U.S. plans to sell 4 Gray Eagle drones to Ukraine

U.S. plans to sell 4 Gray Eagle drones to Ukraine

Three people familiar with the situation said that the Biden administration plans to sell Ukraine four MQ-1 C Gray Eagle drones that can be armed with Hellfire missiles for battlefield use against Russia.

The Pentagon has been reviewing the plan for several weeks, but there is a risk of a last minute policy reversal that could affect the plan, which could still be blocked by Congress, according to the sources.

Ukraine has been using several types of shorter range unmanned aerial systems against Russian forces that invaded the country in late February. They include the AeroVironment RQ 20 Puma AE and the Turkish Bayraktar-TB 2.

The Gray Eagle can gather huge amounts of data for intelligence purposes and can fly up to 30 or more hours depending on its mission. The Gray Eagles, the Army's version of the more widely known Predator drone, can carry up to eight powerful Hellfire missiles.

The sale is significant because it puts an advanced reusable U.S. system capable of multiple deep strikes on the battlefield against Russia for the first time.

A U.S. official said that the administration of President Joe Biden intends to notify Congress of the potential sale to Ukraine in the coming days.

A Pentagon spokeswoman and a White House spokeswoman said there was nothing to announce. The U.S. official and one person familiar with the situation said that money from the $40 billion Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative has been set aside to fund both the possible sale and training needed for the drones.

The MQ- 1 C is a larger aircraft with a max take-off weight of around three times that of the Bayraktar-TB 2, with commensurate advantages in payload capacity, range and endurance, according to drone expert Dan Gettinger with the Vertical Flight Society.

The MQ-1 C is also compatible with a greater variety of munitions than the Bayraktar-TB 2 munitions. The Ukrainian Bayraktars are equipped with 22 kg 48 pound Turkish MAM-L missiles, about half the weight of a Hellfire.

The sources said that training on the UAV system made by General Atomics usually takes months, but a notional plan to train experienced Ukrainian maintainers and operators in a handful of weeks has been proposed in recent weeks.

Once training on the drones has been completed, the U.S. official and a source said that the drones will be armed with Hellfire missiles via a future Presidential Drawdown Authority.

The Pentagon has stressed that smaller systems such as Javelin anti-tank systems and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which are allies are shipping to Ukraine via truck near-daily, are the most useful ones, up until an announcement on Wednesday that Ukraine would get four HIMARS rocket systems.