According to a video that has been trending on social media, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have begun using the US-supplied Switchblade 600 loitering munitions against the Russian forces.
The Russian armed forces personnel filmed the video in question while inspecting the wreckage of what appears to be a Switchblade 600 drone. From what can be gleaned from the video, only the rear part of the drone with batteries and an electric motor was left after the impact.
While the Russian soldier inspecting the wreckage is said to have been unable to identify the drone independently, based on its visual correspondence, reports suggest it is the Switchblade 600 loitering munition supplied by the US.
The Switchblade is a tactical strike unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system produced by AeroVironment, an American defense contractor headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. The Biden administration pledged it to Kyiv as part of its US$800 million military aid package announced in March 2022.
The Switchblade loitering munition system enables its operator to engage beyond line-of-sight targets across land, maritime and air-launched scenarios. They are called ‘Switchblades’ because their bladelike wings roll out on launch.
#Ukraine: The first external view of a Ukrainian Switchblade 600 loitering munition, donated by the US- Russian soldiers filming the wreckage after detonation.
Compared to SB300, the SB600 can carry a more powerful payload (incl. anti-armor) and can hit targets over 40km away. pic.twitter.com/HkLcjQ6TKb
— ?? Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) April 20, 2023
The Switchblade drone has two variants: Switchblade 300 and Switchblade 600.
The Ukrainian military has already been using the Switchblade 300 variant, which weighs 2.5 kilograms, including the warhead, and has an endurance of 15 minutes.
While the Switchblade 600 is an extended-range variant with a range of 40 kilometers, weighs 54.4 kilograms (all-inclusive weight), and is equipped with a dual electro-optical and infrared sensor suite.
Switchblade UAVs Rise To Prominence In Ukraine War
The Switchblade drones were not very popular before, despite being used by the US military for several years.
For example, these drones were used in Afghanistan against the Taliban. The weapons were referred to as an “angry bird” or a “buzzing bee,” according to Wahid Nawabi, the Afghan-born CEO of AeroVironment.
However, the ongoing Ukraine war brought rapid prominence to Switchblade munitions after several reports of their success against various Russian military targets.
— BlueSauron?️ (@Blue_Sauron) October 7, 2022
The Switchblade 300 is designed for pinpoint strikes against enemy personnel or unprotected weapons, such as a mortar launcher or exposed machine gun emplacement.
It has a remarkable feature called “waved off” capability to prevent collateral damage. For example, the operator can adjust the blast radius so the drone kills only the driver of a vehicle but not a passenger. According to AeroVironment, the weapon can be waved off up to two seconds before the impact. The drone costs as little as $6,000, by some estimates.
The UAV has cameras onboard but is often used in conjunction with a mini surveillance drone for better battlefield awareness. The two drones are integrated with sensor-to-shooter software that enables instant transfer of target coordinates from the surveillance drone to the Switchblade 300.
The company says the Switchblade 300 system can be set up in less than two minutes.
The Switchblade 600 drone, with its endurance of 40 minutes, can be used against larger, hardened targets via an anti-armor warhead and does not need external surveillance or fire assets.
Notably, the Switchblade 600 also has the ‘recommit’ capability and ‘wave-off,’ allowing the drone operators to abort the mission at any time and re-engage the same or other targets multiple times.
The company claims the Switchblade 600 system can be assembled in less than 10 minutes.
The Switchblade 600 drones may have arrived in Ukraine last year. In October 2022, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said in an interview with Politico that the first batch of Switchblade 600s, comprising ten examples of the drone, could arrive within weeks.
Ukrainians Also Using The ‘Secretive’ Phoenix Ghost Loitering Munitions
In addition to the Switchblade loitering munitions, the Ukrainian armed forces are already using the US-supplied Phoenix Ghost loitering munition, made by California-based Aevex Aerospace.
Not much is known about the Phoenix Ghost’s design, but it is said to resemble the Switchblade drones. Lt. Gen. (Retd.) David Deptula of the US Air Force, a retired Aevex board member, says the Phoenix Ghost is effective against medium-armored vehicles.
Experts note that the explosion in the strikes allegedly carried out using this drone is much larger than previously observed in Switchblade 300 strikes, suggesting the Phoenix Ghost has a bigger warhead capable of destroying medium armor but smaller than the 600 variant.
Video of a loitering munition strike by Ukraine's 28th Mechanized Brigade on a Russian 82mm mortar position. The graphic on the video suggests this was by a US-made Phoenix Ghost loitering munition.https://t.co/CVUeHwesMh pic.twitter.com/n8PA4eWXdK
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) August 1, 2022
The Phoenix Ghost has vertical take-off capabilities, can search for or track a target for up to six hours, and can operate at night using infrared sensors, Deptula told Politico.
These details have also been corroborated by the adviser to the Ukrainian President’s Office, Oleksii Arestovysch, in an interview with Defense Express. He also revealed that the Phoenix Ghost is ‘backpackable.’
It is impressive, as one would expect the Phoenix Ghost to be large enough to accommodate the additional fuel tank capacity or a bigger battery for six-hour endurance.
Even the Switchblade 600, which can loiter for only 40 minutes, must be transported in two coffin-sized cases, meaning the Phoenix Ghost is much smaller while boasting a more powerful warhead than the Switchblade 300.