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.
It is available in two variants, namely Switchblade 300 and Switchblade 600. The original battle-proven Switchblade that was introduced in 2011 was rebranded as Switchblade 300 following the launch of Switchblade 600.
The US Government agreed to provide Switchblade munitions to Ukraine as part of a security assistance package amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that began in February 2022.
Ukraine received more than 700 Switchblade drones as part of the military assistance from the US. The systems are providing real-time ISR and precision strike support for the Ukrainian forces in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
AeroVironment launched Switchblade 300 Block 20 as the next-generation successor to its Switchblade 300 system in March 2023.
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 either remotely piloted or be operated autonomously by a single operator and has the ability to wave-off / recommit a target after launch.
The missile is 2ft long and weighs approximately 2.5kg, and is equipped with foldable tandem wings. Its advanced explosive warhead allows it to attack soft targets. 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 watercraft.
The Block 10C upgrade of the weapon system features digital data link (DDL) for a secure encrypted communication link. Its development was completed in April 2016.
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 (GPS) for target acquisition.
The Switchblade 300 Sensor to Shooter (S2S) Kit was introduced in January 2022. It allows immediate transfer of target coordinates from AeroVironment’s small unmanned aircraft systems (SUAS) such as the Puma™ 3 AE, Puma™ LE, Raven® B, or Wasp®, AE to Switchblade 300 loitering missile systems.
The S2S software, which is a replacement of the FalconView multi-platform mapping and mission planning application, reduces engagement timelines through real-time transmission of video and flight telemetry data.
Ground control system
The Switchblade weapon system can be operated 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 sized and quiet motor. The Switchblade tactical missile can reach a maximum cruising speed of 101.38km/h and an operational range of 10km. Its operational altitudes above ground level (AGL) and mean sea level (MSL) are 500ft and 15,000ft respectively for Switchblade 300, while the endurance is up to ten minutes.
The Block 10C variant can fly for 15 minutes.
Switchblade 300 Block 20 details
Switchblade 300 Block 20 is a lightweight, easy to operate, precision-guided lethal missile weighing less than 1.77kg. It builds on the combat-proven performance of its predecessor Block 10C and incorporates new features.
The advanced munition has a length of 1.52ft and a wingspan of 2.42ft.
The backpackable system is designed to be operated by a single person and has an operational range of more than 10km.
Switchblade 300 Block 20 has a cruise speed of 101.38km/h and a dash speed of 160.93km/h.
The missile can be launched via tube-launch from ground, air and maritime platforms within two minutes.
A new tablet-based fire control system assists operators in training, planning, and implementing missions with ease. An integrated control directly onto the launcher tube further simplifies the system’s operation.
Additional features include enhanced digital data link (DDL) range, wave-off and recommit capability, and a high-resolution electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) panning camera suite. It can interface with external command & control (C2) systems and delivers a real time video and cursor-on-target GPS coordinates for use against BLOS targets.
Small expeditionary units can deploy the missile system to achieve stand-alone precision and lethal strike capabilities with anti-personnel effects and low collateral damage.
The loitering system provides left-hand commit with continuous positive identification (PID), and user selectable angle attacks and point of detonation.
Block 20 provides longer endurance with more than 20 minutes of tactical reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RSTA).
Switchblade 600 details
Switchblade 600, which is a next-generation variant, is a man-portable all-in-one tactical missile system capable of engaging larger, hardened targets at greater distances.
The 22.7kg system can be prepared for operation in less than ten minutes. It features the same collapsible wing, and electric propulsion architecture as the base variant.
The missile system allows warfighters to fly, track, and strike non-line-of-sight targets and light-armoured vehicles with lethality.
The Switchblade 600 solution incorporates a high-performance electro-optical/infra-red (EO/IR) gimbaled sensor suite and precision flight control.
With an endurance of more than 40 minutes, it provides enhanced tactical RSTA. It features an anti-armour warhead that allows it to engage stationary and moving light armoured vehicles from different angles without the need for external ISR or fires assets.
Switchblade 600 is also equipped with wave-off and recommit capability, which ensures minimal to no collateral damage. It can travel 80km to a target area before conducting multiple confirmation orbits of the target.
It can attain a cruise speed of 112.65km/h and a dash speed of 185km/h. The loitering missile has an operating altitude of 650ft AGL and more than 15,000ft MSL. It has a target standoff range of more than 40km.
Switchblade missile system development, orders and deliveries
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. AeroVironment received a $5.1m modification contract for the Switchblade loitering munition systems and services in March 2012.
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 CCWS office for the Switchblade missile system support services in September 2014.
The company received a contract worth $22.8m from the US Army for Block 10C Switchblade missile systems and support services in October 2016.
It was awarded contracts totalling $111m between August 2017 and May 2018 to provide the Switchblade lethal miniature aerial missile system (LMAMS) and contractor logistics support (CLS).
The contracts include orders from the US Army and the first order from the US Marine Corps (USMC). Hardware deliveries of the Switchblade system under initial awards commenced in December 2017.
AeroVironment was awarded a $76m contract by the US Army to supply the Switchblade 300 system along with support services in May 2020. The contract was awarded as part of the US Army’s LMAMS programme.
The company received a contract option award worth $44.96m to supply additional Switchblade 300 systems for the US Army and for export to an allied nation in April 2021. The option was exercised by the US Army under the LMAMS contract.
The US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) awarded a contract worth $26m for the delivery and integration of Switchblade 600 missile systems into specialised maritime platforms in March 2021.
The US Army placed a contract order worth $13m for Switchblade 300 contractor logistics support in March 2021. The contract requires AeroVironment to deliver logistics support services until March 2024.
USSOCOM awarded a $20.32m contract to AeroVironment for the supply of Switchblade 600 TMS in September 2021.
The US Army Tactical Aviation and Ground Munitions (TAGM) project office awarded a $20.6m contract to AeroVironment in September 2022 for the purchase of Switchblade 300 tactical missile systems, which are expected to be delivered by July 2023.
In December 2022, the Defence Materiel Agency of Lithuania signed a €45m ($47.77m) contract with the US Government for the procurement of Switchblade 600 kamikaze drones for the Lithuanian Armed Forces. The contract also includes procurement of associated launch and control equipment, personnel training simulation system, and maintenance package.
Amprius Technlogies, a manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries, was contracted to provide high energy density lithium-ion battery cells for the Switchblade 300 Block 20 system in April 2023.
The US Army awarded a $64.6m contract to AeroVironment in March 2023 to supply Switchblade 300 missile systems. The contract includes the supply of the Switchblade systems to France and another allied nation under the foreign military sales (FMS) programme. The company is expected to complete the deliveries by July 2024.