General Atomics offers Ukraine two unmanned aircraft systems for $1

Linden Blue, the CEO of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI), has offered to transfer two of the US-based remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS) manufacturer’s own training aircraft to Ukraine for the symbolic price of $1.

While it remains unclear which variant of GA-ASI’s venerable ‘MQ’ family of unmanned systems the company would be specifically offering to Ukraine – either the MQ-1 Predator, MQ-1C Gray Eagle or MQ-9A Reaper – this symbolic gesture also includes the provision of related ground control stations and other hardware that is required to operate the two aircraft. The deal remains subject to approval from the US government, but GA-ASI has added that it would train the first cadre of Ukrainian drone pilots and maintainers at the company’s expense.

A USAF-operated MQ-9A Reaper flies a training mission over the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) in Nevada on July 15, 2019.
A USAF-operated MQ-9A Reaper flies a training mission over the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) in Nevada on July 15, 2019. USAF/Airman 1st Class Rio Rosado

Commenting on this prospective deal in a company statement, Blue said: “For nearly a year, the full might of the Russian military has battered – but not beaten – Ukrainian forces fighting for their very existence. The world has reacted in almost unanimous support for the Ukrainian cause, but those efforts have overlooked one of the most obvious and force-multiplying technologies of modern warfare: long-range and enduring, stand-off sensing, unmanned aircraft systems.

“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. Both systems have been used to devastating effect in combat by US and partner nations for more than two decades and remain the gold standard for high-quality, medium-altitude UAS in the world…

“We have offered to train Ukrainian operators on these systems at no cost to US taxpayers or the Ukrainian government. We have offered flexible options and recommendations for delivery. We have discussed the situation endlessly at every level of the US federal government, and with many international partners.”

An Unmanned Aerial System Maintainer assigned to Delta Company of the US Army's 25th Aviation Regiment inspects an MQ-1C Gray Eagle before the RPAS departs on a training mission from Fort Wainwright, Ladd Army Airfield in Alaska on April 12, 2016.
An Unmanned Aerial System Maintainer assigned to Delta Company of the US Army's 25th Aviation Regiment inspects an MQ-1C Gray Eagle before the RPAS departs on a training mission from Fort Wainwright, Ladd Army Airfield in Alaska on April 12, 2016. US Army/Staff Sgt Sean Brady

While the acquisition of the aircraft would not be problematic, GA-ASI would not be able to deliver the aircraft or set up the necessary infrastructure for their operation in Ukraine, meaning that such a transfer could only occur if the US government supported the move. Blue added: “Many of the additional costs associated with readying these aircraft for combat, outfitting them with the necessary equipment, transporting them to Ukraine, setting up operations in that country, obtaining satellite bandwidth and providing additional support labour, are outside of our control. Our estimates for launch and ongoing operations do not include one penny of profit to our company.

“All that is required is approval from the US government. Our goal is now, and has always been, to help the Ukrainian Armed Forces defend and protect their homes and families and help bring a rapid closure to this conflict before more lives are lost.”