On 16th March 2022, President Joe Biden said that the US is sending Ukraine more anti-aircraft, anti-armor weapons and most importantly, more drones. These drones will be what is known as the Kamikaze “Suicide” Drones.
These drones are called the Switchblades, and they are of two types, Switchblade 300 and Switchblade 600. The US is going to send 100 kits of the Switchblade 300 and 10 kits of the Switchblade 600. Each kit contains the launching tube, the controlling tablet and 10 drones.
But why is the US sending these drones? Why are they Kamikaze drones in the first place? Why not the drone just fire a missile and return without losing the drone itself? How are these drones going to change the game completely and be a headache for the Russian Tanks? And these Russian tanks are considered among the best tanks in the world.
And most importantly, Why is the Chinese Government watching these drones closely and their impact on the Ukrainian battlefield?
Switchblade: The Kamikaze Drones
Switchblade is a Kamikaze drone, or what is known in the military as a loitering munition. This drone is designed and manufactured in the US by the AeroVironment company.
In 2011, the US Army signed a contract with AeroVironment to start producing the drones. And in late 2012, the Army received its first 75 Switchblades 300s to be used in Afghanistan.
In October 2020, AeroVironment unveiled its larger, more powerful version of the Switchblade. It is the Switchblade 600. Switchblade drones are of two types, the 300 and the 600.
Switchblades 300 are small enough to fit in a backpack and are launched from a tube, then it flies to the target area and using its camera, the soldier having the control unit could easily detect and lock on the target.
They have foldable wings and a tail that makes them fit inside the launch tube. After firing the drone, the wings and tail will expand again, making it fly easily in the air.
Switchblade 300 is the smaller version of the drones. It is the one sent to Ukraine in great quantity. 1000 drones have already been received, and 6000 (600*10) to be received soon.
These drones are lightweight, portable and easy to use. However, they are not that much powerful. You could say that it is like a handful 40 mm grenade that you can throw and flies about 10 miles away.
It has a color camera and GPS and is controlled by a tablet-like controller. It is driven by a small electric motor, making it have silent flights and harder for the enemy to detect.
The drone is either pre-programmed to hit a target at a specified coordinate or could be manually driven to search for the target before dashing towards it. It also has the ability to stop the attack at the last second before hitting the target if some problem happens suddenly or civilians are detected in the place.
This weapon was designed to target light vehicles and trucks. It is also used to target infantry and easily kill a group of soldiers. The Switchblade 300 shouldn’t be used against main battle tanks that are usually well-armored.
Even though these drones are useless against tanks, they are going to be a headache for the Russian tanks. We will explain more in-depth in the upcoming lines.
Here are the specs of the Switchblade 300:
- Control Flying Range: 10 km (6.2 miles)
- Flying Endurance (battery life): 15 minutes
- Weight: 2.5 kg (5.5 lb), including the payload and the launcher and the transport bag
- Maximum Speed: 101 km/h (63 mph) (cruise), 160 km/h (100 mph) (dash)
- Flying Altitude: Less than 150 m (500 ft)
- Length: 49.5 cm (19.5 in)
- Diameter: 76 mm (3 in)
- Cost Per Unit: $6,000
The drone flies towards its target area (cruise) with a speed of 101 km/h (63 mph), and when it detects the target, it dashes toward it with a speed of 160 km/h (100 mph).
This is the big brother of the Switchblade 300. It is more powerful but weighs a lot more. It was designed to complete what its little brother didn’t.
The Switchblade 600 is capable of attacking well-armored vehicles and main battle tanks. It could be fitted with any anti-tank warhead, have a better, longer range, and cost less than most anti-tank missiles like Javelin.
It works the same way as the Switchblade 300. Using a launching tube and a controlling unit, the soldier could fire this powerful drone in less than 10 minutes.
Here are the specs of the Switchblade 600:
- Control Flying Range: 40 km (25 miles), and an additional 50 km (31 miles) loitering
- Flying Endurance (battery life): 40+ minutes
- Weight: Launcher 22 kg (48.5 lb), control system 32 kg (70.5 lb), drone 15 kg (33 lb)
- Maximum Speed: 113 km/h (70 mph) (cruise), 185 km/h (115 mph) (dash)
- Flying Altitude: Less than 150 m (500 ft)
- Length: 130 cm (51 in)
- Diameter: 150 mm (6 in)
- Cost Per Unit: Some reports suggest it costs $10,000; however, I think it costs more
Why Kamikaze Drones?
Kamikaze drones are becoming more and more popular with time. They are replacing missiles in multiple missions, and they are used more than normal military drones.
Firing one Switchblade 600 would cost more than $10,000, while firing one Javelin anti-tank missile would cost around $78,000. This shows clearly why these drones are better cost-effective than missiles. This is why Ukraine is building its own DIY drones.
But one could ask another question, why would we even lose the drone? Why wouldn’t the drone just fly over the enemy, throws that cheap warhead and goes back? Wouldn’t we save even more money this way?
If you want a drone that flies this long distance while carrying a warhead and returns to its base, this means a more expensive drone that weighs even more. It is no longer as portable as the Switchblade 300.
Comparing this with the latest US Reaper drone, which costs $32 Million each. The Turkish Bayraktar TB2 also costs around $5 Million each. Losing one of these drones will be a big loss for any army. However, losing a Switchblade will never be a loss. It might even be cheaper than the missile used to shoot it!
