Army asks AeroVironment to build compact Switchblade unmanned anti-personnel smart mortar for infantry

Jan. 23, 2024
The Switchblade attack drone, which essentially functions as a smart mortar round, transmits live color and infrared video wirelessly after launch.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – U.S. Army fire support experts needed manpackable armed unmanned aircraft that have become notable for their use in Ukraine against invading Russian military forces. They found their solution from AeroVironment Inc. in Simi Valley, Calif.

Officials of the U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., announced an $65.4 million order to AeroVironment in December to build the Switchblade armed loitering unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that launches from a small tube that can be carried in a warfighter's backpack.

The Switchblade attack drone system, which essentially functions as a smart mortar round, 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.

The Switchblade anti-personnel UAV weapon reportedly has been successful in Ukraine against Russian light combat vehicles and other valuable targets of opportunity. Ukraine officially uses the Switchblade 300 attack drone.

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Controllers can manipulate the Switchblade loitering munition from as far away as 6.2 miles, and the missile can operate for as long as 10 minutes. It can engage long-range targets and help to relieve warfighters who are pinned down by enemy fire.

The Switchblade 300 uses compressed air to shoot out of its launch tube, and has an electric engine for propulsion. The loitering munition uses a fly-by-radio frequency signal, and daylight and infrared cameras to lock on to stationary and moving targets.

The warhead has a forward-firing shotgun-blast effect that throws pellets forward of the missile. The missile weighs six pounds, and is for use against beyond-line-of-site targets. It can provide real-time GPS coordinates and video for information gathering, targeting, or target recognition.

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

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.

On this order AeroVironment will do the work in Simi Valley, Calif., and should be finished by April 2024. For more information contact AeroVironment online at, or the Army Contracting Command at

About the Author

John Keller | Editor

John Keller is editor-in-chief of Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine, which provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronic and optoelectronic technologies in military, space, and commercial aviation applications. A member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since the magazine's founding in 1989, Mr. Keller took over as chief editor in 1995.

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