The Birth of the Personal Guided Missile: The Switchblade Drone

Every now and then we encounter new weapon that is truly revolutionary and just totally blows your mind. Such events are relatively rare, and whenever they occur they are a source of great enjoyment for me. The last time this happened was probably when the US started arming their Predator Drones with Hellfire Missiles way back in 2001, so you could say it is now “overdue” to have another such event. And for me, that latest event is the birth of the Personal Guided Missile in the SWITCHBLADE DRONE.

Small, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) has been relatively in common use by United States (US) forces for the last half decade now. These have been used as a means to provide foot soldiers with a quick way to get a vantage point from the air to survey their surroundings, and all the advantages that it brings. What differentiates the Switchblade Drone from others out there is that it is not only used for observation, but it can be used as a weapon as well.

The Switchblade was first introduced in 2011, is about 2 feet long, weighs 6 pounds, and is launched by placing its launcher tube on the ground very similar to that of a mortar. Once launched, the operator can then use the drone’s camera for observational purposes … Or to guide it towards an enemy and/or his equipment. In effect, it is a PERSONAL GUIDED WEAPON. It’s electric motor has a loiter time of up to 10 minutes, flies at around 500 feet altitude, and has a range of up to 12 miles. Here is an illustration of how it works:

Photo courtesy of the "Telepresence Options" website
Photo courtesy of the “Telepresence Options” website

Here is a more dramatic re-enactment of how it could be possibly used:

It is light and portable, enabling one person to be able to carry a couple of if needed, and can be easily launched almost anywhere outdoors. Its decent loiter time and ability to be guided into a target gives it tons of life saving and advantageous tactical applications, like against entrenched Snipers/Machine Gun and Mortar Crews, etc. It can even be used against moving, unarmored vehicles.

The only disadvantage of this system is first, COST. Each drone is estimated to cost between USD 40k to USD 150k, which makes them prohibitively expensive as of now. However, as mass production of these drones kick in, you can expect the cost to go down to at least half of what it costs right now, maybe even less. And mass production can be expected as after testing the units since 2011, the US Army in a statement earl this year that the drone has been a, “… very effective tool …” in Afghanistan.

Another issue I foresee is its warhead. The drone weighs only 6 pounds, and there is no description of how heavy the warhead is, or what type of a warhead it is. The above illustration shows a considerable volume of the missile’s body being occupied by the warhead, but I’m not so sure about that, I think the electric motor and its batteries plus the sensors would constitute more of the volume than the warhead. My guess would probably be only about a pound, maybe even less. With such a small warhead, its effectiveness is a bit limited against hardened targets, though its precision does help offset that a bit.

Nevertheless, the Switchblade Drone will DEFINITELY change the battlefield from hereon. As these systems become cheaper, lighter, smaller and more common, they will be an important factor in the battlefield that has to be accounted for by both sides. Fixed firing positions will be vulnerable, and soldiers will have to find ways to negate it, aside from finding new ways to use it themselves. Watch out for this technology, it will become more and more common in the next decade …

SOURCES:

– Best Inventions of the Year 2012, http://techland.time.com/2012/11/01/best-inventions-of-the-year-2012/slide/the-switchblade-drone/

– US military says kamikaze drone ‘has proven to be a very effective tool’ in Afghanistan, http://endthelie.com/2013/03/12/us-military-says-kamikaze-drone-has-proven-to-be-a-very-effective-tool-in-afghanistan/#axzz2XenYkw8x

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