Despite a mere days ago President Biden pledging in a New York Times op-ed that under his watch the United States would ensure it avoids supplying the Ukrainians with weapons which could penetrate deep inside Russian territory, given the potential for wider war with Russia, the White House is now said to be mulling the transfer of multiple MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones which can be armed with Hellfire missiles.
Reuters, citing unnamed sources, reports the Biden administration has notified Congress of the potential sale within “the coming days”. If it goes through, the sale would mark the largest and most sophisticated drones in Ukraine’s arsenal. It would also inch the US a bit closer toward President Zelensky’s prior request for the US and NATO to “close the skies” – or impose a No Fly Zone (NFZ) – despite Biden officials earlier admitting this would trigger automatic direct conflict with Russian.
The Pentagon is already supplying hundreds of AeroVironment’s Switchblade drones, which is a small, low-cost loitering munition or “suicide” drone. Ukraine has also already long deployed the Turkish-made Bayraktar, however, the General Atomics-made Gray Eagle is much faster and capable of carrying heavier munitions.
According to a brief comparative analsysis in Forbes,
The Gray Eagle carries up to four roughly 100-pound Hellfire missiles, whereas the Bayraktar can carry as many as four 49-pound laser-guided “smart micro” bombs.
Further, “The long-range model of the Gray Eagle drone is 28 feet long and can fly for over 41 hours with a top speed of about 173 miles per hour, while the Bayraktar is 21 feet long and can fly for 27 hours at up to 138 miles per hour.”
The potential transfer comes just as Biden authorized $700 million more in military aid to Ukraine. Reuters says the transfer is to include at least four Gray Eagle drones.
The Drive notes that with this type of advanced weapons system sale, there could be a few more hurdles along the way: “Typically a foreign military sale, even one financed by the U.S., as Reuters reports, has to be pre-approved by the State Department,” the report says.
And once again the Pentagon could be ordered by the administration to deplete its own crucial stockpile and arsenal in order to further arm the Ukrainians.