The latest $800-million-dollar aid package the United States has earmarked for Ukraine included a bit of an easter egg—although it wasn't as hard to find as the "hidden images" in a Marvel superhero movie, and the world media jumped on the news almost immediately.
The surprise was a new tactical drone that was never made public before the aid package was announced. The U.S. Air Force plans to send 121 of these "Phoenix Ghost" drones to Ukrainian forces. Manufactured by AEVEX Aerospace, the new unmanned aerial system was originally reported as being swiftly developed to meet the needs of the Ukrainian army—a scenario that was implied by a Pentagon official, rather than by the press overreaching the details—but, in fact, the Air Force had the drone in development long before Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine.
“You’re not going to have 120 drones on your shelves if you just started building them on the 24th of February,” said Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.
However, there are also reports that some features requested by Ukraine were incorporated in a customized drone for specific combat and surveillance ops.
A senior defense official was quoted by Fox News as stating the Phoenix Ghost that will be sent to Ukraine was “based on talking to the Ukrainians about what they need.”
It has not been made public yet what these "special features" might be.
SEEING THE GHOST
No surprise—as it was developed by the U.S. military—but the Phoenix Ghost is a tactical unmanned aerial system. It's also not much of a stretch to assume the Phoenix Ghost may be deployed much like other combat drones for reconnaissance, air strikes, and delivering goods to embedded troops.
According to current information, the Phoenix Ghost will require minimal training, and although the U.S. has committed to making sure the Ukrainian army is knowledgeable about the new system, it will likely be not much different than that of the Switchblade drones the Ukrainians are already using—a model, by the way, that the U.S. has already shipped to the warzone in large numbers. The Switchblade can be carried in a backpack and launched easily in the field. It detonates after it makes contact with a target.
Like the Switchblade, the Phoenix Ghost is a kamikaze drone that is meant to be used just once. It comes with optics that can spy on troop movements and so on, but its main use is as an attack weapon with an anti-armor warhead. The Ghost can launch vertically, stay aloft for more than six hours, and act as a night fighter due to its infrared sensors. By comparison, the Switchblade has a flight time of less than one hour.
WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT AEVEX AEROSPACE
Well, not much. AEVEX is reportedly a combination of three companies that were already established in the defense sector—Merlin Global Services, CSG Solutions, and Special Operations Solutions—that provide “full-spectrum airborne intelligence solutions.” The California-based company is shrouded in secrecy and mystery, although it is known AEVEX was founded in 2007, and employs 500 people in three office sites: California, North Carolina and Virginia. There's also a training range the company maintains in Roswell, New Mexico.
DRONES IN THE FIGHT
Ukraine's resistance against the immense military might of Russia is partly due to the deployment of drones by the Ukrainian army and organized civilian groups such as Aerorozvidka. The Turkish designed Bayraktar TB2 drone has been very successful at neutralizing tanks, missile bases, and other war machines.
Since the Russian invasion began on February 24, the United States has spent approximately $3.4 billion on military assistance to Ukraine, and drones have been part of the aid package since the beginning of the conflict.
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