As part of the $800 million military support package of new weapons being sent to Ukraine by the U.S., there is mention of 100 “tactical unmanned aerial systems.” This, in addition to nearly 10,000 anti-tank weapons, 800 man-portable Stinger anti-aircraft systems, and thousands of rifles
But what are these tactical unmanned aerial systems? And why do they matter?
Well, these aren’t the large U.S. drones such as the Predator or Reaper, many think of when discussing military drones.
Instead, the 100 tactical unmanned aerial systems heading to Ukraine are small “Switchblade” drones, which are also known as “loitering missiles” or suicide drones.
As ABC News notes: “Unlike long-range Predator drones, which look similar to small planes and fire missiles at targets, the smallest Switchblade model fits in a rucksack and flies directly into targets to detonate its small warhead.”
They are a light, accurate munition that can help thwart ambushes or take out vehicles by loitering in the air for up to 30 minutes before being directed to its target by an operator on the ground, dozens of miles away.
More specifically, ABC News adds:
Less than 2-feet long and weighing only 5.5 pounds, the Switchblade 300 can be launched from a small tube that resembles a mortar, after which it can fly for up to 15 minutes. The larger Switchblade 600 is effective against armored targets and can fly for more than 40 minutes, but weighs 50 pounds, according to the manufacturer.
“These were designed for U.S. Special Operations Command and are exactly the type of weapons systems that can have an immediate impact on the battlefield,” said Mick Mulroy, former deputy assistant secretary of defense and an ABC News national security and defense analyst.
While the weapon was first fielded in Afghanistan by U.S. special operations forces, they were quickly picked up by the Army and Marine Corps.
The U.S. official could not say whether the smaller or the larger of the systems would be included in the 100 units destined for Ukraine, or both.
But ABC News notes: “both Switchblades use onboard sensors and GPS to guide them to their targets. Both also have a ‘wave-off’ feature so that human operators can abort an attack if civilians appear near the target or if the enemy withdraws.”
19fortyfive explains how Switchblades are also difficult to defend against:
Operators program the Switchblade to destroy a target up to 50 miles away. When the weapon is launched it can avoid enemy fire with its cameras and guidance system. Switchblades then can fly around the target for 40 minutes until the fire control mechanism determines it is advantageous to strike. Once the target is engaged the heavier Switchblade 600 drone flies down to paydirt at 115 miles per hour to pierce a tank’s armor. The Switchblade 300 is lighter at 5.5-pounds and can only hover for 15 minutes before it hits troops in the open.
And they are also affordable and simple to use.
The Switchblades are tube-launched weapons that can be carried in a rucksack. The remote-controlled smart bombs are easy to use and cost effective with a price of around $6,000 each. They may have been the weapons used by Americans to kill Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in 2020 who was the Quds force commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
With the Switchblade, the Ukrainians will have a small but powerful weapon to supplement the anti-tank Javelins and NLAWs, and the Punisher and Bayraktar TB2 drones. The relatively small number being sent could mean they will be provided to select Ukrainian special forces only to protect their sensitive tech.
But while some worry about their advanced tech falling into Russian hands, others are asking why aren’t we sending way more of them? ADN