Ukraine to get Switchblade ‘kamikaze drones’ from US. What are they?

23 March 2022, 07:01 PM

The Biden administration is considering providing Ukraine with Switchblade tactical unmanned aerial systems, also known as “kamikaze drones.”

Until now, Ukraine has used several types of drones to monitor the movements of the enemy, as well as destroy its equipment and personnel.

Naturally, Turkey’s Bayraktars, which have proved highly effective, are the stars: these drones have brought about the destruction of over 50 units of various types of Russian military equipment: from anti-aircraft missile systems, to trains and trucks with fuel.

Video of day

However, in the near future, the Ukrainian army may be equipped with a new high-tech weapon: Switchblade kamikaze drones. Several U.S. media were quick to report that the assistance that the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden decided to allocate on March 16 will include 100 new drones, which until now were in service only in the United States and the United Kingdom.

The U.S. army itself used Switchblade drones in Afghanistan, but never reported on their effectiveness.

What is this weapon?

The drones are manufactured by the U.S. company AeroVironment, which openly supports Ukraine in the war against Russia: “AeroVironment standswith the people of Ukraine and all of NATO. Ukraine and our eastern European allies need these solutions now to win against the Russian military and strategically deter future aggression,” the statement on the company’s website reads. However, AeroVironment representatives are yet to comment on the potential transfer of Switchblades to Ukraine.

The Switchblade is called a kamikaze drone for a reason. Its operator can quickly launch the drone, select a target and get the drone flying directly into it. All this happens quickly enough and at a safe distance for the operator.

It is a small drone, equipped with cameras, guidance systems, and warheads, that can reach speeds of about 100 km/h. The drone uses real-time GPS coordinates and video, allowing it to quickly and accurately determine the target and inflict maximum damage.

They can be described as single-use Bayraktars, which, at the same time, are much cheaper than the missiles that combat drones are equipped with. According to some estimates, the “low-end” version of the Switchblade costs about $6,000, while its small dimensions, high speed and silent flight (ensured by electric motors) make them virtually invulnerable to the enemy.

Another advantage of the Switchblade is the ability of the operator to change the target at the last moment, if the circumstances change dramatically following the launch of the drone. This cannot be done with afired warhead. Thus, the operator can adjust the impact of the drone as accurately as possible, safeguarding civilians or nearby objects to the greatest possible extent.

“It's like a more accurate version of the Javelin missile. Both systems can hit a building, but the Switchblade can hit the right window in that building, allowing it to destroy targets with incredible accuracy. Thus, a small group can defeat an important enemy position or vehicle from a safe distance,” one of the operators familiar with the system says, describing its capabilities.

The new drones will be an ideal weapon for the Ukrainian army, which operates in active defense mode, conducting devastating counterattacks and breaking the enemy’s supply lines.

There are two versions of drones: Switchblade-300 and Switchblade-600

The Switchblade-300 is the "low-end" version of the munition, with a warhead equivalent to the 40mm grenade used in a grenade launcher, making the drone most effective against infantry and lightly armored vehicles. It is noted that the charge can detonate both in the air and upon direct contact with the target.

This is a compact drone with a length of 61 cm, which, together with a carrying case and a launcher, weighs only 2.7 kg – that is, it fits in a regular backpack. Its small size allows it to be launched from various air, sea, and land platforms.

The drone can stay in the air for up to 15 minutes and is controlled from a distance of about 10 kilometers. The cruising speed of the drone is about 100 km/h; during the attack, the drone can accelerate to 161 km/h, which makes it almost impossible for the enemy to hit.

The Switchblade-600 is a larger version of the drone that is used against tanks and heavy armored vehicles. It is much heavier than its smaller sibling with a total weight of 23 kilograms, but has a longer range (up to 40 km), a long battery life (up to 40 minutes) and a higher attack speed (up to 185 km/h).

The exact cost of the drone is unknown, but it is definitely lower than Javelin-type missiles, which are already extensively used by the Ukrainian army.

Currently, it remains unknown what type of drones Ukraine will get. Experts believe that the Ukrainian army will receive both types of kamikaze drones, but it is not clear in what proportions.

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It is also important to understand that it will take time for the technology to come into full use. Like any other weapon, kamikaze drones require time for specialists to become familiar with their capabilities, to learn how to control them, and to use them effectively in combat conditions.

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