Kamikaze dronesU.S. Army to deploy “kamikaze” drones

Published 1 November 2011

The U.S. Army is getting ready to add a “kamikaze drone” to its arsenal; the new drone is designed to hover quietly in the sky before it dive-bombs directly into a human target

Switchblade launch while watches drone-eye view // Source: avinc.com

The U.S. Army is getting ready to add a “kamikaze drone” to its arsenal. The new drone is designed to hover quietly in the sky before it dive-bombs directly into a human target.

Officially dubbed the Switchblade, the new drones come as part of the ever-expanding U.S. arsenal of unmanned aerial vehicles.

The new drone weighs less than two kilos and is small enough to be carried by ground troops in their backpacks. When it is ready to be deployed, the Switchblade is launched from a tube and its wings unfold as it begins to soar through the air.

Manufactured by AeroVironment, the drone is powered by a small electric motor and transmits video in real-time so troops can identify an enemy target.

Upon confirming the target using the live video feed, the operator then sends a command to the air vehicle to arm it and lock its trajectory onto the target,” the company said in a press release.

When given the kill order, the drone slams into the target and detonates a small explosive.

As a safety feature, the drone can be called off at the last moment, even after the kill order has been issued, offering operators “a level of control not available in other weapon systems,” the company said.

The Switchblade comes in response to rising criticism that drone strikes kill innocent civilians including women and children when they launch powerful Hellfire missiles or drop bombs.

According to Daniel Byman, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, statistics collected in 2009 pointed to more than 600 civilian deaths from drone strikes, a number the CIA strongly disputes. The agency maintains that it kills very few non-combatants and that last year there were no civilian deaths.

In addition, the continuing drone campaign in Pakistan has continued to be a source of significant tension in the uneasy U.S.-Pakistan alliance.

In recent years, the United States has come to increasingly rely on drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia to target and kill terrorist leaders including Anwar al Awlaki, the radical American-born Yemeni cleric who has been credited with inciting several terrorist attacks including the Fort Hood shooting.

To help minimize the number of civilian casualties, the Switchblade has been introduced as a way to avoid killing innocent civilians.

Flying quietly at high speed the Switchblade delivers its onboard explosive payload with precision while minimizing collateral damage,” the company said.

In June, the U.S. Army awarded a $4.9 million contract to AeroVironment to supply the new drones as soon as possible. It is unclear how many Switchblade drones the Army purchased or when they will be deployed downrange.