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US Supplies Switchblade Kamikaze Drones to Ukraine to Fight Russian Troops

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A US Marine launches a Switchblade drone during an exercise on September 2, 2020.

An $800 million shipment of US aid to Ukraine is packed with weapons designed to take on Russian invaders.

These include FGM-148 anti-tank weapons, FIM-92 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, and AT-4 anti-tank missiles. In addition, grenade launchers, protective vests and several million bullets of ammunition. And that’s just part of the aid that the United States is sending to kyiv.

Also included in the latest shipment are 100 Switchblade unmanned systems, also known as “kamikaze drones,” which could make life even more difficult for Russian troops.

switch blade

An American soldier prepares a knife

An American soldier prepares a knife

Originally developed to combat insurgents in Afghanistan, the Switchblade has become a staple of the US military arsenal for both conventional and special ops operations. There are two versions of the drone that differ in ammo size: the Switchblade 300 and the Switchblade 600.

The Switchblade 300 is equipped with a Claymore-sized explosive charge made up of C-4 explosives and hundreds of small metal balls. Your goal is to finish off the infantry and artillery targets. The drone weighs about two 60 centimeters and about 2.2 kilograms. It can be fired from a mortar-like tube at a speed of 160 kilometers per hour, but has a very short range of 15 minutes or 9.7 kilometers. This turns the Switchblade 300 into a tactical bullet.

The Switchblade 600 has a larger payload and a longer range of 40 minutes, or nearly 24 miles. At 112 km/h, its speed is below the Switchblade 300, but at 54 kilograms it is also significantly heavier. Your goal is to attack tanks and armored targets.

Both guided missile systems have an onboard sensor with GPS tracking that guides them to the target. So they can hit both moving and stationary targets. The missiles also have a “deactivate” function that allows the operator to cancel an attack. For example, when civilians approach the target.

This is what a switch blade looks like

This is what a switch blade looks like

The US military has been using the Switchblade 300 since the early 2010s and in September awarded Aero Vironment a $20 million order for the Switchblade 600.

“They are very effective because they create a certain distance between the operator and the target. They have been very effective in Syria and Iraq against ISIS,” a member of the US special forces Green Beret told Insider.

IS fighters often tried to attack special operations teams with car bombs. “On some rare occasions, we’ve used switchblades to knock them out on the road.” They are also a good option for urban warfare because you can be very precise and avoid collateral damage, added the Green Berets member, who is not actually allowed to speak to the media.

In addition to conducting strikes, switchblades can also be used for target acquisition, reconnaissance, and surveillance, helping officers better understand the situation in a contested area.

The Switchblade 600 can “track and engage concealed targets and light armored vehicles with lethal precision,” said Brett Hush, vice president and product line manager for tactical missile systems at Aero Vironment. The Model 600 can also be easily transported and deployed from fixed and mobile platforms.

Guided missile systems compared to drones

a great drone

a great drone

The difference between small drones, like the Switchblade, and large ones is simple: the former are designed as consumables. Large drones, in turn, should present reconnaissance and attack options to officers.

Once fired, there is no turning back for missile systems. They are tactical in nature and are intended to resolve conflicts involving a small unit on the ground. For example, a ground force in Afghanistan would use a Switchblade 300 to pick off Taliban fighters escaping from a camp on a motorcycle.

Larger drones, such as the MQ-9 Reaper or RQ-4 Global Hawk, are designed in such a way that they can monitor a contested area almost entirely. This should allow officers in the field and at headquarters to make more informed decisions. Armed drones, like Reapers, can also provide close air support or precision strikes.

Another advantage of missile systems is that they are cheaper. An MQ-9 costs $56 million and the missile that the drone fires costs more than $100,000. Meanwhile, a Switchblade 300 costs around $6,000.

However, both are called “unmanned aerial systems” and, despite the different functions, they are a cost-effective way to track and engage enemy forces, while offering low risk to those who operate the drones.

This text was translated from English by Luca Schallenberger. You can find the original here.

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