For the first time they will have their own organic ability to engage targets [with a UAV],” he said.
Units that identify potential targets typically have to call for air support, a multistep process.
Enemies often slip away by the time an armed unmanned aerial vehicle, attack helicopter, fighter-bomber or quick-reaction force arrive on station. Marines also compete with other allied units for mission priority or those taking enemy fire, so missions are not always filled.
“Think about it — pairing switchblade aerial munitions with an [unmanned surveillance drone like a] Raven, Wasp or Puma — a small team with those tools can know what is going on around them within about 15 klicks,” Gitlin said. “Once they identify a threat, Switchblade lets them engage that threat immediately.”

This is outstanding and I am glad to see the troops get their hands on these things so they can play around with them. All in all, it will be the grunts on the ground that find the true usefulness of this weapon. Their feedback is what will be most important, and I certainly hope the military and Aerovironment listens to what they have to say. I am sure the SF units that have already used this thing, are giving their input as well. So it will be fascinating how this evolves and turns out.

As to the reaction by the troops so far?  Well, here are the two quotes from both the Army and Marines about it, from both of these articles below.

“I’ve worked with the Raven B, Raven DDL, but I feel that the practicality of this system is through the roof. This system is just the bee’s knees,” said Spc. Andrew Christensen, gunner and raven trainer, 1st Sqdn., 4th Cav. Regt. “This UAV has the capabilities to be used numerous ways in Afghanistan. Being able to set the warhead to one, five or seven meters could lower the collateral damage and save lives.” (Army)

The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab is leading research into the aircraft’s potential to serve with Marine units. The aircraft showed promise during recent testing at Fort Pickett, Va., according to Brig. Gen. Mark Wise, head of the lab.
He characterized the aircraft as highly accurate.
“The Marine who was flying it, it was his eighth flight. So if you want to talk about intuitive capabilities, those are the kinds of things we are starting to generate,” Wise told a crowd of defense industry representatives May 1 at a conference in Norfolk, Va. (Marines)

Notice some of the points that the Army and Marines mentioned? ‘This UAV has the capabilities to be used numerous ways in Afghanistan’ and ‘intuitive capabilities’.  These are important, because you want a weapon that is useful and easy to use–or intuitive. This is really important during the fog of war, and anything to make it very simple to use in high stress situations is good.

Along those lines, I posted some of the capabilities built into the Switchblade that makes it intuitive. Check out the video below if you want to see what I mean. If this UAS can pick up movement and ID that movement with a red box in the view finder, then that will help in the ‘observe’ portion of that soldier’s OODA.

Not only that, but these things will probably evolve to have all sorts of capability built in as the technology gets smaller/better/faster (Moore’s Law). For example, a sensor package that could pick up on gun shots would be fantastic. Also, an automatic loiter system would be great as well. Ultimately, a soldier should be able to deploy the Switchblade above the battle space, and the munition would intuitively pick up the gun shots of the enemy and circle around them from a high angle–ready for the drone archer to pull the trigger for a strike. Kind of like a weaponized bird of prey.

The other point is to let those who specialize in hunting on the battlefield use these things. Or at least play around with them. I am talking about sniper teams. These folks specialize in killing the enemy or spotting the enemy from far distances. A sniper might be better trained to pick up the details in a viewfinder, and the sniper is already trained in working with others in a battle space. Which also leads to an interesting thought–imagine if a sniper team killed an insurgent with a Switchblade from 5 kilometers and at BLOS or beyond line of sight. That would be quite the shot….

Although it looks like the Army and Marines are training guys to be the UAS folks on the ground. I think it would be really cool if this weapon could be used by anyone, if they were handed the thing on the battlefield. Of course you would want specialists who can control and properly use the things. But to turn this weapon into an upgraded version of a LAW or AT-4, where entire units could use them as they see fit, should be a consideration.

On the other hand, having a UAS flying in the same air space as an Apache or Kiowa, or whatever aircraft, must be a well managed and controlled event so there are no accidents. And maybe as the technology evolves, these small UAS’s will be able to integrate with these aircraft automatically and share that air space with no problems. So in the beginning, it is wise to have some squared away folks controlling these things so they can at least hammer out the bugs and apply continuous improvement to the whole system. –Matt

 

Spc. Thomas Gonzales, kneeling, and Spc. Andrew Christensen, both with Troop A, 1st Sqdn., 4th Cav. Regt., load the coordinates into the system before launching the kamikaze UAV, also known as the Switchblade, March 27. The 4th IBCT is one of two U.S. Army brigades being fielded the drone during its deployment.

