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How Switchblade drones could turn the tide of the war in Ukraine

As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged members of Congress for more aid against Russia on Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced an additional $800 million in aid to Ukraine.

Under the new massive military aid package, Ukraine will receive long-range missiles and 100 “tactical unmanned aerial systems,” as Biden called them. Specifically, they are Switchblade armed drones.

What are Switchblade drones?

Manufactured by AeroVironment, Inc., there are two types of Switchblade drones: the Switchblade 300 and the 600.

The former is intended to hit smaller targets, while the 600 is designed to hit tanks and large armored vehicles. The 300 is under 2 feet long and weighs just 5.5 pounds, according to manufacturer AeroVironment. Once launched, it can fly for up to 15 minutes over a range of 6 miles.

The Switchblade 600 is much heavier, weighing up to 50 pounds, but can fly for up to 40 minutes and on a range of over 25 miles. AeroVironment says it can be setup and up and running in less than 10 minutes.

Switchblade drones are single-use weapons. US Army officials have described them as flying shotguns, intended to explode when they hit their targets and not recoverable when thrown.

“The Kamikaze drone is an entirely apt description: the technology is much the same as the hand-launched tactical reconnaissance drones also supplied by AeroVironment, except it is a one-way mission with an explosive warhead,” said David Hambling, author of Swarm Troopers: how little drones will take over the worldRecount Newsweek.

This type of drone is extremely portable and can be carried in a backpack.

They can be fired from tubes and launched into the air like mortar shells, and they are capable of hitting Russian targets 25 miles away. They can be programmed to hit targets automatically and they’re fast enough to do so, dashing at speeds between 100 and 115 miles per hour.

Once the drone reaches its target, it detonates its warhead containing explosives. Any strike can be blocked by a “wave-off” option that allows operators to abort a mission if civilians are near the target.

According to AeroVironment, the drones are capable of delivering a “precision strike with very low collateral damage”.

Each Switchblade drone is equipped with a camera, guidance systems and explosives. Due to their size, they are difficult to detect for most air systems.

This image provided by the U.S. Marine Corps shows a Switchblade 300 10C drone system used in a training exercise at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Sept. 24, 2021. President Biden announced Wednesday that the United States will send 100 Switchblade drones to Ukraine.
Alexis Moradian/US Marine Corps via AP

How could they be used in Ukraine?

The United States could send to Ukraine either or both types of Switchblade drones available in the country: the Switchblade 300 and 600.

The drones would allow Ukrainian forces to hit targets beyond line of sight with lethal effects and “incapacitate multiple-launch rockets and artillery units”, according to Hambling.

Because the Switchblade’s warhead is designed to explode with minimal collateral damage, the drones would be the perfect weapons for the Ukrainians to avoid causing more destruction to their city while staging a counterattack against the Russians and avoiding civilian casualties.

The initial number of Switchblade drones that will be delivered to Ukrainian troops is something of a test, Hambling said.

“100 is a starter kit: the Ukrainians have never used this type of ammunition, so this batch will prove their worth and determine whether the United States should send Switchblades or something else,” he explained.

Switchblade drones were previously used against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2010, “and in Syria, judging by recovered remains,” Hambling said.

“They were allowed in situations where other, less discriminating weapons would have caused too much risk of collateral damage,” Hambling added. But despite “thousands of them having been used in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria,” Hambling said, “the US military never discusses their use and no video has ever been released as far as I know.” know”.

Among the expanded arsenal sent by the United States are also thousands of anti-armour weapons, missiles and rifles.

Follow Newsweek’s live blog for updates on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.


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