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Spencer Ackerman reports: "AeroVironment calls its teeny-tiny killer drone the Switchblade. Essentially a guided missile small enough to fit in a backback and fire at a single foe, it might be the kind of blade US troops soon bring to a gunfight with Afghan insurgents."

AeroVironment calls its suicide killer drone the Switchblade. (photo: AeroVironment)
AeroVironment calls its suicide killer drone the Switchblade. (photo: AeroVironment)

US Troops Will Soon Get Tiny Kamikaze Drone

By Spencer Ackerman, Wired

18 October 11


eroVironment calls its teeny-tiny killer drone the Switchblade. Essentially a guided missile small enough to fit in a backback and fire at a single foe, it might be the kind of blade US troops soon bring to a gunfight with Afghan insurgents.

Most tiny drones the military uses, like the Puma or the Raven, are snoopers, not killers. Missiles are too heavy for those unmanned planes to carry, which is why the killer drones are usually the big boys like Predators or Reapers. That's starting to change: a Northern California company called Arcturus has a drone with a mere 17-foot wingspan that totes a 10-pound missile.

AeroVironment, manufacturer of many tiny drones, is offering a different paradigm. Instead of carrying a missile, the drone is the missile. Unfolded from a size small enough to fit in a soldier's rucksack - like a Switchblade; get it? - and launched from a tube, the spy cameras on board the drone scout an enemy position before the soldier controlling it sends it barreling into the target. It's a strictly one-way mission.

The video above, which AeroVironment showed at the August drone expo known as AUVSI, shows the problem that the Switchblade could solve. Troops on patrol come under sustained, accurate insurgent fire and get pinned behind their truck. Close air support could strafe the insurgents, but will take time to arrive. Mini-drones can spot the insurgent's position, but can't kill him. Boom: Switchblade marries those solutions together. And according to AFP, it's "coming soon" to US troops.

This isn't the first attempt to miniaturize killer drones. In addition to the Arcturus drone, a few years ago, enterprising engineers put a rifle on a Vigilante unmanned helicopter for something they called the Autonomous Rotorcraft Sniper System. It's nowhere near as small as a Switchblade, but nowhere near as big as a Predator, either. In 2008, the Air Force tested out tiny killer drones in a mysterious experiment called Project Anubis.

And soon, the Switchblade won't be the only Kamikaze drone out there. The spinning circles of death known as the Quadrocopter Microdrone is a homebrew combining tiny guns, laser targeting systems and an Xbox Kinect-style camera to hunt prey, with an optional iPad hookup for remote control.

But it appears the Switchblade is the first tiny kamikaze drone the US military actually bought. On July 29, the Army gave AeroVironment a $4.9 million contract for "rapid fielding" of an unspecified number of Switchblades to "deployed combat forces." That probably means Afghanistan, if AFP's right.

$4.9 million isn't a lot of money when annual defense budgets reach $700 billion. But experience has shown that troops in warzones are cautious about using even tiny drones, for fear that they'll misuse a robot that their individual units might consider costly. That's what happened when Marines in Iraq got the Raven in 2008. A drone that they don't have to worry about using a second time, though, might be a different story. your social media marketing partner


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+12 # Activista 2011-10-18 20:32
Switchblade - what a contribution to humanity ...
Tiny Kamikaze Drone - perfect for assassination and terrorists.
... and an optional iPad hookup for remote control. iPads are not selling well?
When it gets to the arms black market?
+4 # RLF 2011-10-19 05:34
The rest of American production is kaput, so this is the only production left. Our tax dollars at work! We need to stop free trade.
+5 # DaveM 2011-10-19 00:11
If I recall correctly, there was a "scare" a few years ago when someone suggested that there might be a terrorist plot to attack Americans using model airplanes packed with explosives. I wonder where they might have gotten that idea?
+2 # futhark 2011-10-19 04:06
Drones: the logical next escalation in the ongoing contest between the plutocracy and the rest of the human species.

We need a new Hague Convention every 10 years or so to deal with the deadlier and more threatening weapons technology keeps providing the plutocrats.
0 # Activista 2011-10-19 13:19
"We need a new Hague Convention .."
First the uber-terrorists - USA and Israel must JOIN the WORLD community - Hague Convention
+4 # Glen 2011-10-19 06:01
There is little to be said any longer. The amount of time and money spent on warfare is breathtaking and tragic. Activista is correct. These will be common to all manner of people before too long.

Better not become a thorn in the side of the U.S. even if fighting for your own home and country.
-1 # tedrey 2011-10-19 06:17
Even in a promotional advertisement pushing this weapon, we are shown some possibly innocent persons being targeted and killed because other persons, in another direction, are shooting. Our military can't be trusted with this weapon, (or, if you ask me, any others.)
-2 # rsb1 2011-10-19 08:53
Yeah. Great. ....and then 'They' get them too, and we all become targets of whomever controls the 'button'
-1 # fredboy 2011-10-19 10:59
Gulp! Wait 'til these things appear on the black market and in the streets.
+5 # Texan 4 Peace 2011-10-19 11:00
AeroVironment is the name of the company that is installing the charging station for my all-electric Nissan Leaf. I checked their website and was disappointed to see that indeed it is the same company. When the same company that is promoting green energy is also making weapons for our oil-driven wars, where can one take one's business?
+3 # Glen 2011-10-19 12:15
Exactly, Texan. And thanks for bringing this up in a post. We'll all be paying attention. The corporate world is complex and not easily combated. They infect everything.
+1 # Activista 2011-10-19 13:22
This is the issue with US business - profit is in military - NOT in useful goods.
Boeing is great example - 99% PROFIT comes from the military spending.
Hooked up on WAR for profit.
-1 # Capn Canard 2011-10-20 06:01
The cowardice is mind numbing... Like remote control ICBM's launched out of a pick up truck, like a drive by shooting.
-1 # motamanx 2011-10-20 11:23
Yet another way to disturb Afghan weddings? Who the hell authorizies this crap? It's only a matter of time before that "bad guys" get their hands on one and retro engineers their own such cowardly weapons. Stop it now.

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