Lawmakers push Pentagon to send advanced drones to Ukraine

A bipartisan group of 17 House lawmakers want the Pentagon to send advanced drones to Ukraine to help in its fight with Russia, arguing the technology could help Kyiv keep the territory it has recently gained. 

In a letter sent to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday, the members of Congress urged him to speed up a security review of Ukraine’s request for larger, armed drones, The Wall Street Journal first reported

The lawmakers argued that Ukraine “could better confront Russian threats” with drones such as the MQ-1C Gray Eagle or MQ-9A Reaper, which could also help them “better hold the territory they fought so hard to reclaim.” 

Ukraine has long called for the Biden administration to send the country more advanced drones, but Washington has been hesitant to send such weapons over fears Moscow could view such lethal aid as an escalation of the conflict.  

The administration this past spring initially planned to sell Gray Eagles to Ukraine, but the sale was delayed because U.S. officials were afraid that closely guarded technology within the drones could be exploited by Russia if the aircraft was shot down in the wrong place, according to Reuters

The lawmakers, however, argue that “thorough risk assessments mitigation should not come at the expense of Ukrainian lives.” 

“These advanced [Unmanned Aerial Systems], which could be staged far from the war’s front lines, would provide the continuous surveillance and long-range precision tracking and targeting needed to counter Russian rockets and missiles,” the lawmakers wrote.  

Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder on Thursday told reporters that the Defense Department is aware of Ukraine’s request for Gray Eagle drones but declined to comment about the letter. 

“In terms of congressional correspondence, you know, it’d be inappropriate for me to talk about that from the podium, and we’ll certainly respond to Congress accordingly,” Ryder said. 

He added that “no decisions have been made” on giving Kyiv the advanced drones. 

Ryder also noted that the United States has already provided Ukraine with smaller, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance drones, including Pumas and ScanEagles, as well as explosive unmanned aerial systems, including Switchblades and Phoenix Ghosts.