BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: All right, good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for your patience.
First off, let me say it’s great to be back in the Press Briefing Room. I would like to thank Mr. Tom Masten and the Defense Press Operations team here for all their hard work over the past four months to enable us to implement the long-needed renovations to the briefing room while also enabling us to continue our briefing cadence without missing a beat. Needless to say, there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, so I know I speak for many here at OSD Public Affairs when I say how grateful we are for their efforts.
I’d also like to thank our Pentagon Press Corps for your patience and flexibility. And we understand all of the logistical challenges that this renovation presented, and so we appreciate your understanding throughout the process.
And finally, a huge thanks to the Department of the Air Force for allowing us to use the Airman’s Hall as our temporary briefing space.
Turning to today’s briefing, I do have quite a few items to pass along on the top, so once again, I will ask for your patience while I kick things off and then be — I’ll be happy to take your questions.
First, at the direction of the Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks, the DOD’s Internal Review Team on racial disparities in the investigative and military justice systems, or IRT, has completed and delivered its report to the Deputy Secretary.
The IRT was charged with addressing root causes of racial disparities in the investigative and military justice systems and providing actionable recommendations to improve department policies, processes and resources to address such disparities.
The IRT’s report details a total of 17 recommendations based on three lines of effort, which include training and education, service member protections, oversight and transparency. The IRT also found that additional data and research are warranted to identify and address root causes, mitigate bias and eliminate disparities.
The Department of Defense is taking a deliberate approach to the implementation of the IRT’s recommendations with the launch of a 120-day assessment that will be led by the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.
Taking care of our military community is a top priority for the department and we remain determined to eliminate racial disparities throughout our Armed Forces. DOD will continue to work to identify the causes of any racial, ethnic or gender disparities in the military justice system and the IRT memo and report will be available later today on Defense.gov.
Separately, earlier this week, Secretary Austin concluded a successful trip to the Indo-Pacific region and to Europe, during which he — during which he made stops in Japan, Singapore, India and France. Each stop afforded the opportunity to meet with counterparts to discuss our continued focus and shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region at a time of real momentum in our key relationships.
As highlighted in his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue, more and more the countries of the Indo-Pacific have come together around this shared vision of the future in which all nations are free to thrive on their own terms without coercion or intimidation or bullying.
To quote Secretary Austin, quote, “it’s a vision of a free and open and secure Indo-Pacific within a world of rules and rights, and that vision is anchored in some key principles, to include respect for sovereignty, adherence to international law, transparency and openness, the free flow of commerce and ideas, human rights and human dignity, equal rights for all states, large and small, and resolving disputes through peaceful dialogue and not coercion or conquest.”
Of note, on the heels of Secretary Austin’s travel to the Indo-Pacific, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Dr. Colin Kahl will depart this weekend for a series of engagements in Hawaii, Korea and Japan. During the visit, he’ll meet with senior INDOPACOM military leaders and conduct various counterpart visits in Japan and Korea that will further strengthen our ironclad alliances and partnerships in the region. Readouts from the Undersecretary’s engagements will be posted on the DOD website.
And in other travel news, Secretary Austin will travel again next week to Brussels, where he and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Milley will host an in-person meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group on June 15th, followed by the NATO Defense Ministers Meeting on June 16th. We’ll provide additional details regarding the trip in the near future.
Shifting gears in the Middle East region, this week marks the second week for U.S. participation in Exercise Eagle Resolve ’23. For the first time, this multi-domain exercise, focused primarily on integrated air and missile defense and maritime interdiction, is being hosted in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and includes participation from all six Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
Separately, nearly a half dozen partner nation Air Forces from across the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility came together today in support of a B-1 bomber-led U.S. Strategic Command Bomber Task Force mission that culminated in a pair of live fire events on ranges in Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Taken together, these activities reinforce the U.S. commitment to contributing to the security and stability of the Middle East region and demonstrate the increasing complexity, deepening military interoperability and strength of our shared defense capabilities. And I would refer you to U.S. Central Command for additional details.
Meanwhile, in the European region, the 52nd iteration of Baltic Operations, also known as BALTOPS, began this week, with 19 NATO allies, one NATO partner nation, 50 ships and more than 45 aircraft, and approximately 6,000 personnel participating through June 16th.
This annual maritime-focused exercise provides a unique training opportunity to strengthen the combined response capability critical to preserving freedom of navigation and security in the Baltic Sea. Participating nations will exercise a myriad of capabilities demonstrating the flexibility of maritime forces.
For more information, please visit the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa and U.S. Sixth Fleet website and social media platforms for the latest on the exercise.
