AeroVironment Switchblade

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Role Attack UAV
Manufacturer AeroVironment
Introduction 2012
Status In service
Primary users United States Army
United States Marine Corps

The Switchblade is an unmanned aerial vehicle developed by AeroVironment. It is designed as a "kamikaze," being able to crash into its target with an explosive warhead to destroy it. The Switchblade is small enough to be carried in a backpack and can be launched from a variety of ground, maritime, and air platforms.[1]


The Switchblade is designed as an expendable UAV to increase precision firepower for platoon-sized infantry units. It is 2 ft (610 mm) long and weighs 6 lb (2.7 kg) including the carrying case and launcher, making it small and light enough for one soldier to carry. The Switchblade is folded up inside a tube with wings unfolding once it gets airborne. It can be controlled up to 10 km (6.2 mi) but its small size limits its endurance to 10 minutes. This makes it unsuited for scouting roles, but it is useful for inexpensively engaging long-range targets and assisting in relieving units pinned down by enemy fire. The Switchblade uses a color camera and GPS locating to identify, track, and engage targets, as well as being able to be pre-programmed on a collision course. Its warhead has an explosive charge equivalent to a 40mm grenade to destroy light armored vehicles and personnel. If a situation causes a strike to be called off, the operator can bring the Switchblade back to be reused. The aircraft is propelled by an electric engine, so its small size and silent flight makes it extremely difficult to detect or try to intercept. The Switchblade uses to same Ground Control Station (GCS) as other AeroVironment UAVs including the Wasp, RQ-11 Raven, and RQ-20 Puma. This creates commonality and the potential for teaming of longer-endurance small UAVs to recon for targets, then having the Switchblade attack once they are identified with the same controller.[2][3][4]


The Switchblade was first unveiled in August 2011 to fill a gap U.S. troops were facing in Afghanistan. If insurgents ambush a patrol, options available to push back the attacks were limited. Close air support takes time to arrive, is expensive to conduct, and risks collateral damage if in urban areas. If the troops are out of range of artillery support, guided missiles like the FGM-148 Javelin are available, but also very expensive. Another problem was that small man-portable UAVs like the Raven or Puma that can spot threats have no way of quickly engaging them because available weapons are too heavy for them to carry. The Switchblade combines the man-portability, low-cost, and recon ability of small UAVs with an explosive warhead to quickly locate and destroy enemy fighters, especially in dug-in positions like rooftops or ridge lines. On 29 July 2011, the U.S. Army awarded AeroVironemt a $4.9 million contract for "rapid fielding" an unspecified number of Switchblades to forces in Afghanistan.[2][3][4] On 20 March 2012, the Army awarded a contract modification to the company of $5.1 million, totaling a $10 million order for Switchblade UAVs.[5]

In May 2012, the United States Marine Corps began the process of ordering the Switchblade UAV to enable an organic ability to engage targets like improvised explosive device emplacement teams. Usually when air support is called in, attackers slip away before a large UAV, attack helicopter, fighter-bomber, or quick reaction force can arrive on station. Marines sometimes couldn't get support due to other units getting mission priority. The Switchblade is small enough to fit in a Marine's ALICE pack and locks onto and tracks a target once selected.[6]

75 Switchblades were supplied to U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan in late 2012. It was awaiting final approvals for use by late October, but several successful employments had occurred by January 2013. Although the military would not confirm details about its deployment, effectiveness, distribution, or tactical employment, commanders reported that it was "very effective." Shortly after, a joint urgent needs statement was requested by the Army theater commanders for more systems. The number requested was not specified, but was "dramatically more" than the 75 systems initially supplied and exceeded budget limitations. The Switchblade gained notoriety among soldiers using it and insurgents being targeted by it. The Army classifies it as a direct fire munition rather than a drone.[3][7] Soldiers embraced it as a valuable tool, especially to reduce collateral damage. Unlike most other weapons, the Switchblade can wave off or abort a mission if the situation changes after launch, allowing it to engage a secondary target or destroy itself without inflicting casualties or property damage.[8]

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 Army.[9] One week later, The Pentagon gave the company a follow-on contract worth $6.6 million. On 5 September 2013, AeroVironment was awarded a $29 million contract modification to supply Switchblade munitions systems and associated hardware and support services, totaling $51.4 million worth in contracts announced over nine days.[10]