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U.S. deploys the Switchblade Kamikaze Drone


November 24, 2011

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U.S.Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are beginning initial deployment of the Switchblade unmanned aerial system (UAS). 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 around the world.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, Telstra.com.au (Australia's largest Telco), Seek.com.au (Australia's largest employment site), top100.com.au, hitwise.com, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon

So how long can this baby stay in the air?

Lourie Höll

Looks like a really effective, low cost weapon. Sounds affordable even for near-bankrupt militias that the US is trying to fight...


At daytime it could be saw by enemy. At night possible detect enemy though infra red. Low cost could means it possible emit infrared to enhance image recording. Silent is actually mean silent to human ear. Bomb is mean it no going to stay on air all the time and the enemy don\'t need to shoot like hell just to get it down. If the enemy don\'t get it in few second, it get to the enemy. Make sure this stuff don\'t drop to hand of terrorist and without explode, or no one will know How to protect their leader during public speech. from now on. It look not difficult to build, but to build this counter apparatus, it more difficult.

Tw Tan

When it \"runs out of gas\" and \"goes dead\" or \"dud\" it only seems to \"power down\" so it can find the bomb maker, call in the heavies, and snuff him and all his colleagues simultaneously. No one will know, because it picks up chatter and replicates it to draw in higher leadership. Basically anyone who comes in contact with one of these, even if they \"capture the launch team\", is a dead man walking. And this is only a foretaste. American weapons are becoming so sneaky, so lethal, that fighting America is like fighting a flood, from beneath the flood while you\'re out of breath.


I\'ve been thinking that they would build this for years. Next: swarm tech.

Alan Belardinelli

great, as if the US government didn\'t already have enough dangerous toys. Obama was even joking about using such drones against members of a pop band. everybody should have these or nobody should; let\'s start an \"open drone project\".

John Comeau

Paris and John, since the thought of America protecting civilian populations against the Taliban is so distasteful to you, maybe you could just do it with unicorns and love.

Todd Dunning

Use swarm bots to take out other swarm bots. Additionally, you make these transparent via metamaterials or the like then watch out!


Great idea for a new DARPA initiative, Todd.

Operation Unicorn, the \"Love Hurts\" initiative

Ten rounds with a herd of randy unicorns? ... that would be a very horny dilemma for the Taliban. I doubt half of them would survive the initial foreplay.


They say \"if a potential target of opportunity presents itself\", but how do they get it back on the ground if they don\'t find anything? i don\'t see any landing gear. i wouldn\'t be too keen on crash-landing a drone with a warhead on it in the rough terrain in afghanistan if i were a soldier... maybe someone has to catch it like a wide receiver catches a football. except the football could explode if they drop it.


@psychot: It most likely just skids on the ground for landing. The wings on these UAVs usually break off on landing with no harm done and are reattatched easily. The warhead in it is likely only armed when they flip a switch and can\'t be accidentally set off. Otherwise, yes it would be a danger to all in the area. @Tw tan: even though I could barely understand what you were saying in a few parts, I disagreee with you. The enemy could not get ahold of this thing, safely. It has a warhead, Self-destruct much? And do you really think that the people who clean their firearms with shoelaces can afford IR? Or even have a chance of shooting this down? With what!?

Ethan Brush

@Ethan Brush,I put clue only have no I have no intent to tell how to get this thing down. There is no urgency because this is not bunker blaster and not target nuclear facilities.Until this thing being use to kill country leader and cause civilian alert threat, they will be free to hang on sky. There is various way, low tech and high tech tool. I study the way to clear sky back to 1991 Yugoslavia war , target everything in sky,from sparrow, near ground cruise Harpoon and F16 flying at 20000ft 3000km/hr.

Tw Tan
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