Switchblade – Miniature Loitering Weapon
US Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are beginning initial deployment of the Switchblade unmanned aircraft system. A product of AeroVironment, the aircraft is light enough to be man-packable, simple enough to be deployed in minutes and can fly off over the horizon sending back video. It can loiter and watch silently (it’s electric) and is so small that it is very difficult to detect at night, even at close range.
It has one more feature – it carries a warhead, so if a target of opportunity presents itself, the Switchblade has imaging sensors capable of identifying, tracking and guiding itself right to just that person, with minimal collateral damage.
Denoted as being “expendable” rather than “disposable”, the Switchblade is the first of a new breed of miniature kamikaze drones. As the system has very accurate tracking algorithms, the Switchblade is very good at locking onto and following targets, a capability that will no doubt be invaluable in the theaters of war in which they will be deployed. Small groups of soldiers will now have a much higher level of situational awareness plus the assistance of silent invisible birds of prey capable of striking from the darkness of night.
While the Switchblade will be the first such armed miniature UAS on the battlefield, its incredibly useful capabilities will
almost certainly see similar weapons being manufactured
Following the conclusion of DARPA’s Close Combat Lethal Recon CCLR projects the U.S. Air Force has embarked on a rapid acquisition program for a Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System (LMAMS), offering the warfighter portable, non-line-of-sight precision strike capability against individual targets, ensuring high precision effect with a very low risk of collateral damage.
The program is run by the Rapid Acquisition Cell (RAC), the Air Force’s unit handling rapid acquisition and deployment of systems responding to urgent operational requirements. LMAMS will meet a requirement identified by the Special Operations Command, for a weapon system designed for small tactical units, capable of accurately engaging targets beyond the range of current organic direct fire weapons (ALGL, M2, M3 Carl-Gustaf, and AT-4). According to Air Force documents, LMAMS will increase lethality by quickly locating, tracking, and engaging time sensitive, fleeting targets, or enemy in defilade without exposure to threat precision small arms fire. ‘Absence of visual or acoustic launch signature is essential to maintain covert operation’ the document emphasized.
Both tube-launch or hand-tossed versions will be tested. These expendable, electro-optically guided weapons will be fitted with a small warhead. The miniature killer drone will be able to loiter quietly over the target for limited time, waiting for optimal conditions to attack, while maintaining constant communications with the operator, transferring live video of the target below. Once attack permission is granted by the user, the drone’s mission-control becomes a guidance system, employing automatic-target tracking to lock on target, descending through a fast, controlled diving guiding itself to hit the target with the highest precision.