Meet the Phoenix Ghost, a secretive new drone the U.S. fast-tracked for delivery to Ukraine

The United States has spent roughly $3.4 billion on sending military assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24. The latest $800 million package, unveiled in mid-March, includes funds earmarked to gift Kyiv a brand-new line of drones that have never been deployed in combat before.

The Phoenix Ghost, an unmanned aerial vehicle, was partly designed with Ukraine in mind, the Pentagon says.

“[The drone] was developed for a set of requirements that very closely match what the Ukrainians need right now in Donbas,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Thursday, referring to the Eastern region of Ukraine, where Russia has focused its assault.

Previously, a different Pentagon official had implied the Phoenix Ghost was created specifically for Ukraine, but Kirby walked back those comments, stating that the drone had been in development long before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion.

“You’re not going to have 120 on your shelves if you just started [building] them on the 24th of February,” Kirby said, noting the U.S. will send 121 units of the drone to Ukraine.

The drone has been developed by the California-based AEVEX Aerospace—a secretive company that says it provides “full-spectrum airborne intelligence solutions.”

Kirby said he had “no idea” how the drone got its name—which does seem like a misnomer because, unlike a phoenix, the drone will not rise again. The unmanned aerial vehicle is designed to be flown only once.

The Phoenix Ghost is similar to “switchblade” drones—also known as “kamikaze drones” or “loitering munitions”—the U.S. has already delivered to Ukraine in that it doesn’t fire on an enemy from a far distance. Instead, such drones hang in the air before crashing into their target and detonating an anti-armor warhead on impact.

“[The Phoenix Ghost] like almost all unmanned aerial systems, of course, has optics. So 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, adding that the drone is designed to “deliver a punch.”

Drones have proved a pivotal weapon in Ukraine’s resistance against Russian invasion. One Turkish-designed drone, the Bayraktar TB2, has been so successful in launching attacks against Russian tanks and missile bases that when the Armed Forces of Ukraine asked a soldier to write a folk song to rally morale, the soldier rapped about the Turkish drone.

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