SOFREP contributing editor Travis Lively wrote about the Switchblade a while back. I agree with Travis that it is likely that we will see these systems attached to larger UAS platforms in the form of pods. It’s easy to image ground operators taking control of individual units or swarming them onto target like killer bees – only these sting with an explosive warhead.
UAS Advanced Development: Switchblade
From AVINC.com: “The Switchblade is designed to provide the warfighter with a back-packable, non-line-of-sight precision strike solution with minimal collateral effects. It can rapidly provide a powerful, but expendable miniature flying Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) package on a Beyond Line-of-Sight (BLOS) target within minutes. This miniature, remotely-piloted or autonomous platform can either glide or propel itself via quiet electric propulsion, providing real-time GPS coordinates and video for information gathering, targeting, or feature/object recognition. The vehicle’s small size and quiet motor make it difficult to detect, recognize, and track even at very close range. The Switchblade is fully scalable and can be launched from a variety of air and ground platforms.”
I encourage you to take a look at Travis’s full write up here. A short clip is below.
What Does The Future Hold For UAS Systems?
Like Special Operations Forces, Unmanned Systems are here to stay in the 21st Century. However, there is risk at hand. The Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) market has become overly saturated with a myriad of copy cat companies that are large and often slow to adopt and adapt to technology improvements. The usual suspects (Lockheed, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Elbit come to mind immediately) will continue to work at doing more paper innovation with regards winning contracts and manipulating the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), then actual Steve Jobs-like innovation.
So who will have a UAS seats when Panetta eventually cuts the budget music and ends the UAS game of musical chairs? Definitely industry pioneers like Aerovironment and privately held General Atomics. Aerovironment has a strong foothold in the micro market within the Special Operations community, and General Atomics reigns supreme in large systems like the ubiquitous Predator and soon to be released Predator XP (exportable). Standby to watch the XP sweep the globe, I don’t know of any Middle East country that wouldn’t want to get their hands on Predator.
AV and GA are so deeply embedded into the core fabric of DOD UAS systems with strong contracts that they are guaranteed seats. Meanwhile, the rest will fight for scraps and the few remaining large government proposals that are outstanding. Unfortunately for them (the big guys), my intuition tells me that most of these proposals are at risk of further cuts. The good news for newcomers, is that this is a growth industry and there’s still lots of money for earth shattering innovation.