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Meet The Phoenix Ghost Drone: Ukraine’s Missing Weapon?

A report from Insider this week noted how hundreds of Phoenix Ghost drones have been sent to Ukraine by the United States federal government but that the drones have rarely been documented in action in Ukraine.

“As of September, the Pentagon has sent some 700 Phoenix Ghost drones to Ukraine,” the report claims. “However, despite the hundreds of drones in use in Ukraine and the world’s close observation of battlefields there, there have been few glimpses of the drone in action against Russian forces.”

The claim matches up with reporting from 19FortyFive, which has focused heavily on the use of Switchblade drones supplied by the United States, and more recently by U.S.-supplied HIMARS rocket systems. The use of Phoenix Ghost drones, if they are in fact being used by the Ukrainian military, appears to be a secretive effort.

The drone is still shrouded in mystery.

In April, the Pentagon first announced that 121 of the drones were headed to Ukraine. While the drones were not designed especially for Ukraine, they were not already in widespread use by the United State military or any other military abroad. The weapons were in development long before Russia invaded Ukraine, and that invasion became the testing ground for the new weapons.

That being said, some adjustments were reportedly made to the drones before they arrived on the battlefield in Ukraine.

Official Silence

The Department of Defense has remained tight-lipped about the Phoenix Ghost Drones since reports revealed that they were on their way to Ukraine. Officials remain just as tight-lipped about the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) even months after the news was announced. In July, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told FedScoop that there was little he could say about the drones, confirming that the military and the federal government was purposely hiding the capabilities of the new UAVs.

“I actually can’t say very much about Phoenix Ghost,” he told the news outlet at the Potomac Officers Club’s annual Air Force Summit. “I apologize but there’s not much I can say publicly about it.”

What We Know

While officials have remained largely quiet about the technology behind the Phoenix Ghost drones, we do know some things about the drones. Lt. Gen. David Deptula, a retired Aevex board member, told Politico that the drone has vertical takeoff capabilities and is able to track targets for as long as six hours without needing to land. Deptula also said that the drone can operate at night thanks to its infrared sensors.

If Deptula’s claims are accurate, it means the Phoenix Ghost offers some substantial benefits over the widely-used Switchblade drones, which are only capable of flying for less than one hour.