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Switchblade drones: Giving Ukraine an edge on the battlefield

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The formidable Switchblade drone could prove to be a game-changer in the war in Ukraine.

In March, the Piden administration announced that it would send 100 Switchblade 300 drones to assist Ukraine against Putin’s war of aggression and terror.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky was initially elated, however, he then said that 100 Switchblade 300s will be too few and he’d rather receive the more powerful Switchblade 600s. While the Ukrainian president’s reaction may seem a bit ungrateful, he is speaking out of desperation and fear for his country.

Now, the Pentagon has revealed that it is sending 600 additional Switchblades to Ukraine bringing the total to 700.

Switchblade design and function

Switchblade drones are transported in a tube which also serves as a launch platform. The tube is set up like a little mortar on the ground. Once the drone leaves the launch tube its wings snap out into operation and the propulsion system activates.

The operator directs it on a path and monitors the orientation of the drone with live High Resolution (HR) streaming video to the Ground Control Unit (GCU). A target is identified and locked onto by the GCU at which point it flies autonomously to its destination.

Switchblade is single-use and therefore categorized as a suicide-class weapon. It also has an extensive loitering time, which identifies it also as a loitering munition. Once locked onto a target the Switchblade has the unique ability to stalk its “prey” for upwards of 10 minutes before it is cut loose on it. If a situation causes a strike to be aborted, the operator can call off the Switchblade and re-target it. The drone has proven that it can also be successfully launched from moving vehicles and even aircraft.

Related: Everything We Know About the Air Force’s New Drone Stealth Bomber Effort

A soldier launches a Switchblade drone
A fire team member launches a pair of Switchblade suicide drones at enemy targets. (WarHistoryOnline)

The Switchblade 300 is two feet long and weighs six pounds. It can impact a target at speeds of up to 98 mph and is compatible with GCUs of other military surveillance drones such as the Wasp, Raven, and Puma.

The Switchblade 600 weighs 50 pounds. It is set up in 10 minutes and flies out to 25 miles to loiter for 20 minutes. Its maximum attack speed is 115 mph. Impressively, the Switchblade 600 carries a Javelin warhead giving it the ability to defeat virtually Any Known Armor (AKA). However, it doesn’t carry the rest of the Javelin AT rocket’s configuration.

Anti-tank weapons such as TOWs and Javelin are very destructive, but they have zero loiter time. Raven and Puma have formidable surveillance loiter times but no attack capability. Switchblade brings to the table a surveillance platform with decent loiter times and a deadly strike.

The Switchblade’s impact

Switchblade drone launch
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Isiah Enriquez, a native of Lubbock, Texas, and a rifleman with 1st Battalion, 2d Marine Regiment (1/2), 2d Marine Division (2d MARDIV), launches a Switchblade Drone during a training exercise at Camp Lejeune, NC, July 7, 2021. (Photo by Pfc. Sarah Pysher/USMC)

It turns out that the 100 Switchblade 300 drones the US had at first sent to Ukraine were just the initial supply. Perhaps the U.S. wanted to first see the results first of the Switchblade 300s’ shipment before committing to more drones or Switchblade 600s: never go all or nothing if it can be prevented. The drones are ours to partition rationally or to squander.

The US strategy could be to start by giving Ukraine smaller weapons systems that are faster to move in-country and easier to train soldiers on with a reasonable expectation of lethality to armored targets. Then, bump up the numbers and lethal potential of the drone models until a full contingent of numbers and level of lethality are achieved.

Although Ukraine may feel slighted by the number and variant of Switchblade, it continues to regard the United States as its staunchest ally and saving grace in its time of most need.

By Almighty God and with honor,

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George Hand

Master Sergeant US Army (ret) from the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. In service, he maintained a high level of proficiency in 6 foreign languages. Post military, George worked as a subcontracter for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on the nuclear test site north of Las Vegas Nevada for 16 years. Currently, George works as an Intelligence Analyst and street operative in the fight against human trafficking. A master cabinet-grade woodworker and master photographer, George is a man of diverse interests and broad talents.