SAN DIEGO — San Diego's General Atomics Aeronautical Systems recently offered to provide two MQ-9 Reaper drones to Ukraine for $1 but first must get approval from the U.S. government.
In a public statement released Wednesday, General Atomics Aeronautical Chief Executive Linden Blue confirmed that the company recently proposed transferring company-owned Reapers — plus the ground control station to operate them — to help Ukraine in its war with Russia.
The company also would train the first group of remote pilots and maintenance personnel for the Reaper at no charge.
Blue released the statement after The Wall Street Journal reported the story Tuesday after reviewing a letter from Blue to Ukraine's lead defense official in Washington.
"From the outset of the Russian invasion, we began looking for options to respond to the requests of Ukrainian forces with our products, including the MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1C Gray Eagle," said Blue. "Factoring in hardware and training that is essentially free, the offer is a remarkable deal with no strings attached. All that is required is approval from the U.S. government."
The White House declined to comment to the Journal, and the Pentagon didn't respond to a request for comment from Politico, which also published a similar story.
While many of the recent headlines around supplying weapons to Ukraine have focused on tanks and F-16 fighter jets, Blue contends that General Atomics' long-range, high-endurance drones that can supply intelligence and surveillance would have an immediate impact on the battlefield.
The MQ-9 Reaper is operated by the U.S. Air Force, which has been trying to move on from the drone in recent years to focus on next-generation unmanned aircraft. Congress has blocked those efforts.
The Reaper and sister General Atomics drones tailored to the U.S. Army have been used extensively in conflicts across the world for more than two decades. They can stay airborne for hours and are capable of carrying not only surveillance payloads but also weapons systems.
Drones are being used by Ukrainian military forces now. But the company contends its drones would be useful in the conflict.
"Our people tell us there are lots of operational ways to make (the Reaper) aircraft very, very effective and give the Ukrainians lots of information that they really need," said C. Mark Brinkley, a spokesman for General Atomics Aeronautical.
Although the hardware and initial training would be free, there would still be transport and operating costs. Getting the drones to Ukraine, outfitting them with equipment and other initial set-up costs would run about $10 million. Ongoing maintenance, satellite bandwidth and other operating costs are estimated at about $8 million a year.
"There are limits to what an American defense company can do to support a situation such as this," said Blue. "From our perspective, it is long past time to enable Ukrainian forces with the information dominance required to win this war."
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