As Russia continues to pummel Ukraine with missile strikes, a bipartisan group of senators is pressing the Biden administration to rethink its stance of not giving Ukraine advanced drones.
We’ll share the details of the pressure campaign plus what the U.S. government is sending Ukraine as part of a new $400 million military aid package, and a new missile barrage knocks out electricity across Ukraine.
Senators urge Biden to give Ukraine advanced drone
A bipartisan group of senators is pressing the Biden administration to rethink its stance of not giving Ukraine advanced drones to aid in pushing Russian forces out of the country.
In a Nov. 22 letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, 16 senators led by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) ask the administration to give “careful reconsideration” to Ukraine’s request for MQ-1C Gray Eagle unmanned aerial systems (UAS).
“The MQ-1C, along with already provided long-range fires capabilities, provides Ukraine additional lethality needed to eject Russian forces and regain occupied territory,” the lawmakers write.
Who signed on?: The signatories include Ernst, outgoing Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), and Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.).
The argument: Ukraine has made significant battlefield advances in the last few months against Russia, pushing Kremlin forces from the strategic areas of Kharkiv and Kherson.
But Moscow has countered with an unrelenting barrage of missile and drone strikes across Ukraine since October, using Iranian-provided kamikaze drones to target major cities and infrastructure.
The lawmakers argue that Kyiv needs its own advanced drones to counter Russia’s.
Advantages: The senators note the Gray Eagle’s “operational attributes,” including “availability, lethality, survivability, and exportability,” complement existing weapon systems used by the Ukrainians and will increase its military’s lethality.
They also argue that training Ukrainians on the drone would take 27 days, after which the UAS could be used to “erode Russia’s long-range fires advantage” and even “find and attack Russian warships in the Black Sea, breaking its coercive blockade and alleviate dual pressures on the Ukrainian economy and global food prices.”
Earlier: This isn’t the first time lawmakers have pushed the administration to send Ukraine advanced drones.
In September, a bipartisan group of 17 House lawmakers asked the Pentagon to speed up its review of sending either Gray Eagles or MQ-9A Reapers to Kyiv, arguing it could help Ukraine keep the territory it had recently gained.
The Pentagon’s stance: The Pentagon so far has declined Ukraine’s request for the drones over reported concerns that the drone’s advanced and secretive technology might fall into enemy hands.
US sending Ukraine another $400M in military aid
The United States will send Ukraine another $400 million in military assistance meant to help the country defend itself against Russia’s “relentless attacks” on its energy infrastructure ahead of winter, the Biden administration announced Wednesday.
The additional arms, munitions, air defense missiles and vehicles, to be pulled from Defense Department inventories, come as Ukraine is dealing with a relentless aerial bombardment, with Russia looking to damage critical infrastructure for major cities.
An ‘urgent priority’: “With Russia’s unrelenting and brutal missile and UAS [drone] attacks on Ukrainian critical energy infrastructure, additional air defense capabilities remain an urgent priority,” the Pentagon said in a release.
“The additional munitions for NASAMS [National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems] and heavy machine guns will help Ukraine counter these urgent threats.”
What’s included?: Included in the package are additional munitions for NASAMS, 150 heavy machine guns meant to take out Russian drones, ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, High-speed Anti-radiation missiles, 200 precision-guided 155mm artillery rounds, 150 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles, more than 100 light tactical vehicles, more than 200 generators, and rounds of mortar and small arms ammunition.
Timing: The extra defenses are crucial as Ukraine looks to ward off missile and drone strikes ahead of winter, with half of the country’s energy infrastructure damaged or destroyed as a result of Russia’s invasion, according to the World Health Organization’s Europe director, Hans Henri P. Kluge.
Because of the battered energy infrastructure, about 10 million people have no access to power and 2 million to 3 million Ukrainians will likely be displaced in the coming months as the weather grows colder, Kluge said earlier this week.
The lethal aid package also comes less than a month after the administration on Nov. 4 announced a similar $400 million military assistance tranche.
UKRAINE: ‘VAST MAJORITY OF ELECTRICITY’ KNOCKED OUT WITH STRIKES
Russia launched mass strikes on critical infrastructure in Ukraine on Wednesday, knocking out power across much of the country and causing temporary blackouts at power plants, Ukrainian officials said.
Ukraine’s Energy Ministry said the “vast majority of electricity” for consumers in Ukraine was disrupted after the shelling.
Officials also reported a temporary blackout for all nuclear plants and most heating and hydroelectric plants, affecting millions of people.
Some background: Russia has launched missile strikes targeting civilian infrastructure and energy grids in Ukraine since October following heavy losses in the war.
The Energy Ministry said despite the widespread blackouts, “Russia will not succeed in intimidating Ukrainians.”
“Ukrainians are not afraid of the cold. Ukrainians are not afraid of the dark. Ukrainians are not afraid of terrorists,” officials wrote in the Facebook post.
The latest barrage: Wednesday’s strikes included 70 missiles, about 51 of which were shot down by anti-air defenses, according to a Telegram post from state grid operator Ukrenergo, which is working quickly to repair the damage.
Read more here
ON TAP FOR MONDAY
The Atlantic Council will hold a discussion on “How can Ukraine defeat Putin’s energy blitz?” at 10:30 a.m.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Overnight Defense is off for the remainder of the Thanksgiving holiday. See you next week!