Without drones, Ukraine’s defensive efforts against Russian forces would be impaired. Since the onset of the Kremlin’s invasion, Ukrainian forces have used a fleet of domestic and foreign unmanned aerial vehicles to thwart Moscow’s advance.
The use of lethal drones in combat first picked up during the 2021 Nagorno-Karabakh War between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Russian, Turkish, Israeli, and homegrown UAVs performed reconnaissance and strike missions throughout the 44-day conflict. Azerbaijan’s eventual success in the war could be largely attributed to its use of Turkey’s Bayraktar TB2 and Israeli IAI Harop loitering drones. UAVs have gone on to play a similar role in Russia’s invasion, as both Moscow and Kyiv rely on these uncrewed aircraft to fulfill a variety of mission sets, including reconnaissance, artillery spotting, and attacking armored vehicles and missile launchers.
The Switchblade’s Use in Ukraine
Several NATO member-states have supplied Ukraine with advanced and formidable weaponry over the last year. Among the platforms provided, though, the American Switchblade loitering drone stands out. This miniature UAV has proven to be a critical asset for Ukrainian forces, who have used them in missions to destroy Russia’s main battle tanks.
A widely circulated video released over the summer shows a Switchblade munition descending toward a Russian T-72. While the aftermath of the hit is not seen, the drone’s ability to reach premier Russian tanks is important for Ukraine’s defense.
More Switchblades Will Reach Ukraine Soon
The Switchblade’s success in the hands of Ukrainian forces has prompted the U.S. to supply the country with 100 more of these powerful loitering drones. Late last month, the White House revealed a new $800 million military aid package to Ukraine.
In addition to Switchblade drones, 2,000 Javelin anti-tank missile launchers, 1,000 light anti-armor weapons, and 6,000 AT-4 anti-armor systems will be delivered to Ukraine.
The Biden administration’s decision to include tactical drones in the package indicates a new phase of weapons being sent by the U.S. to Ukraine — previous shipments largely consisted of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons.
Constructed by Virginia’s AeroVironment, the small loitering drone could be a gamechanger for Ukraine. Tiny enough to fit into a backpack, the UAV can be easily transported from place to place and can be launched from virtually any location.
The entire weapon, including its launcher, payload, and transport bag, weighs a mere five and a half pounds. One of the Switchblade’s most promising capabilities is its so-called launch-and-forget targeting mechanism.
Soldiers can operate the drone remotely using a rechargeable battery. According to the Switchblade’s manufacturer, “[Unlike] radio-controlled devices, the operator is not flying the aircraft, the operator’s simply indicating what he wants to look at, what he wants the camera to be pointing at, and the onboard computer flies the aircraft to that point and maintains on target.”
Two variants of this formidable drone exist, the Switchblade 300 and Switchblade 600. The 300 model is lighter than its counterpart and is designed to hit smaller targets, while the 600 model is designed to take out tanks and other armored vehicles.
While U.S. officials have yet to disclose which model will be delivered to Ukraine, an influx of either variant would greatly aid Ukrainian forces in their fight against Russia.
Maya Carlin is a Senior Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.