AeroVironment’s Switchblade drones provide a powerful folding aircraft to Ukrainians running Kamikaze drone missions.
What exactly are these folding Switchblade drones we keep hearing about in the news? Is the weapon system being sent to Ukraine really even a drone? The interest in these Kamikaze aircraft has grown increasingly popular since the Ukrainian deployment. These aircraft systems have been commonly confused with drone systems.
Before we deep dive into understanding all about the Switchblade or Suicide drones, first, let’s understand what exactly is a switchable drone. How does it differ from other drones?
Many drone pilots have been fielding questions on these Kamikaze systems since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The popularity of this particular platform has garnished significant attention as the system has provided a substantial tactical advantage for the Ukrainian forces.
While many in the media have called this system a Drone, even manufacturer AeroVironment classifies the system as a weapons system on the website. Since pilots do not have direct manual control of the aircraft, it is not remotely controlled. The pilot can initiate a loitering pattern to regain the targeting lock. The pilots’ controls beyond loitering are limited.
We would lean away from classifying this aircraft as a drone or UAV. However, the system does provide a great opportunity for Pilots who are accomplished at creating flight plans.
Also, the U.S. military regulations classify the Switchblade as a weapon rather than a remote-controlled aircraft. They prefer to use the term “loitering munition” instead of “drones”.
Switchblade uses infrared cameras, and radio frequency to operate and it also locks on to moving and stationary targets using an “aided target tracker”.
There are generally two types of drones – fixed-wing drones and rotary-winged drones.
Fixed-winged drones are powered by propellers whereas rotary-winged drones are powered using rotor blades.
A switchable drone is a hybrid between both the aforementioned types of drones. This type of drone uses both the propeller and rotor blade system.
Switchblade drones or Kamikaze drones (also known as suicide drones) designed by AeroVironment are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can be flown by remote control and have blades for propulsion. These suicide drones are small enough to be carried in a backpack and sharp enough to fly to the targeted destination and crash into their intended targets.
The term “switchblade” defines the folding of spring-loaded wing blades that fold up inside a cylindrical container and unfold once they’re released.
The first Switchblade drone, the Switchblade 300, was introduced in 2011. Its much larger and very different anti-armor version Switchblade 600 was revealed in 2020. The BlackWing, an unarmed variant of SwitchBlade 300, was released in 2015.
The SwitchBlade 600 is a man-portable, anti-armor smart missile system that can be set up in less than ten minutes. It has the best-in-class target acquisition sensor suite and mission planning on a tablet controller.
Switchblade 600 represents a new generation of long-ranged loiterers, offering unparalleled Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (RSTA) support and boasting high-precise optics, as well as an anti-armor warhead for engaging toughened targets at larger distances.
Switchblade 600 is an all-in-one, man-portable system that comes with everything needed to properly plan and carry out missions. The Switchblade 600 provides the warfighter with the capability to operate, detect, and engage non-LOS (line-of-sight) targets and armored vehicles with precise lethality without the need for external intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) or fire support assets.
With patented “wave-off” and “recommit” capabilities, Switchblade operators can abort missions at any time and then engage the same or different targets multiple times.
The Switchblade 300 drone series system is a relatively light single-use weapons system and is designed as an expendable UAV to improve the accuracy of fire from platoons of soldiers.
It has a range of up to six miles (10kms). It has a short battery power of just ten minutes so it won’t run for long. It’s not suitable for scouting, but it’s good for cheaply reaching out to long-range targets and helping relieve units pinned down by the enemies’ fire. It uses a color sensor and GPS locating technology to detect, track, and engage its target, as well as being capable of being pre-programmed on a collision path. Light armored soldiers and vehicles can be demolished by its warhead, which has an explosive force equal to a 40mm grenade.
Supporting conventional or special operations forces in the field or from fixed defensive positions, the combat-proven Switchblade 300 with its patented wave-off feature is the ideal loitering missile for use against beyond-line-of-sight targets. Backpackable and rapidly deployable from air, sea, or ground platforms, Switchblade 300 delivers increased warfighter lethality with real-time GPS coordinates and video for precise targeting with low collateral effects.
With its distinctive wave-off function, the combat-proven Switchblade 300 is the perfect loitering missile for use against beyond-line-of-sight targets, supporting conventional or special operations forces in the field or from established defensive positions. Switchblade 300 is portable and easily deployed from any platform i.e. land, air, or water. Its real-time GPS coordinates and video feed increases warfighter lethality and allow operators to target precisely with minimum collateral damage.
