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Switchblade: Everything You Wanted to Know About Ukraine’s Kamikaze Drone

Switchblade Drone
Switchblade Drone. Image Credit: Industry Handout.

The AeroVironment Switchblade is essentially a flying kamikaze drone with a warhead attached. The Switchblade comes in two variants – the 300 and the heavier 600. The more common 300 variant is a super-portable machine. It measures two feet in length and weighs six pounds, and it launches from a tube using compressed air. The Switchblade 300 is so light and compact that a service member can carry one in his pack. Easy to carry, and easy to launch, the Switchblade 300 has proven valuable to troops engaging with long-range targets or seeking relief from enemy fire. 

The Switchblade is not a drone

The Switchblade is officially categorized as a “loitering munition,” for unlike a drone it is not recoverable once launched. This makes it more similar to a missile.

Once launched, the Switchblade 300 has a range of 6.2 miles and an operational window of 10 minutes – parameters insufficient for a scouting role. Instead, the Switchblade serves strictly as a weapon. It is akin to a kamikaze, launched to be destroyed. Through its color camera and GPS, a human operator uses a Ground Control Station to select and engage targets. Alternatively, the Switchblade can be pre-programmed to conduct a mission on autopilot. 

The Switchblade 300 is designed to deliver a precise blow, with a small warhead equivalent to a 40mm grenade. The warhead’s blast shoots pellets forward, in the direction of the Switchblade’s flight, rather than in a 360-degree circle. In theory, the forward-only blast reduces collateral damage. It can also be set to detonate at a predetermined altitude. Appropriate targets for the 300-variant include enemy personnel and light armored vehicles. The 600 variant, which uses an anti-tank guided missile warhead, can target armored vehicles.

To prevent enemy forces from obtaining the Switchblade, the device can self-destruct in-flight, even when no target is found. 

DARPA Roots

The Switchblade is the offspring of a mid-aughts DARPA program known as Close Combat Lethal Reconnaissance, or CCLR. The main difference is that CCLR relied on a fiber optic cable that spooled out behind the vehicle as it flew. The modern Switchblade uses a more sophisticated radio guidance system. 

The device was designed to meet the needs of U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan – especially the need to thwart enemy ambushes. The system was conceived as an alternative to Close Air Support, or CAS, a tactic in which suppressed troops call in, say, an A-10 Warthog to engage enemy suppressors. 

The problem with CAS is that suppressed troops have to sit tight and wait for supporting aircraft to arrive. CAS is also expensive and prone to causing collateral damage. The Switchblade, on the other hand, is relatively cheap, designed to minimize collateral damage, and capable of launching in moments. Of course, its single warhead is not as effective as a loitering A-10, but the tube-launched missile-drone is a nice option for troops hoping to increase their survivability.  

Switchblade Russia Ukraine

Switchblade drone. Image Credit: Industry handout.

Switchblade Ukraine

Switchblade drone. Image Credit: Industry handout.

Switchblade in Action

Afghanistan was the Switchblade’s proving ground. Introduced in late 2012, it proved to be a favorable supplement to the arsenals of the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, and special forces. By the end of Operation Enduring Freedom, roughly 4,000 Switchblades had been deployed. Another 350 were used in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State. 

The Switchblade made headlines in March, when the U.S. sent 100 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems to Ukraine as part of an $800 million weapons package. Each system may contain up to 10 devices. Just last week, video surfaced of a Ukrainian Switchblade 300 attack against Russian troops. The Switchblade seems like a new staple of U.S. warfighting, and it is likely a harbinger of future autonomous weapons development.     

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. CK

    May 10, 2022 at 9:43 am

    No offense to the author, but this is now the 4th or 5th article on this very same thing, and I have noticed the trend with other topics too.

    Is 19fortyfive just recyclying content now?

  2. Alex

    May 10, 2022 at 11:01 am

    And now, instead of tantrums and fantasies, let’s face it.

    Zelensky is a Kremlin agent.

    So in just two months:

    1. Actively extorted money from the West.

    2. Strengthened the ruble.

    3. In addition to the Crimea, he gave Donbass to Russia.

    4.. Turned off the gas at the whole of Europe, sending it to the Middle Ages.

