How Phoenix Ghost Drones Will Help Ukraine Deliver 'Punch' to Russian Army

Washington is sending mysterious Phoenix Ghost tactical drones developed by the U.S. Air Force to Ukraine as part of the latest $800 million arms package for the war-torn country.

Days after Russia declared that its offensive in Ukraine had entered a new phase—controlling Ukraine's east—the Pentagon said it will provide at least 121 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems.

On Thursday Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby, alongside a senior defense department official, outlined how the new drones will help Ukraine "deliver a punch" to the Russian army.

Kirby said the new unmanned aerial system drones manufactured by California-based AEVEX Aerospace "very nicely" suit the needs of the Ukrainian military as Russia's invasion ramps up in the Donbas.

Ukraine-Russia conflict
Ukrainian servicemen run at the front line east of Kharkiv on March 31, 2022. Russian forces are repositioning in Ukraine to strengthen their offensive on the Donbas, Nato said on March 31. FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images

"This was rapidly developed by the Air Force in response specifically to Ukrainian requirements," Kirby told reporters during a press briefing.

Kirby offered few details about the new drones, but said they have similar but distinct capabilities to the Switchblade unmanned systems that the U.S. provided to Ukraine earlier following Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision on February 24 to declare a so-called "special military operation" in the country.

Switchblade drones—also known as "kamikaze drones" or "loitering munitions"—are single-use weapons that detonate on impact. The Phoenix Ghost drones are likely, then, be able to directly crash into and destroy targets, and won't be recovered.

"We believed that this particular system would very nicely suit their needs, particularly in eastern Ukraine," Kirby told reporters. "It was developed for a set of requirements that very closely match what the Ukrainians need right now in Donbas."

While Kirby didn't offer specifics about the drones, he said they were built with striking targets in mind.

The Phoenix Ghost is "designed for tactical operations," Kirby said. "In other words, largely but not exclusively to attack targets."

"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 said.

The Phoenix Ghost tactical drones also have optical abilities that will assist in strikes against Russian forces, the Pentagon spokesman added.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior Pentagon official said the unmanned aerial systems, like the Switchblade drones, are a "one-way drone" that is "clearly designed to give a punch."

The official said the Phoenix Ghost can be used by Ukrainian forces against multiple targets, adding that there are differences in the "scope of capability" for the new drones.

"But I'm just not going to be able to get into more detail about those capabilities," the defense department official told reporters.

Training for the new drones would be similar to the training Ukrainian forces received for the Switchblade, the official said.

Newsweek has contacted the Pentagon and the U.S. Air Force for additional comment.

Since Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine on February 24, the U.S. has spent approximately $3.4 billion on sending military assistance to Kyiv.

According to a copy of a formal diplomatic note sent from Moscow to the U.S. that was reviewed by The Washington Post, Russia warned that U.S. and NATO shipments of the "most sensitive" weapons systems to Ukraine were "adding fuel" to the conflict.

Further shipments could bring "unpredictable consequences," the note reportedly said.

The Pentagon said in a statement Thursday that the U.S. will "continue to utilize all available tools to support Ukraine's Armed Forces in the face of Russian aggression."