US more than doubling its commitment of Phoenix Ghost kamikaze drones to Ukraine

A Ukrainian soldier pilots a drone in Bakhmut, Donetsk region, on September 25, 2022, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Photo by Juan BARRETO / AFP) (Photo by JUAN BARRETO/AFP via Getty Images)

The United States has committed to sending an additional 1,100 Phoenix Ghost loitering munitions to Ukraine as part of a new $400 million security assistance package announced Friday.

As of Oct. 28, before the latest package was announced, the Biden administration had committed to providing about 700 of the kamikaze drones prior to Kyiv, according to the Defense Department.

So-called “one-way” unmanned aerial systems (UAS) — also known as kamikaze drones or suicide drones — have played a prominent role in the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war, with both sides employing these types of weapons.

The U.S. has committed to providing more than 700 Switchblade loitering munitions to Kyiv as well as the Phoenix Ghosts. While the specifications and performance characteristics of Switchblades have been made public, Pentagon officials have been relatively mum about the capabilities of the newly developed Phoenix Ghost — which was developed by AEVEX Aerospace in partnership with the Air Force’s secretive Big Safari office — although they’ve said Ukrainian forces have made “excellent use” of the system on the battlefield.

Notably, the 1,100 Phoenix Ghosts announced on Friday will be procured from industry using Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) funds rather than rather than pulled from DOD stocks under presidential drawdown authority. The USAI procurement process generally takes longer to get technology to Ukraine than a direct transfer of weapons from Pentagon arsenals.

“This USAI package underscores the continued U.S. commitment to supporting Ukraine by meeting their most urgent needs, while also building the capacity of Ukraine’s Armed Forces to defend its sovereignty over the long term,” the DOD said in a press release. “This announcement represents the beginning of a contracting process to provide additional priority capabilities to Ukraine.”

Other capabilities in the new tranche of security assistance include:

  • Funding to refurbish HAWK air defense missiles for inclusion in future Presidential Drawdown packages
  • 45 Refurbished T-72B Tanks with advanced optics, communications, and armor packages
  • 40 Armored Riverine Boats
  • Funding to refurbish 250 M1117 Armored Security Vehicles
  • Tactical secure communications systems and surveillance systems
  • Funding for training, maintenance, and sustainment.

The United States has now committed more than $18.2 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is concerned about the growing threat posed by adversaries’ kamikaze drones and other unmanned aerial systems, and it’s intensifying its search for counter-drone technology.