As technology advances, so does the capability of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. One such drone is the Switchblade 300, a small loitering munition developed by AeroVironment to precisely target beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) targets. The cost of a single unit of Switchblade 300 is around $6,000. This article will explore the capabilities and uses of the Switchblade 300, from its design to its combat applications.
The Switchblade 300 is a miniature loitering munition or suicide drone designed to neutralize a single soldier or a soft-skinned vehicle, such as a truck. The drone has a small size and a quiet motor, which makes it difficult to detect, recognize, and track, even at very close range. It can be backpacked, rapidly deployed, and operated manually or autonomously, making it a versatile weapon for combat.
The drone can deliver 15 minutes of tactical reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA), providing real-time video against BLOS targets. The drone’s open architecture system interfaces with external command and control (C2) systems. Its touchscreen tablet-based fire control system can manually or autonomously control the munition. The Switchblade 300 is fully scalable and can be launched from various air, sea, and ground platforms.
The Switchblade 300, a remotely operated aerial vehicle, is powered by an electric engine. Its diminutive size, and noiseless operation renders it highly elusive and challenging to intercept, facilitating its ability to approach a target at a velocity of 157 km/h. With a range of approximately 10 km and the capacity to surveil a target for up to 15 minutes, this aircraft is a formidable tool for operators. The engine is situated at the rear of the fuselage and features a two-bladed propeller, enabling the aircraft to achieve swift and agile performance. The drone’s Cursor-on-Target GPS coordinates provide the operator with real-time information gathering, targeting, or feature/object recognition.
Development and Deployment
The Switchblade munition was conceived by the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and developed by the U.S. Army to counter enemy ambushes in Afghanistan. In July 2011, the U.S. Army awarded AeroVironment a $4.9 million contract for “rapid fielding” of an unspecified number of Switchblades to forces in Afghanistan. The Army added $5.1 million in March 2012, totaling $10 million.
In May 2012, the United States Marine Corps ordered Switchblades to allow troops to strike improvised explosive device (IED) emplacement teams and similar targets. In late 2012, 75 Switchblades were supplied to U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. On 28 August 2013, AeroVironment announced it had been awarded five contracts totaling $15.8 million to supply more Switchblade systems, ancillary equipment, and support to the U.S. Army.
In March 2022, the U.S. provided Switchblade drones to the Ukrainian armed forces following the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. On 16 March 2022, the U.S. announced that 100 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems had been provided to Ukraine as part of an $800 million military aid package. On April 26, 2023, AeroVironment announced the procurement of Switchblade 300 to France and another allied nation.
The Switchblade 300 loitering munition is an advanced weapon system that targets military personnel or light combat vehicles. This single-use drone is equipped with cameras, guidance systems, and explosives, which allow it to dive-bomb into its target with precision. The drone uses a tablet-based touchscreen fire-control system, which offers the option to pilot the missile manually. Depending on the operator’s commands, the operator can also disengage or abort a mission at any time and quickly recommit to another target. This feature is designed to ensure that strikes are precise and can be called off at the very last minute if there is any risk of civilian casualties or property damage.
In addition to its use against ground targets, the Switchblade has been designed to be highly effective against hostile UAVs. AeroVironment has developed software that combines the drone with sensors, enabling it to intercept enemy drones. This capability is enhanced when the Switchblade is used alongside existing counter-artillery radar and IED jamming systems, which can all be towed by Humvees.
The Switchblade’s ability to intercept enemy drones occurs in layers of defense, starting with jet fighters providing cover. If an enemy drone is too small to be targeted by these fighters or manages to get through, the fire-finding radar picks it up. Once detected, the jammer performs electronic warfare to break its data link. If the drone resists electronic warfare, the Switchblade is launched to physically impact and destroy it. The Multi-Pack Launcher (MPL) was also developed, which can carry up to six Switchblade 300 munitions, weighing 73 kg when fully loaded. The MPL can be deployed on the ground or operated from a combat vehicle, and its design is scalable from 2 to 20 rounds, enabling rapid reloading in under 30 seconds per round.
SWITCHBLADE® 300 BLOCK 20
The Switchblade 300 Block 20 is an upgraded version of the Switchblade 300, offering several operational feature improvements. This lightweight, precision-guided missile can enhance performance, including longer endurance and a high-resolution EO/IR panning camera suite. The new touchscreen Fire Control System (FCS) allows the operator to train, plan, and execute missions easily.
Weighing less than 5 pounds, the Switchblade 300 Block 20 can be deployed via tube launch in less than two minutes from various platforms, such as land, sea, or mobile platforms. This feature provides greater mission flexibility, enabling users to respond rapidly to changing circumstances.
In addition to providing tactical reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA) for over 20 minutes, the Switchblade 300 Block 20 can deliver real-time video against beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) targets. The system’s open architecture allows it to interface with external C2 systems, while Cursor-on-Target GPS coordinates offer situational awareness, information collection, targeting, and feature/object recognition.
These features provide the actionable intelligence and precision firepower necessary to achieve mission success across multiple domains. Overall, the Switchblade 300 Block 20 is a highly effective, lightweight, and flexible system designed to meet the challenges of modern warfare.
|France, Lithuania, Ukraine, and the United States||Anti-personnel and light combat vehicles|
|France, Lithuania, Ukraine and the United States||2.5 kg|
|United States||15 min|
|Northrop Grumman advanced munition, an explosive charge equivalent to a 40mm grenade||10 km|
|1 operator||Length: 610 mm|