Congress tells Pentagon to speed review of large drones for Ukraine

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin speaks after a meeting at the American military's Ramstein Air Base near Ramstein-Miesenbach, Germany

By Mike Stone

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Seventeen members of Congress told U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to speed up a Pentagon security review of a Ukrainian request for large armable drones, according to a letter dated Wednesday and seen by Reuters.

The Biden administration's plan to sell four large, armable drones to Ukraine hit a snag in June because of a fear the unmanned aerial system's sophisticated surveillance equipment might fall into enemy hands, sources had previously told Reuters.

The technical objection to the sale was raised during a deeper review by the Pentagon's Defense Technology Security Administration, a group charged with keeping high value technology safe from enemy hands, the sources had said.

Previously the plan to sell the MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones, which has been circulating since March, had been approved by U.S. officials, three people had said.

"Thorough risk assessments mitigation should not come at the expense of Ukrainian lives," said the letter dated Wednesday and signed by a bipartisan congressional group urging that the Pentagon's review of whether it can transfer the weapons end in a "timely manner."

The letter, which was signed by Republicans and Democrats, referenced the recent territorial gains by Ukraine, adding "employing more capable Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) on the battlefield will allow the AFU (Armed Forces of Ukraine) to better hold the territory they fought so hard to reclaim".

The Wall Street Journal reported on the letter earlier on Thursday.

(Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington; Editing by Howard Goller)