When you think of a switchblade, you think of a smallish knife that fits in a pocket, right?
Marines will soon have in their hands an entirely different breed of Switchblades — these are smart, flying little drones loaded with devastating miniature missiles.
Tiny, fast and very quiet, they are extremely difficult for adversaries to detect or track.
Even if an adversary does spot the drone, it doesn’t matter. Once Switchblade finds its target, the enemy cannot escape. They can run, they can hide, they can even try to evade or out speed in vehicles … Switchblade will silently track them and strike.
Armed with mini missiles, Switchblades hunt dangerous threats – like a car loaded with heavily-armed terrorists attacking aid workers – and strike with astonishing precision. Their miniature missiles may be tiny, but don’t let that fool you. They are staggeringly deadly and destructive.
Made by AeroVironment, Switchblades have been helping to keep U.S. forces safe for several years now. But going forward, adversaries will have to face even more of these deadly drones — it was announced this week at SOFIC that Marines will soon be receiving them too.
Once Switchblades are in their backpacks, Marines will have instant access to a powerful, smart, flying weapon to deliver precision strikes — and one that will help protect them as well.
In fact, Marines can put about 6 miles between them and a dangerous threat and still be able to precisely strike.
A team could, for example, use the drone’s advanced surveillance-type tech to reveal there’s an ambush waiting for them ahead. Imagine how much safer Marines could be if they could be 10 minutes away from the ambush – and stop it – before the enemy sees them, let alone fires a single shot at them.
Now Marines will actually be able to do this within minutes. Such a significant reduction in risk will be as simple as pulling the drone out of a backpack and launching.
The Switchblade edge – protect Marines, precision strikes
Switchblade’s Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile System is dreaded by enemies of the U.S. Here’s why:
No one wants to see a Switchblade heading their way. If you are a bad guy and spot a Switchblade loaded with mini missiles flying toward you, those are your final seconds.
Such a small drone could seem harmless. After all, it has the sleek look of many popular hobby drones. Looks can be misleading. Switchblades unleash powerful warheads that destroy threats with decisive precision.
For the significant impact it provides, Switchblade is surprisingly lightweight, weighing only 5.5 pounds.
So how can this little drone punch so much above its weight?
Switchblades can be loaded up with miniature, but ultra-powerful warheads made by Orbital ATK. The details have not been made public, but they are highly effectively for a range of missions. A terrorist vehicle, for example, can be easily destroyed by a single Switchblade strike.
In combat, these drones attack with remarkable precision. Crucially, they are so “smart” that Switchblade strikes have the reputation of consistently delivering minimal and often no collateral impact whatsoever.
How does it work?
The lightweight, tiny, highly advanced drone fits easily into a backpack. It only takes one Marine to carry the drone, the launcher and other key bits and bobs so the Marine can pilot, see through the drone’s “eyes” and teach the drone its target if it will be flying the mission autonomously.
With the special launch tube, a Marine can quickly, and easily, blast the futuristic drone out of tube to hunt the enemy and destroy the threat to U.S. forces.
Switchblade can either be remotely piloted or can fly itself in “autonomous” mode. With its ultra-quiet electric propulsion, it still reaches speeds of 85 knots. It can even glide, delivering an even more silent strike.
How can a Marine pilot and accurately strike a target from a safe position about 6 miles away that he cannot see with his own eyes? The Marine sees what the drone “sees.”
Switchblade also plays a valuable role in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance with its state-of-the-art tech. There are a range of tools that be used to identify and confirm a target. For example, it can locate tiny thermal and acoustic signatures to reveal hidden threats.
With real-time video feeds and GPS coordinates, Marines can observe the enemy force, confirm identities, license plates and threats like bombs or weapons — and then strike from a safe, remote position behind cover.
In practice, this means that the Marines can take up a position behind a stone wall. With their own eyes, they can’t see the enemy force that is around the corner of a compound. But they can launch Switchblade that will provide eyes for them.
If Switchblade’s feed reveals there are children with the terrorists, for example, then the Marine can instruct Switchblade to “wave-off” and not complete the strike mission.
From the ground, the drone can be launched in other ways too, like from an armored vehicle. From sea and rivers, Marines could also launch it from watercraft like a Zodiac. And they can even launch the drone from an aircraft.
Switchblades have proven themselves vital to protecting the force and delivering precise strike capabilities — so much so, an “urgent needs statement” was issued and the military freed up funds to buy them for the Marine Corps.
Since August 2017, the U.S. military has ordered $111 million worth of the drones, operator training and support.
Once loaded in their backpacks, U.S. Marines will be even more lethal, and hopefully safer, in combat.