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US sending secretive new Phoenix Ghost tactical drones to Ukraine

Switchblade missile launch
Phoenix Ghost tactical UAS are expected to offer capabilities similar to the Switchblade loitering missiles seen deployed in this US Marine Corps file photo

The Pentagon has revealed it will be sending a newly-developed secretive tactical drones to Ukraine as part of its latest security assistance package for Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said over 121 Phoenix Ghost tactical unmanned aerial systems (UAS) would be supplied, without revealing much details.

What was revealed is that the Phoenix Ghost was developed by AEVEX Aerospace for the US Air Force, in response to the situation in Ukraine. The drones, which behave as loitering missiles, are said to have capabilities similar to the Switchblade drones the US has already delivered to Ukraine. It has also been implied that Ukrainian soldiers will require “minimal training” to operate them.

Some additional details were revealed by retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies and member of the Aevex board. who told Politico that the UAS was a “a one-way aircraft that is effective against medium armored ground targets.”

He also said the drone has a vertical take-off capability and can stay in the air over six hours before descending on a target. This means that the Phoenix Ghost can stay in the air for significantly longer than the Switchblade, which has a stated loitering time of around 40 minutes.

The transfer of the Phoenix Ghost drones to Ukraine is part of a $800 million package announced on April 21.

Other assets that will be transferred to Ukraine include 72 155mm howitzers and 144,000 artillery rounds, 72 tactical vehicles to tow the howitzers, and
field equipment and spare parts.

This commitment, together with the 18 155mm howitzers announced on April 13, provides enough artillery systems to equip five battalions. The United States has now committed more than $4 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden administration, including approximately $3.4 billion since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked invasion on February 24.

This authorization is the eighth drawdown of equipment from DoD inventories for Ukraine since August 2021.

“Now Russian troops have launched and refocused their campaign to seize new territory in eastern Ukraine, and we’re in a critical window where they’re going to set the stage for the next phase of this war,” US president Joe Biden said. “And the United States and our allies and partners are moving as fast as possible to continue to provide Ukraine the forces that they need [and] the equipment their forces need to defend their nation.”

Biden said Thursday’s announcement of more military equipment would further augment Ukraine’s ability to fight in its eastern area of the country, particularly in the Donbas region.

In addition to bolstering Ukraine’s resistance on the battlefield, the United States is also demonstrating its support for the people of Ukraine, he said.

“Today, the United States is announcing that we intend to provide an additional $500 million in direct economic assistance to the Ukrainian government,” the president said. “This brings our total economic support for Ukraine to $1 billion in the past two months. This is money the government can [use to] help to stabilize their economy, to support communities that have been devastated by the Russian onslaught and pay the brave workers that continue to provide essential services to the people of Ukraine,” he added.