The United States will send additional tactical drones to Ukraine to aid in the nation’s fight against Russia, President Biden announced Thursday.
The unmanned aerial vehicles are part of a new $800 million security assistance package that includes other military equipment such as heavy artillery, dozens of howitzers, and 144,000 rounds of ammunition.
More than 120 Phoenix Ghost tactical UAVs will be part of the package, according to a Pentagon press release.
The Phoenix Ghost drone was already being developed by the U.S. military and AEVEX Aerospace before the recent Russian invasion began on Feb. 24.
“The Air Force was working on this and, in discussions with the Ukrainians again about their requirements, we believed that this particular system would very nicely suit their needs, particularly in eastern Ukraine,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters. “It was already in development, but we will continue to move that development in ways that are attuned to Ukrainian requirements for unmanned aerial systems of a tactical nature in eastern Ukraine.”
The system’s purpose is akin to that of AeroVironment’s Switchblade suicide drones that have already been sent to Ukraine. It is designed to attack targets like a kamikaze on “one way” missions, he said.
It could also provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
Like most UAVs, the system 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.
Although the Phoenix Ghost can perform similar missions as the Switchblade, it does have different capabilities, Kirby said. He declined to say specifically how the new system is different or provide more details about its capabilities.
“The kinds of things this drone can do lend itself well to this particular kind of terrain” in eastern Ukraine, Kirby said. “I think I’m just gonna leave it at that.”
The systems will require some training for the Ukrainians to use them. “We’re working that out right now,” Kirby said.
The Phoenix Ghost isn’t only intended for Ukraine’s use. It was already in the U.S. military’s inventory when the new security assistance package was announced.
“The whole idea of [developing this] this was for us to use it. So I would expect we still have an interest in using this capability. But … [we] can see the benefit right now in the moment for Ukraine to use it. And so we’re going to provide some of them,” Kirby said.
The Phoenix Ghost isn’t the only unmanned system that the U.S. is providing to Ukraine.
As of April 14, after the previous $800 million security package was announced, the United States had committed to providing more than 700 Switchblades to Ukraine, as well as an undisclosed number of Puma UAVs and mysterious “unmanned coastal defense vessels.”
With this latest package, the United States has now committed approximately $3.4 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia kicked off its large-scale invasion of its neighbor on Feb. 24.
The latest package is “tailored to meet critical Ukrainian needs for today’s fight as Russian forces launch a renewed offensive in eastern Ukraine,” Kirby said in a press release. “The United States will continue to utilize all available tools to support Ukraine’s Armed Forces in the face of Russian aggression.”
In remarks at the White House when he announced the new round of aid, Biden said: “Now we have to accelerate that assistance package to help prepare Ukraine for Russia’s offensive that’s going to be more limited in terms of geography, but not in terms of brutality … Combined with our recent drawdowns [in DOD weapon stocks], it will ensure a steady flow of weapons and equipment into Ukraine over the next few weeks.”
Biden said he plans to send Congress a supplemental budget request next week to get additional resources so that U.S. weapons and ammo can keep “flowing without interruption.”
The United States has the capacity to continue providing security assistance “for a long time,” he added. “The question is are we going to continue to maintain the support of the international community and keep the pressure on Putin to prevent him from overrunning the country.”
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal at the Pentagon Thursday afternoon where they discussed U.S. security assistance.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional comments from Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby.