BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: Good afternoon, everybody. All right, just a few items pass along and then we’ll go ahead and take your questions. So, first of all, hope everyone had a very happy Thanksgiving holiday and that you were able to take advantage of that holiday weekend. As you know, Secretary Austin traveled to the Indo Pacific region last week, where he visited Indonesia and Cambodia, and had the chance to meet with various counterparts on the margins of the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting plus, to discuss our commitments to regional peace and security. Notably, this included the opportunity to meet with his Chinese counterpart, during which the Secretary emphasized the need to responsibly manage competition and maintain open lines of communication. Secretary Austin also affirmed that the U.S. will continue to fly sail and operate wherever international law allows.
Separately today the Department released our annual report on military and security developments involving the People’s Republic of China commonly known as the China military power report. This congressionally mandated report serves as an authoritative assessment of DoD pacing challenge and charts the current course of the PRC’s military and security strategy. The report plays a vital role in informing our understanding of our pacing challenge, and it shows again why the national defense strategy is laser focused on the right issues and on the operational concepts, capabilities and resources we need today and into the future. You can read the full report on defense.gov. Also, today, the Secretary will host the Minister of National Defense for the Republic of Colombia, Ivan Velasquez Gomez, to discuss security cooperation in matters of mutual interest between our two nations.
Separately, Secretary Austin also conducted phone calls with the ministers of defense from Romania and Poland earlier today. And readouts of these bilateral engagements will be available later today on defense.gov.
Shifting gears with Congress in session this week, the department hopes that Congress will finalize and pass the NDAA and a complete four-year funding bill before the end of 2022. At a time when the United States faces challenges from China and an acute threat from Russia. It’s essential that the DoD has the authorities needed to defend the nation, deter our adversaries and support a lethal resilient and healthy joint force. The Department will continue to work closely with Congress on this important requirement.
And finally, this Friday, Secretary Austin will participate in the unveiling of the U.S. Air Force’s newest strategic bomber the B-21 Raider in Palmdale, California. Then on Saturday, he’ll deliver the keynote address at the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. Additional information will be forthcoming later this week.
And with that, I will take your questions. We’ll start with AP. Tara.
Q: Hi, Pat. On a background call earlier today, a senior defense official said that the U.S. is open to sending the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine. Can you give us an update on the deliberations going on here? How likely is it the U.S. would send a Patriot system? Or maybe work with a European ally to send one into Ukraine? And what are some of the considerations with that system?
GEN. RYDER: Sure. Well, as we’ve discussed before, we discuss a wide variety of capabilities and support with Ukraine. We regularly consult with Ukraine. We regularly consult with our allies and our partners on what their defense needs are. Air defense continues to be a top priority for DoD and for the international community when it comes to supporting Ukraine. In terms of any type of Patriot battery from the U.S. Right now, we have no plans to provide Patriot batteries to Ukraine. But again, we’ll continue to have those discussions. And when and if there’s something to announce on that front, we will.
Q: If an ally chose to send their Patriot system forward, would the U.S. have any role in that decision? Or would it be purely the decision of that partner ally?
GEN. RYDER: Well, I don’t want to speak for other countries. Certainly, that’s a sovereign decision. As it relates to NATO, I would imagine it would also be part of a NATO discussion. Again, we’re going to continue to work closely with the international community on looking at what Ukraine’s defense needs are and ensuring that they get them.
Q: And then just one more. Could you talk to us a little bit about what the hesitations have been to this point about sending the Patriot system since the range? Was that fear of escalation? What what’s fed into that?
GEN. RYDER: Well, I would kind of back it up a little bit more broadly and just talk to a couple things. So, first of all, when it comes to air defense, I think you’ve seen a significant outpouring of support for Ukraine in terms of what we have already provided, for example, NASAMS and other systems when it comes to certain capabilities like Patriot missiles or M-1 tanks or advanced fighter aircraft. You’re talking about a pretty significant maintenance, and sustainment tail, as well as a training tail on those things, so none of these systems are plug-and-play. You can’t just show up on the battlefield and start using them. And so those are the kinds of things that are taken into account when it comes to more advanced systems. But again, I want to emphasize that we continue to consider air defense a priority. And we’ll continue to look at working with allies and partners in terms of what we can get to Ukraine as quickly as possible so that they can start employing those capabilities immediately. Thank you.
Q: Thank you. Can I follow up on the minister’s call with the Polish. Sorry, the Secretary’s call with the Minister of Defense Poland? Did he talk about the missile that hit in Poland? Is it definitively Ukrainian? Is it OK for us to report now that they’re they’ve concluded that it was a Ukrainian missile.
GEN. RYDER: So, again, we’ll have a readout for you. As soon as the call concludes. The call is taking place as we speak. So, I don’t have any information to provide at this moment on that. What I can tell you in terms of the missile investigation that the investigation is ongoing. Poland is in the lead of that investigation. Again, as we’ve said previously, we have no information that would contradict what the preliminary assessment was, in terms of it being likely to have been a Ukrainian missile. But again, we’ll allow the investigation to conclude and then I’m sure we’ll have more to say later.
Q: OK. And then just a couple more, if I can, on Starlink. In Ukraine, is Elon Musk still paying for that? Or is the U.S. military paying for that?
GEN. RYDER: So, the United States, the DoD has not paid any money to Starlink for Starlink systems, Starlink capability in Ukraine. Again, we continue to talk to companies to include SpaceX on satellite communication capabilities, as it pertains to Ukraine, but I don’t have anything to announce.
Q: Thank you. And then one last one —
GEN. RYDER: Last one.
Q: — on the phone off in the South China Sea today, freedom of navigation operation, the Navy is saying one thing China is saying another Can you tell us what happened?
GEN. RYDER: Sure. So, the USS Chancellorsville was in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands asserted our navigational rights and freedoms under international law. I know that there has been some reporting that China essentially ejected our ship from the areas that is not true, again, will continue to sail, fly and operate wherever international law allows. Thank you. Sir.
Q: Thanks, Pat. Do you have an updated estimate of how many Iranian drones have made their way into Russian hands for use against Ukraine? And is it your understanding that these continue to flow into the country? And are there any signs that around plans or has begun to produce these drones for that purpose?
GEN. RYDER: So, what I would tell you, Matt, is we do know that Iran has provided at least hundreds of those drones to Russia for use in Ukraine, I’m not going to get into specific numbers. Certainly, we know that there is the intent there on the part of Russia to try to acquire additional systems. I don’t have any updates to provide on when and if those have been delivered. But it does, again, highlight the concerning behavior, and the fact that Iran and Russia share this relationship and continue to export terror and use those systems to attack nonmilitary targets to include civilians. Thank you.
Q: Thank you, Sir. I have two questions. First question on the establishment of a space forces commander in South Korea. What is the purpose of the establishment of the Space Forces Command in USFK in South Korea?
GEN. RYDER: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand the question. The establishment of a Space Command at USFK?
Q: Yes, in South Korea.
GEN. RYDER: OK, I’ll have to get back to you on that one, Jeanie. I’m tracking Space Command establishing a Component Command under Indo-Pacific Command. And so that in and of itself, is as the U.S. Space Force starts to develop its capabilities and its relationships with combatant commands around the world. It’s no different than the other functional component commands that we have under other combatant commands around the world. So, for example, Indo-Pacific Command also has an Air Component Command, which is Pacific Air Forces, maybe, you know, PACFLEET, which is the naval command. So, as Space Force over the last three years has stood up and developed its capabilities and developed its personnel roster, assigning that capability to a combatant command provides the ability for that combatant commander to holistically look at the theater and ensure that he or she has the capabilities that they need.
So, in the case of space, I think we all have seen over time how much more important space has become to global operations. Essentially, nothing happens on the globe, especially from a military standpoint without support from space capabilities, whether it’s communication, whether it’s weather, whether it’s intelligence. And so, I think what this does is it strengthens the ability of the U.S. combatant commander, as well as our allies and our partners whom we work with in the region to have the information and the capabilities that they need to support one another. So.
Q: OK, second question. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un announced that it will expand its nuclear war deterrent. Do you think North Korea has completed its nuclear development enough to use nuclear weapons?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I don’t want to speculate on that. Jannie. Again, we know that North Korea has said that they will likely conduct a nuclear test again, that would be very destabilizing. And I think you’ve seen the United States as well as other countries in the region to include the Republic of Korea and Japan highlight the fact that there that there would be consequences for that. Again, I’m not going to go into that. But we would hope that North Korea would not conduct such destabilizing activity.
Let me go to the phones here. Jeff Schogol, Task & Purpose.
Q: Thank you, the head of the Wagner private military Corporation has claimed that a retired Marine General Officer works for his company. I have called a couple Marine General Officers, they are unaware of any of their comrades now joining Wagner, is this something the Defense Department can rule out as disinformation at this point.
GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Jeff. So, you know, again, in terms of specific personnel status, you know, I would refer you to the Marine Corps. I can say we’ve seen those press reports, we’ve seen no names associated with those press reports, not aware of any names associated with those. And so I think, again, very likely that this is not surprisingly propaganda. Again, I would refer you to the Marine Corps. But I don’t know how much credibility I would put into the Wagner group. Thank you.
Let me go to Idrees from Reuters.
Q: Thanks. Just on Turkey, last week a DoD statement said that a Turkish operation threatens the D-ISIS campaign, have any operations in northeastern Syria against ISIS actually stopped and have you relocated any troops because of the Turkish shelling and impending ground operation?
GEN. RYDER: Yep, thanks very much Idrees. So, right now the D-ISIS mission does continue. We have reduced the number of partnered patrols. And as I mentioned in my statement last week, we do remain deeply concerned about the escalating actions in northern Syria, Iraq and Turkey. And so, we certainly urge restraint amidst the tensions in this region. And as you highlight the continued conflict, especially a ground invasion, would severely jeopardize the hard-fought gains that the world has achieved against ISIS, and would destabilize the region.
Similarly, as I mentioned, in my statement, we do recognize Turkey’s legitimate security concerns regarding terrorist acts that have occurred within its own borders. And we also continue to support the Syrian Democratic Forces in their fight against ISIS. And so again, would hope that we could maintain focus on this dangerous and disturb destabilizing terrorist group called ISIS. Thank you.
All right, ma’am.
Q: On Turkey today, SDF commander said that a Turkish ground operation is imminent, and but it’s only preventable, through a pushback from the United States and Russia. Do you share this assessment, and did you communicate recently with the Turkish about this operation?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks very much. So, we do remain concerned about a potential Turkish ground operation in Syria, and again, would urge restraint. I’m not going to speculate about whether or not Turkey is or is not going to do that. Again, our focus is on the defeat ISIS campaign. In terms of communication with our Turkish allies, we do maintain regular communication with them, whether it’s at the U.S. Central Command level or at the operational level. And I can tell you that Secretary Austin will talk to his counterpart in the very near future. Thank you.
Q: General, you mentioned — first of all, thank you for doing this. You mentioned that the military has reduced the number of partner patrols with the Kurdish led SDF in Syria. Why is that? Is that a force protection measure given indications of a potential Turkish incursion? Or is that because the SDF has paused or reduced their patrols with us? I’m wondering if you can flush that out.
GEN. RYDER: Sure. So, we have reduced the number of patrols because again, we do these in partnering with the SDF. And so, they have reduced the number of patrols that they’re doing. And so that, therefore necessitates us to reduce the patrols. We’ve not redeployed any of our folks, we continue to stay very focused on countering the ISIS threat. And so no diminished capability in terms of that. But again, reduced patrols at this time. And, and as I mentioned, we would hope that there will be restraint, and that we can, again, as a as a coalition focus on the bigger threat at hand here, which is defeating ISIS. Thank you.
Q: (OFF-MIKE) seeing any indication of a potential imminent Turkish operation on the ground?
GEN. RYDER: Again, I’m not — I’m not going to get into specific intelligence. We’ve seen open press reporting to that effect. But I’m not going to speculate or do hypotheticals in terms of one. And if they do, we certainly hope they do not.
Q: Oh, I wanted to ask you, I believe right now, the U.S. and Israel are conducting a major exercise over its Mediterranean training, practicing long range strike missions, which are clearly an Iran profile. Can you tell us anything about the role of the U.S. in the exercise? Are you actually flying? Long range attack? Profile training missions? Are you doing just refueling? What role you’re playing in assisting the Israelis? And then I have a different follow up.
GEN. RYDER: Yeah. Thanks, Barbara. So, just to clarify. So, this is a long-planned exercise with the United States and Israel. And they are exercising fighter escort and aerial refueling. And so CENTCOM can give you more details on that. But again, this is a long planned exercise. And it’s also not something that’s unusual. We exercise with Israel and other countries in the region on a regular basis.
Q: So, the U.S. is doing fighter escort and refueling.