How will Switchblade Turn the Tide in Ukraine?
Now let’s consider the case in Ukraine precisely and how this weapon would turn the tide.
The US has already sent many Switchblade 300 drones, which is considered a light flying grenade. How will these drones help the Ukrainian Army stop the well-armored Russian tanks?
Let’s be honest; these drones will never be able to destroy the Russian tanks, and that’s why the Ukrainian government asked for the Norwegian Self-Propelled Howitzers. These drones are lightweight and have very limited explosive capabilities. However, taking into consideration the top weakness point of the Russian Army in this war, this weapon will be a Game-Changer! You ask how? There you go…
NO More Supplies
From the beginning of this war, the Russian Army was having a hard time sending supplies to its forces. The tanks would invade a certain city and then wait for the supplies that never reached.
Fuel tanks and food trucks were either stuck in muddy areas (after temperature rise) or were destroyed using the Bayraktar and other missiles. This was a clever response by the Ukrainians but was costing a lot.
These missiles or the Bayraktar drone are not cheap at all. Losing one of these drones or a missile missing its target was a big problem that prevented the Ukrainians from targeting many Russian trucks. But with the cheap Switchblade 300, everything has changed now.
Keeping this in mind, the Ukrainian Army will have a big advantage in halting the invasion completely!
Imagine this scenario:
A Ukrainian soldier has a single Switchblade kit, which consists of 10 drones, 1 launcher tube, and the control unit. This soldier will be able to fire a drone every 30 minutes or so, targeting Russian convoys 6 miles away. Of course, this will need an internet connection that is already provided by startlink, and for this reason, Elon Musk’s life has been threatened by the director of Russia’s space agency.
If his targeting precision was just as little as 50%, he would be able to hit at least 5 targets. Fuel trucks and ammo trucks will be destroyed completely by this small grenade-like explosion. And food trucks will at least stop working!
This will lead to the complete halting of the Russian tanks; soldiers will not have equipment or food to survive, meaning more will have to surrender and stop fighting.
Destroying the backlines is a successful guerrilla tactic that is used commonly when the defender in having less powerful air superiority compared to the attacker.
Stop Long-Range Artillery
Tanks invading Ukraine are not the most distrustful weapon used in this war. Javelin and the new Switchblade 600 are used to target tanks invading cities. But most of the buildings and military base’s destruction is caused by the long-range artillery staying away in the backlines.
These artilleries are targeting government buildings and military bases. They are out of the Javelin range, which has a range of about 2.5 km (1.5 miles). The Switchblade 300 will be able to fly in the sky, passing the frontline and reaching the backline long-range artillery units.
These units are bombarding towns and cities, which are now the biggest threat to Ukraine. They are usually less armored than tanks, and the drones will be able to at least make them non-functioning.
The effectiveness of this strategy depends heavily on the type of artillery that needs to be targeted. Some of the Russian artillery has a firing range of up to 10 km. These will be an easy target for the switchblade 300, which has a range of up to 10 km. However, some of the Russian long-range artillery has a firing range of more than 30 km, but these are less used.
Why is China Watching the Switchblades?
From the beginning of this war, China has been in a neutral position. It is watching carefully what is happening in Ukraine and studying everything. But why is China so interested in watching the Switchblades and their impact on the war?
A Chinese military commentator said to South China Morning Post that the usage of the Switchblade 600 in Ukraine is a great opportunity to observe its performance against the Russian Army tanks.
China is interested in this observation for two reasons:
Improve Their Drones
China has multiple kamikaze drones that work in the same ways as the Switchblades. This will be a great opportunity for them to see how effective are the American drones and how they could improve their drone to be better.
In particular, the CH-901, which has been on display at many defense shows since 2016. The CH-901 is a state-owned product of China Aerospace Science and Technology, having wings and tail that fold inside the launch tube and inflate after firing.
It is lighter than the Switchblade 600 but also slower. It cruises at 70 km/h (43.5 mph) and dashes at 150 km/h (93 mph).
At China’s major air show in Zhuhai in 2018, the Guide S570, another cutting-edge drone, was on display. China’s Wuhan Guide Infrared Co. has developed the S570, a loitering munition comparable to Israel’s Hero-30. In addition to its operational range of 10 kilometers, this weapon has a fatal blast range of 8 meters.
Infrared and optical guiding technologies allow the 7kg S570 to be launched throughout the day and night. A 25-minute flight is possible.
Counter The Switchblade
This is also a great opportunity to find and study the weak points of the American drones. This means studying and developing weapons to counter the Switchblades and, of course, be cost-effective.
The Switchblades are considered an easy-to-use, portable, and cheap kamikaze drone. The US has taken some Ukrainian soldiers to the US and has been training them on the usage of these drones. And then these soldiers will go back and train many other soldiers.
If these drones are used effectively, they will be a game-changer in this war. Many analysts considered that the Switchblade would not be an important weapon in the Ukrainian arsenal. However, not every weapon should be powerful and destructive.
These drones are rather smart bombs that will change everything on the field if used effectively and on important targets.
This is how I see the Switchblades are going to change the war events and how they should be used. Could I be wrong? Please share with us your thoughts in the below comments section.
This video provides more details on the Switchblade drones: