Kyiv Asked for a New Kamikaze Drone to Fight Russia. The Air Force Delivered Phoenix Ghost
At least 121 of the new drones are headed to Ukraine as part of the latest $800 million security package.
Updated at 4:45 p.m. to add Pentagon clarification about the weapon's development.
Ukraine asked the U.S. for a new drone to fight Russia, so the U.S. Air Force delivered one for them: Phoenix Ghost, a new lethal aerial weapon that the Pentagon is reluctant to detail, except to say it will take on many of the qualities of the kamikaze Switchblade drones already in theater.
“What I can tell you about the Phoenix Ghost is: this was rapidly developed by the Air Force, in response, specifically, to Ukrainian requirements,” said a senior defense official who briefed Pentagon reporters Thursday.
At a Pentagon briefing later Wednesday, press secretary John Kirby clarified that the Phoenix Ghost had already been developed by the Air Force, and in discussions with the Ukrainians, “we believed that this particular system would very nicely suit their needs, particularly in eastern Ukraine,” Kirby said. “We will continue to move that development in ways that are attuned to Ukrainian requirements.”
The drone is produced by California-based Aevex Aerospace. An Aevex employee who answered the phone Thursday told Defense One the company had no comment on the drone.
The Air Force was not immediately available to comment on the drone.
The defense official said the new drone has similar characteristics to the Switchblade drone made by Arlington, Va.- based Aerovironment. To date, the U.S. has sent Ukraine more than 700 of the drones.
“It provides the same sort of tactical capability that a Switchblade does,” the official said. “As you know, Switchblade is a one-way drone, if you will, and it clearly is designed to deliver a punch. It's a tactical UAS [unmanned aerial system], and the Phoenix Ghost is of that same category.”
The small Switchblade 300 weighs about 6 pounds and can fit in a backpack. It’s tube-launched, and when fired, can hit targets up to 10 kilometers away, according to Aerovironment’s website. It can loiter for up to 15 minutes and be called off target if necessary.
Like the Switchblade, which the U.S. trained some Ukrainian forces on who were already in the U.S. when the invasion began, Phoenix Ghost will require “some minimal training for knowledgeable UAS operators to be able to use it, and we're going to be working through those training requirements directly with the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” the official said.
The 121 drones are part of the latest $800-million security assistance package to Ukraine, announced Thursday by President Joe Biden. The package also includes 72 155mm howitzers and 144,000 artillery rounds; 72 Tactical Vehicles to tow 155mm howitzers and field equipment and spare parts, the Pentagon said in a statement.