US to send mysterious Phoenix Ghost suicide drones to Ukraine: What we know
The US will send 121 previously unheard-of Phoenix Ghost drones to Ukraine
John Kirby confirmed the shipment of the drones
The Phoenix Ghost drones reportedly have similar capabilities to Switchblade suicide drones
The US is all set to send a large number of newly-disclosed 'Phoenix Ghost' suicide drones to Ukraine as part of President Joe Biden's latest $800 million security assistance package for the war-torn eastern European country.
Details of the new package were revealed on Thursday by the Pentagon, which said that the US would send 75 155mm howitzers, 72 tactical vehicles for towing the artillery, and 121 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems to Ukraine.
While the supply of long-range artillery to Ukraine did not come as a surprise, the previously unheard-of Phoenix Ghost drones certainly raised some eyebrows.
Commenting on the new drones, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told the press, "It was developed for a set of requirements that very closely match what the Ukrainians need right now in Donbas."
Although Kirby initially said that the development of the drones had been fast-tracked keeping in mind Ukraine's needs, Reuters reported that he later clarified that the development had begun prior to the beginning of the Russian invasion on February 24.
While Kirby did not reveal any details about the capabilities of the new drones, he did specify that they were designed primarily for attacking targets, adding that the Phoenix Ghost drones offer similar "but not [the] exact" capabilities of AeroVironment's Switchblade bomb drones, dozens of which have already been sent to Ukraine. The differences in capabilities between the two systems remained unclear at the time of writing this.
"It can also be used to give you a sight picture of what it's seeing, of course. But its principal focus is attack," Kirby explained.
Answering questions about how the US would train the Ukrainian military to use the new drones, Kirby said that a small number of Ukrainians had already received training on how to operate Switchblade bomb drones earlier sent by the US, adding that training for the new Phoenix Ghost drones would be similar to training on the previous system.
However, he declined to comment on how many Ukrainians would be trained to use the new drones, or how such training would be given.
While details are sparse at the moment, the new drones can be reasonably expected to further strengthen the Ukrainian military's remote strike capabilities: the US has already shipped 100 Switchblade drones to Kyiv, while another 300 are in the pipeline. The addition of the 121 Phoenix Ghost drones would add considerably more firepower in Ukraine's arsenal and would allow Kyiv to carry out remote strikes on strategic targets without risking Ukrainian lives.