A mysterious new “kamikaze drone” called Phoenix Ghost, developed by the US Air Force specifically for Ukraine’s war against Russia, is part of the latest security assistance program announced by the US on April 21 .

According to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, the vagrant munition is an all-new platform being rapidly developed, with input from Ukraine, to meet the country’s military needs as it tries to blunt the new assault. of Russia in the Donbass region.

“It was quickly developed by the Air Force in response specifically to Ukrainian requirements,” Kirby told reporters April 21. package announced Thursday.

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Julian Alvarado, prepares to launch a Switchblade unmanned aircraft system during Exercise Littoral II (LEX II) at Camp Lejeune, N.C., March 3, 2022. U.S. Marine Corps Photo by lance Cpl. Ryan Ramsammy

Phoenix Ghost provides similar functionality, “but not [the] accurate,” such as the AeroVironment Switchblade tube-based vagrancy munition, Kirby said in a call with reporters on April 21, the 57th day of Russia’s war with Ukraine. There are differences “in the scope of the Phoenix Ghost’s abilities, but what those differences are isn’t clear. It will be useful against different types of targets, he says.

Switchblade is a tube-launched roving munition that carries both a camera and a warhead. It can be used for surveillance or to attack targets of opportunity. It can target a fixed position without anyone piloting it manually. Much more information on Switchblade and a range of suicide drones and their use in modern warfare can be found here.

The United States has already donated 400 Switchblade stray munitions to Ukraine. The first shipment of 100 was mostly made in the country last week when another shipment of 300 was announced. Switchblades come in several sizes for use against different targets – the -300 and the much more powerful, armor-piercing -600. The latter is very rare because it has just been introduced into American stocks. In many cases, deadly drones can be repurposed for surveillance missions if not used as kinetic weapons against enemy forces.

Asked about the origin of the Phoenix Ghost’s name, Kirby replied, “I have no idea. I have no idea. I do not know.”

“I’m going to be reluctant to go into much more detail about the system at this point for classification purposes, but you can safely assume that, in general, it works,” Kirby said. “It offers the same kind of tactical capability as a Switchblade. Switchblade is a one-way drone if you will, and it’s clearly designed to pack a punch. It’s a tactical UAS, and Phoenix Ghost is from the same category.

Later that day, Kirby said the system, developed under a US military contract with AEVEX Aerospace, was already in development before the current conflict “for a set of requirements that very closely match what Ukrainians currently need in the Donbass”.

AEVEX describes itself as providing end-to-end design, supply, integration, operations, sustainment and data analysis of aircraft and sensor systems. The war zone contacted AEVEX for more information on its involvement in the development of the drone and the design of the aircraft itself, but did not hear back. The company said breaking defense he had “no comment on the matter”.

AEVEX does not appear to be a manufacturer of unmanned systems. It is possible that the company acted as prime contractor to develop and integrate components on an existing UAS, such as control technologies and a warhead. It is also possible that he works as a national prime contractor for an imported or licensed design.

In November 2021, AEVEX won a contract with the US General Services Administration under the ASTRO program which encompasses everything related to manned, unmanned or possibly manned platforms and robotics. This 10-year contract has a cap of $2 billion and includes use of the company’s test and training lineup in Roswell, New Mexico, rapid prototyping services and an FAA-certified repair station. Part 145 for the “design, engineering and integration of sensors and special devices”. mission aircraft, manned and unmanned,” AEVEX CEO Brian Raduenz said in a statement at the time of contract award. It’s unclear if Phoenix Ghost development was done under this contract, but the scope of work would include such unmanned systems integration. The contract “will significantly enhance our ability to support innovative aviation R&D and data management efforts for our warfighters operating across all domains,” Raduenz said.

Most tube-launched disposable drones can be deployed from the ground, vehicle, sea vessel or aircraft and are controlled by individual troops. Some wandering UAS have been launched by larger drones, although this is an advanced capability. A Switchblade-300 weighs around 5.5 pounds and has a range of 10 kilometers with 15 minutes of cruising endurance at 63 miles per hour. The larger 600 series can fly for 40 minutes, weighs 55 pounds – including a 33-pound warhead – and has a threshold range of around 40 kilometers. We really don’t know if it’s a tube launch or even a converted multi-rotor type or something else.

The new system should be easily absorbed by existing Ukrainian forces but will require some training, Kirby said.

“It will require minimal training for competent UAS operators to use it and we will work on these training requirements directly with the Ukrainian Armed Forces,” he said.

Although the exact design of Phoenix Ghost is unknown, suicide drones of many types have been very effective in modern conflict and need not be very complex systems. Again, this new system could be an armed quadcopter, for everyone knows. Commercially available armed unmanned systems are useful, easy to deploy, and could be mass-delivered relatively inexpensively, because The war zone Editor Tyler Rogoway reflected in March. In fact, enemies of the United States and other nefarious actors around the world have proven this for more than five years, converting off-the-shelf commercial and recreational drones into effective killing machines. Even Ukraine today uses improvised armed drones on the battlefield. This is a critical area where the United States has lagged due to a lack of DoD demand, export restrictions, and, some say, a social undercurrent that has resisted the weaponization of very low-end unmanned technologies.

The Ghost Phoenixes are part of a larger $800 million security assistance program announced by the White House on April 21, which also includes 72 other 155mm howitzers and the same number of vehicles to tow them, 144,000 artillery shells, field equipment and spare parts. With last week’s $800 million aid package, the United States pledged 90 artillery pieces to Ukraine, as well as armored vehicles, tactical drones, anti-tank guided missiles, counter-battery and air defense, helicopters, etc.

As the conflict drags on, the U.S. military is tailoring the capabilities included in each defense assistance program based on what Ukrainian forces say they need on the ground, Kirby said.

“This addition to the PDA packages is largely an outgrowth, a very tangible outgrowth, of…the constant conversation we have with Ukrainians about what they need and it’s a great example of adapting to their needs in real time,” Kirby said.

President Joe Biden met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal this morning to discuss recent developments in the war with Russia and to preview the additional $800 million in security assistance and $500 million in support economy announced later in the day. Shmyhal also met with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon.

In his speech announcing the new aid package, Biden said ongoing aid will be tailored to combat in the Donbass, where Russian armor and artillery are more advantaged.

“The United States and our allies and partners are moving as quickly as possible to continue providing Ukraine with the forces they need – the weapons they need … and the equipment they need – their forces need. to defend their nation,” Biden said from the White House.

Since the announcement of artillery and armored vehicles last week, US military assistance is now “responsive to Ukraine’s needs and tailored to support the escalating fighting in the Donbass region, which is a war different from other places because… topographically it’s different”. It’s flat, it’s not in the mountains, and it requires different types of weapons to be more effective,” Biden said.

It now apparently requires bespoke weapon systems developed in the United States with Ukrainian assistance in the form of the Phoenix Ghost drone.

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