Pentagon Reveals USAF Is Giving Ukraine a New Secret Drone: The Phoenix Ghost

The Pentagon is donating to Ukraine a new secret drone that the US Air Force has developed — one that “very well” meets the needs of the Ukrainian military, the Pentagon revealed on April 21.

The US will deliver at least 121 of the new Phoenix Ghost tactical unmanned aerial systems to Ukraine as part of a new $800 million assistance package announced by Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby. But, what is the Phoenix Ghost?

“This is a drone that was in development before the invasion, clearly,” Kirby said during an afternoon press conference. “The US Air Force was working on this, and in discussions with the Ukrainians about their requirements, we believe that this particular system would suit their needs very well, particularly in eastern Ukraine.”

Kirby’s comments mark a slight change from those made by a senior defense official earlier in the day. In a briefing, the official said the Phoenix Ghost was “rapidly developed by the US Air Force in response, specifically, to Ukrainian requirements”.

A Marine prepares a Switchblade drone that is also in the package provided by the US to Ukraine.

Kirby said he didn’t have an exact date for when Phoenix Ghost began development. But given that the USAF had at least 120 to ship from its inventory, “You won’t have 120 on your shelves if you start buying them on February 24,” the day the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.

“Which was probably not as well written as it should have been [é] which was developed for a set of requirements that very much match what Ukrainians need right now in Donbas,” Kirby said, referring to the eastern region of Ukraine, where Russia has focused its attack in recent days.

The exact capabilities that Phoenix Ghost will offer Ukraine are being kept under wraps as Kirby declined to comment. But he said the drone is “similar” to the Switchblade drone the US has already delivered to Ukraine.

Switchblades are often called “kamikaze drones” or “wandering munitions” because they are capable of flying over a target before colliding and detonating in a precision strike. Different versions of the Switchblade can fly between 15 and 40 minutes, with a range of 10 to 40 kilometers.

US military fires a Switchblade during an exercise.

The Phoenix Ghost is “designed for tactical operations,” said Kirby. “In other words, largely, but not exclusively, to attack targets. It, like almost all unmanned aerial systems, of course, has optics. So it can also be used to give you an overview of what you’re seeing, of course, but your main focus is on offense.”

Kirby later added that the drone is a one-way system, meaning it should not be retrieved.

As the drone is being delivered to Ukraine, Kirby said he hopes the US Air Force will use it in the future for itself.

Since Russia launched its invasion, the Defense Department has provided $3.4 billion in military aid to Ukraine, including another $800 million package in mid-March, followed by another $100 million in early April. Kirby previously said that the contents of these packages would be fully delivered by mid-April.

In addition to Switchblades and the new Phoenix Ghost, the US Department of Defense also supplied Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, Javelin anti-tank missiles, Mi-17 helicopters, Humvees, artillery and millions of small arms and grenade rounds, among other items.

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