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US to Sell Gray Eagle Combat Drones to Ukraine, Capable of Carrying Hellfire Missile - Report

Sputnik News

Kiril Kurevlev

Amid the ongoing conflict, Ukraine has used a variety of smaller, shorter-range unmanned aerial systems against the armed forces of Russia and the Donbass republics. The Turkish Bayraktar-TB2 and the AeroVironment RQ-20 Puma AE are two of them. Some drones fell into the hands of the Russians in perfect condition, as the Ukrainians left them behind.

The Biden administration plans to send Ukraine four MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones that can be outfitted with Hellfire missiles for battlefield use against Russia, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

The undisclosed sources in the White House told the news agency that the sale of the General Atomics-made drones might still be rejected by Congress, and there is a chance of a last-minute policy flip sabotaging the plan, which has reportedly been under review at the Pentagon for several weeks.

The sale is said to be significant because it is the first time that a sophisticated reusable US system capable of numerous deep strikes is deployed against Russia in the area of its special military operation.

According to the report, the Biden administration plans to notify Congress of the potential sale to Ukraine in the coming days, followed by a public announcement. Still, the Pentagon reportedly denies that there will be anything worth announcing in the coming days.

The sources went on to say that money from the recently authorized $40 billion Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative has been put aside to support both the probable sale and the necessary training for the drone operators.

"Generally the MQ-1C is a much larger aircraft with a max take-off weight around three times that of the Bayraktar-TB2, with commensurate advantages in payload capacity, range, and endurance," drone expert Dan Gettinger with the Vertical Flight Society is quoted as saying.

The Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system is said to be a technological leap forward because it can fly for up to 30 hours or more depending on the mission and collect massive amounts of data for intelligence reasons. The Army's version of the popular Predator drone, the Gray Eagle, can also carry up to eight deadly Hellfire missiles.

In comparison to the Bayraktar-TB2, the MQ-1C can use a wider range of bombs. The Ukrainian Bayraktars are armed with 22 kg MAM-L missiles developed in Turkey, which are about half the weight of a Hellfire.

According to the report, training on the General Atomics UAV system typically takes months, but a theoretical plan to teach experienced Ukrainian maintainers and operators in a matter of weeks has been proposed recently.

Once the drone training is concluded, a future Presidential Drawdown Authority will be used to arm them with Hellfire missiles, the sources said.

Until Wednesday's news that Ukraine will get four HIMARS rocket systems, the Pentagon has emphasized the importance of smaller systems like Javelin anti-tank systems and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which the West is delivering to Ukraine on a daily basis.

However, President Biden earlier stated in an op-ed that while the United States does not want a "war between NATO and Russia," the country will nonetheless continue to send even more armaments to Kiev's forces.

© Sputnik

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