US drone maker offers Kiev $1 deal, with a catch
US weapons manufacturer General Atomics has offered Ukraine two Reaper MQ-9 drones for just $1 – but the controversial deal, if approved, would come with significant carrying costs, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
The proposal would require Ukraine to spend $10 million just to prepare and ship the drones from the US, while maintenance costs would run to about $8 million annually, according to the outlet. In addition to two older MQ-9A Block 1 drones, the package would include a mobile ground control station to operate the UAVs “almost anywhere,” according to a letter seen by the WSJ.
General Atomics CEO Linden Blue pitched the idea to the Ukrainian military attache last month. While Kiev and Washington both declined to comment, company spokesman C. Mark Brinkley told the Journal that discussions between the Ukrainian government and his company had been underway for “many months.”
“We do believe Ukraine needs a capability like the Reaper, and soon,” Brinkley said.
While the US has armed Ukraine with over 700 Switchblade and 1,800 Phoenix Ghost kamikaze drones capable of dive-bombing targets, as well as a handful of reconnaissance UAVs, Washington continues to insist its assistance has been mostly defensive in nature.
Reaper drones, with their 66-foot wingspans and an endurance of at least 12 hours when fully loaded, have formidable offensive capabilities and are more difficult to pass off as solely defensive weapons.
The Pentagon has been reluctant to share high-tech drones with Ukraine out of concern they would end up in Russian hands, and even though the military contractor is offering to sell the aircraft directly to Ukraine without going through the US government, the White House would still have to approve the technology transfer.
Ukraine also had a fleet of Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones, most of which had been destroyed over the past year, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. In the meantime, Ukraine has been clamoring for fighter jets from its western suppliers ever since the US and several European countries dropped their resistance to supplying its military with Western-made tanks.