A bipartisan group of US senators has urged the Biden administration to reconsider its decision not to give Ukraine advanced drones, saying that the technology could help Kyiv to hold its territory and gain battlefield momentum.
In a Nov. 22 letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, 16 senators urged the administration to give Ukraine MQ-1C armed drones, or Gray Eagles, which are medium-altitude drones that can fly for more than 24 hours, The Wall Street Journal 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.
Among the signatories are Sen. Joni Ernst, Sen. James Inhofe, who is the outgoing ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Tim Kaine, Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Mark Kelly.
In the past few weeks of the nearly nine-month-long war, Iran has provided Russia with drones that have been pummeling Ukrainian population centers and civilian infrastructure, and which legislators said gave Russia a battlefield advantage.
The Ukrainians should have a US-supplied arsenal to counter what Russia has received, they said.
“This system’s operational attributes—availability, lethality, survivability, and exportability—complement existing weapon systems used by the Ukrainians and will increase the lethality of the Ukrainian military,” the legislators wrote.
Training Ukrainians on the MQ-1C, which are made by General Atomics, would take 27 days, the senators explained, adding that if Ukraine had access to its own drones it “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 White House and the Pentagon declined Ukraine’s request for the drones earlier this month.
US officials, at times, have worried that the technology aboard the drone could be stolen on the battlefield.
The Pentagon is assessing what the effect the provision of the drones would have on the US military, said Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh.
“We are always assessing and evaluating what we can send to Ukraine,” she said.
US officials said the reluctance to provide the drones stemmed from technical issues, not fears of escalation.
The letter was the latest example of a monthslong tension between Capitol Hill and the White House over what kind of weapons to provide Ukraine.
Members of Congress from both parties have repeatedly pushed the administration to give Ukraine armed drones.
In a September letter, 17 lawmakers urged the administration to speed up its review process about providing Gray Eagles, leading to the decision earlier this month.
In the latest letter, the legislators asked Austin to explain by Nov. 30 the Pentagon’s reasons for concluding that the US shouldn’t provide Ukraine MQ-1C drones.
The new letter contradicts the circulated speculation about the possibility of a change in the support of the US Congress for the US aid to Ukraine. This comes amid remarks that this support will not be given without any return.
“Ukrainian successes on the battlefield are encouraging, but [Russian President] Vladimir Putin’s intent to conquer all of Ukraine remains unchanged. The timely provision of effective lethal aid to stabilize Ukrainian defenses and enable long-term resistance against future Russian aggression remains urgent,” the letter read.
Kyiv is under pressure from some of its Western backers to signal readiness for negotiations with Moscow amid concerns about the global economic fallout of the war.
The United States announced $400 million in additional military aid for Ukraine on Wednesday.
The US continues to support Ukraine with additional military assistance to help defend itself, including from the Kremlin’s relentless attacks on Ukraine’s critical energy infrastructure, said a statement by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Pursuant to a delegation of authority from President Joe Biden, Blinken said he is authorizing twenty-sixth drawdown of US arms and equipment for Ukraine since August 2021.
“This $400 million drawdown includes additional arms, munitions, and air defense equipment from US Department of Defense inventories.”
It will bring the total US military assistance for Ukraine to an unprecedented level of approximately $19.7 billion, since the beginning of the Administration.
He pointed out that the artillery ammunition, precision fires, air defense missiles, and tactical vehicles the US is providing will best serve Ukraine on the battlefield.
“We are joined in our efforts by France and the UK, including the £50 million in air defense systems offered by UK Prime Minister Sunak during his recent visit to Kyiv, and we note Sweden’s recent air defense commitment valued at nearly $300 million,” the statement said.