June 15, 2012, 3:01 PM — This summer the Pentagon will send test samples of yet another generation of killer drones to Afghanistan – in the backpacks of U.S. soldiers.
The Army will ship about 50 of the new, Switchblade mini-UAVs to Afghanistan during the next month or so, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Army will put the new drones in the hands of front-line U.S. special-forces units to give them a way to get a bird's-eye-view of the battlefield, and attack snipers or other specific threats by diving on them and setting off the small warhead it carries.
Switchblade is a precision-strike weapon that poses far less of a risk to civilians that strikes from Predator or Global Hawk drones, which carry 100-pound, laser-guided Hellfire missiles or 500-pound bombs, according to William I. Nichols, who headed the Army's Switchblade development project at Redstone Arsenal near Huntsville, Ala., according to the LAT.
The Pentagon is under orders to avoid civilian casualties from drone strikes, that have become a larger military and political problem for the White House, which has had to defend them against complaints from Pakistan and from anti-war groups.
However, Switchblade's greater value may be to ground troops, who chronically complain that the Air Force provides inadequate air cover for firefights on the ground.
Air Force pilots who fly the drones that now make up a third of the U.S. military aircraft in Afghanistan tend to focus more on their own intelligence-gathering and strike missions than on supporting troops on the ground, as some U.S. troops have complained.
AeroVironment, Inc. publicity photo