A US weapons maker is offering Ukraine a pair of deadly combat drones for $1, 'no strings attached,' but it's not that simple

  • In Politics
  • 2023-02-02 16:46:20Z
  • By Business Insider
An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted drone aircraft performs aerial maneuvers over Creech Air Force BaseThomson Reuters
An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted drone aircraft performs aerial maneuvers over Creech Air Force BaseThomson Reuters  
  • US weapons maker General Atomics offered two lethal drones for Ukraine for just $1.

  • The price is symbolic, the company said, adding that it would also provide training.

  • But the transfer would need approval from the US government, and still cost millions in other fees.

A leading US weapons maker has offered to send a pair of deadly combat drones to Ukraine for a "symbolic" price of one dollar, without any strings attached, but this proposal is more complicated than it appears.

The Biden administration, which has so far been reluctant to send larger and more advanced drones, would need to authorize the transfer, and even if it was approved, the plan would still cost millions of dollars in delivery and maintenance fees.

Linden Blue, the CEO of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, wrote in a Wednesday statement that the company recently offered to send Ukraine two lethal drones used for training purposes. In addition to these unmanned combat aerial vehicles, the defense contractor said that it would also provide training for Ukrainian operators and a ground control station - all for just $1.

General Atomics did not specify which drones it plans to provide Ukraine. It did say, however, that since the start of Russia's large-scale invasion nearly a year ago, two options that it has considered include the MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1C Gray Eagle, both of which are proven systems that have combat and surveillance capabilities, a 27-hour endurance, and can be armed with Hellfire missiles.

The Reaper, which can gather information and execute strike missions and has an operational ceiling of 50,000 feet, played a significant role in the US war in Afghanistan. The Gray Eagle, meanwhile, succeeded the Predator drone, and can fly at half that altitude. In November, senators from both sides of the aisle wrote a letter urging the Biden administration to outfit Ukraine with the Gray Eagle so it can attack Russian ships in the Black Sea.

However, General Atomics acknowledged that preparing these drones for combat use come with additional costs that are outside the company's control. This includes shipping them to Ukraine, expanding satellite capability, setting up operations on the ground, and fitting the drones with necessary equipment.

Ukraine would have to spend $10 million alone just preparing and shipping the drones to Ukraine and an additional $8 million on maintenance, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the offer. Still, General Atomics pointed out that this is a good deal for Ukraine.

"Factoring in hardware and training that is essentially free, the offer is a remarkable deal with no strings attached," General Atomics said. "All that is required is approval from the US government."

The US has so far avoided providing Ukraine with larger and more lethal drones such as the Reaper and Gray Eagle. Instead, Washington has sent smaller weapons like the Switchblade tactical unmanned systems, which are loitering munitions sometimes referred to as kamikaze or suicide drones.

The Biden administration has been concerned that the provision of larger armed unmanned systems, which are subject to certain export restrictions anyway, could escalate the conflict, as The Wall Street Journal reported in November, so it remains to be seen if the US government will green light the transfer of the drones that General Atomics has offered.

A State Department spokesperson told Insider that it was aware of reports on the offer, but had nothing to add at this moment. They added that Ukraine is working with limited personnel, and that the US is focusing on supporting Kyiv on its near-term battlefield needs.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment on the offer.

"There are limits to what an American defense company can do to support a situation such as this," General Atomics wrote. "From our perspective, it is long past time to enable Ukrainian forces with the information dominance required to win this war."


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