COUNTER INSURGENCY: Kamikaze Drone in Afghanistan

October 21, 2011 at 12:37 pm Leave a comment

Little and Lethal

The U.S. military has secretly deployed small, portable, kamikaze unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) to Afghanistan for use against Taliban insurgents, Bloomberg News reported this week.

Launching a Switchblade UAV. Photo courtesy of AeroVironment Inc.

The little, lethal UAV is known as Switchblade. It weighs less than six pounds, can be carried in a soldier’s backpack and is launched from a mortar-like tube. Once airborne, Switchblade, manufactured by AeroVironmentc Inc., sends back color video imagery and GPS (global positioning system) coordinates which the soldier can view on a hand-held ground controller. It’s the same controller that operates AeroVironment’s other small unmanned air systems (SUAS) like the hand-launched Raven. The 24-inch-long Switchblade is battery-powered and can stay aloft — at around 500 feet — for between five and 10 minutes.

But what makes Switchblade unique is the ability to transition from a low-flying reconnaissance drone to small bomb with the flick of a switch by the soldier operating the ground controller. It can then be aimed at a nearby — but out of sight — target  such as an un-armored vehicle or small enemy group on a rooftop or in a  shallow cave. When detonated, it acts like a flying shotgun blast, an Army official told Bloomberg. But the small, controlled explosion cuts down on the risk of harming nearby non-combatants and bystanders, according to AeroVironment. The soldier on the ground can also call off the attack even after the switch to flying bomb is made, AeroVironment says.

The Army secretly deployed the attack UAV to Afghanistan last year and plans to order more and deploy them where needed, according to the Bloomberg report.

For it’s part, AeroVironment announced in September that it had received a $4.9 million contract from the Army’s Close Combat Weapons Systems office. “The award is  for rapid fielding of this capability to deployed combat forces,” AeroVironment said in a press release, which did not specify where Switchblade would be deployed.

While some follow-on news accounts herald Switchblade as a “new weapon,” your 4GWAR editor first wrote about Switchblade in a posting at Defense Technology International’s ARES on Defense blog last year.

Here’s an AeroVironment promotional video of how the Switchblade could be used on TIME’s website.

 

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Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Counter Insurgency, Counter Terrorism, National Security and Defense, Skills and Training, Special Operations, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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