The 'kamikaze drone' the US is sending Ukraine is a 'pretty powerful' tool for troops, top Marine general says

·2 min read
A Marine with a Switchblade drone
A US Marine prepares a Switchblade drone for launch during an exercise at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, July 7, 2021.US Marine Corps/Pfc. Sarah Pysher
  • The US's latest security assistance package for Ukraine includes 100 Switchblade drones.

  • Loitering munitions like Switchblade are a "powerful" tool, according to the top US Marine general.

  • These drones give infantrymen "the power of an air wing in your hands," Gen. David Berger said.

The latest package of US security assistance to Ukraine includes drones that are a "pretty powerful" tool for troops on the ground, according to the US Marine Corps' top general.

Alongside Stingers and Javelins and other weapons, the US is sending Ukraine 100 Switchblade tactical drones — a kind of loitering munition, which are also called "kamikaze drones," designed to find and destroy targets on one-way missions.

These drones give infantrymen "the power of an air wing in your hands," Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said at the McAleese and Associates defense conference in Washington, DC, on March 9.

"This is the first time the infantry on the ground can strike targets beyond the range of their organic mortars [and] artillery with precision" Berger said of loitering munitions.

A Marine launches a Switchblade drone
A US Marine launches a Switchblade drone during an exercise at Camp Lejeune, July 7, 2021.US Marine Corps/Pfc. Sarah Pysher

The Switchblade 300 — which carries a small munition designed to take out infantry and artillery — has been used by US Special Operations Command for about a decade. In September, the command awarded the firm AeroVironment a $20 million contract for the Switchblade 600, which carries a larger explosive charge designed to take out tanks and armored targets.

Marines have also used the Switchblade for about a decade, adopting it so small units could take out soft targets without calling in airstrikes. Berger has said loitering munitions make the Corps "lighter and faster" and that they are a top priority as the service tries to build a force better suited for a potential conflict with China.

In 2021, the Corps listed loitering drones like the Switchblade as its number-one acquisition priority. In Berger's Force Design 2030 plan, also released last year, the service outlined the two kinds of drones it wants: one capable of loitering for up to 90 minutes and of "swarming" with other drones and another drone that can be launched from the Corps' Light Armored Reconnaissance vehicle or a similar vehicle.

The Corps has already awarded a contract for the vehicle-mounted version as part of its Organic Precision Fires-Mounted program. The Organic Precision Fires-Infantry Light program would give infantry a similar capability.

"We have two different programs so far that we're experimenting with. We'll see how they go, both individual and mounted. These things so far are powerful," Berger said at the conference.

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