The Ukrainian Gold Rush
Who, exactly, will be operating those weapons?
Now that the $41.562 billion Ukraine aid bill has been signed into law by President Biden, the Ukrainians can start spending the money allocated to and for them. Actually, it is not their money and never will be. Certainly not the $20.104 billion authorized for the Pentagon. (The rest is spread around other U.S. government agencies, including the state, agriculture and justice departments, to finance programs in Ukraine.) The bulk of the Pentagon cash, doled out over the next ten years, will go to U.S. military services either to reimburse them for weapons drawn from their stocks or to buy weapons which will then be handed on to the Ukrainians. Raytheon, for example, just scored a $687 million contract to replenish army stocks of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. One defense industry official told trade publication NatSec Daily that the scramble among contractors for a slice of the Pentagon's Ukraine money is a "gold rush." So far, so very good for the U.S. military industrial complex.
Ominous items on the wish list
Mainstream media coverage of military aid to Ukraine has largely dwelled on the 155 mm M777 howitzers and attendant ammunition shipped to the battlefield. Overall, there appears to be little overall plan on fulfilling Ukraine's needs; the Pentagon has failed to produce a comprehensive list of requirements, leaving weapons salesmen and lobbyists to hustle uncoordinated sales pitches. Ominously, however, Kyiv is determinedly pressing for two weapons systems that will enable them to strike deep into Russia itself: Reaper drones, made by General Atomics, and Lockheed's MGM-140 ballistic missiles, launched from MLRS multiple launch systems. The missiles have a range of up to 190 miles, which means they can reach targets well beyond the Ukrainian territory occupied by Russia. Should the Ukrainians yield to temptation and start firing missiles across the border at Russian rear area bases or supply centers, it is surely likely that Russia will feel quite justified in striking at Nato rear area bases in Poland.
Not a game changer
Should the missile systems be employed within Ukraine itself, they are unlikely to make a significant difference on the battlefield. An army combat veteran with experience of their use in the 1991 Iraq war told me: “This is not a game changer. It’s a potent system when employed within an all arms operational framework, but not on its own.”
Who will be watching Reaper video?
Meanwhile, who will be involved in operating the Reapers? Drone operations come with a very long and wide tail. Not only can the pilots be on the other side of the world from where the aircraft are flying, in Nevada for example, but many others across oceans and continents are also involved. The best documented account of a drone strike extant the February 2010 attack in Afghanistan's Uruzgan province that killed twenty three civilians (amazingly, the official investigation was largely declassified) revealed that the (murky) infra-red video screened in front of the pilot and sensor operator at Creech air force base outside Las Vegas had a much wider audience, being simultaneously viewed by a "mission intelligence coordinator" elsewhere at Creech, a large team of "screeners" at a Florida base, and at two other bases in Afghanistan itself. In other words, a Reaper drone is only one component in an extensive neural network, which draws on myriad streams of electronic information, including signals intelligence. The Ukrainians, of course, do not possess such a system, but it sounds as if they will have access to their American patron's version. Therefore, Ukrainian drone operations will almost certainly be integrated into the U.S. system - one further slippery step into full-scale U.S. involvement in the Ukrainian war.