According to the Pentagon, the US has developed a new type of drone that meets the requirements of the Ukrainian military and will now be further adapted: “Phoenix Ghost” is the name of the unmanned aerial vehicle. “In discussions with Ukrainians about their needs, we thought this particular system would be a very good fit for their needs, especially in eastern Ukraine,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.
Drone development had already begun before the outbreak of war in Ukraine. They now want to push this further in order to better suit Ukraine’s demands. More than 120 of these drones will be delivered to Ukraine as part of a new US government $ 800 million military aid package. Since the announcement, the specifics of Phoenix Ghost have been discussed: what does it look like? How is it different from previous weapon systems?
Not much is known yet. There is no picture. The Phoenix Ghost was developed by the American armaments company Aevex Aerospace in collaboration with the U.S. Air Force, which is also reserved for details. Pentagon spokesman Kirby said minimal training is required to operate the drone.
The new drone is similar to the so-called Switchblade drone from the American manufacturer AeroVironment. However, this has been known for a long time. It was developed for use by US special forces in Afghanistan. In 2012, the US military equipped its troops with it.
Drone kamikaze “Switchblade”
The Switchblade backpack drone belongs to the category “Loitering Munition” or “Loitering Weapon”, which means something like “lost ammunition or weapon”.
“It’s a kind of mix between a rocket and a drone,” Arthur Holland Michel, author and senior fellow at the Carnegie Council on Ethics in International Affairs in Barcelona, told DW.
Ammunition or loitering weapons are remote-controlled missiles that are initially launched without a specific target, then surround the target area for a long time until a target is assigned by an operator on the ground via data link and then attacked. Depending on the model, the targets that appear can also be detected and classified using their sensors and then counteracted by an autonomously launched attack.
The terms loitering ammunition or loitering weapon are not particularly common. The category of weapons became known only in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, when Azerbaijan used large quantities of these weapons.
There are different versions of Switchblade. The smallest model weighs 2.5 kilograms, has a distance of 10 kilometers and can stay in the air for 15 minutes. The largest variant weighs almost 15 kilograms and has a distance of 40 kilometers or can fly for 40 minutes.
Your advantage: “Unlike a large drone, you do not need an airport or a lot of infrastructure to launch it,” says Michel. “And unlike a missile, you have time to identify the target, to get a picture of the situation, and then literally shoot the drone missile at the target by hand or with the help of target recognition. In this way, the skills of both weapon systems are combined. “
The Switchblade 300 weighs 2.5 pounds and can run for about 15 minutes
Breaker drones are also known as suicide drones because they self-destruct when attacked.
Tweaked: Phoenix Ghost
Phoenix Ghost drones have similar capabilities, but are not exactly the same, Kirby said.
David Deptula, a retired lieutenant general, dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies and a member of the board of directors of Aevex Aerospace, has given Politico some other information – which has not yet been confirmed.
Therefore, the Phoenix Ghost is also a disposable drone, but can stay in the air for much longer in six hours. It also rises vertically, so it saves a lot of space, and thanks to infrared sensors can work even at night. The drone is effective against “medium-sized ground armored targets,” according to Deptula.
Flamurtari “Bayraktar TB2”
Turkish fighter and reconnaissance drone Bayraktar TB2 belongs to the category of “biggest drones” addressed by Michel. It is also deployed in the war in Ukraine. The Turkish expression “Bayraktar” means “flag bearer” in German. The drone was developed in 2014 by the Baykar company.
The Bayraktar TB2 is 6.50 meters tall, has a wingspan of 12 meters and an idle weight of 420 kilograms.
Fighter and reconnaissance drone Bayraktar TB2 UAV. “Bayraktar” in English means “flag bearer”.
The fully autonomous drone can stay in the air for 24 hours without interruption, reaches a flight altitude of 7300 meters and has a maximum speed of about 220 kilometers per hour. In autonomous mode, it can rise without ground control by a coordinator, fly toward a programmed target, observe it, turn, and land on its own. Their maximum range is 150 kilometers.
“Vector”: German high technology for Ukraine
Ukraine’s armed forces can now also use a surveillance drone from the Bavarian company Quantum Systems for espionage missions. “Our first drones are actually already in Ukraine,” company chief Florian Seibel told Germany’s editorial network (RND). Further shipments are planned. The London newspaper “The Times” has already reported about him.
It took only five days from the first contact to the signing of the contract – shortly afterwards three Ukrainian fighters sent a selfie to Bavaria with a drone.
The drone is called “Vector” and costs about 180 thousand euros. The purchase price was paid by Ukrainian multi-millionaires out of their own pockets as a “donation to the Dnipro Territorial Defense Command”, according to the RND article. The link between the fighters and the company in Bavaria was established by the Ukrainian consul in Munich.
However, the German Vector drone is not a weapon in the narrow sense. It can not drop bombs, nor is it intended. However, with the right digital connection, he can cast a piece of a weapon system, according to RND.
However, Vector is especially popular because it is extremely technologically advanced in the transfer of flights and videos. Ukrainians want to use the drone to optimally target their artillery, for example in approaching Russian tanks.
The vector is the perfect fit for this requirement: it can be placed without tools, does not need a runway, despite the three-meter-wide wingspan, and even rises vertically – like the Phoenix Ghost.
Quantum Systems Vector Drone is intended for reconnaissance and reconnaissance work
Vector delivers high-resolution real-time video over 15 kilometers and stays in the air for up to two hours.
Meanwhile, US special forces have also ordered seven million euros worth of Vector drones, and the Bundeswehr has ordered eight drones, Seibel chief executive told RND.
Ukraine: International Drone Fleet
Japan also sent drones to Ukraine, according to the Japanese Ministry of Defense, drones, masks and protective suits are being delivered at the request of Ukraine.
But Ukrainian soldiers also use local drones. Leleka-100 is the most common. The aircraft, which weighs about five kilograms, was manufactured by the Dnipro-based company Deviro in central Ukraine. “Stork” means stork in Ukrainian.
Russia, meanwhile, appears to be less dependent on threats. The Orlan-10 (Eng. Adler-10) will be used especially here – a small reconnaissance and surveillance drone, manufactured at the Center for Special Technology in St. Petersburg. With a wingspan of 3.10 meters, it flies up to 100 kilometers and can also be used for precision artillery shots. The detection system is quite simple: aerial photography cameras from the Canon EOS-D series, as well as thermal and video cameras.
An ethical horror scenario
But what should not be overlooked in all the evolving steps are the challenges and dangers that come from the growing autonomy of weapons systems, drone expert Arthur Holland Michel points out in his Twitter source. For example:
Do users have sufficient awareness of the situation to make a decision about the use of force? Do the weapons offer the user enough control to exercise caution when attacking? Are weapons vulnerable to hacking or intrusion that could lead to accidents and unintentional damage? If the system causes unintentional damage, are there clear channels through which people can be held accountable for that damage? How can risks be avoided and safety standards met? How can civilians be protected?
“With each additional autonomous function added to such weapons, these concerns multiply. As such, I encourage people to focus on the individual automated functions of these systems and the specific risks that may arise if those functions fail,” says Michael.
The development of remote or autonomous weapon systems is advancing rapidly, but concerns remain. Autonomous drone wars are an ethical horror scenario.