Kamikaze drone Switchblade-300 joins the list of American weapons found underperforming in the semi-war between Russia and Ukraine, which the Russian President Vladimir Putin calls ‘special operation’.
The Soldiers of the People’s Militia of Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), operating near Donetsk in the Avdeevka direction, spoke to the media about their “acquaintance” with Switchblade-300 at the front.
As per the militia, the Armed Forces of Ukraine began actively using the Switchblade-300 kamikaze drones, previously transferred by the United States, against the allied forces.
The Ukrainian army used kamikaze drones on “my fighters in position – twice, both unsuccessfully: the personnel were not injured, and the position was not damaged,” said the commander of the division of the republican troops.
He said the UAV, despite its small size, is characterized by high flight speed and – after target detection – manoeuvrability. The damaging effect is achieved due to the detonation of the explosive, and this device does not have a high-explosive fragmentation effect.
“It is small – 50 cm (in length) – but very fast. It flies above the ground, choosing a target for itself. Its camera is on the side – it’s inefficient because of this (the UAV flies at a low altitude). Having chosen a target, it makes a circle, picks up speed and flies to death. Approximately 200 grams of plastid charge, has no fragments, the body itself is carbon fibre,” said a DNR fighter.
According to the militia fighter, the appearance of the Switchblade-300 over the positions is easily fixed due to its increased noise: “It buzzes very strongly, has a characteristic sound, you can’t confuse it with an ordinary quadrocopter. He is very audible.”
Washington announced its intention to transfer 700 Switchblade-300 kamikaze drones to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The market value of each UAV is about $6,000.
Loitering ammunition Switchblade 300 was created as an additional portable weapon for infantry units. The easy-to-use product was designed to provide surveillance and defeat detected targets within certain areas.
Switchblade kamikaze drones were created for the US Marine Corps in 2011. There are two options; Switchblade-300 and the latest Switchblade-600. The drone is launched using a mortar method. It is shot like a mine, unfolds its wings in the air, starts the engine and flies at a speed of 160 km / h to the target area.
Switchblade-300 is a small device. They are compact (Switchblade 300 fits in a regular backpack), manoeuvrable, and look like a children’s toy. It weighs 2.5 kg, of which 1 kg is the warhead. It’s like a small grenade from a grenade launcher. The power of the warhead is comparable to the power of a 40-mm grenade. Such ammunition does not pose any threat to the tank, to other armoured vehicles but only to soldiers in the open.
Only one person is needed to operate it. If the launch is from a tube, it takes only 2 minutes for preps. If the launch is from a special launch box, preparation for launch takes up to 10 minutes.
Switchblade 300 can stay in the air for up to 15 minutes. Although the flight range is quite modest, only 10 kilometres, it is compensated by the practicality of use.
Switchblade-600 is more a severe threat. There is no exact data on its dimensions, but if one assumes that it can defeat the armour of vehicles from above, then the warhead could be at least 5 kg, and the total weight may be at least 20 kg.
These drones can work both autonomously and be controlled by an operator. In autonomous mode, the drone goes to the designated area and falls like a typical rocket. But the Switchblade-300 is small, it does not have a target recognition system, so it may not successfully solve the problem and fall into an empty place and explode. If an operator controls the drone, its communication channel could be jammed by portable electronic warfare equipment.
AeroVironment, the maker of these drones, say that Switchblade-300 is used on single targets. They can destroy lightly armoured vehicles. Hence, it poses a danger to the light equipment used by the Russians.
Is Switchblade-300 useful?
The drone system has long been adopted for service in the US, and it was delivered to the UK. It is known that the system was used in Afghanistan, but there were no reports of its use in open source.
At the same time, the size of these devices allows the Ukrainian military to carry and use them easily.
In addition to 300 Switchblade-300 drones, the US has also announced to supply Ukraine with Pheonix Ghost, a mysterious UAV with ‘Switchblade-300 like characteristics’.