In late June 2011, the US Army gave Aerovironment a contract to begin fielding Switchblade UAV. Aerovironment’s new tube-launched, man-portable UAV will work for surveillance, and transmits live color video. It also functions as a kamikaze missile, however, which can be armed and locked on target by operator control. This makes it extremely useful against dug-in or fortified infantry positions, enemy missile teams, mortars, etc. After a set of 2011 trials, the US Marines added a contract of their own, even as the US Army moved to deploy the system to Afghanistan by summer 2012.
The US military’s interest is understandable. One of the key lessons of Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon involved infantry use of guided anti-tank weapons as immediately-available precision artillery fire. Iran’s Hezbollah legionnaires frequently used Russia’s 1960s era 9K11/AT-3 missile designs for this purpose, while Israeli forces used the higher-tech Spike. Similar trends have been observed among American and British forces in Afghanistan, who use expensive $75,000 – 100,000 per shot Javelin missiles. With Switchblade, the US military has taken a step toward fielding a lower cost platoon level surveillance/strike weapon. The economics involved, and the clear global trend at work, mean that the US Army won’t be alone.
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