AeroVironment to build backpackable attack UAV to enable ground troops to search-out and destroy targets

May 8, 2020
Switchblade transmits live video that enables the operator to find enemy targets, arm the payload, and lock the UAV's trajectory onto the target.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designers at AeroVironment Inc. in Monrovia, Calif., are building manpackable killer drones for the U.S. Army under terms of a $75.9 million contract announced last week.

The Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., are asking AeroVironment to build the Switchblade -- a loitering munition that launches from a small tube that can be carried in a warfighter's backpack.

The Army Contracting Command awarded this Switchblade contract on behalf of the Army Close Combat Weapons Systems Program Executive Office Missiles and Space (PEO MS) at Redstone Arsenal.

The Switchblade attack drone system transmits live color and infrared video wirelessly after launch for display on a small ground-control unit. The operator confirms the target using the live video feed, commands the air vehicle to arm its payload and lock its trajectory onto the target.

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Switchblade flies quickly and quietly, and strikes with precision to keep collateral damage to a minimum, experts say. The operator can call off a strike, if necessary, even after the munition is armed. The backpackable system weighs six pounds.

It's like a smart mortar system, yet instead of launching up and then down on a sharp ballistic arc, it lofts into the air, helps the operator search for targets, and attacks targets when found.

For conventional or special operations forces, the Switchblade is for use against beyond-line-of-site targets. Backpackable and rapidly deployable from air, sea or ground, Switchblade provides operators with increased lethality, reach, and precision-strike capabilities with low collateral effects, AeroVironment officials say.

Remotely piloted or flown autonomously, Switchblade can provide real-time GPS coordinates and video for information gathering, targeting, or target recognition. The vehicle’s small size and quiet electric motor make it difficult to detect, recognize, and track, even at very close ranges.

Related: Air Force considers commercial UAVs as potential replacements for venerable MQ-9 Reaper hunter-killer drone

The Switchblade warhead has an explosive charge equivalent to a 40-millimeter grenade that is able to destroy light armored vehicles and enemy warfighters.

The Switchblade killer drone operates with a common ground-control station; has a 6.2-mile range; flies at speeds of 55 to 85 knots, at altitudes below 500 feet; and can launch from the ground, from aircraft, from ground vehicles, and from surface vessels.

For more information contact AeroVironment online at, the Army Contracting Command-Redstone at, or the Army PEO MS at

About the Author

John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

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