Of some 300 General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers in the U.S. Air Force inventory, 100 are to go “to another government organization,” per the service’s fiscal 2023 budget request, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told reporters in a March 25 pre-budget briefing.
The transfer of the 100 MQ-9s would come on top of Air Force plans to retire 150 aircraft in fiscal 2023, including 33 Block 20 Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-22s, eight Northrop Grumman [NOC] Joint STARS, 21 A-10s, 15 Boeing [BA] E-3 AWACS, 13 Boeing KC-135 tankers, 10 Lockheed Martin C-130Hs, and 50 Raytheon [RTX] T-1 Jayhawk trainers.
While the Pentagon and military analysts have questioned the wisdom and the effectiveness of imposing a “no fly zone” over Ukraine or supplying that country with a small number of used MiG-29 fighters to help beat back the Russian invasion, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, has broached supplying Ukraine with General Atomics Gray Eagles and MQ-9 Reapers and says that training Ukrainians in the use of the drones for strikes/reconnaissance and sustainment of the drones would only take two to three weeks (Defense Daily, March 17).
One defense analyst said that Congress should scrutinize the Air Force’s proposed transfer of the 100 MQ-9s and their future use.
“UAVs are great tools that can greatly enhance situational awareness when they are employed correctly,” Dan Grazier, the Jack Shanahan military fellow at POGO’s Center for Defense Information and a retired U.S. Marine captain, wrote in a March 29 email. “I can only presume the agency receiving them has the infrastructure and people necessary to operate them properly. If the CIA is the agency receiving them, there is a concern that they will be used for covert strike missions.”
Strike drones “work well for that, but it is important that they aren’t used to start or expand conflicts beyond the current war powers authorizations,” per Grazier. “Congress needs to keep a close eye on these to ensure that whoever receives this new capability doesn’t abuse it.”
At a March 29 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, the head of U.S. European Command, said that 100 tactical drones–likely the man-portable, 50-pound AeroVironment, Inc. [AVAV] Switchblade 600 anti-armor “kamikaze” drone“–have shipped but have yet to arrive in Ukraine.
The 100 tactical drones were part of an $800 million Ukraine aid package approved by the Biden administration this month (Defense Daily, March 16).