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Opinion Ukraine needs advanced U.S. drones that can instantly transform a battle

In an image provided by the U.S. Army, contactors from General Atomics load Hellfire missiles onto an MQ-1C Gray Eagle at Camp Taji, Iraq, in 2011. (Jason Sweeney/U.S. Army/AP)

“In war, moral power is to physical as three parts out of four.” — Napoleon Bonaparte

On the afternoon of June 18, 1815, near the Belgian village of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington said: “Hard pounding, this, gentlemen: let’s see who will pound the longest.” If Ukraine is given material aid equivalent to one-fourth of that nation’s moral resources, Ukraine can prevail against the Russian invaders, which means, at a minimum, restoration of the status quo ante Feb. 24. So, the immediate imperative is to supply Ukraine with the most sophisticated and dangerous U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), a.k.a. drones, which can be force-multipliers for Ukraine’s hard pounding of the Russians.

So far, the most consequential weapon transferred to Ukraine has been the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), whose munitions have the long reach and accuracy necessary to immediately imperil Russian artillery pieces. UAVs can locate Russian artillery when they unleash their often-indiscriminate attacks on urban population centers before the artillery can be moved to avoid a counterstrike.

Russia’s invasion was, by the standards of the 1945-1946 Nuremberg tribunal, a war crime. The conduct of the war is another. Russia’s military doctrine, which ratifies that nation’s traditional practices, stresses mass fire systems to crush the enemy’s military in battles, and to intimidate and demoralize the enemy’s population. By the end of August, the invaders’ artillery had fired more than 10 million rounds — about 60,000 rounds per day. The invasion’s death toll of Ukrainian noncombatants is estimated in the tens of thousands.

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Advanced U.S. drones combine intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, targeting and strike capabilities. Such drones can be sent into, and transform, a battle immediately, saving civilian lives by making Russia’s terror tactics terrifying for those who are firing the artillery or launching low-level airstrikes.

A bipartisan group of 17 members of Congress has urged Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to immediately magnify Ukraine’s technological advantage by expediting delivery to Ukraine of Gray Eagle and/or Reaper drones, thereby making distant Russian ammunition dumps and command centers — including generals and other senior officers — vulnerable. The key is knowing the target’s location in all weather, day or night. Advanced drones can defeat Russia’s defenses by seeing them from long range.

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Opinion writers on the war in Ukraine
Post Opinions provides commentary on the war in Ukraine from columnists with expertise in foreign policy, voices on the ground in Ukraine and more.
Columnist David Ignatius covers foreign affairs. His columns have broken news on new developments around the war. He also answers questions from readers. Sign up to follow him.
Iuliia Mendel, a former press secretary for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, writes guest opinions from inside Ukraine. She has written about trauma, Ukraine’s “women warriors” and what it’s like for her fiance to go off to war.
Columnist Fareed Zakaria covers foreign affairs. His columns have reviewed the West’s strategy in Ukraine. Sign up to follow him.
Nataliya Gumenyuk, a Ukrainian author and journalist specializing in foreign affairs, writes guest opinions about the mood inside Ukraine. She has written about Ukrainians stepping up, the war’s tremendous losses and rejoicing after a successful counteroffensive.
Columnist Josh Rogin covers foreign policy and national security. His columns have explored the geopolitical ramifications of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. Sign up to follow him.
Columnist Max Boot covers national security. His columns have encouraged the West to continue its support for Ukraine’s resistance. Sign up to follow him.


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The military historian Max Hastings writes for Bloomberg, perhaps too sanguinely: “Today’s major powers have developed a better understanding of how to fight each other through proxies, without blowing up the world, since their first major experience with the phenomenon following the North Korean invasion of the South in June 1950.” The proxy nature of NATO’s fight against Russia would not be altered by the delivery of the most sophisticated drones, any more than it was by the tremendous impact of giving Ukraine HIMARS.

Henry Kissinger, a realist who reasons from facts and knows that events put facts in flux, tells the Wall Street Journal: After Russia’s criminal savagery in Ukraine, “now I consider, one way or the other, formally or not, Ukraine has to be treated in the aftermath of this as a member of NATO.” This fact, which it is, strengthens the case for giving Ukraine weapons that will help it produce battlefield results commensurate with its future status as a member of the European Union and, “formally or not,” NATO.

Furthermore, if Russian President Vladimir Putin’s thinly veiled nuclear threats are seen to deter the Biden administration from taking the next step that military logic entails — sophisticated drones for Ukraine — there will be two terrible consequences: Putin will repeatedly make such threats, and the nuclear nonproliferation regime will unravel as other nations’ ruthless and reckless leaders see the practicality of nuclear weapons and build them.

Additional drones should be a defining issue for Biden. He has floundered regarding many things but has resoundingly succeeded regarding the most important thing. He has ignited inflation, has made the swollen national debt into a potentially self-exploding crisis as the cost of servicing it rises, and has dispensed scalding rhetoric to a nation weary of such. No president has more needed talented speechwriters or had worse ones: In nine months, they have produced two of the worst (delivered in Atlanta and Philadelphia) speeches in presidential history. Regarding Ukraine, however, Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have been superb.

Blinken’s formulation is pitch-perfect: If Russia stops fighting, the war ends; if Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends. If Biden stays strong, with U.S. drones as a judicious increment in punishing Putin’s brutality by reversing his aggression, Biden’s presidency will be deemed by wise historians as, on balance, a success.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russia fired at least 85 missiles on at least six major cities in Ukraine on November 15, in one of the most widespread attacks of the war so far. The strikes came just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking by video link, presented a 10-point peace plan to G-20 leaders at a summit in Indonesia. As in previous Russian missile attacks, critical civilian infrastructure appeared to be primary targets. Parts of several cities that were hit were left without electrical power on Tuesday afternoon.

Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

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