What is Loitering Ammunition
Ukraine has turned into a testing ground for American weapons. Combat systems supplied to Kyiv from the NATO arsenal are tested there for the greatest effectiveness against Russian weapons. Now, in addition to the samples sent by the Armed Forces of Ukraine directly from the warehouses and parts of the NATO armies, the new package of deliveries to Ukraine also includes the so-called “kamikaze drones”, which, according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, have been modified specifically for the requirements of the Ukrainian army.
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It is strange that after that the United States continues to declare that it is not a party to the conflict in Ukraine. The facts that the Americans do not even consider it necessary to hide speak for themselves.
What is such loitering ammunition and why is it dangerous for Russian military personnel, together with experts, found out “MK”.
Let me remind you that the last $800 million military aid package announced by the United States to Ukraine was approved on April 21. In addition to 30,000 helmets and bulletproof vests, it includes such heavy weapons as 155-mm howitzers, 200 M113 armored personnel carriers, 11 Russian Mi-17 helicopters (at one time they were very requested from us, and then the Americans bought them to arm the Afghan army with them). army, since our helicopters were familiar to the Afghans and were better suited for operation in high altitude conditions).
This package of American deliveries also includes another 500 units of Javelin anti-tank systems, unmanned coastal defense systems, radars and much more. But most importantly, it has a novelty that most excited military experts. This is more than 120 pieces of Phoenix Ghost loitering ammunition (“Phoenix Ghost”), which is openly mentioned for the first time. It is not even clear yet whether the purchases of the Phoenix Ghost by the US Army are planned, or the Phoenix Ghost was made exclusively for the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU).
According to John Kirby, the appearance of the Phoenix Ghost ammunition and its main characteristics are not disclosed for reasons of secrecy. Although experts have no doubt that soon all this secrecy will be revealed, since in the very near future ammunition may appear on the front line. Unless, of course, a fundamental political decision is finally made to destroy the railway junctions and logistics centers used to deliver ammunition from Europe to the territory of Ukraine.
What is loitering ammunition?
According to leading military expert Viktor Murakhovsky, loitering ammunition should be classified as a separate category of weapons. Those who talk about them as drones are wrong in principle. In his Telegram channel, he writes: “They are more like a smart rocket than a plane. Like a rocket, these systems are expendable. Loitering ammunition is a disposable weapon designed to find and hit a target, giving it the nickname “kamikaze”.
By the way, AeroVironment itself, the manufacturer of the Switchblade loitering ammunition (“Folding Knife”), calls them “loitering missiles”. They are a kind of folding structure that is carried by combat crews and can be easily transported by any small transport, and, if necessary, unobtrusively deployed near the battlefield.
The ammunition has an electric motor, optoelectronic means of observation and target search and a warhead equipped with a high-explosive fragmentation or cumulative fragmentation charge. Such ammunition is launched into the air using a compact launcher.
Once in the air, the rocket projectile can loiter for quite a long time, looking for a target – hence its name. The time spent in flight depends on the specific model and may vary. For example, a number of such Israeli ammunition can stay in the air for up to nine hours.
As for the Phoenix Ghost loitering ammunition that the Americans are going to send to Ukraine, experts, based on various indirect data, conclude that that they can only last an hour in flight.
Loitering ammunition is launched in different ways, depending on the model. These may include a ground ejection system, a modified mortar tube, and a multi-rotor vertical lift. The device can also be controlled in the air in different ways. For example, it can “hunt”, looking for a target, with the help of an operator who “leads” the ammunition using a control station. Or, let's say, go on an autonomous flight. Both of these options can be used in combination.
It is still difficult to say how the Phoenix Ghost, which the Americans are going to supply the Armed Forces, is managed, but it is generally believed that in terms of its characteristics and combat capabilities it is close to the ammo of the Switchblade series of the American company AeroVironment.
They exist in two modifications. One is a variant of the Switchblade 300. They were developed in 2010-2011, after which these light loitering ammunition began to be purchased – $ 6,000 per ammunition – by the US Army, Special Operations Forces and the Marine Corps in large numbers.
