AUVSI: US Marines eyeing Switchblade option

Washington DC
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The US Marines are focusing on the AeroVironment Switchblade unmanned air system (UAS) as a potential armed platform for top-down attack capability.

James Lasswell, a retired marine general who is now the technical director of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory, says about half of the Lab's science and technology funds over the past five years have been focused on unmanned systems, with attention most recently on the Switchblade as a carrier of a 40mm grenade launcher for attack and protection uses.

Originally developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Lasswell says the lab now procures the aircraft from AVSOC and has bought five systems to date, using an inert round for the testing.

He says there is no program of record for the armed switchblade. "The interest was in lightening the load" for Marines, he says. The most recent vehicle will be used in a demonstration coming up "in the next month," he says.

Lasswell says the system uses the same control system as the deployed AeroVironment Raven and Wasp UAS platforms, simplifying training for operators. "What makes it really useful is that you can fly a GPS course [to the target] and then just tele-operate [the Switchblade] during the attack," says Lasswell.

Switchblade carries an intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance package and is capable of beyond-line-of-sight operations either as a remotely piloted or autonomous vehicle, according to AeroVironment.

The project is not part of the Air Force's lethal miniature aerial munitions system (LMAMS) program designed to "deliver incapacitating effects" on people and light vehicles," which could be deployed by the end of next year with special operations forces. AeroVironment, Textron and Innovative Automation Technologies have been picked to compete on a LMAMS contract.