AeroVironment Inc., Simi Valley, California, was awarded a $75,930,901 hybrid (cost-no-fee, cost-plus-fixed-fee, firm-fixed-price) contract to procure the Switchblade Weapon System. Bids were solicited via the internet with one received. Work will be performed in Simi Valley, California, with an estimated completion date of April 29, 2023. Fiscal 2019 missile procurement (Army) funds; and 2020 procurement (Marine Corps) funds in the amount of $75,930,901 were obligated at the time of the award. U.S. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the contracting activity (W31P4Q-20-C-0024).
The Switchblade is a loitering munition (kamikaze drone) developed being able to crash into its target with an explosive warhead by AeroVironment. The Switchblade is small enough to be carried in a backpack and can be launched from a variety of ground, maritime, and air platforms. The Switchblade is designed as an expendable UAV to increase precision firepower for platoon-sized infantry units. It is 2 ft (610 mm) long and weighs 6 lb (2.7 kg) including the carrying case and launcher, making it small and light enough for one soldier to carry. The Switchblade is folded up inside a tube with wings unfolding once it gets airborne. It can be controlled up to 10 km (6.2 mi) but its small size limits its endurance to 10 minutes.
This makes it unsuited for scouting roles, but it is useful for inexpensively engaging long-range targets and assisting in relieving units pinned down by enemy fire. The Switchblade uses a color camera and GPS locating to identify, track, and engage targets, as well as being able to be pre-programmed on a collision course. Its warhead has an explosive charge equivalent to a 40mm grenade to destroy light armored vehicles and personnel. The aircraft is propelled by an electric engine, so its small size and silent flight makes it extremely difficult to detect or try to intercept, enabling it to close in on a target at 85 knots (98 mph; 157 km/h).
U.S. Army regulations categorize the Switchblade as a missile rather than a drone, and the term “loitering munition” is preferred to describe it; unlike UAVs, it is not recoverable once launched. Its operation is similar to that of the wireless TOW missile, through a fly-by-radio frequency signal, the only difference being the TOW fires straight and doesn’t loiter, but both have the same operator-in-the-loop characteristics. The Switchblade uses daytime and infrared cameras, as well as an “aided target tracker” to lock on to stationary and moving targets. The warhead is specifically designed for controlled firepower to reduce collateral damage through a focused blast.