    5. Ruined the pockets of drivers, farmers, entrepreneurs and manufacturers in the EU and the US.

    6. Since the beginning of the special operation, almost all major competitors from Russia have left, making room for Russian entrepreneurs.

    7. Begging for so many weapons that even Scholz said that the Bundeswehr was running out of weapons “for himself.”

    8. He collected all the crap of the Ukrainian Nazi subculture – tattooed Nazis, outcasts, idiots, maniacs, murderers from Europe and other countries in one place, where the Russians kill them in batches and promptly deliver them to Bandera.

    9. United the Russian people around their leader. Russia has never known such powerful support for the actions of the President and his cabinet during all the terms of his reign.

    10. He sent into emigration the entire corrupt beau monde of the Russian stage and cinema, with pockets full of “wishes” from the grateful Russian people.

    Never before has Russia been as good as under Zelensky.

  3. Alex

    May 10, 2022 at 12:47 pm

    Jim Chambers (Fergie Chambers) – a journalist from NY spoke about how he SAW the attacks of Ukrainian fascists on peaceful Ukrainians. He told how he SAW what horrors the Bandera Nazis were doing to the Ukrainians. He said that food and medicine appeared when the Russian Liberators came.

    He told how he SAW Nazi paraphernalia wherever the military of Ukraine abandoned their positions (swastikas, Mein Kampf books, paintings by Hitler, Bandera, etc.).

    He SAW how opponents of the regime of the Ukrainian authorities were detained, tortured and killed. He told how the people of Ukraine are waging their struggle for existence and for peace without Bandera Nazis. He spoke about how the Russian liberators help civilians and the Ukrainians ask the Russians not to leave. The Ukrainians are upset that the Russians came late, they should have come earlier.

    He said: “Our American weapons have only exacerbated the useless bloodshed in a battle that the Ukrainian fascists can never win. I am ashamed to carry an American passport with me. The world desperately needs a Russian victory: at the end of Ukrainian Nazism and at the end of the American NATO empire. World needs victory for freedom.”

  4. Alex

    May 11, 2022 at 12:16 pm

    A bit of truth.

    The head of the UN monitoring mission, Matilda Bogner, said that the organization has reliable information about the torture of Russian soldiers in Ukrainian captivity:
    “Ukraine and Russia must promptly and effectively investigate all allegations of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of war,” she said.

    The military-civilian administration of the Kherson region announced their intention to appeal to Putin with a request to include the region into Russia:
    “We intend to live as part of the Russian Federation. We fully cooperate and feel as one with the regions of Russia.”

    Pfizer, Moderna, Merck, Gilead are testing medicines in Ukraine, bypassing international safety standards, reducing the costs of research programs and gaining significant competitive advantages. Coronavirus vaccine manufacturers have been involved in US military biological activities.

    Along with American pharmaceutical companies and Pentagon contractors, Ukrainian state structures are involved in military biological activities, the main tasks of which are to conceal illegal activities, conduct field and clinical trials, and provide the necessary biomaterial.
    The American side expanded its research potential both in the field of creating biological weapons and in the field of obtaining information about antibiotic resistance and the presence of antibodies to various diseases in the population of specific regions.

    Ukraine has long become a training ground for Western countries to create biological weapons components and test new samples of pharmaceuticals.

    The United States, as part of its military biological program in Ukraine, used Mariupol as a regional center for work with the cholera pathogen.
    Evidence was obtained of the emergency destruction of documents confirming work with the US military department. A preliminary analysis of the surviving documentation indicates the use of Mariupol as a regional center for the collection and certification of the cholera pathogen.

    The selected strains were sent to the public health center in Kyiv, which is entrusted with the functions of further sending biomaterials to the United States.
    This activity has been carried out since 2014, which is confirmed by the acts of transfer of strains.

    Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Fox News recalled that the United States supplied weapons to Ukraine long before the start of the Russian special operation.
    “The Biden administration was supplying weapons long before the invasion. The first billion dollars that the president allocated for Ukraine did indeed include assistance with lethal weapons … The United States, Canada, Britain, other allies actually helped prepare the Ukrainians, ”Kirby quoted the TV channel as saying.

    As military experts and analysts had previously assumed, Ukraine would have brought down all its military power on the Donbass in any case, but Russia was the first to come to the aid of Donyuass.

    The world is watching. The world sees. Lies are dying.

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