Despite the supposed wind down in Afghanistan, US troops now have thekamikaze Switchblade drone – though some say go out of their way to say it’s not actually a drone – in their already massive arsenal, though the military won’t say how often it has been used.
I first mentioned the Switchblade in late 2011, though the military’s procurement of the drones was reported in October of 2011. It has come up a few times since then when dealing with tiny laser-guided bombs for small drones and an article on the future of drone technology from June of last year.
The Switchblade, developed by AeroVironment, is billed as a drone capable of providing soldiers “with a back-packable, non-line-of-sight precision strike solution with minimal collateral effects.”
Put more simply, it is a quite small drone that can be either piloted remotely or completely autonomously, can glide or use a quiet electric motor and gather real-time video and GPS data for “information gathering, targeting, or feature/object recognition.”
“The vehicle’s small size and quiet motor make it difficult to detect, recognize, and track even at very close range,” according to AeroVironment, though the most noteworthy feature is its ability to use the data gathered to crash itself into a target.
“Its tiny warhead detonates on impact,” wrote Time when it was included in their Best Inventions of the Year 2012 list. “In effect, it makes fighters in the field their own air support.”
It has now been confirmed that the Switchblade is indeed in use by US troops in Afghanistan.
“Switchblade is in use in Afghanistan and has proven to be a very effective tool in our campaign,” said the 3rd Infantry Division’s Lt. Col. Ben Garrett, a spokesman for U.S. troops in southern Afghanistan, to Danger Room.
The military refused to get into anything specific and would not say anything about “deployment, effectiveness, distribution or tactical employment” of the Switchblade drone.
While Garrett said it has been “very effective,” he would not say anything about how many times it has been used, how accurate it is or even “the breakdown between its surveillance missions and its lethal ones,” according to Danger Room.
Danger Room has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the US Central Command in an attempt to obtain more information about the Switchblade, but the military presence there is becoming increasingly secretive.
Most recently, the International Security Assistance Force, the US-NATO military command in Afghanistan, stopped publishing all information on Taliban attacks in the country.
Despite the lack of public information on the Switchblade, Defense News reported last month that commanders in Afghanistan asked for more than the budget could handle.
“Theater came in and said, ‘We need dramatically more’” than the 75 initially supplied in late 2012, Col. Pete Newell, the Rapid Equipping Force’s (REF) director, said. “So now it really is an Army discussion because it exceeded my budget.”
Newell also went out of his way to state that the Switchblade is actually “a direct fire munitionand not a drone.”
“If a mission has to be canceled because the target has fled into a house that might contain non-combatants, the operator can safely ‘dump’ the explosives it is carrying elsewhere before landing,” wrote Paul McLeary.
AeroVironment, on the other hand, calls it a “loitering munition for use against beyond-line-of sight (BLOS) targets” capable of “wave-off/recommit capability,” though it’s really just a game of semantics.
Whatever you call it, the Switchblade is clearly something the US military likes and will continue to use, despite the fact that we have essentially no clue how they’re actually using it.
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