A Crucial Asset

The AeroVironment-developed Switchblade 300 kamikaze drone has proven to be a crucial asset for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. The Ukrainian Armed Forces recently scored a significant victory by using the drone to strike a Russian Osa surface-to-air missile system, demonstrating the weapon’s effectiveness.

 In spring 2022, Ukraine received about 1,000 of these devices, each unit costing $6,000. The Switchblade 300 can hit targets up to 10 kilometers away, flying at around 100 km/h for up to 15 minutes.

However, Russia has developed a method to counter the Switchblade 300, as shown in a recent video depicting a drone caught on a camouflage net above a surface-to-air missile system. Both Ukrainian and Russian troops use nets or wire cages to shield themselves and their vehicles from drone attacks. These simple, inexpensive measures can protect against high-tech drones like the Lancet or the US-supplied Switchblade loitering munitions.

The tube-launched switchblade 300 block 20. Image from YouTube and AeroVironment

Switchblade 600

The US Defense Department is procuring ten Switchblade 600 drones, an armor-piercing tactical drone that explodes upon impact, to support Ukraine against Russia’s invasion. The larger Switchblade 600 can destroy armored targets like tanks, boasting a range of around 40 km and a 40-minute endurance.

The Switchblade 600 tank killer. Screenshot from YouTube and AeroVironment

As drone use in warfare evolves, ethical concerns arise. Drones can target individuals without putting soldiers at risk and are susceptible to countermeasures such as camouflage netting or electronic jamming. Developing counter-drone technology is vital for militaries facing drone attack threats.

The successful use of the Switchblade 300 kamikaze drone in striking a Russian Osa surface-to-air missile system in Ukraine underscores the growing importance of drone technology on the modern battlefield. As a result, militaries worldwide will need to invest in counter-drone technology and develop new drone capabilities to stay competitive in the ever-changing landscape of warfare.

Russia’s Switchblade Counterpart

With the Switchblade’s success, it would be fair to ask if Russia has a counterpart of the drone in its arsenal. The LOAP 500 loitering munition is a small, inexpensive, and easy-to-operate drone that can be launched on a variety of platforms. With a range of 5 kilometers and a payload capacity of up to 100 kilograms, combined with its thermal camera, it is a contender to the Switchblade 300, similar in many ways. Though the LOAP 500’s larger size and weight make it slower and less maneuverable than the Switchblade 300. Moreover, Russia’s significant equipment losses during the war, coupled with sanctions from the West, have likely impeded the production of this drone.

The Russian LAOP 500 Drone. Screenshot from YouTube and One Target

To our knowledge, Russia does not have a direct counterpart to the Switchblade 600, which is a larger and more capable drone than the aforementioned LOAP 500. The closest thing in the arsenal of drones that Russia has to the Switchblade 600 is the KUB-BLA; it is, however, reported to be not as maneuverable, nor precise, nor have the same protection from enemy fire as the Switchblade 600.

Impact of Drones on Modern Warfare

Drones have fundamentally reshaped the way soldiers engage in combat, from reconnaissance and surveillance to targeted strikes and intelligence gathering. Unlike the early UAVs, the Switchblade series of drones can be carried and deployed on the battlefield. Their versatile capability allows troops to do aerial surveillance and launch targeted strikes without the need to contact and wait for air support, offering precision firepower to ground units. While Russia’s admittedly clever and simple countermeasure does show a weakness in drone weapons, it will continue to evolve along with its impact on modern warfare. Shaping the future of how battles are fought, and molding military strategies and defenses.

The ongoing war in Ukraine has become a stage for both factions to continuously try and outdo each other by advancing their weaponry and devising new defensive strategies. The conflict has turned into a proving ground for the latest military tech and tactics. Day by day, newer and stronger weapons are being introduced, aiming to boost the attack capabilities of the battling sides. This includes the use of cutting-edge tanks, missile systems, and airborne weapons, all targeted at securing a crucial edge in the conflict.

But, with the arrival of these sophisticated weapons, defensive measures also evolve as each side aims to neutralize the other’s firepower. The creation of anti-drone systems, electronic warfare techniques, and the use of advanced camouflaging and decoy tactics showcase the innovative ways each side is trying to shield their troops and weaken the attacking power of their rivals.

This ongoing dance of weapon advancements and defensive counteractions highlights the ever-changing landscape of warfare. Here, innovation and adaptability are key to survival and victory. As the Ukrainian war unfolds, it underscores the ceaseless competition between attack and defense. This quest for superior weaponry and effective defenses remains a critical aspect of war.

** To learn more about modern drone warfare, click here.