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How makers of the Switchblade suicide drone are changing the Ukraine war

Apr 11, 2023

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If it wasn’t for Western weapons, the war in Ukraine most likely would have ended weeks after it began. For the Ukrainians, one of the most dependable weapons systems in use is also one of the smallest, the Switchblade 300.

The small loitering munition is made by AeroVironment, a global leader in intelligent robotics. Every branch of the U.S. Armed Services uses drones made by AeroVironment. Ingenuity, the helicopter NASA is flying around on Mars, that was also built by AeroVironment.

It’s the Switchblade 300, however, that has propelled AeroVironment into the limelight in Ukraine.

“We are exceptionally proud to support the Ukrainians in their fight for victory,” Charlie Dean said. Dean is the vice president of Global Development, Sales and Marketing with AeroVironment. Straight Arrow News spoke to him at the defense contractors exposition SeaAirSpace 2023 in Maryland.

“The Ukrainians are great partners of ours,” Dean said. “We work through the U.S. government, and the U.S. government ends up providing the equipment to the Ukrainians.”

The Switchblade 300 weighs less than five pounds, launches from a tube and provides intelligence from the air. Dubbed a “kamikaze drone,” when a target is identified, the Switchblade acts as a precision guided missile to deliver its deadly payload. According to AeroVironment, the small but mighty Switchblade 300, just got mightier with its new Block-20 upgrade.

According to Dean, the Switchblade 300 Block 20 “has a larger brain, so it can process a lot more data than its predecessor. It has longer battery life, so it can fly from 10 kilometers now out to 15 plus kilometers.”

The Block-20 upgrade also includes a new panning camera for the drone.

“As you are flying around an area of interest, the camera can continue to rotate, and keep watching that area automatically as you’re circling, looking at and recording information on what you’re seeing down below,” Dean said.

Dean said the upgrades AeroVironment made to its popular Switchblade 300 weapons system are a direct result of the lessons learned over the past year of fighting.

“In Ukraine today, it’s a very congested environment with electronic warfare,” Dean said. “So, we’re learning every day about the threats, weapons, electronic warfare weapons, and then we adjust our designs to the Ukrainians. We continue to operate in these jammed environments. So, we’re very busy keeping up and ahead of the Russian threat.”

Another way AeroVironment will help Ukrainians keep ahead of the Russians, is by helping Ukraine’s military stay above the Russians longer. Enter the JUMP 20. It may be officially classified as a medium unmanned aircraft system, but the JUMP 20 is the largest unmanned aircraft AeroVironment currently makes.

The JUMP 20 is a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) fixed wing aircraft. It has a wingspan of 18.8 feet and is 9.5 feet long. The JUMP 20 can fly for more than 14 hours and has a range of 115 miles from its control unit.

“It’s a larger reconnaissance aircraft that carries many different types of sensors to help keep that unit safe, help teach that unit about their threats, and, and so forth,” Dean said.

Those sensors include high-resolution imagery and tracking systems which can be used to help spot enemy positions and track movements. The JUMP 20’s advanced ISR capabilities and increased endurance make it a perfect platform to provide intelligence for HIMARS and other longer-range weapons Ukraine is using against Russia. For smaller targets, the JUMP 20’s 30-pound payload capacity means it can carry a couple Switchblade 300s as well.

Like other weapons and robotic systems sent to Ukraine, the JUMP 20 isn’t in wide use by U.S. military, at least not yet. U.S. Special Forces did field some JUMP 20s, and AeroVironment submitted the VTOL to the U.S. Army’s Future Tactical Unmanned Air Systems Program. If selected, the JUMP 20 could be in use by each of the Army’s brigade combat teams.

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IF IT WASN’T FOR WESTERN WEAPONS, THE WAR IN UKRAINE MOST LIKELY WOULD HAVE ENDED WEEKS AFTER IT BEGAN. FOR THE UKRAINIANS, ONE OF THE MOST DEPENDABLE WEAPONS SYSTEMS IN USE IS ALSO ONE OF THE SMALLEST, THE SWITCHBLADE 300.

THE SMALL LOITERING MUNITION IS MADE BY AEROVIRONMENT, A GLOBAL LEADER IN INTELLIGENT ROBOTICS. EVERY BRANCH OF THE US ARMED SERVICES USES DRONES MADE BY AEROVIRONMENT. INGENUITY, THE HELICOPTER NASA IS FLYING AROUND ON MARS, THAT WAS ALSO BUILT BY AEROVIRONMENT.

