I want to introduce one of our newest and most qualified contributors, Travis Lively. Travis is an Industry heavy weight when it comes to all things UAS (Unmanned Aerial System). He’s also a former teammate who we used to call the “Mayor of Bahrain” but that’s another story. Travis is a damn good writer and we are lucky to have him contribute to the site.
I’m sure you’ll find what he has to say very engaging. Thanks Trav.
The Switchblade UAS: Is Everyone Now a Sniper?
What if ground forces possessed the capability to deliberately bend or manipulate the trajectory of a lethal projectile in flight? Or shoot and hit intended targets from around corners beyond line of sight (BLOS) with deadly accuracy and extreme prejudice. Imagine an operator who could vector, alter or recall a potentially misplaced shot before impact? When it comes to the employment of traditional kinetic ordinance, the laws of physics demand conformance to the rule of “fire and forget” with no second chances or mulligans. That was…until now.
With a complete system weighing less than six pounds, the Switchblade remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) is about to revolutionize the economy of the “sensor to shooter” cycle from the backpack of a single soldier. Capable of processing real-time GPS coordinates, full motion video (FMV) for exploitation and target acquisition or feature/object recognition; the battery powered Switchblade is designed for rapid deployment with a nearly invisible visual, acoustic and thermal signature when loitering at altitude over a potential target within minutes. Although there are multiple miniature RPAs capable of these same mission sets, what separates the Switchblade is the inherent ability to instantly transition from an invaluable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platform into a lethal BLOS expendable guided munitions or kamikaze RPA with a small explosive shape charge capable of swift devastation of soft skinned targets.
With impending plans for integration into wing mounted pods on manned and/or unmanned aircraft, the ability to launch 1 to 20 Switchblades individually or as a swarm from an airborne asset or “mother ship” loitering overhead is closer than you might think. In the event of a firefight, a Predator pilot could launch and remotely, hand off control of the airborne Switchblade to either a single or multiple Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) equipped with a man-portable ground terminal. The JTAC would in turn pilot the Switchblade RPAs to target. In other words, a smaller tactical ground unit would now possess the ability to personally orchestrate air to ground ambush or flanking maneuvers on enemy forces from a covered or concealed position. This could fundamentally transform the entire mission planning, support, targeting and fire support process.
Presently, the US Military and its allies rely heavily on RPAs armed with Hellfire missiles and similar munitions to provide Situational Awareness (SA) and effective engagement of high value targets. In some instances, the ordinance available is not always available in sufficient amounts, tactically sound or suitable for collateral damage considerations. In some instances, the enemy has even attempted to exploit non-combatants as “human shields”. An extremely accurate lethal weapon with a minimal casualty radius, like the Switchblade, permits engagement of targets under otherwise prohibitive conditions.
Depending on the mission, a single Predator class or Reaper RPA equipped with a pod carrying 20 Switchblades could theoretically provide persistent tactical ISR and direct close air support (CAS) to forward-deployed Special Operations Forces and other small ground units for at least 20 hours without having to refuel.
In conclusion: The future prerequisite skills necessary to develop and separate elite sharp shooters from everyone else will ultimately involve competent computer terminal skills and superior thumb and finger coordination.
The irony: In the past, video-gamers spent the majority of their otherwise, productive hours, playing games attempting to master the Special Operator skillsets. In the future, Special Operators will be spending the majority of their otherwise, productive hours, attempting to master the “Gamer” skillsets.