Meet the Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems: As part of the latest $800 million military aid package announced by the White House this week, Ukraine is set to receive another batch of 300 Switchblade tactical unmanned aerial systems.
A batch of 100 Switchblade drones was pledged to Ukraine in mid-March, making this latest pledge of 300 drones a substantial increase that could vastly improve Ukraine’s response to Russian fighters as they head eastward. 10 Switchblade drones were pledged in an additional $300 million package sent earlier this month.
What is the Switchblade Unmanned Aerial System?
Designed by AeroVironment, the Switchblade is a drone that delivers a loitering munition that can be used to deploy ammunition at targets with precision. In use since 2011, the Switchblade 300 and 600 models have been in use by the United States military since 2011. Both models offer their own benefits, with the smaller 300 model designed to crash into targets while detonating and the larger 600 model designed to destroy armored vehicles.
The larger 600 model was first revealed in 2020. It is roughly ten times the weight of the original 300 model, the latter of which is designed to be transported in a rucksack.
There are also multiple other variants within those two categories of drone.
“AeroVironment has developed a number of Switchblade variants to address unique customer requirements. One such variant is Blackwing, which is launched from submerged U.S. Navy submarines using an underwater-to-air delivery canister,” AeroVironment explains in official documentation. “Its mission is to provide rapid ISR capability to submarine crews. AeroVironment worked closely with another company to integrate Blackwing into the delivery canister.
The smaller 300 variant has a flight time of 15 minutes and the larger 40 minutes, as well as ranges of 10km and 40km respectively.
China Is Watching
A report from Business Insider speculated that China could be watching to see how effective the Switchblade drones are in Ukraine, with at least five drones having been developed by Chinese state-owned groups and private firms.
Perhaps the most impressive drone of the bunch is the CH-901 drone which has appeared at multiple defense shows over the last six years. The drone, which was developed by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology group, looks similar to the Switchblade on the outside with wings and a tail that can be folded into a launch time. The wings unfold after being fired, allowing the drone to stabilize itself while in mid-air.
Notably, however, the Chinese drone is substantially slower than the Switchblade 600. Though, this is countered by the fact that the Chinese variant can be used as many as 20 times – compared to the 600-model Switchblade that can only be used once.
With Switchblades now playing a substantial role in Ukraine’s fight against Russia, China may be watching to see how well the drones perform and how they can be improved.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.