Switchblade 300 is very compact, weighing 2.2 kg. It only takes a couple of minutes to get it up and running. After takeoff, such ammunition can be in the air for about 15 minutes, during which it can fly about 10 km. True, such a small ammunition is not capable of penetrating the armor of a tank.
There is another, more powerful modification of such ammunition, which has increased flight and combat characteristics – this is the Switchblade 600. It entered service with the US Navy and US special forces last year. The ammunition has a weight of 20 kg, preparation for work – up to 10 minutes, flight range – 40 km, loitering time in the air – about 40 minutes. An essential advantage of the Switchblade 600 is its ability to penetrate tank armor.
Depending on which of these two ammunition options the classified Phoenix Ghost is closer in terms of characteristics – which is not yet clear – the effectiveness of its use in Ukraine will depend.
What information is currently available about Phoenix Ghost?
It is known that it was made and finally tested over the past year by the Californian company AEVEX Aerospace, which had not previously dealt with such products. Her specialization is radio-electronic equipment for aviation. That is, it can be assumed that the electronic filling of the new ammunition is likely to become one of its advantages.
The question remains in what modification – light or heavier – is this ammunition made for Ukraine?
Back in March, the United States discussed the transfer of hundreds of Switchblade 300-type products to Ukraine. However, then Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin clarified that these were additional aid packages providing for the supply of loitering ammunition, including anti-tank ones. That is, one must understand that the Americans nevertheless decided to supply the Armed Forces of Ukraine with a heavier version of the ammunition, which, of course, will complicate the actions of the Russian troops. There is no doubt that the use of Phoenix Ghost can give Ukrainian troops a number of tactical advantages on the battlefield.
According to a number of military analysts, the use of the American Phoenix Ghost in the Armed Forces of Ukraine will give approximately the same effect that Azerbaijan provided itself with the use of similar ammunition and Turkish drones during the war in Karabakh. In fact, they believe, thanks to such weapons, Azerbaijan managed to turn the tide of the military operation in its favor, which, as a result, ensured its victory.
Some experts even argue that the use of loitering ammunition from a military point of view may be as important as the invention of gunpowder or the first use of a machine gun.
Not everyone agrees with this. The same Murakhovsky believes that Phoenix Ghost is too publicized. He recalls that in 2020, Azerbaijan stunned the Armenian military with Israeli-made Harop drones, which posed a constant aerial threat to Armenian troops with their nine-hour loitering and anti-tank capabilities. At the same time, Murakhovsky notes that “none of the models that are likely to be used in Ukraine are comparable to the Harop.”
The expert believes that thanks to the use of the American Phoenix Ghost, Ukrainian troops will undoubtedly be able to achieve tactical success, which will be accompanied by an informational advertising campaign that inflates the role of these weapons on the battlefield. However, Murakhovsky notes, another tactical tool will not be able to “turn the tide” of the war, and analysts should not confuse its influence with Azerbaijan's successful use of loitering ammunition.
Murakhovsky also points out that the Russian military has two systems comparable to anything Ukraine can build or acquire. The first system, the Lancet, was successfully used in Syria in 2021 by Russian special operations forces. The duration of its flight is from 30 to 40 minutes, the range is about 40 kilometers. Our troops can use these systems to support maneuver and siege operations, similar to the use of artillery.
Another type of kamikaze drone is the KUB. It has already been used in Ukraine. The device is used for autonomous positioning and hitting targets in specially designated areas. Russia did not advertise its use, however, the KUB shot down during the special operation did not explode, as a result of which the enemy, unfortunately, got the opportunity to get acquainted with its design.
In principle, there is nothing critical in this, since the design of such ammunition is not top secret.
The American Phoenix Ghost will actually also be tested in Ukraine. According to experts, the stock of loitering ammunition received from the Americans by the Armed Forces of Ukraine can be used up within a few days. But it is not certain that these deliveries will be the last.
According to Viktor Murakhovsky, the nature of the war is changing.
“Loitering ammunition is at the forefront of modern weapons,” he said. -.They are becoming a mandatory system, such as Javelins and man-portable air defense systems.