In 1941, before the United States formally entered World War II, it gave governments fighting the Nazis military supplies under a program known as “Lend-Lease.”
Now a group of lawmakers is proposing a 21st-century equivalent. Except this time, the enemy is ISIS. And the supplies being provided are drones.
With ISIS on its doorstep, Jordan is desperate for additional U.S. military aid. But if Jordan were to order new drones, it would have to wait up to 20 months for the American defense industry to provide them.
So a group of 23 lawmakers, led by Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), is urging President Obama to allow the U.S. Air Force to lend drones to Jordan.
“The request, if approved, would ensure Jordan is able to quickly acquire this much-needed advanced capability as it confronts” ISIS, the lawmakers wrote in a letter to the president obtained by The Daily Beast (PDF).
If the United States did not provide American-made drones to Jordan, the lawmakers continued, Jordan could turn to China for its unmanned aerial systems, creating a new market for the Chinese to export military technology.
“Jordan is only going to ask us for help for so long. And they’re only going to be turned away by this administration so many times,” Hunter told The Daily Beast. “This is an existential threat for them.”
In particular, lawmakers are urging that the U.S. Air Force lend both drones for both intelligence-gathering and offensive purposes. In their April 5 letter, they refer to lending MQ-1 Predator drones to Jordan out of the Air Force’s existing supplies. These drones, which can be used armed or unarmed, cost approximately $40 million each and are manufactured by San Diego-based General Atomics. (Hunter’s district includes parts of San Diego.)
The plan would come at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer, other than losing immediate use of the drones. The Jordanian government is willing to employ General Atomics to maintain, launch, and recover complex drones systems. When they drones are airborne, Jordanian pilots would take over and conduct the relevant missions. Both would likely operate side-by-side from the same ground control station.
To be sure, ISIS has previously claimed to have intercepted American military and civilian assistance. But Hunter waved off any concern that the technology, if captured, could be useful to the group.
“They’re not going to find a Predator [drone] and automatically find satellite uplinks,” Hunter said.
After a Jordanian pilot participating in the anti-ISIS bombing campaign was burned alive by militants, the U.S. government responded by dramatically increasing the amount of assistance it provided, according to a State Department response (PDF) to Hunter.
“We continue to make every effort to expedite security assistance to Jordan. The State Department is acting promptly on Jordanian requests for military capabilities, in partnership with the Department of Defense. Jordan remains a pillar of regional security and continues to make critical contributions to the global coalition to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL,” a State Department official told The Daily Beast.
On the day the video of the Jordanian pilot’s graphic killing was released, Jordan’s King Abdullah was in the U.S. Congress urging lawmakers to provide more aid. He would get it: In the days following, the United States expedited $300 million in foreign military financing to Jordan.
As of mid-March, the U.S. had also delivered more than 200 bombs for the Jordanian air force’s F-16s, with 100 more on the way. In addition, the American government has provided Jordan with 20,000 rifles, 6,746 machine guns, and more than 1 million rounds of small arms ammunition.
And Washington has promised more, pledging to deliver 1,000 night-vision devices and eight Blackhawk helicopters on a two-year, no-cost lease.
This is on top of the $4 billion in foreign military financing the United States has provided Jordan over the past 15 years, as well as the billions of dollars in loans that the U.S. continues to provide it.
“The Jordanians are on the front lines, on the border with Iraq and Syria…When you give them the ability to engage actionable intel with targets quickly…that allows them to kill more of the bad guys,” Hunter said. “The end state is not to make ISIS like us or fix their ideological problems. These guys need to be killed. These are bad and evil people.”