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Ukraine in Talks to Get US MQ-9 Reaper Armed Drones: Report

Ukraine officials are in talks with General Atomics to purchase MQ-9 Reaper armed drones, Forbes reported, citing a manufacturer spokesperson.

The outlet quoted General Atomics spokesman C. Mark Brinkle, who said the company is ready to ship the unmanned aerial systems “immediately” to Ukraine pending US administration approval.

“With support from the US government, those aircraft could be in the hands of Ukrainian military pilots in a matter of days.”

Quicker Delivery, Training

Brinkley said the company has delivered the drones in 30 days to foreign customers in the past, adding that the logistical footprint of the Ukraine-delivered Reaper would be much smaller than usual for the US military. 

Although it takes almost a year to train a US drone pilot, Brinkley argued that the training period could be drastically shortened.

“Every public estimate currently being offered by observers regarding logistics footprints and training timelines is based on the way the US military employs the aircraft under best case scenarios. In a crisis such as this, rapid training and deployment efforts could radically reduce those estimates and footprints.”

“Ukraine has skilled military pilots familiar with UAV operations who are motivated to defend and protect their homes,” Brinkley added. “We are not starting from scratch.”

Step Up on US Arms Supply to Ukraine

According to the outlet, the drone’s estimated cost of $32 million apiece wouldn’t be a significant hurdle, as the tab would be picked up by the US. The number and model of the Reapers being discussed is unknown.

The details of discussions that took place earlier this month in Washington emerged as the Biden administration approved a weapons package worth $800 million for Ukraine last week. 

The first tranche of the package — 18 155mm howitzers, 40,000 artillery rounds, 200 M113 armored personnel carriers, 11 Mi-17 helicopters, and 100 armored multi-purpose vehicles — has arrived at the Ukrainian border.

The inclusion of artillery in the package is a step up from previous rounds of weapons shipments. However, the US administration is still careful not to deliver weapons such as tanks and fighter aircraft that could escalate the conflict.

Howitzer system. Photo: US Army

Superior Firepower, Range

The outlet speculated that the Reaper would significantly increase the damage inflicted on Russian forces by drones such as the Turkish-made TB-2 Bayraktar.

The MQ-9A payload capacity of 1,700 kilograms (3,800 pounds) allows it to carry more deadly and longer-range munitions than the TB-2 at 150 kilograms (330 pounds). 

More importantly, the American aircraft’s superior range of 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) to the 150 kilometers of the TB-2 affords takeoff from safer positions and strikes deeper into enemy territory.

In addition, the aircraft’s superior ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) capacity would allow the Ukrainian military much more accurate monitoring of enemy troop movements.

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