The tube-launched Switchblade drone, made by Monrovia, California-based Aerovironment Inc., was secretly sent to Afghanistan for the first time last year. “Under a dozen” were fired, said Army Deputy Product Director William Nichols.
“It’s been used in Afghanistan by military personnel” and “shown to be effective,” Nichols said. The drone’s GPS guidance is made by Rockwell Collins Inc. and the warhead by Alliant Techsystems Inc.
Disclosure of the Switchblade’s use in Afghanistan highlights the Pentagon’s expanding range of missions for remotely piloted aircraft. The fleet also includes broad-area surveillance aircraft such as the Northrop Grumman Corp. Global Hawk, the missile-firing General Atomics Co. Predator and Reaper drones, and hand-launched short-range surveillance models, such as the Aerovironment Raven.
Nichols declined to describe the Switchblade’s targets. He said the drone is “designed for open threats, something that’s on top of a building but you can’t hit it” with regular artillery or mortars for fear of collateral damage. The drone is less than 24 inches long and weighs about six pounds.
“It’s a ‘flying shotgun,’” Nichols said, not a “hit-to- kill” weapon that explodes on impact.
“The operator has control of how far away from the target it goes off — preselected distances,” he said in an interview Oct. 12 at the Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington…
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