And finally, on Monday morning, June 12, Secretary Austin and Deputy Secretary Hicks will lead a Pentagon ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act of 1948, to celebrate the enormous contributions that women have made to U.S. national security over the last seven and a half decades. The Pentagon courtyard ceremony begins at 10:30 and will be broadcast on Defense.gov.
And with that, I will take your questions. All right, Tara Copp, let’s go to the Associate Press.
Q: Kicking it off with a bang there aren’t you?
GEN. RYDER: That’s right. Welcome back to the briefing room.
Q: It’s good to be back. I wanted to start off with Ukraine, particularly the dam break and the catastrophic flooding that’s going on. Typically in humanitarian disasters of this size there’s a role for DOD to play, whether it’s flying in humanitarian aid, assisting with evacuations, dose the ongoing conflict make that impossible?
GEN. RYDER: Sure. So — so as it pertains to aid, right now I don’t have anything to announce in terms of what DOD is providing. You know as you all know our current focus is on security assistance.
I would highlight that you may have heard the White House talk today about USAID working with local agencies and international agencies that are on the ground to provide some humanitarian assistance, which includes things like transportation for people away from the flooding, distributing water purification equipment, water pumps, boat motors, other rescue gear.
So I would refer you to USAID to talk about those particular efforts. But when it comes to DOD right now, I don’t have anything to announce.
Q: Just a quick follow-up and then so that — sometimes DOD aircraft are used to fly in that aid too. Is that — can that not even be?
GEN. RYDER: It’s not something that — that we’re currently looking at. Again, if that changes we’ll be sure to let you know.
Q: And then secondly there’s a lot of reporting right now that the counter offensive has begun based on activity your seeing on the banks of the river, in (inaudible). What can you say about that?
GEN. RYDER: Yes. So we’re certainly monitoring reports of increased fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces at various locations across the front lines in Ukraine. But when it comes to characterizing those particular operations or talking about those operations, that’s really something that’s best left to the Ukrainians.
Q: Have you assessed who is responsible for blowing up the dam?
GEN. RYDER: We have not at this time. We’re still continuing to look at that.
Q: And there are two reports today suggesting that the Chinese have a new agreement with Cuba to set up a listening post in Cuba. Are those reports accurate? What is the extent? Is there a new listening post in Cuba that effects the United States?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, so — so I’ve seen that — that reporting. I can tell you based on the information that we have that that is not accurate. That — that we are not aware of China and Cuba developing any type of spy stations separately. I would say that the relationship that those two countries share is something that we continuously monitor.
I would say that — that as you’ve heard us say many times, China’s activities both in our hemisphere and around the world, any concerning activities are something that we will continue to watch closely.
But in terms of that — that particular report, no it’s not accurate.
Q: Have you seen China set up any military base in Cuba or is there any plans a foot we’re seeing elsewhere in the region that they have?
GEN. RYDER: Yes. None that I’m aware of at this time.
Q: Getting back to Ukraine. You can’t talk about what Ukraine’s doing, what about what Russia is doing? Are you seeing any movements of troops — shifts of troops, additional forces coming in along the frontline?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, Tom, so I appreciate the question. What I’m not going to do today is provide an operational update on — ongoing developments on the battlefield. Clearly Russia for sometime has been building it’s defenses in Ukraine and in anticipation of a Ukrainian counter offensive and so that’s about as far as I’ll go right now.
Q: (Inaudible) as far as additional troops coming in, can you at least say you’re seeing some —
GEN. RYDER: Beyond what we’ve seen in terms of, you know, replacement forces, I’m not aware of any significant large number of additional Russian forces coming in but of course that’s something we’ll continue to keep an eye on. OK. Yes, ma’am.
Q: Thank you so much, sir. First for you, there has been some reporting that DOD and DTIC are experimenting with open A.I. and so I wanted to hear a little bit more about how they’re experimenting with those large language models and how they’re managing the risks that we continue to hear about those emerging capabilities.
GEN. RYDER: Yes, sure. So I don’t have anything specific to provide on that. So let me take that question and we’ll — we’ll come back to you.
Q: Or you can tell your CDAO to respond that would be great.
GEN. RYDER: OK.
Q: Second line of question, on the Balt typhoon China linked cyber attack that we’ve been hearing a lot about. How is DOD responding if at all and at this point is it your assessment that it was contained to Guam?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, when it — when it comes to those kinds of activities as a matter of policy and for operation security we’re just not going to talk about what actions we may or may not be taking.
Obviously we take cyber security very seriously but I’m just not going to go into details.
Q: Thank you. And very happy to be back in here.
GEN. RYDER: It’s good to be back.
