Delays in Sending Switchblade 600 to Ukraine – Earlier this month, drone video footage released by the Ukrainian 53rd Mechanized Brigade reportedly showed an attack on a Russian machine gun position. It was believed to be the first record use of the American-made Switchblade loitering munitions by Ukrainian forces.
The Switchblade loitering munition, also known as a kamikaze or suicide drone, has been in the U.S. military’s arsenal for over a decade. Like other weapons in its class, it combines the characteristics of a small drone and guided missile. Once it finds a target, its operator has the ability to order it to “dive bomb” onto the mark, much like a missile.
The mini-drone is thus a “one-and-done” weapon that carries its own warhead and acts as a “kamikaze” where it flies to a target, and then strikes according to orders. Its name stems from its folding wings, which switch back into position after launch.
The tactical drones can be carried in rucksacks and released into the air by soldiers. The unmanned aerial systems have been successfully used to target tanks, armored vehicles, truck convoys, and artillery nests. There are currently two models and each has a different mission. The “300” is smaller and meant for anti-personnel attacks, whereas the “600” is a bit heavier with larger warheads; it is intended to take out tanks and armored vehicles.
These drones take only minutes to launch, yet can fly at least 100-miles per hour while the 600 model still weighs just 50-pounds. It can attack targets 24-miles away and loiter for 40-minutes. The interesting thing about the Switchblade is that its attack scheme can be called off if no target presents itself. The targeting is accomplished by GPS, but it can also be manually controlled. Its developers have suggested it would be highly effective against Russia’s slow-moving – and often stopped – convoys. Because of its compact size, it would be difficult for the Switchblade to be seen or heard until it is too late for a stopped vehicle to react.
Developed for Use in Afghanistan
Development of the Switchblade began in 2011, and it has proved to be the perfect weapon for the besieged fighters in Ukraine. It was initially conceived by the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), and developed with insight from the United States Army as a platform to allow warfighters to respond to enemy ambushes in Afghanistan.
According to AeroVironment, the developer of the Switchblade, there have been no known cases of any of the drones actually being shot down. However, the radio signals can be jammed, which is about the only effective means so far of countering the small but deadly loitering munitions. As a result, the drones have been successful, yet won’t be enough to completely defeat the Russian Army.
Wahid Nawabi, CEO of AeroVironment, said the company is now producing thousands of the Switchblade 300 drones and is ready to supply them to Ukraine. For Nawabi this is somewhat personal, as his family fled from Afghanistan in 1982 following the Soviet invasion.
To date, 700 Switchblade 300 drones have been sent to Ukraine as part of the United States arms package. The Ukrainian government has purchased an additional 10 Switchblade 600 drones, but according to reports this week, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) is still working out the details to supply the weapons to the Kyiv government, The Drive reported on Tuesday.
“In support of Ukraine, the Switchblade 600 is being procured under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative,” Defense Department spokesperson Jessica Maxwell said on May 10. “The Department has no active contract for Switchblade 600s and has only procured a small number of prototypes for research and development purposes.”
The Pentagon is now working to establish a contract to procure the drones, but the delivery date isn’t known.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.