President Biden has announced a new military aid package to Ukraine worth $800 million to provide the Ukrainian Armed Forces with more weapons. The new Russian offensive into Donbas requires that the Ukrainian forces be resupplied with proper munitions that would suit the environment in eastern Ukraine, which is why the US has sent the package. This new military aid includes heavy artillery such as 72 155mm howitzers, 144,000 rounds of artillery, and Phoenix Ghost drones.

“In the past two months, we’ve moved weapons and equipment to Ukraine at record speed. We’ve sent thousands of anti-armor and anti-missile, helicopters, drones, grenade launchers, machine guns, rifles, radar systems. More than 50 million rounds of ammunition,” he said.

“The United States alone has provided 10 anti-armor systems for every 1 Russian tank that’s in Ukraine. A 10 to 1 ratio,” he further explained.

“This is money the government can help use to stabilize their economy, to support communities that have been devastated by the Russian onslaught, and pay the brave workers that continue to provide essential services to the people of Ukraine,” the President said.

Along with this new military aid package, he also announced that the US would be sending $500 million in direct economic assistance to the Ukrainian government. However, as he continually sends military aid to Ukraine, his authority to draw from the US military stockpiles will surpass $3 billion. Thus, he will need to ask Congress for more funding if the US wants to continually supply Ukraine.

“With the latest disbursement, I’ve almost exhausted the drawdown authority I have that Congress authorized for Ukraine in a bipartisan spending bill last month. In order to sustain Ukraine for the duration of this fight, next week I’m gonna have to be sending to Congress a supplemental budget request to keep weapons and ammunition flowing without interruption to the brave Ukrainian fighters,” he explained.

“My hope is, my expectation is Congress would move and act quickly,” Biden said.

This announcement followed a previous $800 million military support package last April 13th. This package also included heavy artillery systems like the 155mm howitzers, 500 Javelin missiles, 300 Switchblade drones, and 11 Mi-17 helicopters, among other equipment.

“We’re in a critical window now of time where they’re going to set the stage for the next phase of this war,” Biden said, saying that the United States is moving as fast as possible to get the weapons in Ukrainian hands.

As Biden explained in passing, the new military support package is tailored to the environment in Donbas. This was echoed by an unnamed senior US Defense official who said that the new weapons package was specifically given to Ukraine for them to be able to fight toe-to-toe in intensified fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine. Another defense official said that these military aid packages would be going to Ukraine within the next 24 to 48 hours.

“The first rounds of that equipment will be in the Ukrainian hands by the end of the weekend,” the second official said to CNBC.

Secret Phoenix Ghost Drones to Ukraine

One of the new weaponry that the US is sending to Ukraine is the Phoenix Ghost drone. According to Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby, these drones were “rapidly developed by the Air Force” specifically for the Ukrainians.

These drones are manufactured by Aevex Aerospace in Solana Beach, California, which is said to function similar to the Switchblade unmanned aerial systems that were earlier sent to Ukraine, but were not exactly the same. Not a lot is known about this new loitering kamikaze munition. However, it is said to require minimal training to operate, making it very easy for the Ukrainians to use. Some 121 units of the drones were made specifically for use in the Donbas region.

U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jonathan Altamirano, a fire support Marine with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO), I Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, launches a lethal miniature aerial missile system during an exercise at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Sept. 2, 2020. During the exercise, 1st ANGLICO’s mission was to launch, locate, track, lock and engage a simulated enemy target with an unmanned aerial system. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Jennessa Davey). Source: https://www.dvidshub.net/image/6368008/1st-anglico-trains-with-uas
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Jonathan Altamirano, a fire support Marine with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO), I Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, launches a lethal miniature aerial missile system during an exercise at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Sept. 2, 2020. During the exercise, 1st ANGLICO’s mission was to launch, locate, track, lock, and engage a simulated enemy target with an unmanned aerial system. The new Phoenix Ghost drone is said to function similarly to the Switchblade. (DVIDS, U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Jennessa Davey)

“There are other differences in the scope of capability for the Phoenix Ghosts, but I’m just not going to be able to get into more detail about those capabilities right now,” Kirby said.

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“It provides the same sort of tactical capability that a Switchblade does. Switchblade is a one-way drone, if you will, and it clearly is designed to deliver a punch. It’s a tactical UAS, and Phoenix ghost is of that same category,” Kirby explained, who was knowingly holding back details of the munition, possibly due to its classified nature.

Breaking Defense’s Valerie Insinma called Aevex Aerospace to ask about the specifications of the munition but was quickly shot down, with a representative saying, “We have no comment on the issue you are calling about.”

“So you have no comment on the company’s work on Phoenix Ghost?” she asked.

“No, we do not,” they replied.

However, retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies and a member of the Aevex board, told POLITICO that the Phoenix Ghost was a “one-way aircraft that is effective against medium armored ground targets.” The drone can reportedly take off vertically, fly for 6 hours, and operate at night using its infrared sensors. Lt. Gen. Deptula recently wrote for SOFREP about the difficulties of maintaining a No-Fly zone over Ukraine that you can read here.

According to Aevex’s company website, it describes itself as a company that is a “leader in full-spectrum airborne intelligence solutions,” which provides flight test support for the development of new aircraft, the operation of unmanned aircraft systems, and provides post-mission collection analysis.

That being said, the company does not seem to be a UAV manufacturer but does seem to have the capabilities to provide the technology and engineering to develop a UAV – possibly ways to control the UAV or its inner mechanisms. This is completely plausible as AEVEX was awarded a contract in 2021 by the US General Services Administration to design and engineer sensors of a “special missions aircraft, manned, and unmanned.” The 10-year contract was said to be worth $2 billion and falls under the ASTRO program.

The ASTRO program, according to their website, “is a broadly scoped series of contract vehicles encompassing virtually all services supporting or involving manned, unmanned, or optionally manned platforms and robotics,” which may mean that AEVEX may be working in collaboration with other companies to build a UAV such as the Phoenix Drone.

Thus far in the conflict, Ukraine has been conducting a master class in the employment of drones in the contested airspace over their country, conducting hundreds of sorties providing spotting and recon for missile strikes, air strikes, artillery barrages and most recently as decoys in its cruise missile strike on the cruiser Moskva in the Black Sea.