Q: I just wanted to follow up on Jen — on your response to Jen’s question. So you said it’s not accurate that China and Cuba are developing a spying base here. Is — are you aware of discussions about this or are their — is the report — are those reports completely just not accurate?
GEN. RYDER: Again, based on the information that we have, the report is in accurate. Certainly we — we know that — that China and Cuba maintain a — a relationship of sorts but when it comes to the specific activities outlined in the press reporting, again, based on the information we have that is not accurate.
Q: And then one questions just on the F-16 training. I’m just wondering if you have any update on which countries are going to be providing support for training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s and there was some reporting that F-18s may be involved as well. Are there any — is there any truth to that and can you kind of give us an update?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, in terms of any additional types of aircraft, nothing to announce on that front. As far as F-16 pilot training goes, no new updates to provide today. You know as we’ve talked about in the past, the Netherlands and Denmark have agreed to take the lead in terms of developing a training plan for Ukrainian pilots and maintainers. We do have several other allies who have said that they are interested in participating in that training.
And so I think the last time we talked from the briefing room, that was a topic of discussion — or excuse actually that was before. So at the last Ukraine defense contact group that was a topic of discussion. We’ve got a contact group next week. I expect it will be discussed there as well. And so we should have more details in a relatively near future in terms of when, where, how. But at this time nothing new to provide.
Q: Have any countries requested that they be able to transfer F-16s to Ukraine?
GEN. RYDER: Again, much more to follow in the future. Thanks. Going to go over here to Dan.
Q: Thank you. There’s a — there’s a new letter, a new push bipartisan on the Hill kind of circling back to the Pentagon asking about ATACMS, trying to expedite Abrams moves, trying to expedite F-16 moves. Any reaction to that in general.
And then separately, we’re all watching obviously the wild fire’s effect a good portion of East Coast at this point. Senate Majority Leader Schumer raised the point of having additional American firefighting troop abilities assist Canada if they ask for it.
Do you see a role for DOD in that particularly possibly with the guard that already does that on a state level?
GEN. RYDER: Yes, thanks, Dan. So last question first. I’m not aware of any specific requests at this time. Obviously, you know, firefighting is a capability that some of our forces — as you highlight, the Guard — have provided support for in the past, but I’m not aware of any specific asks at this time.
In terms of congressional requests for or, you know, highlighting additional capabilities for Ukraine, I — you know, I’m not going to get into specific conversations or requests between the Hill and the Pentagon, and we’ll respond appropriately to — to Congress when — when and as those requests come in.
But more broadly speaking, what I would tell you is nothing new to announce today in that regard. As we have been from the very beginning, we’ll continue to talk very closely with our Ukrainian partners, with our allies, on what (Ukrainians ?) most pressing needs are.
And so, you know, as — as we’ve talked about many times, we are committed to supporting them both in the near term and in the long term, and we’ll continue to keep you updated as there are new developments on that front. Thank you.
Q: Thanks. Liam Cosgrove with The Grayzone. A quick question on the Kakhovka Dam explosion. So several European politicians have come out and were — were quick to blame Russia, saying, you know, this is an example of Russian terrorism, but if you look at the context — the dam was in Russian-occupied territory — the Ukrainian Ecological League said this could leave Crimea without water for over a decade.
And there were reports in The Washington Post last year that Ukrainian soldiers were explicitly looking at targeting this dam — dam as part of a strategy to flood the region and prevent further Russian advancements, and they even fired a couple of HIMAR missiles into it to test that theory.
So can the DOD share any evidence as to who might have done this? And are you entertaining the possibility that it might have been Ukraine?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, well, like — like, as you heard us say, I mean, we’re continuing to assess how this could have happened. So, you know, all great questions, but at this point, it’s all speculation, and so, you know, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals or — or speculate. I — I think it’s very clear, however, the reason we’re in this situation is because Russia invaded Ukraine.
And — and so it’s a — obviously a terrible humanitarian tragedy, and you — you heard me talk here a little bit ago about how the U.S. government is attempting to assist the Ukrainians on the humanitarian front, but in terms of how this dam could have been destroyed, you know, again, it’s something that we’re continuing to look into. Thanks.
Q: And then more broadly, we have seen before where Ukraine, you know, avoids culpability and is quick to blame Russia, like that missile that went into Poland that they said was Russia, turned out it was actually Ukraine by accident.