 

 

 

Marine Corps pursues ‘kamikaze’ drone
By James K. Sanborn
Wednesday May 16, 2012

The Marine Corps is taking steps to procure its first “kamikaze” drone in an effort to provide small units the ability to quickly strike soft targets such as IED emplacement teams.
The Switchblade, produced by California-based AeroVironment, can be guided into a target and explode on impact, almost like a hand grenade, said company spokesman Steven Gitlin.
“For the first time they will have their own organic ability to engage targets [with a UAV],” he said.
Units that identify potential targets typically have to call for air support, a multistep process.
Enemies often slip away by the time an armed unmanned aerial vehicle, attack helicopter, fighter-bomber or quick-reaction force arrive on station. Marines also compete with other allied units for mission priority or those taking enemy fire, so missions are not always filled.
“Think about it — pairing switchblade aerial munitions with an [unmanned surveillance drone like a] Raven, Wasp or Puma — a small team with those tools can know what is going on around them within about 15 klicks,” Gitlin said. “Once they identify a threat, Switchblade lets them engage that threat immediately.”
The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab is leading research into the aircraft’s potential to serve with Marine units. The aircraft showed promise during recent testing at Fort Pickett, Va., according to Brig. Gen. Mark Wise, head of the lab.
He characterized the aircraft as highly accurate.
“The Marine who was flying it, it was his eighth flight. So if you want to talk about intuitive capabilities, those are the kinds of things we are starting to generate,” Wise told a crowd of defense industry representatives May 1 at a conference in Norfolk, Va.
The Switchblade, weighing just 5.5 pounds, can fit into an ALICE or similar pack. When needed, a single Marine can pull it from his pack, set up a small tube containing the aircraft and automatically launch it with a remote controller. It can take flight from the ground, a vehicle, ship or aircraft. After being fired from the tube, the Switchblade’s four wings spring open — lending the aircraft its name — the prop begins spinning, and it is off with a one-way ticket.
Once a target is designated and a kill order is given, the aircraft locks in on the target and follows, even if the target moves.
Designed with low collateral damage in mind, the aircraft can also be called off at the last minute and re-engage later, Gitlin said. If the target is a sniper, for example, and children wander into the area, Switchblade can disengage and reacquire the target once civilians have moved on.
Another advantage of the Switchblade is that it uses a controller common with several of the Marine Corps’ other UAVs also produced by AeroVironment. That includes the Shadow, Wasp and Raven, a capability that matches the service’s efforts to develop a single remote control that will cut down on the weight and amount of equipment Marines carry into combat.
The need for faster reaction by armed UAVs also has led the Marine Corps to push for arming the RQ-7 Shadow. The Corps has aggressively pursued an 18-month timeline to field Shadows downrange that can carry small munitions of up to 25 pounds after commanders in Afghanistan issued an urgent-needs statement last June.
But Marines calling on the Shadow still must rely on unmanned squadrons for support. With Switchblade, they can identify targets, launch and engage on their own.
The Army, also pursuing Switchblade, awarded AeroVironment a $4.9 million contract in September and plans to send soldiers to Afghanistan with the aircraft this year.
Story here.
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‘Dragon’ Brigade trains with more reliable equipment
By FORT RILEY
4/6/2012
As the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, prepares for deployment later in the spring, units are being fielded with more reliable, technically proficient equipment.
The 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment; 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment; and the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment have been training on the new back-pack sized lethal miniature aerial munitions system, or LMAMS, – the Switchblade – from March 26 to 30.
This active warhead kamikaze drone is faster, lighter and more precise than previous drone systems used in the Army today. Normally used by Special Forces units, the 4th IBCT is one of only two brigades being fielded this weapons system for its deployment this year.


“We are coming out on two separate two-week iterations to train 20 Soldiers within the brigade … it’s a complicated system on  the cutting edge of technology, and it requires a lot of training to get the effects on target,” said Maj. Robert Brown, assistant project manager, LMAMS, PEO Missiles and Space. “The system flies like an unmanned aerial vehicle, but has a forward-fire directional warhead. We not only are giving the Soldiers simulator time, but also a lot of flying time on the ranges of Fort Riley. They will also receive more training in theater.”
The training conducted by the contracted manufacturer Aerovironment, whose technology gave birth to the PUMA, Wasp, Anubis and RQ Raven 11 UAVs, has produced this less than 10-pound aerial system that is reportedly accurate within five meters causing minimal collateral damage.
After a half a day of simulator training, the Soldiers and instructors took the drones to the skies to gain familiarity with the equipment.
“I’ve worked with the Raven B, Raven DDL, but I feel that the practicality of this system is through the roof. This system is just the bee’s knees,” said Spc. Andrew Christensen, gunner and raven trainer, 1st Sqdn., 4th Cav. Regt. “This UAV has the capabilities to be used numerous ways in Afghanistan. Being able to set the warhead to one, five or seven meters could lower the collateral damage and save lives.”
The actual fielding of this drone weapons system will be performed outside the continental U.S. after the Soldiers arrive in theater.

Story here.
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Features Specifications of the Switchblade
-One man operation
-Back packable
-Tube launched
-Rapidly deploy-able
-Loitering munition
-Effective against stationary and moving targets
-Wave-off/recommit capability
-Precision strike capability
-Minimal collateral effects
-Able to engage NLOS targets
GCS
-Common Ground Control Station for Raven®, WaspTM, and Puma AE TM
-Greater than 5 km radius of operation
-Greater than 5 min
-55 to 85 kts. (63.25 miles per hour to 97 mph)
-Below 500 feet AGL (ceiling >15,000 feet MSL)
-Fits inside ALICE pack, approx. 5.5 lbs (2.5 kg) (includes payload, launcher and transport bag)
-Self contained ground launch
-Very small visual, thermal; acoustic signatures
-Precision strike with very low collateral
-Air vehicle, ground vehicle, water craft, etc.
Switchblade® is scaleable to meet multiple customer needs; specifications shown are for the man-portable ground launch variant only.