Following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s impassionate plea at the US Congress yesterday, President Biden had approved an additional $800 million security assistance package to Ukraine, bringing the total amount of military aid the US has sent to Zelensky to $2 billion. In a new revelation, top Republican and Texas Representative Mike McCaul revealed that the US was sending 100 Switchblade drones to Ukraine as part of said $800 million military aid package.
“America is leading this effort, together with our allies and partners, providing enormous levels of security and humanitarian assistance that we’re adding to today, and we’re going to do more in the days and weeks ahead,” the US President said. He was also very straight forward with the situation, telling Americans that “this could be a long and difficult battle,” and further stated that “the American people will be steadfast in our support of the people of Ukraine in the face of Putin’s immoral, unethical attacks on civilian populations.”
The new assistance package includes 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 2,000 Javelins, 1,000 light anti-armor weapons, 6,000 AT-4 anti-armor systems, 100 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems, 100 grenade launchers, 5,000 rifles, 1,000 pistols, 400 machine guns, 400 shotguns, 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenade launcher and mortar rounds, 25,000 sets of body armor, and lastly 25,000 helmets.
As reported by POLITICO in an interview with top Republican and Texas Representative Mike McCaul, who is part of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the US will be sending 100 Switchblade drones to Ukraine to bolster its arsenal of tactical drones, which the Ukrainian Armed Forces have been utilizing to extremely good effect. The Switchblade drones may be the Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems that the White House had announced earlier as part of the $800 million assistance package. However, it has not yet been confirmed by the Department of Defense whether all the 100 drones are Switchblades, but it was “certainly safe to assume one of the purposes of these unmanned aerial systems would be to deliver a punch,” a US official told Aviation Week Pentagon Editor Brian Everstine.
The Switchblade, made by AeroVironment Inc., is a kamikaze suicide drone. It does not fire a weapon – rather, it is the weapon itself. It is a small human-guided missile that is intended for precise targeting of soft targets. It can also give ground troops an opportunity to scout an area out, acting as a reconnaissance drone and a missile at the same time. It’s a small, light drone that can fly up to 15-40 minutes in the air and uses a real-time GPS guidance system to fly it to the target. In practical terms an infantry squad can carry several of these and use them to take out mortar positions, communications vehicles or even individual commanders outside of firearms ranges. Ukraine has been pretty successful in targeting senior Russian troop commanders in the fields and we can imagine small units carrying 10-20 of these drones conducting precision strikes on individual targets almost like snipers. In fact, the could be used to augment and support sniper teams.
The Switchblade carries the Javelin multi-purpose warhead and coming down from above, would be devastating to Russian armor as well. At just $6,000 per copy, it’s a pretty cheap munition to expend too.
It can be remembered that the Ukrainians have been utilizing their Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 armed drones to pulverize Russian armored columns, which had exposed very large gaps with the Russians’ ability to dominate the skies in Ukraine. Russian surface-to-air missiles such as the Russian Buk-M1-2 Air Defense Missile System have not been able to effectively target the drone, leaving the Russian troops quite vulnerable to drone attacks. The drone has been so effective that the Ukrainians have a song for the TB2 entitled “Bayraktar,” a patriotic song sung by soldiers and protesters alike.
— Şahin Ekinci (@ayebuzer) March 10, 2022
The US is capitalizing on the Ukrainian’s smart usage of the tactical drones and further supplying them with these Switchblade kamikaze drones to take out Russian convoys, which had largely stalled on almost every front of the war due to logistical problems. Despite the increasing number of losses, Russians have not given up on the campaign and continue to pummel Ukrainian cities with bombs and missiles. Everstine reported that Moscow had used 75% of its military to Ukraine with over 980 missiles fired – despite this, they haven’t taken Kyiv or any other major Ukrainian City aside from Kherson. Other cities were reportedly surrounded but were still repelling the Russians. According to him, the Russian Air Force had been flying about 200 sorties per day, with Ukrainians flying about 5 to 10 per day in self-defense.
The most recent bombing was in a Mariupol maternity hospital and a Mariupol theater, with the latter being a refuge for Ukrainians whose houses were previously bombed. About 1,000 people were believed to be in the theater when the Russians dropped their bombs on it. Perhaps more shocking, the people at the theater wrote the word “Children” in front and behind the theater in large white letters in an attempt to inform Russian bombers that they were civilians and not armed.
The delivery of the Switchblade to Ukraine presents a very good opportunity to capitalize on Russia’s failure to secure the skies. The model of said drone that was going to be sent to Ukraine has not yet been determined. However, the US military reportedly has the Switchblade 300 or the larger Switchblade 600 to choose from. Military observers and the Ukrainians alike are looking forward to the delivery because the drone is known to be tremendously easy to operate and carry as they are backpack-portable and are launched from an individual launch tube. Think of it as a mortar, but this time around, it’s an actual loitering missile.
Both Switchblade variants are quite the weapon. The Switchblade 300 can kill people inside a light vehicle, hover for about 15 minutes, is very light at just 5.5 lbs. and has a range of over 6 miles. The Switchblade 600, which is advertised as a loitering missile, can hover in the air for 40 minutes, can travel up to 25 miles, and can pierce through armored vehicles. Both models can be waived off in the case that the operator changes its target or it was deemed that the drone had an incorrect target.
The idea behind the unique drone was that it was originally for the Marines and the Special Forces, specifically used by US Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan while fighting against the Taliban as they saw the need for a light and accurate drone that could take out vehicles without the assistance of any other unit. Many military servicemen refer to the kamikaze drone as a flying shotgun due to its unsuspecting firepower.
Basically, it is the handier version of advanced drones. It’s also cheaper too than your typical drones at around $6,000 each – a fraction of the $150,000 Hellfire missiles used in other drones. It is also much cheaper than the famed MQ-9 Reaper drone at an estimated $32 million a unit. Moreover, it is cheaper than the very famous Bayraktar TB2, which sits at around $1 million to $2 million per unit.
Aside from the Switchblade, McCaul also informed POLITICO that the US was working with several allies to donate S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Ukraine. This would be likely as US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will be visiting Slovakia tomorrow and could potentially talk about a donation of the systems.
“There are air defense systems, mobile systems, that the Ukrainians know how to use, and we also know that there are allies and partners, too, who also possess them and might be willing to provide and so we’re actively having those discussions,” said unnamed US defense official to Stars and Stripes Pentagon reporter Caitlin Doornbos.
While Biden was certainly mum on Zelensky’s request to close Ukrainian skies and implement a no-fly zone, the US has certainly given Ukraine formidable weapons to help repel the Russian forces in protecting and upholding its sovereignty.
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