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US senators urge Pentagon to send advanced drones to Ukraine

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Workers are seen preparing an MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle for static display at Michael Army Airfield, Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, in this September 15, 2011 US Army handout photo. (Via Reuters)

A bipartisan group of 16 US senators has asked the President Joe Biden administration to consider giving Ukraine advanced drones to fight Russian forces.

In a Tuesday letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the signatories, including members on the Senate Armed Services Committee, urged the secretary to supply Ukraine with MQ-1C, also known as Gray Eagle, drones, The Wall Street Journal reported.

"The long-term upside of providing Ukraine with the MQ-1C is significant and has the potential to drive the strategic course of the war in Ukraine’s favor," the legislators wrote in the letter.

"The timely provision of effective lethal aid to stabilize Ukrainian defenses and enable long-term resistance against future Russian aggression remains urgent," they wrote.

The legislators asked Austin to explain by November 30 why the Pentagon had so far refused to provide Ukraine with MQ-1C drones.

Among the signatories were Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa), Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), who is the outgoing ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.), Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) and Sen. Mark Kelly (D., Ariz.).

The Biden administration has been opposed to providing Kiev with the MQ-1C over concerns that the Russians might get hold of one or more of the drones and find access to the technology used in the aircraft.

In their letter, the senators urged the Pentagon to reconsider that position.

The letter claimed that Ukrainian forces needed the American MQ-1C drones, which are manufactured by General Atomics, to counter attacks by Russian drones that have been pummeling Ukrainian targets.

"This system’s operational attributes—availability, lethality, survivability, and exportability—complement existing weapon systems used by the Ukrainians and will increase the lethality of the Ukrainian military," the legislators wrote.

The Pentagon said later that it was "assessing what effect the provision of the drones to Kiev would have on the US military." "We are always assessing and evaluating what we can send to Ukraine," Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said.

A spokesman for General Atomics separately gave assurances that the company was committed to providing weapons to Ukraine but declined to comment on the senators' letter to the Pentagon.

Russia started what it calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine in February. Ukraine has since then received massive arms supplies from the US and its allies but those weapons have been relatively limited in terms of technology.

Russia has said that sending weapons to Kiev will only prolong the war.

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