New Delhi: The Pentagon has unveiled a new attack drone — the Phoenix Ghost — that is being sent to Ukraine as part of the US’ latest $800 million security assistance package to Kyiv.
The US’ assistance package largely comprises the usual suspects, including howitzers, Stinger and Javelin missiles, spare parts, and tactical field equipment, and the relatively unknown Phoenix Ghost drone popped up as a surprise addition to the list.
“This is a drone that had been in development before the invasion, clearly. The air force was working on this before. In discussions with the Ukrainians about their requirements, we realised that this would suit their needs, particularly in eastern Ukraine [Donbas],” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said during a briefing Thursday.
However, a senior defence official had reportedly said the Phoenix Ghost drones were
“rapidly developed by the Air Force, in response, specifically, to Ukrainian requirements”. There are also reports suggesting that modifications to the original design of Aerovironment Switchblades, keeping in mind the needs of Ukrainian forces, were what led to the creation of the Phoenix Ghost drones.
Not much is known about the Phoenix Ghost, which is a type of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by the United States Air Force. It is now being produced by California-based defence company AEVEX Aerospace.
Designed as a “one-way” system, it can be used to carry out tactical strikes. This means that the drone self-destructs after having attacked its target.
The Phoenix Ghost drone is equipped with infrared sensors, allowing it to operate during night-time with great ease.
Similar to Aerovironment Switchblade
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that the Phoenix Ghost drone is similar to the Aerovironment Switchblades.
Unlike conventional drones, the Aerovironment Switchblade and Phoenix Ghost do not fire at a target from a distance. Instead, they charge at the target and explode once close enough to destroy it.
Termed a “kamikaze/suicide drone”, an Aerovironment Switchblade is a tube-launched “loitering munition” comprising a switchblade that roams freely in the airspace before charging at its target. Apart from warheads, this drone is fitted with cameras, enabling it to carry out surveillance in enemy territory.
The US has dispatched over 400 Aerovironment Switchblades to Ukraine.
Kirby said the Phoenix Ghost drone has “optics” too and can take “sight pictures”. This means that it can also be used for aerial reconnaissance.
The exact differences between the capabilities of the Aerovironment Switchblade and Phoenix Ghost drone are still unclear.
But, from what is known, while the Aerovironment Switchblade can stay in the air for 30-40 minutes and has a target range of 10-40 kilometres, the Phoenix Ghost drone can hover for almost six hours and can be used to take out medium-to-small armoured ground targets.
Its range is unknown.
Reports suggest that Ukrainian soldiers will need minimal training to operate the Phoenix Ghost drones. Experience with Aerovironment Switchblades is an added advantage for the Ukrainians in this regard.
The White House has already announced that over 121 Phoenix Ghost drones would be dispatched to Ukraine to help the country combat Russian troops.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)