Republican lawmakers call on Austin to send small, U.S.-made drones to Ukraine

By Georgina DiNardo / May 13, 2024 at 12:44 PM

Eleven Republican members of Congress sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin today calling for funds from the recent Ukraine supplemental to be spent on more small, U.S.-built drones and deployed to Ukraine, citing issues with Chinese-made drones being the main small drone supplier.

Reps. Rob Wittman (R-VA), Jack Bergman (R-MI), Rich McCormick (R-GA), Carlos Gimenez (R-FL), Jen Kiggans (R-VA), Ashley Hinson (R-IA), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Lance Gooden (R-TX), Nick LaLota (R-NY), Michael Turner (R-OH) and Don Bacon (R-NE) authored the letter.

The lawmakers note the recently enacted Ukraine supplemental, which provides $13.8 billion in funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, calls on Austin to include small, U.S.-built drones in the appropriation of those funds.

“Without these drones, Ukrainian forces cannot conduct effective battlefield operations and must rely on insecure drones from China that are increasingly difficult to procure,” the letter states.

The lawmakers claimed that Ukraine uses around 10,000 small drones every month, most coming from a single Chinese company.

“These systems are the primary method for identifying targets, directing artillery fire, surveilling enemy positions and enabling battlefield maneuvers and force protection,” the letter said.

The lawmakers claim the State Department has sent Ukraine’s Ministry of Interior “several hundred small drones,” however the Defense Department has only sent larger systems to Ukrainian front lines.

The lawmakers call upon DOD to provide small drones to Ukraine for three reasons.

First, the lawmakers believe drones are vital to Ukraine’s fight against Russia.

“Without drones, Ukrainian forces are unable to direct battlefield fires, identify and surveil enemy positions, and protect their own forces,” the letter states.

Second, drone usage in Ukraine gives a glimpse into future “near-peer conflict” since drone tactics evolve regularly. By providing U.S.-made drones, the lawmakers believe the U.S. would be able to improve domestic drone capabilities for future military efforts.

“Surging small, American-made systems to Ukraine benefits the United States military and our industrial base by enabling rapid iteration and improvement in the world’s most demanding battlefield conditions,” the letter states. “The use of American drones in Ukraine allows the United States to iterate and build systems superior to Chinese drones and develop capabilities that are necessary for deterring -- and if necessary, winning -- future near-peer conflicts.”

Finally, the lawmakers state that delivering U.S.-made drones is a “geopolitical victory” as it displaces China’s hold on drone monopolies.

“Drone exports are an increasingly important tool for influence abroad; replacing Chinese systems in Ukraine will further erode Chinese influence and control of this critical global industry,” the letter states.