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Senators Ask Biden to Send Ukraine Armed Drones

National

Contactors from General Atomics load Hellfire missiles onto an MQ-1C Gray Eagle | Image by Jason Sweeney/U.S. Army

A group of U.S. senators urged the Biden administration on Tuesday to reconsider its decision not to provide armed drones to Ukraine.

The group argued that the technology could help Kyiv hold its territory and gain battlefield momentum as the Russian military operation in the country enters its ninth month.

In a November 22 letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, 16 Republican and Democrat senators urged Biden to provide Ukraine with the MQ-1C armed drones, medium-altitude armed drones, or Gray Eagles, the Wall Street Journal reported in an exclusive.

“Ukraine appreciates and treasures bipartisan support of our fight for freedom,” tweeted Anton Gerashchenko, advisor to the minister of internal affairs of Ukraine.

Republican Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and James Inhofe (R-OK) joined Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in sending the letter. Junior Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), a member of the Senate armed services committee and chair of the Senate’s subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities, was also among those who signed the letter to Biden.

“Ukrainian successes on the battlefield are encouraging, but [Russian President] Vladimir Putin’s intent to conquer all of Ukraine remains unchanged,” the senators wrote. “The timely provision of effective lethal aid to stabilize Ukrainian defenses and enable long-term resistance against future Russian aggression remains urgent.”

The Biden administration declined to comment on the letter, according to WSJ.

Ukraine has long requested the United States provide Gray Eagle MQ-1C multipurpose UAVs, according to The New Voice of Ukraine. Washington rejected the request several times, citing that the drone contains sophisticated radio and intelligence equipment that could jeopardize U.S. security.

The Pentagon is thinking of ways to eliminate the most delicate technological components in the drone so that the transfer of Gray Eagles doesn’t involve any additional risks to U.S. Security.

During their nearly 30-hour flight, each drone can carry four Hellfire missiles at an altitude of over 8,000 meters, The New Voice of Ukraine reported.

“The long-term upside of providing Ukraine with the MQ-1C is significant and has the potential to drive the strategic course of the war in Ukraine’s favor,” the legislators wrote, per WSJ’s report.

Members of both the Democrat and Republican parties want to arm Ukraine’s drones; in September, 17 legislators asked the administration to expedite the Gray Eagle review, which led to this month’s decision.

However, when new Congress members are sworn in next year, they will be led by Republicans who say they plan to cut funding for the war in Ukraine, the Daily Express reported.

Before the midterm elections in October, Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy said that the “blank check” policy of sending taxpayer-funded aid to Ukraine would end.

The California Representative said the pivot in policy would reflect his party’s growing doubts about giving money to Kyiv while it fights Russia’s invasion. Ukraine has been accused of alleged corruption for decades.

Russia has allegedly acquired drones from Iran that have pummeled Ukrainian population centers and civilian infrastructure, giving Russia a battlefield advantage, according to lawmakers. They said the U.S. should give Ukraine weapons to match Russia’s, WSJ reported.

Senators estimated that training the Ukrainian military to fly the General Atomics MQ-1C would take 27 days. If Ukraine had Gray Eagles of its own, it could pinpoint and attack Russia’s navy fleet in the Black Sea and break its coercive blockade to relieve economic and food price pressures, the senators argued.

The latest letter was another sign of strain between Capitol Hill and the White House over giving Ukraine taxpayer-funded weapons.

Some of Kyiv’s Western backers worry about the global economy due to the conflict and are pressuring the capital to negotiate with Moscow. The Ukrainian government wants to know the next negotiation’s topic.

As the weather cools, the front lines are not expected to advance for weeks. Meanwhile, destruction from both sides of the confrontation continues.

Russia attacked Ukraine’s power infrastructure shortly after Ukrainian forces retook control, causing rolling blackouts and city evacuations, and Ukrainian forces reportedly summarily executed Russian prisoners of war, as apparently revealed in a video released on social media on Friday.

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