate number is, I’ll keep our assessments in the classified realm. But they outnumber them and that’s important, but war is not just a game of numbers. It’s how you use them. The Russians are using artillery to just do massed fire on Ukrainian positions, but also civilian populations in urban areas. This is about, according to public estimates, some 20,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed. There’s 7 million internally displaced Ukrainians. There’s 6 million refugees. So the Russians are just doing massed fires without necessarily achieving military effect, shall we say. The Ukrainians on the other hand are using a much better artillery techniques and they’re having pretty good effect on the Russians.

Chairman Milley: (28:48)
The Russians have lost probably somewhere in the tune of 20 to 30% of their armored force. That’s significant. That’s huge. So the Ukrainians are fighting a very effective fight, tactically, with both fires and maneuver. And that’s significant. In terms of the numbers, just from today’s conference, pledges of almost 100 additional tubes were being made. So you’re looking at probably 3 or 400 artillery tubes, not rocket artillery, but tubes, that’ll be provided in total to the Ukrainians. And then on top of that will be the long range rocket artillery that what you’re seeing with the HIMARS is just the beginning.

Secretary Austin: (29:29)
Thank you, everyone.

Speaker 3: (29:30)
[inaudible 00:29:30].

Secretary Austin: (29:30)

Speaker 3: (29:30)
Given no one question from Ukrainian journalists. So you’re American.

Speaker 4: (29:57)
[inaudible 00:29:57].

Speaker 3: (29:57)
[inaudible 00:29:57].

Chairman Milley: (29:57)
Sure. Sir.

Speaker 3: (29:57)
I’m all alone [inaudible 00:29:57].

Chairman Milley: (29:57)

Speaker 3: (29:57)
And so [inaudible 00:29:57] for this question [inaudible 00:29:57].

Chairman Milley: (29:57)

Speaker 3: (29:57)
My question to you how long United States [inaudible 00:30:02] whole group of Ramstein can provide support and armament supply for Ukraine? Because don’t know how long the war will go on. Second question, did you convince your German partner and Hungarian partner also to provide weapon which they promised to provide to Ukraine?

Secretary Austin: (30:30)
So on the first question, how long can we maintain this, we will stay focused on this for as long as it takes. And I’m glad you asked that question because one of the remarkable pieces that I take away from this conference is the resolve of all the ministers in the room. And again, these are ministers from around the globe and not just NATO. And it’s strong, strong resolve to remain focused, to remain together and to find ways to create additional capability. That may be partnering with another country to create some capability or working to expand capability in a defense industrial basis. So my answer to you is we’ll stay focused on it for as long as it takes. And again, the commitment that I heard today was very, very encouraging. And your second question?

Speaker 3: (31:33)
Germany and Hungary, which did promise artillery supply.

Secretary Austin: (31:38)
Yeah. So Germany today, again, I think you may have heard me say earlier in my remarks that they committed to providing a couple of MLRS systems and in the past, they’ve committed to providing other things and they’re still working to make sure we get those systems into theater. We track every one of those. And so part of the benefit of coming together every month is to make sure that we can see where we are, we remind countries of what the challenges are and we can work with them to ensure that that capability gets there. So…

Speaker 5: (32:20)
[inaudible 00:32:20].

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