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The Switchblade Drone Strikes Again in Ukraine War

Switchblade Drone. Image Credit: Industry Handout.
Switchblade Drone. Image Credit: Industry Handout.

Drone warfare plays a significant role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both sides in the conflict have deployed a variety of domestic and foreign-produced unmanned aerial vehicles. Russia notably uses Iran-designed lethal drones to launch barrages at Ukraine’s infrastructure and military assets, while Kyiv has turned primarily to homegrown or Western-provided UAVs to aid its defense. Ukraine has also effectively used the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 combat drone to target Russian forces on the front lines. These UAVs first showed how formidable they are during the 2021 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. 

Since drones are cheaper, easier to produce, and simpler to use than other weapons, it makes sense that Moscow and Kyiv continue to lean heavily on them. 

Ukrainian Drones vs Russian Tanks

Footage published last week by The Sun shows a Ukrainian drone striking Russian main battle tanks. In the minute-long video, a Russian tank appears to be targeted in a strike and erupts in flames. According to Ukraine’s 128th mountain assault brigade, the drone hit Russian tanks in the settlement of Zherebianky as the armored vehicles sought to attack Ukrainian positions nearby in the city of Piatykhatky. 

Russian tanks have not fared well. Some analysts calculate that Moscow has lost at least half of its advanced MBT fleet. Last month Kyiv went further, claiming that Russia’s total tank losses might exceed 4,000. However, it has been increasingly difficult to collect accurate figures surrounding the invasion, since both Moscow and Kyiv have strategic reasons to skew numbers in their favors. 

Perhaps Russia has not yet lost 4,000 MBTs, but all industry experts agree that the real figure is very high. In addition to strikes and anti-tank weapons, Russia has seen scores of its tanks captured by Ukrainian forces or left behind on the frontlines. Lacking adequate training, logistics, and hierarchy, Russian troops are not equipped to fix broken parts and are sometimes sent off without the necessary amount of fuel. 

Introducing the Switchblade 

Among the many weapons provided to Ukraine by the U.S. and its NATO allies, drones have been especially useful for the destruction of Russian tanks. One tank-killing UAV Kyiv has used successfully is the American-made Switchblade drone. This loitering miniature UAV is small enough to fit in a backpack, meaning Ukrainian troops can easily transport the device and can launch it from virtually any location. The entire Switchblade UAV, including its launcher, transport bag, and payload weighs roughly five and a half pounds. The drone may be small, but it is also mighty. Equipped with a fire-and-forget mechanism, the UAV does not require external intervention post-launch. 

Soldiers are also able to operate the drone remotely using a rechargeable battery. According to the Switchblade’s manufacturer, AeroVironment, Inc., “[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.”  

As Kyiv’s counteroffensive presses on, the Switchblade will certainly continue to perform. 

Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is 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. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin

Written By

Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is 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.