A bipartisan group of senators is urging the Biden government to reconsider its stance not to provide Ukraine with advanced drones to force Russian armed forces out of the country.
In a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin dated November 22, 16 senators led by Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) call on the government to “carefully review” Ukraine’s request for unmanned aerial systems (UAS) MQ-1C Gray Eagle.
“The MQ-1C, together with existing long-range firing capabilities, provides Ukraine with additional lethality needed to drive out Russian forces and regain occupied territory,” MEPs write.
The signatories include Ernst, outgoing member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Lindsey Graham (R-SC.), and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.).
The Wall Street Journal first reported the letter.
Ukraine has made significant progress on the battlefield against Russia in recent months, pushing Kremlin forces out of the strategic areas of Kharkiv and Kherson.
However, since October, Moscow has countered with a relentless flood of rocket and drone strikes across Ukraine, using kamikaze drones provided by Iran to target major cities and infrastructure.
Lawmakers argue that Kiev needs its own advanced drones to counter Russia’s drones.
“Ukraine’s successes on the battlefield are encouraging, but [Russian President] Vladimir Putin’s intent to conquer all of Ukraine remains unchanged,” the letter states. “The timely provision of effective lethal aid to stabilize Ukraine’s defenses and create long-term resistance to future Russian aggression remains urgently needed.”
Senators note that the Gray Eagle’s “operational characteristics,” including “availability, lethality, survivability, and exportability,” will complement Ukrainians’ existing weapons systems and increase the lethality of its military.
They also argue that training Ukrainians with the drone would take 27 days. Thereafter, the UAS could be used to “undermine Russia’s advantage in long-range fires” and even “find and attack Russian warships in the Black Sea to break the forced blockade and reduce double pressure on the Ukrainian economy and global food prices.”
This isn’t the first time lawmakers have pushed the government to send advanced drones to Ukraine.
In September, a bipartisan group of 17 House members called on the Pentagon to expedite its review of sending Grey Eagles or MQ-9A Reapers to Kiev, arguing that this could help Ukraine retain the territory it had recently won.
However, the Pentagon has so far denied Ukraine’s request for the drones, as it was reportedly feared that the drone’s advanced and secret technology could fall into enemy hands.
When asked on Tuesday whether handing over the drones to Ukraine was still being considered, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told reporters that “nothing was decided.”
“We’re constantly reviewing and evaluating what we can send to Ukraine, but as far as the Grey Eagles are concerned, no decision has been made yet,” she said. “We need to look at what impact this would have on us and on the army in particular, but nothing was ruled out.”
In the letter, senators ask Austin to explain by the end of the month why Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense did not give Gray Eagles.