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Switchblade is a miniature, high-precision strike tactical missile system developed by AeroVironment, primarily for the US Army and US Marine Corps. It is designed to engage stationary and moving targets in hostile environments, while reducing collateral damage.
The weapon system is equipped with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, enabling it to engage beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) targets.
Switchblade missile system development, orders and deliveries
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AeroVironment received a $4.9m contract from the US Army Close Combat Weapons Systems (CCWS), Program Executive Office Missiles and Space (PEO MS) to provide engineering services and operational systems for the Switchblade agile munition, in June 2011.
The US Air Force awarded a $4.2m order for the Switchblade loitering munition systems and services in early 2012. ATK was subcontracted by AeroVironment for the production and delivery of the munition systems. In March 2012, AeroVironment received a $5.1m modification contract for the Switchblade loitering munition systems and services.
In August 2012, the US Army awarded a contract to AeroVironment to provide operational and training rounds, and training, support and rapid delivery to support ongoing operations of the US Army’s Rapid Equipping Force (REF). AeroVironment received five separate orders totalling $15.8m in value, for the missile system, as of July 2013.
The US Army placed orders worth $36.7m for the Switchblade tactical missile systems in September 2013. AeroVironment received a $4.3m order with a $7.1m option from the US Army Close Combat Weapons Systems office for the Switchblade missile system support services in September 2014.
Tests conducted on the Switchblade missile system
A prototype of the Switchblade tactical missile system underwent military utility assessment with the US Army and received safety confirmation in 2010.
AeroVironment conducted live fire exercise of the Switchblade missile for multiple US Government authorities at a military facility in December 2011. During the demonstration, the missile successfully engaged and destroyed the targets from a stand-off distance in different operating environments, during day as well as at night.
The Switchblade missile was test-launched by the US Marine Corps’ MV-22 tiltrotor military aircraft in April 2015.
Design and features of the tactical missile system
The Switchblade system is tube-launched, rapidly-deployable, fully-scalable and man-portable. It can be remotely-piloted or be operated autonomously by a single operator and has the ability to wave-off / recommit a target after launch.
Length of the missile is 2ft, whilst its weight is approximately 2.5kg, and it is equipped with foldable tandem wings. The missile’s advanced explosive warhead allows it to attack soft targets and the loitering munition has very small visual, thermal and acoustic signatures.
The weapon system and its payload, launcher and transport bag can be carried in an ALICE pack. It can be launched from different platforms, including self-contained ground launcher, air vehicle, ground vehicle, and water craft.
Payloads attached to the Switchblade missile
The Switchblade missile is integrated with a video camera for providing real-time colour and infrared video imagery, and a global positioning system for target acquisition.
Ground control system
Operation for the Switchblade weapon system takes place from a small, lightweight, portable, and combat-proven ground control system (GCS) developed by AeroVironment.
The real-time video data captured by the air vehicle’s payload cameras is downlinked to the GCS for processing. The operators can capture screen images and store data to assess and track the targets. The ground station also allows retransmission of video and metadata to an operations network in real-time.
Switchblade missile propulsion and performance
Power for the Switchblade is provided by a small size and quiet motor. The Switchblade tactical missile can reach speeds between 55kt and 85kt, and an operational range of 10km. Its operational altitudes above ground level (AGL) and mean sea level (MSL) are 500ft and 15,000ft respectively, while the endurance is up to ten minutes.
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