IT’S THE SWITCHBLADE 300, HOWEVER, THAT’S PROPELLED AEROVIRONMENT INTO THE LIMELIGHT IN UKRAINE.

Charlie Dean: We are exceptionally proud to support the Ukrainians in their fight for victory. The Ukrainians are great partners of ours. We work through the US government, and the US government ends up providing the equipment to the Ukrainians, and so we support the US government closely.

THE SWITCHBLADE 300 WEIGHS LESS THAN FIVE POUNDS, LAUNCHES FROM A TUBE AND PROVIDES INTELLIGENCE FROM THE AIR. DUBBED A KAMIKAZE DRONE, WHEN A TARGET IS IDENTIFIED, THE SWITCHBLADE ACTS AS A PRECISION GUIDED MISSILE TO DELIVER ITS DEADLY PAYLOAD. ACCORDING TO AEROVIRONMENT, THE SMALL BUT MIGHTY SWITCHBLADE, JUST GOT MIGHTIER WITH ITS NEW BLOCK-20 UPGRADE.

Charlie Dean: It has a larger brain, so it can process a lot more data than its predecessor. It has longer battery life, so it can fly from 10 kilometers now out to 15 plus kilometers. It also has this new panning camera system. So, the camera as you are flying around an area of interest, the camera can continue to rotate, and keep watching that area automatically as you’re circling, looking at and recording information on what you’re seeing down below.

AEROVIRONMENT SAYS THE UPGRADES TO THE SWITCHBLADE ARE A DIRECT RESULT OF THE LESSONS LEARNED OVER THE PAST YEAR OF FIGHTING.

Charlie Dean: So, in Ukraine today, it’s a very congested environment with electronic warfare. So, we’re learning every day about the threats, weapons, electronic warfare weapons, and then we adjust our designs to the Ukrainians. We continue to operate in these jammed environments. So, we’re very busy keeping up and ahead of the Russian threat.

ANOTHER WAY AEROVIRONMENT WILL HELP UKRAINIANS KEEP AHEAD OF THE RUSSIANS, IS BY HELPING UKRAINE’S MILITARY STAY ABOVE THE RUSSIANS LONGER. ENTER THE JUMP 20. IT’S THE LARGEST UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEM AEROVIRONMENT CURRENTLY MAKES.

THE JUMP 20 IS A VERTICAL TAKEOFF AND LANDING, OR V-TOL, FIXED WING AIRCRAFT. IT HAS A WINGSPAN OF ABOUT 19 FEET AND IS 9 AND HALF FEET LONG. THE JUMP 20 CAN FLY FOR MORE THAN 14 HOURS AND HAS A RANGE OF ABOUT 100 MILES FROM ITS CONTROL UNIT.

Charlie Dean: So, it’s a larger reconnaissance aircraft that carries many different types of sensors to help keep that unit safe, help teach that unit about their threats, and, and so forth.

THOSE SENSORS INCLUDE HIGH-RES IMAGERY AND TRACKING SYSTEMS WHICH CAN BE USED TO HELP SPOT ENEMY POSITIONS AND TRACK MOVEMENTS. THE JUMP 20s ADVANCED ISR CAPABILITIES AND INCREASED ENDURANCE MAKE IT A PERFECT PLATFORM TO PROVIDE INTELLIGENCE FOR HIMARS AND OTHER LONGER-RANGE WEAPONS UKRAINE IS USING AGAINST RUSSIA. FOR SMALLER TARGETS, THE JUMP 20’s 30 POUND PAYLOAD CAPACITY MEANS IT CAN CARRY A COUPLE SWITCHBLADE 300s AS WELL.

LIKE OTHER WEAPONS AND ROBOTIC SYSTEMS SENT TO UKRAINE, THE US MILITARY DOESN’T CURRENTLY USE THE JUMP 20, BUT THAT COULD BE CHANGING. AEROVIRONMENT SUBMITTED THE VTOL TO THE US ARMY’S FUTURE TACTICAL UNMANNED AIR SYSTEMS PROGRAM. IF SELECTED, THE JUMP 20 COULD BE IN USE BY EACH OF THE ARMY’S BRIGADE COMBAT TEAMS.

 

IF YOU WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE WEAPONS SYSTEMS IN USE IN UKRAINE, YOU CAN FIND MORE OF OUR UNBIASED, STRAIGHT FACT REPORTING AT STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS DOT COM