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Transfer of Gray Eagle drones to Ukraine is imminent due to technical concerns

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Built by General Atomics as an upgrade to the MQ-1 Predator, the Gray Eagle can fly over 27 hours, travel 2,500 nautical miles, and carry Hellfire missiles. Drones are used in US operations in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.

The U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Technology and Security Agency (DoD), which is responsible for ensuring that U.S. national security needs are met during international arms transfers, currently has MSTS-equipped Gray Assessing the risks of sending Eagle drones to Ukraine. A senior Pentagon official said there was no guarantee the office would give the go-ahead, and no recommendation had yet reached the desks of senior Pentagon leaders.

The final decision on whether it is wise to send the Gray Eagles to Ukraine rests with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, but he is not expected to participate in the debate for many more weeks.

The Pentagon is basically back where it was in June when the final decision was made. POLITICO reported at the time that the delay was due to training and logistics issues, particularly concerns that the drone would be more complex to operate than the small, short-range Switchblade and Phoenix Ghost drones the US sent to Ukraine. .

Ukrainian officials, who made a request for four aircraft earlier this year, continue to be frustrated by the delay. Kyiv made clear the need to find the positions of Russian troops. However, some Ukrainian fighter pilots say the Gray He Eagle may not be of much use as it has to fly close to Moscow forces for strike missions.

“It’s a very capable platform, but for me it’s very dangerous to use it only on the front lines. This is not Afghanistan,” a fighter pilot called “Juice” said in June. told The War Zone.

Biden administration officials continue to insist they are considering delivering more drones to their Ukrainian counterparts.

“In fact, we have contracted several different types of UAVs for Ukraine and will continue to do so. UAVs, from our point of view, are an integral part of this battle,” said National Security. Advisor Jake Sullivan said at the Aspen Security Forum last month that the US also helped other countries send drones to Kyiv.

Another hurdle is that the Gray Eagles require extensive ground infrastructure, including secure communication links and extensive paved landing strips.

Drone maker General Atomics has started advocating sending Gray Eagles to Ukraine. meeting between Ukrainian Ambassador Oksana Markarova and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems CEO Linden Blue spoke on April 12, according to one person with knowledge of the conversation. Atomics subsidiary.

A few weeks later, on May 2, the company offered to pay for the training of the first group of Ukrainian MQ-9 operators and mechanics. This included the cost of international travel and per diems to facilitate the deal, said C. Mark Brinkley, a spokesman for General Atomics-Aeronautical Systems.

The company proposed an accelerated training schedule (12 hours a day, 7 days a week, about 5 weeks) to get Ukrainian operators up to speed. Training will include academic, simulator time, live flight and exercises, Brinkley said.

The company has suggested training drone pilots, video operators, airframe and power plant mechanics and ground control station technicians, Brinkley added.

“We remain committed to the Ukrainian people. They continue to fight for their lives and our offer to start training remains,” said Brinkley.

Congress still has a say in the transfer and could block the deal.

Paul McLeary contributed to this report.