GEN. RYDER: Aerial refueling, that’s right.
Q: May I ask you a different question briefly on China, given the situation internally in China right now, to what extent is the Department concerned that the Chinese are going to increase military rhetoric to possibly raise their military profile in order to potentially divert attention from their internal problems? Do you see the claim they made on the FONOP as possibly being a beginning of that, more assertive, although they’ve done in the past, that more assertive rhetoric, using their military potentially to divert attention from their domestic situation right now, with — with COVID and the protests?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah. So, at this point, I don’t know that we’ve seen anything, nor would I want to draw a correlation between what we saw with the — the Chancellorsville and the situation in China, if you take a step back, as you highlighted, it’s certainly not the first time that China has made those claims. And, again, if you take even a bigger, further step back, and you look at what we’ve talked about, and then in terms of China trying to establish a new normal, whereas U.S. and international ships and planes have operated in international airspace, or an international waterways for decades, and then suddenly changing and saying, no, this belongs to us, and now you’re violating our sovereignty. Again, it’s trying to change the narrative, change the status quo, and in fact, fabricate a situation that previously all would agree did not exist. And so again, this is why it’s important that we will continue to sail operate and fly in those areas, but to again, to answer your question, it’s something we’ll keep an eye on, but I don’t have anything that would specifically correlate it to the situation there. Thank you.
Let me go to the phone and then I’ll come to you, Ryo. Let’s go to Heather from USNI.
Q: Thank you so much. So, with the Chancellorsville crossing of the Taiwan Strait today, it looks like that we are doing these about once a month. Just wondering, in terms of the DoD’s perspective, what kind of message are we sending to China with these monthly Taiwan Strait passages?
GEN. RYDER: Well, again, I think the message not only to China, but to our allies and partners in the region are that we are going to continue to abide by international law, we’re going to continue to work closely with our allies and partners in the region to ensure a free and open Indo Pacific, and that we are going to deter China from coercion and from inappropriately establishing restrictions on areas that are free for international commerce international trade. And I would say to this point, again, the fact that they’re responding to the way that they are demonstrates that we’re having an effect in that regard. Thank you.
Q: Thank you, general. China — China’s military power report estimates China might have 1500 nuclear warheads by 2035, then China has refused to join the arms control talks, because they say the U.S. has much larger nuclear arms now. Do you think China’s argument would not be convincing anymore? If the Pentagon’s estimate of the China’s nuclear warfare is accurate?
GEN. RYDER: Well, again, Ryo, what I would what I would say is, and again, I encourage you to take a look at the report. The challenge here is, the more proliferation there is, the more concerning it is, the more destabilizing to the region it is. So, certainly, we would want to ensure from a regional global and regional stability standpoint, that we can maintain an open dialogue to ensure there’s transparency and that we understand what the intent is behind this. And, you know, in the meantime, I’ll refer you back to the report. And I think it explains it pretty well. Thank you.
All right. Let me go back to the phone here. Cami McCormick, CBS.
Q: Thank you so much. I’m in Bucharest I should mention, by the way, but we just heard from the Ukrainian foreign minister again, asking for more air defenses along with the energy assistance that’s being provided, we were told by a senior State Department official that what we’re seeing is a wave of Russian attacks against the transmission grid, and that the Russians have actually built the substations that are designed to transmit electricity over very long distances, that they’re because they know where they are, and they know how to destroy them. I’m just wondering if you could maybe flush out for us a little bit how you discuss. I understand that the air defense systems are complicated, as you mentioned earlier, but — but also how you can protect Ukraine with providing energy assistance, at the same time not providing more air defenses and protecting them against these Russian strikes.
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks Cami. So, again, we’re working closely with our international allies and partners to discuss Ukraine’s air defense needs. As I mentioned, we have already provided a fair amount of capability and are committed to providing more. As you know, we also have an additional six NASAMS that will be provided over the next couple years, as well as international allies who have begun to provide other capabilities to include Germany, Spain, and France. And so that will continue to be an ongoing discussion; it was the focus of our recent Ukraine Defense Contact Group. And so, when we have more to announce on that front, we certainly will. When it comes to the energy grid, the Department of Defense is, again working with the interagency, the U.S. Interagency and with our other allies on what it is that we can provide to them to assist them, whether it’s generator capability, whether it’s subject matter expertise. And as you know, Europe is also leaning heavily into this. And so, you take those two parts.
