How drones are changing face of war
Kirby said the US had started developing the Phoenix Ghost before the outbreak of war and that work would now be accelerated to meet Ukraine’s requirements even better.
Drones meet the requirements of modern warfare — that’s the line from the US Department of Defense. And the Pentagon says it has just the drone to meet all of Ukraine’s requirements. It’s a new drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), called Phoenix Ghost.
“We believed this particular system would very nicely suit their needs, particularly in eastern Ukraine,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said in a press briefing. Kirby said the US had started developing the Phoenix Ghost before the outbreak of war and that work would now be accelerated to meet Ukraine’s requirements even better.
The plan is to deliver more than 120 of the drones as part of a $800 million military assistance package. But what does Phoenix Ghost do? How does it differ from other weapon systems? Well, not much is known. There are no pictures. What we do know is that Phoenix Ghost was developed by US defense contractor Aevex Aerospace with the US Air Force. And that according to Kirby, personnel won’t need a lot of training to operate it.
Kirby said the new drone was like older, Switchblade drones, which were made by US company AeroVironment for use by US special forces in Afghanistan in 2012. The Switchblade backpack drone belongs to the category of “loitering munitions” or “loitering weapons.” “It’s a mix between a missile and a drone,” Arthur Holland Michel, author and senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in Barcelona, told DW. Loitering munitions get their name from the way they work. They are launched without a specific target and circle over an area until a target is assigned by an operator on the ground, and that’s when it strikes.
It has sensors that can detect emerging targets. Depending on the model’s size and weight, it can stay in the air for between 15 and 40 minutes, with a range of 10 to 40 kilometers (6-25 miles). “Unlike a large drone, it doesn’t need an airfield or lots of infrastructure to launch,” Michel said. “And unlike a missile, it gives you time to identify the target, get situational awareness, and then literally drive the missile drone into the target.” Phoenix Ghost drones have similar capabilities but are not exactly the same as the Switchblade, Kirby said.
David Deptula, a retired lieutenant general who sits on the board of directors at Aevex Aerospace, was quoted by Politico as saying that Phoenix Ghost can fly for longer than Switchblade — up to six hours.
Deptula is reported to have said that Phoenix Ghost was a single-use drone that launches vertically and that it can operate at night with infrared sensors. The drone was effective against “medium armoured ground targets,” Politico quoted Deptula as saying. The Ukrainian armed forces also use a surveillance drone from the German company Quantum Systems. “Our drones are already in Ukraine,” Florian Seibel, CEO of the Bavaria-based company, told the German news network RND. The German “Vector” drone is not a weapon as such — it cannot drop bombs but it can form part of a weapons system. It is said to be best used for its flight and video capabilities. Ukraine might use it to optimise the aim of its artillery, for example. Vector delivers high-resolution real-time video over 15 kilometers and can remain airborne for up to two hours.
But with all these developments in automated warfare, drone expert Michel says we should be aware there are risks and concerns with drones.