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After ATACMS Delivery, Ukraine Pleads for MQ-9 Reaper Drones From US

Ukraine has moved the US-made MQ-9 Reaper drone to the top of its weapons wish list as it prepares for another major counteroffensive this year.

Kyiv had previously sought the General Atomics drone to aid its strike and reconnaissance operations, but Washington had been hesitant to provide it over fear that it could be shot down by Russia.

But four people familiar with the matter recently told Politico that the war-torn nation has made a significant change in its request, guaranteeing the US the Reaper would only be used for surveillance.

More specifically, they said the MQ-9 would only help identify Russian targets deep behind the frontlines to reduce the risk of being taken down or captured by Moscow.

If Washington decides to heed the request, it will most likely remove the Reaper’s heavy payloads, such as its air-to-ground Hellfire missiles.

What’s Behind the Fear?

The MQ-9 Reaper is one of the most advanced drones in the US military inventory.

It boasts nearly 25 hours of flight endurance and has Raytheon’s electro-optical multispectral targeting system, which provides real-time intelligence, targeting, and tracking.

Despite its sophisticated features, a Russian Su-27 fighter jet was still able to neutralize one earlier this year during an aerial encounter over the Black Sea.

“Several times before the collision, the Su-27s dumped fuel on and flew in front of the MQ-9 in a reckless, environmentally unsound and unprofessional manner,” the US European Command said.

After the incident, Moscow revealed that it plans to reverse-engineer the MQ-9, fueling speculations that Russia would try to make a copy of the American drone.

Screenshot of video the US released it said shows an "unsafe" and "unprofessional" intercept by Russian military jets of an US MQ-9 Reaper.
Screenshot of video the US released it said shows an “unsafe” and “unprofessional” intercept by Russian military jets of an US MQ-9 Reaper.

Alleged Counteroffensive

The revival of the MQ-9 drone request comes weeks after the US said it secretly sent the long-range variant of its Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS).

The two American systems could work in tandem in Ukraine, with the Reaper collecting target information and the ATACMS ensuring precision strikes.

This, along with other weapons to arrive as part of a $61-billion supplemental aid bill, could support Kyiv’s anticipated counteroffensive against invading forces.

In March, a top Ukrainian military commander confirmed his country was planning to form units for another counteroffensive action later this year.

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