Drones are a key part of security and protection operations around the world and the multi-billion dollar market has soared in the past five years.
For security professionals and law enforcement they offer an eye-in-the-sky at a fraction of the cost of a helicopter. They have proved invaluable when used in border surveillance and safety inspections at chemical or oil refinery plants.
But over the past eight weeks the use of drones has become part of the wider public consciousness as the world has watched the events unfold in Ukraine.
Drone manufacturers rarely talk about their military contracts, preferring to focus public attention on their security systems with details of their military hardware discussed behind closed doors with government and military officials.
On April 21, President Biden revealed the latest $800 million arms package for Ukraine, and included a new piece of kit: the Phoenix Ghost tactical drone, which was unknown before the announcement that is equipped with cameras and described as ‘an attack drone’.
It is made by AEVEX Aerospace, which has been thrusted into the world spotlight and found itself fielding calls from reporters for the next few hours, all anxious to discover more about this new weapon.
The company, based in Solana Beach, California, with subsidiaries across the USA, refused to comment and there are no official pictures of the drone although it is understood 121 will be sent initially.
Defence commentators believe the Phoenix Ghost can take out tanks and other armor, can be carried in a backpack, launched from a tube, then guides itself into the target. It’s a ‘suicide drone’ for single use.
The Phoenix Ghost is manufactured and modified to match Ukranian armed forces requirements, believed to be suitable for the wide, open spaces around Donbas in the east of the country where the new Russian assault began this week.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby would not revel specifications but told reporters: “The kinds of things this drone can do lend itself well to this particular kind of terrain.
“I think I’m just going leave it at that. But its purpose is akin to that of the Switchblade … which is basically a one-way drone, an attack drone. And that’s essentially what this is designed to do”.
Drones such as the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 and the US-made Switchblade have so far played a key role in the Ukrainian forces’ defence against the Russian invasion.
The new Phoenix Ghost is similar to the Switchblade attack drone, already in service in Ukraine and more were included in last week’s Biden aid announcement. But Kirby said it had ‘distinct capabilities’ in comparison. The new AEVEX aircraft it is a “one way drone” that is “clearly designed to give a punch” to a number of different types of targets, he said.
This was interpreted to mean that the Phoenix Ghost is a low-cost, single-use suicide drone that will be launched then wait, flying in an airspace before smashing itself into a target.
As drones have transformed the way security systems operate over the past decade, so it is clear the armed drone is an essential in modern ground warfare of the type that Europe is witnessing in Ukraine and would perhaps have been unimaginable only a few months ago.
The picture accompanying this article is the AeroVironment Inc. Switchblade 600, the larger version of the 300 already used with deadly success in Ukraine. There are no official pictures of the Phoenix Ghost attack drone announced.
Discover more about AEVEX Aerospace unmanned aircraft HERE
Discover more about AeroVironment Inc, the Switchblade and its unmanned flight systems HERE
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