The excellent ISR capabilities of AeroVironment‘s sUAS (small unmanned aircraft systems) and the precise attack capabilities of the Switchblade loiterer missile come together with the Switchblade Sensor to Shooter (S2S).
With S2S technology, targets are automatically sent from the SUAS to the Switchblade using machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, which reduces the time required for operators to engage targets.
S2S delivers switchblade operators real-time video downlink capability for a complete view of the operation area and the capability to match sUAS-Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Switchblade 300 camera feed images on one screen.
|Automated waypoint navigation||Intuitive touch tablet controller|
|Armor Piercing||Tank Busting Performance|
|Backpackable||Integrated Training Simulator (T-sim)|
|Less than 2-minutes setup & launch||Less than 10 minutes system setup & launch|
|Patented wave-off feature & recommit capability||Antenna and GCS with self-contained tube-launcher|
|Switchblade 300||Switchblade 600|
|It is a loitering missile.||It is a loitering missile.|
|It has a wingspan of 68.6cm, a length of 49.5cm, and a weight of 2.5kg.||It has a length of 1.3m and weight of AUR is 22.7kg and a system (1 AUR and FCS) is 54.4kg.|
|It has a range of 10km, an endurance of 15 min, and a speed of 63mph (Cruise) and 100mph (Dash)||It has a range of more than 40km, an endurance of more than 40 minutes, and a speed of 70mph (Cruise) and 115mph (Dash).|
|A self-contained ground launch and multipack are the methods to launch Switchblade 300.||A self-contained launcher for ground, air, and maritime are the methods to launch Switchblade 600.|
The AFR New Group shared a great comparison on Twitter to showcase the difference in specifications.
The Switchblade 300 offers a small explosive, armor-piercing payload meant for small arms and personnel attacks. The switchblade 300 is not really meant for larger targets or machinery. The Switchblade 300 is built to eliminate targets like a machine gun bunker or mortar bunker.
The Switchblade 600 offers a massive “Anti-Armor” payload designed to debilitate and destroy armored vehicles, machinery, and more.
The 600 was designed for the destruction of personnel carriers, vehicles, and small aircraft.
The AeroVironment demonstration video showcases multiple Switchblade 600’s destroying a tank and helicopter. In the same video, they demonstrate how the Puma Drone is made for reconnaissance, working with the Switchblades to provide location intelligence.
Many drone pilots may be asked if there are commercial equivalents to the Switchblade drones. While there may not be many tube-launched drones available to commercial pilots now, there will surely be solutions coming soon.
Cal Poly State Published research on how tube-launched drones could be built and manufactured. These drones could be a tube-launched solution but probably will not offer kamikaze-like operational solutions.
The University of South Hampton also showcased a commercially viable tube-launched aircraft as well.
Not really commercially viable, but Lockheed Martin created the Outride Tube Launched Drone system.
As we have discussed on the TJ Trout Show on KKOB, there are many other drones helping the war in Ukraine. According to popular mechanics, you can find these drones flying around various war zones. The bigger issue remains, with Chinese drones being flown on both sides, counter-UAS system operation becomes cumbersome.
According to Popular Mechanics, these are the drones being flown in Ukraine.
AeroVironment, Inc. was founded by Dr. Paul B. MacCready, Jr., in 1971 and is a leading manufacturer of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Tactical Missile Systems, and other Unmanned Ground Vehicles.
Yes, they can. These drones have been designed for use against armored vehicles such as tanks. The drone uses infrared sensors to detect heat from the engine block of the tank. Once detected, the drone fires a missile which destroys the tank.
Watch this video for more information on how Ukraine Used America’s Switchblade Suicide Drones to Destroy Russia’s Tanks:
Source: U.S. Defense News
Over 700 Switchblades were shipped to Ukraine by the U.S. as a package of military aid after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022.
Why Pay Hundreds, Even Thousands Per Course Somewhere Else?
When Drone U is providing all of its training for a lifetime at an incredible price. You can either buy Drone U’s membership and become a lifetime member of Drone U or simply choose the course of your choice.
We’d love to start working together soon!
Be sure and check out our page with guides, posts and other helpful information.Learn More
Download this 27 point checklist to avoid catastrofic failures, and drone crashes that cost your time and money