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Coming Soon: U.S. Military Drones to Ukraine to Fight Russia?

MQ-1C Gray Eagle
MQ-1C Gray Eagle. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The U.S. military could someday soon send to Ukraine some of its best drone weapons of war to fight Russia. And if they are sent, they could join the action relatively soon. But what will Joe Biden do, and how would Russia respond to such an action? 

More than a dozen US senators from both major parties are pushing the Biden administration to provide Ukraine with a fleet of advanced, armed drones that they argue would “increase the lethality” of the country’s armed forces, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The MQ-1C, or “Gray Eagle,” is a successor to the Predator drone manufactured by General Atomics that boasts the ability to carry four Hellfire missiles and remain airborne for up to 27 hours before refueling. It has a range of 2,500 nautical miles and can cruise at 25,000 feet.

In their letter, addressed to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, 16 senators — including James Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, and Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia — wrote that the drone “has the potential to drive the strategic course of the war in Ukraine’s favor.”

With a fleet of its own, Ukraine “could find and attack Russian warships in the Black Sea, breaking its coercive blockade and alleviate dual pressures on the Ukrainian economy and global food prices,” the lawmakers wrote. It would take 27 days to train Ukrainian forces on how to operate the unmanned aerial vehicle, they wrote.

C. Mark Brinkley, a spokesperson for General Atomics, told Insider that lawmakers are right to argue that Ukraine could put the drones into service soon after receiving them.

“General Atomics has proposed an aggressive training timeline for Ukrainian operators of less than five weeks, and has offered to train the first cadre of users at company expense,” Brinkley said. “We believe it would be a game-changing decision to send Gray Eagles to support the Ukrainian defense.”

Ukrainian officials have been asking for the drone since May, The Wall Street Journal reported over the summer, but the Biden administration has been reluctant to provide it over fears that sensitive technology could end up in the hands of US adversaries.

Earlier this month, a US official told CNN that the Pentagon is studying potential modifications to the drone to safeguard such technical secrets in the event that is captured by Russian forces. Politico previously reported that a particular concern is an advanced component, the Multi-Spectral Targeting System, that “provides real-time intelligence, targeting and tracking to its operators.”

Charles R. Davis is a Senior Reporter at Insider. His work has aired on public radio and been published by outlets such as The Guardian, The Daily Beast, The New Republic, HuffPost, Columbia Journalism Review, and Vice. His coverage of labor violations in the entertainment industry was recognized at the 2019 Southern California Journalism Awards.

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Charles R. Davis is a Senior Reporter at Insider.