The Biden administration reportedly intends to sell Ukraine four MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones capable of carrying Hellfire missiles. The move aims to provide Kiev with more sophisticated and highly armed drone technology to battle Russia.
The sale of the General Atomics-made drones could still be rejected by Congress, according to the Reuters report, which also mentions the possibility of a last-minute policy turnaround derailing the plan.
Ukraine has already employed several drones, notably the Switchblade from AeroVironment and the Bayraktar from Turkey. But the Gray Eagle from General Atomics is more sophisticated and more robustly weaponized than all the systems used by Ukraine.
The Gray Eagle is considered one of the most advanced drones in the world because it can fly for up to 30 hours or more and can collect massive amounts of data for intelligence operations. Gray Eagles are the Army’s version of the more well-known Predator drone and are also capable of carrying up to eight deadly Hellfire missiles.
The sale would place a highly sophisticated reusable US system capable of numerous deep strikes on the frontline against Russia for the first time. The Biden administration wants to notify Congress of the proposed sale to Ukraine in the coming days, with a public announcement afterward.
The funds would be allotted from the freshly authorized $40 billion Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative to support the potential sale and the necessary training for the drones.
“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,” said drone expert Dan Gettinger with the Vertical Flight Society.
The MQ-1C can also use a wider range of munitions than the Bayraktar-TB2. The Ukrainian Bayraktars are armed with Turkish-made MAM-L missiles weighing 22 kg, roughly half the weight of a Hellfire.
However, training Ukrainian soldiers to pilot General Atomics’ Gray Eagle drones will take months, Dan Gettinger said. However, the report said one suggestion is to train skilled Ukrainian maintainers and operators in a matter of weeks.
Meanwhile, before the news on Wednesday that Ukraine will get four HIMARS rocket systems, the Pentagon emphasized the importance of smaller systems such as Javelin anti-tank systems and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, which allies are delivering to Ukraine by a truck daily.
Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin Corp jointly manufacture Javelins, while Raytheon manufactures Stingers.
MQ-1C Gray Eagle
MQ-1C Gray Eagle is an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) manufactured by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for the US Army. It is an enhanced version of the combat-proven Predator UAV.
Gray Eagle has an internal payload capacity of 261 kg and an external payload capacity of 227 kg. It can transport multiple payloads.
Gray Eagle is tasked with operations such as reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition, command and control, communications relay, signals intelligence (SIGINT), electronic warfare (EW), attack, improvised explosive device (IED), and battle damage assessment.
The wingspan of the UAS is larger than that of the Predator. Gray Eagle’s modular architecture enables the integration and operation of many payloads. The Gray Eagle has a length of nine meters, a wingspan of 17 meters, and a height of 2.1 meters.
External payloads such as disposable sensors and weaponry can be installed in the wing hardpoints. The aircraft’s AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles can hit mobile and stationary ground targets between a range of 500m to eight kilometers.
Gray Eagle is powered by a Thielert heavy-fuel engine. The engine generates 165 horsepower. It reinforces the US Army’s single fuel on the battlefield approach. The engine improves fuel efficiency while running on a jet or diesel fuel.
iT is controlled by a single system ground control station (OSGCS). The OSGCS is a modular flight critical hardware and software system placed on a typical five-ton medium tactical vehicle. Command and control, payload control, and weapon launch operations are all carried out via the operator consoles.
The Gray Eagle has a maximum altitude of 29,000 feet. It has a battery life of more than 30 hours. The UAS’s maximum gross take-off weight is 1,633kg. The aircraft has a top speed of 150 KTAS.