U.S. firm reportedly offers Ukraine 2 Reaper drones for $1, plus $10 million in shipping and handling

MQ-9 Reaper drone
MQ-9 Reaper drone Ethan Miller/Getty Images

U.S. defense contractor General Atomics has offered to sell Ukraine two Reaper MQ-9 drones for a dollar, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, citing a recent letter from company CEO Linden Blue to Ukraine's defense attaché in Washington. The sale would include a ground control station that would allow Ukraine's military to operate the drones from almost anywhere in the country, more than 24 hours per flight.

General Atomics declined to confirm the specific deal, but company spokesman C. Mark Brinkley said "we do believe Ukraine needs a capability like the Reaper, and soon." The sale would be directly to Ukraine, not through the U.S. government, but the Biden administration would have to sign off on the transfer of technology. Reapers, even the older version on offer, cost millions of dollars, so $1 is quite a bargain. However, the Journal notes, "the deal would require Kyiv to spend about $10 million to prepare and ship the aircraft to Ukraine, and about $8 million each year for maintenance and sustainment."

The U.S. has provided Ukraine more than 700 smaller drones, including portable Switchblades and mysterious Phoenix Ghost drones. But the Reaper, with its 66-foot wingspan, is much larger, faster, and more sophisticated than any drone in Ukraine's arsenal. It can be used to surveil enemy forces or fire on them with missiles or bombs. The Biden administration has declined to include Reapers, Predators, or Gray Eagle drones in the nearly $30 billion in military aid it has sent Ukraine, citing risks of handing Russia sensitive technologies if one of the drones is brought down.

Given the $27 billion in U.S. security assistance flowing to Ukraine so far, you would think this is a boom time for U.S. defense contractors — and that's what investors expected last year, at least, the Journal reports. But Lockheed Martin, maker of Javalin and HIMARS rocket launchers, said last week it expects sales to shrink this year for a second year in a row, before getting a bump in 2024 from delayed Ukraine-related orders. You can read more about why defense contractors are not swimming in profits (yet) from the Ukraine war in The Wall Street Journal.

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