HomePoliticsThe Air Force wants to send its Reaper drones to Ukraine. ...

The Air Force wants to send its Reaper drones to Ukraine. The Pentagon isn’t so sure.


The four people were granted anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The debate over weaponized drones has oscillated for much longer than over other once-controversial systems, such as artillery and long-range tactical missile systems, both of which began arriving in the summer as fighting escalated.

The stance has frustrated Ukrainian officials who vowed to use the donated drones to strike only Russian positions inside Ukraine, and vowed to share targeting information with the US before launching attacks, one of the people said.

Both the Reaper version and the Army version, the Gray Eagle, would give Ukraine a critical new capability as the country’s forces press on occupied Crimea and well-defended Russian front lines in the Donbas. The problem is not out of the question, Defense Department and industry officials have suggested, as the Pentagon and drone maker General Atomics continue to try to make one or both drones transferable to Ukraine.

Since the early days of the war, Air Force Reapers and Army Gray Eagles have been high on Kiev’s wish list, as they would give Ukraine a greatly expanded surveillance and attack capability, which is vital in a war. It relies heavily on artillery duels and drones. attacks

General Atomics executives have been in contact with Ukrainian officials for months in an attempt to reach a deal on technology transfers that meets US standards and concerns.

The Air Force has been trying to scrap older versions of its Reaper fleet for years to free up money to buy and operate more advanced technology, but Congress has rejected the proposal each time.

The most recent proposal in the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which calls for the transfer of 100 Reapers to another government agency, would possibly free up some of the drones for shipment to Ukraine. The Air Force did not confirm which government agency, but US Customs and Border Protection also flies Reapers, and it’s unclear if the drones would come from the Air Force or special operations fleets.

The Air Force is already operating the aircraft in Europe. Last year, the Air Force began to fly Reaper Romanian missions.

In March, the service asked top commandos that fly the Reaper to assess the impact on their units if the US transfers the drones to Ukraine, and the Air Force’s Special Operations Command volunteered to send its drones. said two people with knowledge of the discussions. AFSOC flies approximately 50 Reapers and those drones are equipped with full motion video that does not come with the reference system. That offer made its way through the Pentagon bureaucracy, where it still sits.

The Air Force forwarded a request for comment to the Pentagon, and Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said he had no updates on the status of the problem.

California Republican Ken CalvertA ranking member of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee and whose district is near General Atomics headquarters, confirmed that the Air Force had initially approved the shipment of MQ-9s to Ukraine, but said leadership has not.” bought” the idea.

“We should be able to install the MQ-9 Reaper and Gray Eagles that would help turn the tide of this war,” Calvert said in an interview.

Calvert also wants to start coaching the Ukrainians in the Reapers and Gray Eagles before a White House decision. He argues that once management makes a decision, it could take three to four months to train new users.

The MQ-9 Reaper, also known as the Predator B, was built to support the military in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where there was no danger of being shot down. The MQ-1C Gray Eagle was later developed as an upgrade to the MQ-1 Predator for the military.

gray eagle thrust

General Atomics has led a lobbying effort in Washington and kyiv to devise a solution to modify its Gray Eagle technology to suit US demands for exportability. An electro-optical/infrared ball manufactured by Raytheon Technologies on the Gray Eagle provides real-time intelligence, guidance and tracking to its operators. But nothing so far has swayed the Biden administration.

Congress has also expressed a lot of frustration with months of deliberation on drones.

A bipartisan group of 16 senators, led by joni ernst (R-Iowa) and Joe Manchin (DW.V.), urged Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in a November 22 letter to answer a number of questions about the transfer of the Gray Eagle, as the drone is Ukraine’s “highest priority” military transfer request.

During the time the Pentagon considered transferring the drones to Ukraine, Ukraine purchased or received donated Turkish-made TB2 drones that proved effective at first, but were subsequently targeted by Russian air defenses and electronic jamming. Those strikes have limited their ability to operate and raised concerns in the Pentagon about how US drones would fare in such an environment.

“We are interested in giving [Ukraine] what they need to defend their turf and drive them out,” Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California last week, adding that when it comes to drones, “we’re looking at survivability …is a system like Gray Eagle survived in a highly contested aerial environment?

Appearing on the same panel, Ernst dismissed those concerns and showed little apprehension about the transfer of sensitive technology. “If they’re using an S-300 to shoot down a Gray Eagle, that allows us to target that S-300,” he said. “We can equip a Gray Eagle with technology that is already being used in 30 other countries.”

The senator linked the drone problem to the Biden administration’s refusal to send longer-range rockets that could hit deep into Russia. “We should be beating the bloody hell out of the Russians, through the Ukrainians, so they can’t raise their heads and come back in five to 10 years,” Ernst said.

Connor O’Brien contributed to this report.



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