Russian air defenses too risky for Gray Eagles, kyiv pilots would prefer jets instead
While Washington is reportedly hesitant to sell Gray Eagle combat drones to Ukraine, military officials in Kyiv are instead asking for fighter jets such as the F-15 and F-16, saying they have a better chance against the Russian air defenses.
Ukraine is “not Afghanistan” and expensive drones would simply be shot down, a pilot told Foreign Policy this week.
Retired American officers and experts like Maximum start strongly advocated for the delivery of gray eagles to Ukraine, calling it potential “game changer” in the conflict. However, the White House has planned to send four such drones to Kyiv “pending,” Reuters reported last week over fears they could fall into Russian hands.
While Ukrainian generals would like to get their hands on the drones, pilots would prefer American fighter-bombers, according to Foreign Policy.
“We are not defending the Gray Eagles”, a pilot, who only went by “Moonfish,” told the outlet. “It is very dangerous to use such expensive drones in our case, because of the air defense of the enemy”, he added. “It’s not Afghanistan here.”
The MQ-1C Gray Eagle is the latest in the line of General Atomics strike drones used in the United States’ “War on Terror” from Afghanistan and Iraq to Somalia and Yemen. It is armed with Hellfire missiles, which have a range of around eight kilometers – less than the Switchblade or Phoenix Ghost suicide drones that the United States has already sent to Ukraine.
“It could be useful” on the front line, said another fighter pilot, introduced as “Juice”. However, he added, the Gray Eagles were unlikely to survive more than a mission or two. Each drone costs $10 million.
Ukraine has made a big deal of the presence of Turkish Bayraktar TB2 strike drones in its arsenal. The TB2 costs around $2 million or so. Moonfish claims they were “very useful and important” in the early days of the conflict, but are “almost useless” now that Russian troops have strengthened their air defenses. The pilots told Foreign Policy that Ukraine now limits the use of Bayraktars to “rare special operations and attack missions.” Russian war correspondents, meanwhile, suggest that’s because most of the drones have already been shot down.
“We have a lot more pilots than jets right now,” Moonfish said, suggesting he and his colleagues should be trained on “Advanced” American fighter jets such as the F-15 and F-16, which would have a better chance of surviving against Russian S-400s.
Both types first appeared in the 1970s. They have been updated several times since then, and the latest versions are considered by Western experts to be on par with the Russian Su-35 and MiG- 35, and slightly ahead of the Su-27 and Mig-29 fighters that Ukraine operated at the start of the conflict. However, there is no indication that the United States has any to spare or that there is a political will in Washington to send them to Ukraine.
You can share this story on social media: