The French Army has requested the urgent acquisition of loitering munitions developed in the United States. According to the Defence Ministry of France, the request “aims to set up a first urgent capacity for the benefit of the French forces,” with the next six months as their target induction.
An Urgent Request
The French Army had been attempting to deploy remotely operated weapon systems. The French Army’s Chief of Planning, Col. Arnaud Coujon, told reporters during the Eurosatory Defence Exhibition that they hope to acquire Switchblades from AeroVironment. They are looking to integrate these systems within the next six months.
According to reports, Goujon found the Switchblade interesting since it can go about 1.86 miles (around 3 kilometers) away, and fly for 15 minutes. However, he also said that if its range is similar to that of a mortar but ten times more expensive, that will make him less interested.
This is part of their goal to establish a “long-lasting remotely operated ammunition operation” that they want to launch by 2023. This is also aligned with their other projects, Larinae and Colibri, that the General Directorate of Armaments (DGA) and the Defense Innovation Agency (AID) announced in May.
France did not announce any number of units they’re looking to obtain, although there are reports stating the nation is targeting about 82 Switchblade loitering munitions. The US State Department’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency has not yet given any statement regarding the request.
In April, the Department of Defense announced its plans to provide additional military supplies for the Ukrainian forces amounting to $300 million. Part of this was allotted for armored vehicles and 10 of the latest model Switchblade drones, the Switchblade-600, with warheads capable of busting tanks. Additionally, the budget would cover the AeroVironment-made Puma, Switchblade crewless aircraft, armored vehicles, laser-guided rocket systems, night vision devices, and more ammunition.
AeroVironment did not give any statement about a potential sale to France. However, reports say that since the Defense Department announced the plans to send loitering munitions to Ukraine, the weapon has been getting “considerable interest” from different militaries. Charles Dean, Vice President of Global Business Development for Unmanned Systems, said:
“…with the crisis in Ukraine and the donation by the U.S. government of our loitering munitions to support the Ukrainians, many more people are aware of these systems.”
There’s also an ongoing debate on whether the Switchblade is a drone. This loitering munition works not by carrying and firing a weapon but by being the weapon itself. In a previous article by SOFREP, the Switchblade drone is described as,
“… 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.”
A small unit carrying ten loitering munitions can take out the enemies and their vehicles and conduct precision strikes.
The Switchblade 600
Switchblade 600 was introduced by AeroVironment in 2020. Before the 600 was the Switchblade 300 Blackwing variant designed for the US Navy and was released in 2015.
The latest and larger 600 version can deliver RSTA support and high-precision optics. Its anti-armor warhead can also take down “larger, hardened targets at greater distances.” It also allows its operator to abort the mission and re-engage anytime needed, whether it was the same or a different target. The AeroVironment’s website described the Switchblade 600 as follows:
“Equipped with class-leading, high-resolution EO/IR gimbaled sensors and advanced precision flight control, Switchblade 600 empowers the warfighter with quick and easy deployment via tube launch, and the capability to fly, track and engage non-line-of-sight targets and armored vehicles with precision lethal effects without the need for external ISR or fires assets.”
As for France getting a hold of Swtichblades, SOFREP has yet to confirm any definitive details.