And then the last piece is the integrated air defense piece, which is another aspect that we continue to consult with Ukraine on in terms of how they can best integrate the capabilities that they’re being provided into a comprehensive air defense system. I will say that Ukraine has done remarkably well with the capabilities that it has, in terms of taking down Russian air threats to include missiles and drones, but certainly, more needs to be done and more will be done. Thank you.
Q: Another question on the China written report. The report points out both that China is making military preparations in various way for Taiwan unification and also that the risks political risks for China are in actually invading Taiwan. So, as a whole, does the DoD believe that the risk of Taiwan contingency may occur sooner than previously anticipated or no?
GEN. RYDER: So, I don’t want to speculate on, you know, when China may invade Taiwan, again, as the report highlights, we don’t believe that an invasion is imminent. And again, our focus is on working with our international allies and partners in the region and elsewhere to deter that from happening in the first place. Just leave it at that.
OK. Let me just go back out to the phone here. Lara Seligman, Politico.
Q: Hey, Pat. Thanks for doing this. Two questions. One on Syria, one on Ukraine. One can you give your or the Pentagon’s assessment of the situation? Do you assess that Turkey is laying the groundwork for a ground incursion? Do you see mobilization of ground troops at the border? Anything like that? And then on the Ukraine weapons inspections, can you give us an update on these teams that are inspecting the — the arms the West has provided? Can you quantify? I guess what percentage of the work that has to be done? What — what percentage has been done yet?
GEN. RYDER: Yep. Thanks, Lara. So, on the first question I don’t want to get into any specific intelligence. Again, you’ve seen the open press reporting, like I have, in terms of potential threats of a ground invasion, again, we would call on all sides to, you know, stay restrained in this — in this regard, and stay focused on the defeat ISIS mission, as far as Ukraine and – and end-use monitoring inspections. As previously mentioned, these are conducted by small teams, when security conditions allow, I have no new updates to provide other than that work continues. And these are personnel assigned to the Defense Attache Office, very similar to the way we do business in any other embassy around the world, in terms of certain capabilities that are provided to partners, in this case, Ukraine. And so those inspections will continue in accordance with the plan that we’ve outlined previously.
OK, got time for a few more. Sir?
Q: (OFF-MIKE) Yesterday, Russia stopped New Start negotiations not what should we held in Ukraine — I’m sorry, in Cairo. So, do you have any concerns about the nuclear threat? And have you recently see any maybe change texture change in nuclear for the U.S.?
GEN. RYDER: So, just make sure I clarify any change in the nuclear situation as it pertains to Ukraine? Yes, yeah. So, at this time, we’ve seen nothing to indicate that Russia has made a decision to employ nuclear weapons in Ukraine. So, again, that is something that we will continue to take very seriously and keep an eye on but no new updates on that front. Thank you.
Q: Thanks, Pat. On Ukraine inspections, can you confirm now, whether the people were doing the onsite inspections include uniformed military members?
GEN. RYDER: So, I’m not going to get into specifics for operational security reasons, they are personnel that are assigned to the Defense Attache Office at the embassy. Again, this would be very similar to any other embassy that we have elsewhere. These, these individuals do not go anywhere near the front lines. And again, for operational security reasons, I’m not going to get into the timing, I’m not going to get into the numbers. Needless to say, when security conditions permit. And conditions allow they go and conduct these inspections in accordance with the plan that we have published.
Q: And just to follow, do you have any numbers on how many uniformed military personnel are it part of the defense attache in that embassy?
GEN. RYDER: Again, its small numbers, but I’m not going to put those out there.
Q: Dozen or dozens?
GEN. RYDER: I’m not going to put them out there.
Q: Thanks. In the report, the report said that China has used multiple diplomatic tools to impact the U.S. relations with its potential allies in the region, including the withdrawal of Afghanistan. This year, has the U.S. or Pentagon assessed that the kind of unification of NATO has affected China’s relations with their partners in the region?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, that’s a great question. And again, I don’t want to speak for China. What I would say though, is that it’s probably very likely that they have observed the reaction to the international community of the international community to the situation in Ukraine, and you very quickly have seen many nations come together to support that country that was illegally invaded and so I’ve got to imagine that enters into the calculus in terms of how they’re approaching their own international relations let’s leave it at that.
OK. Thanks very much, everybody.