May 6, 2011: Last year, the U.S. Army bought ten Switchblade UAVs for testing and evaluation. The tests were successful, and now the army wants to buy and deploy them. The only problem is tight budgets and the cost of this one-use system. Depending on the number ordered, each Switchblade round (the UAV in its storage/launch container) will still cost over $10,000. If it becomes popular with the troops, demand for more would have to be filled, and that could put a dent in the shrinking army budget.
The Switchblade is a one kilogram (2.2 pound) expendable (used only once) UAV that can be equipped with explosives. The Switchblade is launched from its shipping and storage tube, at which point wings flip out, a battery powered propeller starts spinning and a vidcam begins broadcasting images to the controller.
The Switchblade is operated using the same gear the larger (two kg) Raven UAV employs. The Switchblade can be launched from the 70mm rocket tubes used on army helicopters. Moving at up to a kilometer a minute, the Switchblade can stay in the air for 20-40 minutes (depending on whether or not it is armed with explosives.) The armed version can be flown to a target and detonated, having about the same explosive effect as a hand grenade. Thus the Switchblade could be useful for ground troops, to get at an enemy taking cover in a hard to see location. Switchblade completed its development tests two years ago. Technically a guided missile, the use of Switchblade as a reconnaissance tool encouraged developers to refer to it as a UAV.