Warplanes: Hero And Switchblade

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June 22, 2015: An Israeli firm has introduced a new loitering UAV, portable enough (weighing 3 kg/6.6 pounds) for the infantry to carry and use. The Hero 30 has 30 minutes endurance and has a small warhead that can use used to turn it into a weapon if the onboard vidcam indicates a target that has to be taken care of immediately. Otherwise it can be landed and reused. Hero 30 is based on the older Hero 400 which weighs 40 kg and has an 8 kg (18 pound) warhead. This UAV has a four hour endurance and can operate up to 150 kilometers from the operator. But Israel noticed that the United States was having lot of success (and demand from SOCOM and infantry units) for the similar (to Hero 30) Switchblade.

The army sent some Switchblade UAV systems to Afghanistan in 2009, for secret field testing. This was very successful and the troops demanded more, and more, and more. Initially, Switchblade was mainly used largely by Special Forces and other special operations troops. In 2011, after a year of successful field testing, the army ordered over a hundred Switchblade UAVs for troop use and last year ordered more as regular infantry units got their hands on it and demanded more.

Back in 2012 the U.S. Army and Marine Corps ordered hundreds of the new Switchblade micro-UAV/cruise missiles after combat zone testing proved so successful. Switchblade was developed for the army but the marines apparently noted the success that soldiers and SOCOM (Special Operations Command) had with this system and ordered them as well. Switchblade was very popular with troops in Afghanistan and with SOCOM in all sorts of places they won’t discuss in detail. Switchblade has been so successful that the army has requested manufacturers to come up with a Switchblade 2.0. The new version (LMAMS or Lethal Miniature Aerial Munition System) will be heavier (up to 2.2 kg/5 pounds) with up to 30 minutes endurance and a 9 kilometer range. The sensor must have night vision and be stabilized. It must also be able to lock onto a target and track it. The warhead must be capable of disabling light vehicles as well as being harmless against people 10 meters (31 feet) from detonation but lethal within 4 meters (12.4 feet). All this is possible with current technology and the Switchblade manufacturer (who also makes the Raven) has a head start but not a lock because there is nothing exotic about the basic tech. The trick is getting it all into one package and working.

The current 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/4.4 pound) Raven UAV employs. A complete Switchblade system (missile, container, and controller) weighs 5.5 kg (12.1 pounds). The complete LMAMS system would weigh closer to 8 kg (17 pounds). Budget cuts have delayed LMAMS but Switchblade continues to be in big demand. In 2015 the marines successfully tested using Switchblade from an MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. This showed that Switchblade could be used from helicopters and other slow moving aircraft wanting to know what’s on the other side of the hill while avoiding getting shot at by any bad guys who are there.

Switchblade can also be launched from the existing 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, Switchblade enables ground troops to get at an enemy taking cover in a hard to see location. Switchblade completed development in 2009. Technically a guided missile, the use of Switchblade as a reconnaissance tool encouraged developers to refer to it as a UAV. But because of the warhead option, and its slow speed, Switchblade also functions like a rather small cruise missile. The troops were particularly enthusiastic about the armed version because it allowed them to easily take out snipers or a few bad guys in a compound full of civilians. It was these sort of situations that apparently led to the request for LMAMS.

 

 


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