So is there a concern that they’re not being totally transparent with us and that, you know, efforts like this, with the dam — you know, putting the dam aside, cause we don’t know who did it — but that, you know, an effort like that, with the missile in Poland and perhaps the dam, are attempting to draw us deeper into the conflict by blaming Russia, you know, when we don’t know yet?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so I — I — you know, you — you started your question with a, you know, “more broadly” speaking, so I’ll — I’ll do the same, I’ll talk more broadly here. I mean, as — as we say in the Air Force, from 10,000 feet, again, why are we in this situation? In February of 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine and attempted to eliminate it as a country. So the Ukrainians naturally have a right to defend themselves and we have a right to be able to support them to defend themselves.
I’m not going to speak for the Ukrainians in terms of their various activities, you know, when it — when it comes to the things that you highlight, other than to say it’s very clear that, on a daily basis, there are Russian forces attempting to kill innocent Ukrainians.
And so we, the United States government, are going to work with the international community to do everything we can to help them defend their country and take back sovereign territory.
So let me go to Ryo behind you there.
Q: Thank — thank you very much, General. On NATO, NATO is considering a new office in Tokyo, Japan to show its alignment with the Indo-Pacific region but the — France is opposing this initiative. Does the Pentagon support a new NATO office in Tokyo?
GEN. RYDER: Ryo, what I would tell you is that, you know, we certainly welcome the increasing cooperation between NATO and our — and our Asian allies. Japan is a cornerstone of our security in the Indo-Pacific region, our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, and we certainly welcome them as a NATO global partner, but when it comes to whether or not NATO is going to open an office in Japan, that’s really a — a question for NATO and Japan, and France, in this case, to address.
Q: Just a follow-up — when the Secretary was in France this week, did the Secretary have a chance to discuss this issue with — with his French counterpart?
GEN. RYDER: This particular issue did not come up. OK.
Q: Thank you. My name is Hariana from TPA Angola. So can you tell us what could be the consequences if China and Cuba indeed build a — a more stronger relationship other than the one that you are aware of?
GEN. RYDER: Well, you know, without getting into, you know, hypothetical situations, I think, broadly speaking, as I mentioned before, any type of activity, coercive activity or belligerent activity within our hemisphere is something that we’re watching very closely. When it comes to China, it’s something that we’ve been concerned about for a while, it’s something that we continue to work with our allies and partners to counter in the hemisphere.
And so again, without getting into hypothetical situations, it’s something that we’ll continue to take very seriously.
Q: In the beginning, you mentioned a few trip — successful trip made by the Secretary. Is any upcoming visit of the Secretary to Africa?
GEN. RYDER: I don’t have anything to announce on that front. Obviously, Africa continues to play a very important role when it comes to our partnerships and our — our national security interests. You know, we have a lot of very valued partners throughout the African continent. And so when the opportunity presents itself, you know, the Secretary certainly will look forward to that, but I don’t have anything to announce right now. Thank you very much.
Q: While you were traveling last week, the — the nation came together on a debt ceiling agreement. Afterwards, Mr. McCarthy, the House Speaker, threw cold water on the idea of defense supplemental to overcome the $886 billion national security cap. He became the latest politician to invoke the fact that the Pentagon has failed five audits in a row. His point was it failed five audits in a row, if you don’t think there’s (waste ?) — this has become a recurring theme among members. He’s the highest ranking to bring it up again.
What — how do you respond to that, that the Pentagon can’t — they failed five audits. Is there a correlation between the failure of the audits and effectively spending appropriated dollars from Congress? Should I be concerned, if I don’t live in Washington, if you fail five audits and you’re wasting my money, you’re getting — and you’re getting more money every year?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Tony. So a couple of things. So first of all, when it comes to audits, I would tell you that the department welcomes the scrutiny and the transparency that — that audits provide. These audits are a part of a long term effort to transform and modernize the — the DOD and help us transform, you know, in — in terms of providing the kinds of capabilities that the country expects.
Any entity as large as the department, there’s going to be challenges, in terms of when you conduct these types of audits — audits, it’s going to take time and it’s going to take investment. While we currently fall short of having a clean audit of our financial statements, we do receive favorable audit opinions on a significant amount of our resources, and there are controls in place to help ensure that taxpayer resources are being spent as intended by Congress.
So this is something that we’re going to continue to take very seriously. We understand what we’ve been charged with as a department, in terms of national security and the — and the appropriate use of taxpayer resources, and so we’ll continue to stay after it.
Q: So if I listen to you here correctly, there’s not a real correlation between failed audits and effectively spending, obligating dollars Congress authorized and appropriates every year? They’re two different entities, two different mechanisms?
GEN. RYDER: Right. I mean, again, when it comes to managing the resources of the department, again, we’re going to do everything we can to effectively manage and spend those — those dollars. When it comes to the audit, again, that’s something that we’re going to continue to work very hard, in terms of ensuring that we can track where those dollars are being spent and how they’re being spent.
