October 4, 2022

America’s Phoenix Ghost plane, or kamikaze drone, was completely unknown until the Biden administration announced in April that it was sending 121 of them to Ukraine. No details were released other than vague comments that it looked like the best known AeroVironment Switchbladeand no images of the elusive weapon have ever surfaced.

However, the recent announcement that 580 more Phoenix Ghosts they go to Ukraine, with steady deliveries promised by California-based manufacturers Aevex Aerospace, is an implicit acknowledgment of how successful they have been. There was no mention of more Switchblades, which seem less popular. The hit may have opened some cracks in the walls of silence, including what may be the first video of a Phoenix Ghost hit.

The video, shared on Twitter by military analyst Rob Lee, shows an attack on a Russian 82mm mortar position. Lee notes that the video has been tagged as a Ghost Phoenix hit. The video, apparently taken by an accompanying drone, shows first the crew of the dug-out mortar and then the stray munitions flying up and diving before exploding in a lively fireball. A survivor is then seen fleeing the area. The strike happened geographically located in the Kherson region.

The resolution is not sufficient to identify the roving munition or even to determine its configuration. But two things stand out. One is how slow it is: during cruise it travels at about 10 times its own length every second, in the dive phase it drops to about 15 of its own lengths per second.

In comparison, the small Switchblade 300 travels at about 60 mph, which is 50 ammunition lengths per second, and dives about 50% faster. The larger Switchblade 600 travels at about 30 lengths per second. The polishing Hot roaming ammo, also used by the Ukraine, is somewhat slower and cruises at 50 mph which is 20 lengths per second, and dives at 30 lengths per second. The ammo in the video looks much slower than either of these.

The other distinguishing feature is the explosion, which is much larger than that seen in previous hits of the Switchblade 300. The Phoenix Ghost is said to have a warhead capable of only taking out medium armor, so it is larger than the Switchblade 300 but smaller than the 600 which can destroy heavy tanks. Warmate also has one medium sized head. Frame-by-frame inspection suggests that the weapon detonates prior to impact, creating a blast of air that is more effective against personnel. This may indicate an American made gun with a advanced blast height sensor,

However, there are other candidates. The UK is also now supplying “hundreds of roving aerial munitions” — type unknown — according to the UK Defense Secretary . In July a video revealed one new Ukrainian-made catapult-launched medium-sized ammunition with a 2.5kg warhead which may now be operational.. A number of other Ukrainian developers were known to be working on roving munitions before the war, and one or more of these may also have entered service.

In conclusion, while the video may indeed show a Phoenix Ghost strike, it is impossible to confirm at this time.

More details pf Phoenix Ghost emerged in an interview with Oleksii Arestovysch, Advisor to the Office of the Ukrainian President, on the Ukrainian Industry website Defense Express. Arestovysch confirmed the details Politico previously revealed, that it has an impressive down time of six hours and infrared guidance for night attacks. But he also made the unexpected comment that the Phoenix Ghost is a “backpack.” The Switchblade 600, which has only forty minutes less time, is carried in two box-sized cases (each 71″ x 18″ x 17″) suggesting that the Phoenix Ghost is much smaller, more like the Switchblade 300 that fits in a backpack. If correct, this is remarkable for a system of such high endurance with a powerful head.

Second, Arestovysch commented that “580 such units equate to about 350 destroyed targets in the rear.”

580 weapons scoring 350 kills is almost exactly 60%, so this is likely the number given to Arestovysch. It suggests that the 121 Phoenix Ghosts delivered so far have destroyed 70 or more targets – none of which have been seen – which, if true, is impressive. Ukraine has Knocked out about 2000 Russian tanks vehicles overall according to Oryx (and they’ve captured a lot more), so the Phoenix Ghost can score a significant fraction of the current kills.

While lofty, the claim is consistent with the Pentagon’s own website which says an unnamed senior official saying that : “The Ukrainians have made excellent use of the Phoenix Ghost system.”

“In the close rear” suggests that the Phoenix Ghost is not a long-range system despite its long flight time, but it can still hit Russian vehicles behind the front lines. The Switchblade 600 had a range of 40 km, the 300 just 10 km.

The Phoenix Ghost’s “excellent use” has so far been coupled with extraordinary secrecy, which was likely a condition for the US to procure the weapons. The coming weeks will see more strikes from Switchblades, Warmates, British Ammunition and locally made weapons of all sizes to those improvised from racing drones. And while we may not see the Phoenix Ghosts, they’ll be there in the background taking down the Russian invaders with stealthy efficiency.

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