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A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone sits on the tarmac of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada at dusk. (Photo: USAF)

Biden Plans to Sell Armed Attack Drones to Ukraine: Report

Western experts and Russian officials have warned that continued transfers of weaponry to embattled Ukraine risk a potentially catastrophic escalation in hostilities.

Brett Wilkins

The Biden administration is planning to sell Ukraine armed attack drones as the embattled country continues to defend itself from Russia's nearly 100-day invasion, a move that experts say would risk increasing the chance of war between the United States and Russia.

"Supplying large, long-range drones would be a significant escalation in the types of systems supplied to Ukraine."

Reuters reports the administration plans to sell four General Atomics MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones that can be armed with Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and can fly for 30 hours or more and collect massive amounts of intelligence. The pilotless aircraft—which are a variant of the U.S. Army's Predator drones—can also carry as many as eight Hellfire missiles.

News of the planned sale followed reports that Ukraine will receive Lockheed Martin's High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which can strike targets roughly 50 miles away with satellite-guided missiles.

The United States and its NATO allies have already sent tens of billions of military dollars to Ukraine, as well as weapons including 155 mm howitzers and tens of thousands of artillery rounds, main battle tanks, Boeing's Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and Bayraktar drones from Turkey.

Moscow officials have repeatedly warned that the transfer of Western weaponry to Ukraine is a provocative escalation that could lead ultimately lead to war between Russia and the United States—the world's two leading nuclear powers—and that incoming NATO arms are legitimate targets for Russian attack.

The U.S. Congress can still block the proposed sale.

Considering the possibility that Ukraine would receive U.S. attack drones, William D. Hartung, senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, told The Intercept last month that "in my view, Ukraine has the right to defend itself, and some weapons supplies are warranted on that basis."

"But supplying large, long-range drones would be a significant escalation in the types of systems supplied to Ukraine," he continued, "and as such shouldn't go forward without significant scrutiny by Congress."

Another concern is Ukraine's status as a leading source for illicit weapons. The Global Organized Crime Index calls the country "one of the largest arms trafficking markets" in Europe.

"Before flooding Ukraine with additional weapons," the Quincy Institute's Taylor Giorno warned in March, "the U.S. and its NATO allies should consider the risks that they could fuel future conflicts long after the current war has ended."

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