Q: May I ask you one transparency question too? A couple — about a week and a half ago, the department disclosed that SpaceX received a contract for Starlink terminals. They refused your body refused to even allow how much of the — was — the contract was worth. Can you go back and revisit that? These are white systems, it’s not classified, and I think the public’s got a right to know roughly how much money is being spent by its — on these Starlink terminals for Ukraine.
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, I’ll — I’ll take your question. You know, as you’ve heard us talk about, for reasons of operational security and — and due to the critical nature of satellite communications systems, it’s just something that we’re just not able to get into — to details at — at this time.
Q: Yeah but dollars are different than technologies and how many and where they’re being placed. That’s all I want to …
GEN. RYDER: Yeah — nope, understand. Thank you.
OK, time for a few more. Let me go to Tom.
Q: Hi, thanks. Welcome back — back from your trip. Two follow-up questions please.
Putting on your Air Force hat again, as you said, from 10,000 feet, a follow-up on Lara’s question regarding F-18s. From a Air Force point of view, what would they bring to a conflict like Ukraine?
GEN. RYDER: I appreciate the question, Tom, but I don’t want to get into hypothetical discussions about capabilities that …
… yeah — no, I understand. I — I just — by me answering that question though, it implies that we’re now going to, you know, go down a fictional road where — yeah — no, I understand — yeah, so.
Q: My second follow-up was to Brandi’s question about the attack on Guam, and one of the parts you didn’t respond to was whether it was beyond Guam, that cyberattack. Could you address that point?
GEN. RYDER: Again, I’m not going to talk about, you know, whether or not there are particular attacks or vulnerabilities. That — that’s our policy when it comes to any type of cyber activities in — yeah. Thanks very much.
Q: Noah Robertson, I’m with the Christian Science Monitor. Thank you. President Zelenskyy said earlier in an interview that humanitarian rescue workers were being shot at by Russians. They tried to do work in the flooded area in the south of the country. Can you confirm that and offer any more details of …
GEN. RYDER: I unfortunately, I can’t. I just don’t have that level of detail. Thank you very much.
OK, go to the last two questions. Yeah?
Q: Thank you. A quick question on North Korean so-called space launch. What is the current view, analysis, assessment on how soon North Korea is prepared for — conduct the next launch? I mean, does DOD assess that it’s technically possible for them to launch — conduct the next launch very soon?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so — so I’m not going to get into any discussion of intelligence that — that we may or may not have on that front. I mean, as you know, the North Koreans have stated their intent to do that. You heard multiple leaders, to include U.S. and international leaders, to include Secretary Austin from Singapore, condemn North Korea’s recent launch. It’s destabilizing, it is in violation of UN Security Council Resolutions.
And so again, we’ll continue to stay in close consultation with our Republic of Korea and Japanese allies, as well as other allies and partners throughout the region, to continue to discuss this situation and continue to work together to deter potential aggression.
Yes, sir? Last question.
Q: Thanks. So last week, the Pentagon rolled out a policy that aimed at — that was aimed at banning drag shows on military installations. You know, what message does the Secretary hope service members take away from this policy change, especially in light of the fact that it came at the start of Pride Month?
GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so first let me just reiterate upfront that DOD recognizes June as LGBTQI-Plus Pride month, and that we are very grateful for and acknowledge the many contributions of service members and DOD civilian employees from the LGBTQI-Plus community who serve our country.
And as you well know, those of you who’ve covered DOD, we conduct special observance to recognize the continuous achievements of all Americans and to American culture for increased awareness, mutual respect and understanding, to include Pride Month.
When it comes to drag shows, however, you know, I — I would take exception. This has been a longstanding policy, in terms of — of activities like this, that DOD will not host drag events at U.S. military installations or facilities.
We became aware of the drag events during an April congressional hearing — at that — that — there were a — drag events scheduled to take place at DOD installations and facilities, and so again, the Secretary advised that the department will not host such events.
Q: And, you know, drawing on my — you know, just as a quick follow-up, draw — drawing on my own Navy background, I know, you know, crossing the lines ceremonies, for example, feature — one of the elements is often times male sailors dressing in female garb. It — is there — does the policy go so far as to address activities like that at the unit level?
GEN. RYDER: So — so again, what we’re talking about here is using DOD installations and facilities to host these type of events. And so per DOD joint ethics regulations, certain criteria must be met for persons or for organizations acting in a non-federal capacity to use DOD facilities and equipment.
So hosting these types of events in federally-funded facilities is inconsistent with regulations regarding the use of DOD resources.
OK, thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate it.
12.06.2023 / Andreea Dragan, Deputy-Editor-in-Chief
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