Saturday, December 10, 2022

US OKs ‘Heavy Attack’ Drones For Ukraine; General Atomics Committed To Supply MQ-9 Series Of UAVs — Reports

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) has confirmed to supply Ukraine with the MQ-9 series of medium-altitude (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of carrying Hellfire missiles.  

A company spokesperson told Janes that they intend to deliver the MQ-9 drone to Kyiv as part of a broader assistance package for Eastern Europe. The report noted that the business did not want to undermine the MQ-9 family’s strengths by disclosing too much information publicly. 

“General Atomics remains committed to the defense of allies in Eastern Europe, to someday providing these capabilities to the armed forces of Ukraine,” a company spokesperson said.  

According to the report, the delivery has not yet taken place, and early reports of Reapers in Ukraine are premature. Neither the US government nor the business has given a timeline for the delivery of the drones to Kyiv. 

The US government has been considering a request for heavily armed drones from Ukraine since at least April. Reuters reported that the US plans to send the MQ-1C Gray Eagle drone, developed by General Atomics, to Ukraine.

Despite having the same lineage, the Gray Eagle isn’t strictly a member of the MQ-9 family. Nevertheless, supplying these drones is mainly hampered by concerns about the technology’s confidentiality and survival in contested airspace.

Gray Eagle 25M
File Image: Gray Eagle 25M

Officials are particularly concerned about how the US military’s readiness may be affected if the drone is supplied from its inventories. Kyiv has made it plain that locating Russian Army deployments is critical.

However, several Ukrainian officials and fighter pilots believe the Gray Eagle will be ineffective on the battlefield. Ukrainian fighter pilots and some officials are afraid that sophisticated Russian air defense systems could shoot down Gray Eagles easily.

Poland Acquires MQ-9 

General Atomics recently signed a leasing agreement with Poland to supply MQ-9A Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft. The sale, for an unspecified number of drones, is worth $70.6 million, said GA in a news release that linked the deal to the Ukraine conflict. 

The US-based firm said that GA-ASI is resolute in its support for Poland and the NATO alliance in the face of the ongoing conflict in the region. 

Poland’s defense chief, Mariusz Blaszczak, and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently discussed support for Ukraine and decided to continue collaborating closely to strengthen deterrence and defense. 

Recently, Warsaw has been engaged in a buying and modernization spree, finalizing agreements to purchase Korean-made rocket launchers, light combat aircraft, tanks, and howitzers.

On October 4, Błaszczak said, “We know how the Ukrainian army’s resistance is built, and we have no doubts that anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense are an important element of security.”

Nevertheless, the MQ-9A Reaper will improve Poland’s capabilities to undertake persistent aerial ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) and support its defense forces. 

According to GA, the US, the UK, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain are the current MQ-9A operators. Belgium and the UK both possess the MQ-9B. Furthermore, the US Air Force has been operating American MQ-9As out of Poland Since 2019. 

MQ-9-Drones
File Image: MQ-9-Drones

The company also mentioned that the MQ-9B maritime surveillance configuration (SeaGuardian) has recently commenced operations to assist the Japan Coast Guard. 

The MQ-9A Reaper can fly up to 50,000 feet, reach speeds of 240 KTAS, and has an endurance of over 27 hours. It can carry a payload of 3,850 pounds (1,746 kilograms), including 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms) of external supplies.

It offers long-endurance surveillance capabilities using Full-Motion Video, Synthetic Aperture Radar/Moving Target Indicator, and Maritime Radar. 

The MQ-9A Block 5 has a fault-tolerant flight control system and a triple redundant avionics system architecture, making it incredibly dependable. It is designed to meet and surpass manned aircraft reliability standards. 

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