Switchblade is strictly a short-range drone, launched and controlled by a single trooper on the ground, powered by a propeller rather than a jet and packed with only as much explosive as is practical to cram in without overloading its six-pound flight-weight limit.
Switchblade got its official nickname for the wings that fold into the fuselage for safekeeping most of the time, but snap out when the drone is launched from the mortar-like tube in which it ships. Once in the air, the Switchblade sends back pictures from a video cam in the nose and GPS coordinates the footsoldier piloting it can use to fly it, using a video-game-like control and video screen on the ground.
Testers in the U.S. nicknamed it the Kamikaze drone for the way it can be made to dive on a target – a sniper, mortar emplacement or other localized threat – and explode.
While that minimizes the potential for civilian casualties – and eliminates the need to wait hours for support from full-sized drones or fighters – it also puts the decision to kill in the hands of one person, rather than the chain of military officers, lawyers and intelligence analysts who participate on the decision over other drone strikes, the LAT quotes Columbia Law School human rights and counterterrorism expert Naureen Shah as saying.
Smaller, more powerful drones put more power into the hands of a smaller number of people, raising the potential for more mistakes, she said.
The ACLU and other U.S.-based human-rights groups have raised the same arguments to oppose deployment of surveillance drones by U.S. police departments.
The Pentagon hasn't made any decisions about Switchblade or other mini-drones, however.
More than 50 Switchblades will go to Afghanistan for live-fire tests in combat as part of a $10.1 million contract with Simi Valley defense contractor AeroVironment, Inc., which designed and manufactured it.
AeroVironment, Inc. publicity photo