LIVE: Secretary Austin opening remarks
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Glad to be joined by General Mark Milley, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff here this evening. Good evening, everyone.
We’ve had a very productive afternoon at the third meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, and it’s great to be back together in person after our initial meeting at Ramstein in April. And once again, we met with Ukraine’s Minister of Defense, my good friend, Oleksii Reznikov.
Everyone here is acutely aware of the dangers that Ukraine faces as Russia renews its reckless assault on the Donbas, and Minister Reznikov and his team gave us important insights into the changing battlespace and a clearer understanding of Ukraine’s priority requirements as the war shifts. We also had some important discussions about how to fortify our mid-term and long-term support for Ukraine through training and sustainment.
I’m especially pleased that defense leaders from some 50 countries came together here today. It’s a testament to the on-the-ground impact of this contact group that it continues to grow, and I’m glad that we were joined at today’s meeting by several new countries, including Ecuador and Georgia and Moldova. And that’s a reminder of how Russia’s unprovoked and indefensible invasion of Ukraine has horrified and galvanized the world, but it’s also a sign of the global admiration for the heroism and resilience of the Ukrainian people. You can see that in the progress that we’ve made since this contact group’s previous virtual meeting a few weeks ago.
In May, the U.S. Congress approved $40 billion to provide additional security assistance, economic and humanitarian support for Ukraine, 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. This package also included Javelins, helicopters and 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 assistance package for Ukraine, and that includes our 12th drawdown from DOD inventory since August of 2021, and it includes guided MLRS munitions, 18 more M777 howitzers and the tactical vehicles to tow them, and 36,000 rounds of 155mm 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 and night vision devices and thermal sights and other optics.
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. 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, but I’ll just take a moment to highlight a few. 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 U.K., and now Germany, as we develop Ukraine’s long-range fires capabilities.
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. And we also discussed important new artillery donations from many countries, including Canada and Poland and the Netherlands.
Now, 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. 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 needs continue to evolve.
Since the contact group first came together nearly three months ago, we’ve 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.
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.
Thank you and I’ll turn it over to General Milley.
GENERAL MARK MILLEY: Thanks, Secretary Austin, for your words and for your leadership and putting together this contact group. It is indeed making a significant difference and it frankly wouldn’t be happening without Secretary Austin and I want to thank also, as Secretary Austin said, the around 50 countries participated in this third iteration of the Ukraine defense contact group, and I also want to thank the Ukrainian’s deputy CHOD who attended, Lieutenant General Moisiuk, to today’s meeting.
The collective efforts of this group have helped achieve undeniable affects on the battlefield against the Russians. And we collectively will continue to support Ukraine as they defend against the unprovoked war, the illegal war, being waged by Russia on Ukrainian sovereign national territory.
In the current phase of this conflict the Ukrainians are fighting hard, tooth and nail, everyday, inch by inch, yard by yard, kilometer by kilometer against the Russian advance in the Donbas. The ministers of defense and the chiefs of defense that met today are committed to providing Ukrainians the means to halt Russian aggression and defend their sovereign territory.
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 War World II to prevent great power war and to prevent large powers from conquering smaller countries with military force.
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. The international community is not allowing this unambiguous act of aggression by Russia to go unanswered. To do so risks 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. 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.
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 U.S. European Command led by General Wolters have maintained consistent contact with Ukrainian counterparts.
Additionally, I have remained in active communication with the Ukrainian Chief of Staff General Zaluzhnyi each week, several times a week, sometimes several times a day.
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 million rounds. 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.
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.
Additionally, we have provided — 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.
We have also provided over 1,500 stingers, more than 700 Switchblade tactical unmanned aerial systems, 20 Mi-17 and thousands of small arms and hundreds of thousands of small arms ammunition.
The speed that we have delivered security assistance is without comparison. From the time the requests are validated and authorized it is only a matter of days until the requirement is sourced, 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 are present today. We gather 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.
STAFF: Peter Martin, Bloomberg.
Q: Yes, thank you very much. Secretary Austin, Ukraine has 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 U.S. 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?
SEC. AUSTIN: 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 talk to the Minister of Defense Reznikov routinely.
And one of the key benefits of having this contact route is that we can — we have the ability of bringing Ukrainian leadership in. We — you know — the 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.
AUSTIN: As you know, the battlefield is dynamic. Require — needs will evolve over time, and they’ve identified those needs currently to be long-range fires capability, armor and some midrange anti-aircraft capability. And also howitzers, which, you know, is different from HIMARS.
And 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, and I think we’ve done a — 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 any — as much capability as we can as fast as we can, and to ensure that Ukraine can be successful on the battlefield.
GEN. MILLEY: So on the — on your question of the Donbas, but on the numbers, just real quick. I’m not sure where the number — what you’re referring to, but I’ve talked to General Zaluzhnyi, and 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’d say 97,000 antitank systems. That’s more anti-tank systems than 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. This is — 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. There’s 383 committed, and like I said, almost half a million rounds of artillery.
The bottom line — and I can go down the whole list of everything — bottom line is everything General Zaluzhnyi asked for, as rapidly as possible, we get a 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 are supporting. We, the international community, are taking it very seriously, and we are supporting the Ukrainian military as rapidly as humanly possible.
With respect to, is it inevitable that the Russians will consolidate power in the Donbas, as I said that, you know, the war started on 24 February. They were defeated in and around Kyiv. They took their forces. They marshaled them and massed them in and around the Donbas, and so right now, that’s where the battle’s taking place. Two oblasts 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, the Severodonetsk, the city is probably three-quarters taken by Russian forces, but the Ukrainians are fighting them street-by-street, house-by-house, and it’s not a done deal.
