Drones are changing war

The war in Ukraine demonstrates this very well: UAVs have long been a part of modern warfare. Drones handle a variety of tasks, from surveillance to launching missiles.

According to the Pentagon, the United States has developed a new type of drone that meets the requirements of the Ukrainian military. “Phoenix Ghost” is the name of the unmanned aerial vehicle in question. “In discussions with the Ukrainians about their requirements, we felt that this particular system would be a very good fit for their needs, especially in eastern Ukraine,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

The development of the drone had already started before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. The intention now is to boost it so that it is even better adapted to the needs of the Ukrainians. More than 120 of these drones are to be delivered to Ukraine as part of a new $800 million US government military aid package. Since the announcement, there has been some discussion about the specifications of the Phoenix Ghost: What does it look like? How is it different from previous weapon systems?

Although not much is known yet, the Phoenix Ghost has been developed by the US defense company Aevex Aerospace in collaboration with the US Air Force. Pentagon spokesman Kirby added only that minimal training is required to operate the drone.

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The Switchblade backpack drone falls into the category of “loitering ammunition” or “loitering weapon”. “It’s kind of a cross between a missile and a drone,” Arthur Holland Michel, an author and senior fellow at the Carnegie Council on Ethics in International Affairs, in Barcelona, ​​tells DW.

Loitering munitions or weapons are remote-controlled weapons that are initially launched without a specific target, and then circle over a given area for a long time, until assigned a target by a ground operator via a data link. , and then they attack. Depending on the model, emerging targets can also be detected using their own sensor technology. Thus, these targets are classified and can be combated by means of an autonomously initiated attack. This category of weapons only became known during the Azerbaijani-Armenian war over Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020, when Azerbaijan used large numbers of such weapons.

The Switchblade drone is available in different versions. The smallest model weighs 2.5 kilograms, has a range of 10 kilometers and can stay in the air for 15 minutes. The largest version weighs almost 15 kilos and has a range of approximately 40 kilometers. You can fly for 40 minutes. Its advantage: “Unlike a large drone, you don’t need an airfield or a lot of infrastructure to launch it,” explains Michel. “And, unlike a missile, there’s enough time to identify the target, get situational awareness, and then literally fire the drone missile at the target out of the hand, or with the help of target recognition. That way, the capabilities of both weapon systems are combined.” Switchblade drones are also known as “kamikaze drones” because they self-destruct when attacked.

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The category of “larger drones” Michel is referring to includes the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 combat and reconnaissance drone. It is also being deployed in the war in Ukraine. The Turkish term “Bayraktar” means “standard bearer”. This drone was developed by the Baykar company in 2014, has a wingspan of twelve meters and a weight of 420 kilograms. It is totally autonomous and can remain in the air for 24 hours without interruption, reaching a flight altitude of 7,300 meters, with a maximum speed of 220 kilometers per hour. In autonomous mode, it can take off without the need for ground control and fly to a programmed target, explore it, return and land. Its maximum range is 150 kilometers.

The Ukrainian armed forces can now use a surveillance drone from the Bavarian company Quantum Systems for espionage missions. “Our first unmanned aircraft are already in Ukraine,” the head of that company, Florian Seibel, told the German media. Redaktions-Netzwerk Deutschland (RND). From the initial contact to the conclusion of the contract, only five days passed; shortly after, three Ukrainian fighters already sent a selfie with one of these drones to Bavaria.

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The German Vector drone is not a weapon in the strict sense. Cannot throw bombs; that’s not even planned. However, with the right digital link, it could form part of a weapons system, according to RND. And it is being especially in demand in recent times because its flight and video transfer technology is extremely advanced. The Ukrainians want to use the drone to optimally direct their artillery, for example, towards oncoming Russian tanks, and the Vector fits this requirement perfectly: it can be assembled without tools, it does not need a landing pad, despite its three-meter wingspan, and it even takes off vertically, like the Phoenix Ghost.

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