The United States and its allies have ramped up arms shipments to Kyiv ahead of Russia’s announced offensive in eastern Ukraine, as Moscow tries to salvage its nearly two-month old campaign.
Ukrainian forces have used Western weapons including Stinger and Javelin missiles along with drones, like the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 and US-made Switchblade, effectively to target Russian positions.
The White House said earlier on Thursday that over 121 Phoenix Ghost Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems would be provided to Ukraine as part of the new arms package.
The Pentagon said the Ghost drones are well suited for the coming fight in Ukraine’s Donbas region, which officials have described as flat terrain reminiscent of the US state of Kansas.
“It was developed for a set of requirements that very closely match what the Ukrainians need right now in Donbas,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, without elaborating.
Little else is known about the drones, including their range and precise capabilities, and Kirby declined to offer more details about them.
Still, he did say they were designed mainly for striking targets.
“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.
A small number of Ukrainians have been trained in the United States on how to operate Switchblade drones, single-use weapons that fly into their targets and detonate on impact.
Kirby said training for the Ghost drones would be similar to the training on the Switchblade. But he declined to detail training plans or say how many Ukrainians would be trained on the new system.
The Ghost drones have not yet been delivered to Ukraine.
Earlier on Thursday, Kirby said the drones had been rapidly developed for Ukraine. But later, at a news conference, he clarified that development had started before the Russian invasion on February 24.
“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,” Kirby said.