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December 2, 2022

A bipartisan group of senators is pressing the Biden administration to rethink its stance of not giving Ukraine advanced drones to aid in pushing Russian forces out of the country.

In a Nov. 22 letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, 16 senators led by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) ask the administration to give “careful reconsideration” to Ukraine’s request for MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aerial systems (UAS). 

“The MQ-1C, along with already provided long-range fires capabilities, provides Ukraine additional lethality needed to eject Russian forces and regain occupied territory,” the lawmakers write.  

The signatories include Ernst, outgoing Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.). 

Ukraine has made significant battlefield advances in the last few months against Russia, pushing Kremlin forces from the strategic areas of Kharkiv and Kherson. 

But Moscow has countered with an unrelenting barrage of missile and drone strikes across Ukraine since October, using Iranian-provided kamikaze drones to target major cities and infrastructure.  

The lawmakers argue that Kyiv needs its own advanced drones to counter Russia’s. 

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

The senators note the Gray Eagle’s “operational attributes,” including “availability, lethality, survivability, and exportability,” complement existing weapon systems used by the Ukrainians and will increase its military’s lethality.  

They also argue that training Ukrainians on the drone would take 27 days, after which the UAS could be used to “erode Russia’s long-range fires advantage” and even “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.” 

This isn’t the first time lawmakers have pushed the administration to send Ukraine advanced drones.  

In September, a bipartisan group of 17 House lawmakers asked the Pentagon to speed up its review of sending either Gray Eagles or  MQ-9A Reapers to Kyiv, arguing it could help Ukraine keep the territory it had recently gained.  

But the Pentagon so far has declined Ukraine’s request for the drones over reported concerns that the drone’s advanced and secretive technology might fall into enemy hands.  

Asked on Tuesday if giving the drones to Ukraine was still under consideration, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told reporters that “nothing has been decided.” 

“We are always assessing and evaluating what we can send to Ukraine, but in terms of the Gray Eagles, no decision has been made,” she said. “We have to examine what impact it would have on us, and specifically for the Army, but nothing has been ruled out.” 

In the letter, the senators ask Austin by the end of the month to explain the Defense Department’s reasons for not giving Ukraine Gray Eagles. 

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