There are no inevitabilities in war. War takes many, many turns, 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 out-gun and out-range. You’ve heard that many, many times — and they do have enough forces. But there’s — 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 a tremendous amount of casualties.
STAFF: Jonathan Beale from the BBC.
Q: Thank you very much. If I can ask, Secretary Austin, I think the deputy defense minister of Ukraine said that the West has given Ukraine 10 percent of what it’s asked for. Do you recognize that figure?
And if I can ask, General Milley, do you really think that sending — U.S. sending four HIMAR Systems, the U.K. sending three MLRS rocket launches and Germany sending 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.
SEC. AUSTIN: On the second part of that question, I think you have to be careful about equating a HIMARS’ capability or an M270 capability to other MLRS systems. These are precision munitions. They — and with a properly trained crew, they will hit what they’re aiming at, and it provides some pretty good capability in terms of distance. But a 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.
On the 10 percent issue, you know, I don’t know if you’re quoting the minister of foreign affairs or if you’re quoting the minister —
Q: The deputy defense minister.
SEC. AUSTIN: Deputy defense minister. Well you know, we just spent time with his boss in the room next door, as we have on a number of occasions, and gone down line-by-line of what they need, and it’s 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, you know, where the big number came from, I can’t speak to that. You’ll have to let that gentleman explain his numbers.
But 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 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, and in two weeks from now, requirements will probably have evolved a bit.
So I think we have to put things in perspective. You can never — you know, 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.
GEN. MILLEY: 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 like a combined arms fight, it’s a combination of ground maneuver with air and artillery and so on and so forth. And that’s where the HIMARS comes in.
In this case, in terms of fire, this is a battle of fires. So the Ukrainians have mortars, they’re going to go out 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 777s.
Then they’ve also got rocket assisted projectiles, which will go up 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 100 rounds of ammunition, that’s initial package, and 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, and the amount of ammunition that we’re giving, if they use it properly, and we just ran the certification exercise in the 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 777s hitting at 40 and 25 kilometers and 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 top notch gunners and the affect that they’re achieving on the battlefield right now with the 777s has been very, very good, very effective and we expect the same out of the HIMARS.
STAFF: Idrees Ali from Reuters.
Q: (OFF-MIKE) Mr. Secretary, in the past you’ve been talking about the United States in Ukraine being there to help the Ukrainians to 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 100 and 200 soldiers a day. Is that your assessment and is this level of attrition sustainable for a military the size of Ukraine’s?
SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks for the question, Idrees. I think you recall the op-ed that the president — President Biden published here just recently. And in the op-ed I think he laid it out in straight forward terms 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 there? They’re willing to fight to protect their sovereign territory. And so if we can get them the means, the materials, the weapons, they’ve demonstrated that they can put them to 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.
And so again, I point back to the benefit of bringing ministers from around the globe together, again, 30 members of 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.
GEN. MILLEY: On the assessment, let me caveat by saying casualty 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 casual estimates.
But having said that, in the media you see reported that Ukraine has taken 100 killed and 1 or 2 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 obtained. And if the object to be obtained is survival of your country than you’re going to sustain it.
And as long as they have leadership and they have the means by which to fight.
STAFF: All right one last question will be from Yuri Rescheto from Deutsche Welle.
Q: Thank you very much. I have two questions also about numbers and artillery. So Secretary said that there were some other countries that also announced so additional artillery. Can you assess a little bit more of what you can, of course?
And another question: You said a lot about the advantages of HIMARS and also of advantages of 777s because they’re precise, it’s clear. But if you 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 MLRS systems that the Russians have. And even if we look at what Ukraine had, it had also many hundreds of artillery pieces and also a lot of MLRS, but Ukraine is running out of ammunition for those older systems.
And if we look at this gap that Ukraine has now, as it’s running out of 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.
SEC. AUSTIN: Yes, 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 they, the Ukrainians have a lot of 155 munitions or ammunition at this point.
We — the United States has — we’ve pushed on our own, 108 155 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 of are self propelled 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 what 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 logistical nodes and those kinds of things which will begin to atrit the adversary’s ability to sustain itself and command and control itself. But, yes, with the systems that we have provided them to date, I mean the M777s have been absolutely lethal. The problem with the 152 howitzer is that they’re no longer making munitions for those howitzers and so we’re going to very quickly have to transition completely to the 155.
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.
GEN. MILLEY: So first of all, the Russians do outnumber — in terms of artillery, they outnumber the Ukrainians. The estimate varies, 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 on Ukrainian positions but also civilian populations and urban areas. about, according to public estimates, some 20,000 Ukrainians civilians have been killed. The 7 million internally displaced Ukrainians, the 6 million refugees.
So the Russians are just doing mass fires without necessarily achieving military affect, shall we say. The Ukrainians on the other hand are using much better artillery techniques and they’re having pretty good effect on the Russians.
The Russians have lost probably somewhere in the tune of 20 to 30 percent 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 300 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.
STAFF: Thank you, everyone.
Q: (No one ?) question from (inaudible). (America ?) (inaudible).
Q: (Inaudible) Okay for this question, (inaudible). My question is how long United States as a 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?
SEC. AUSTIN: 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 focus, to remain together and to find ways to create additional capability. That may be working with — partnering with another country to create some capability or working to expand capability in a defense industrial basis.
So I — 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?
Q: German and Hungary, which did promise but didn’t supply.
SEC. AUSTIN: Yes, 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 committed to providing other things and they’re still working to make sure we get those systems into theater.
We track everyone of those and so part of the benefit of coming together every month it 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.
Q: Thank you very much.