I’m pretty sure that I saw a model of this little guy at some trade show in the past year — it’s Aerovironment’s Switchblade UAV/smart bomb and it’s now being fielded.
Switchblade is basically a man-portable tactical UAV that, in addition to providing real-time aerial imagery to small units of soldiers, can be converted into bomb that the operator can fly into targets he identifies using the drones cameras. The drone is fired via a launch tube and then can either glide or use a quiet electric motor to fly (autonomously or controlled by a soldier) to its target area. Once there, it can beam back images of the area If the troops on the ground need to get rid of that target in a hurry, they arm the switchblade’s explosive charge and tell it to fly into the enemy.
The Army gave Aerovironment a $4.9 million contract for a small batch of the drones earlier this summer.
It will be interesting to see how this type of UAV tech evolves in the coming decade. Imagine a mass-produced force of relatively cheap yet powerful drones that can provide ISR and even carry their own weapons — like the current crop of MQ-9 Reapers do or how the Navy’s future UCLASS drones will — or simply serve as the weapon themselves. Could they overwhelm air defenses simply by the fact that they are expendable and mass produced — the ultimate guided missiles?