What to know about the 100 US 'Switchblade' drones heading to Ukraine

Unlike larger drones, it's not meant to return after its mission.

March 16, 2022, 8:01 PM

In a White House list of weapons being sent to Ukraine as part of a new $800 million military support package announced by President Joe Biden Wednesday -- among nearly 10,000 anti-armor weapons, 800 anti-aircraft Stinger systems, and thousands of rifles -- appeared 100 "tactical unmanned aerial systems."

But these aren't the large U.S. drones you're used to seeing.

The 100 unmanned systems heading to Ukraine are actually small "Switchblade" drones, a U.S. official told ABC News.

PHOTO: A U.S. Air Force MQ-1B Predator unmanned aerial vehicle carrying a Hellfire missile lands at a secret air base after flying a mission in the Persian Gulf region, Jan. 7, 2016.
A U.S. Air Force MQ-1B Predator unmanned aerial vehicle carrying a Hellfire missile lands at a secret air base after flying a mission in the Persian Gulf region, Jan. 7, 2016.
John Moore/Getty Images

Unlike long-range Predator drones, which look similar to small planes and fire missiles at targets, the smallest Switchblade model fits in a rucksack and flies directly into targets to detonate its small warhead.

PHOTO: U.S. Marines with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, launch the Switchblade 300, on Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Oct. 23, 2019.
U.S. Marines with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, launch the Switchblade 300, a weaponized Small Unmanned Air System, at Range 230 for Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) 1-20 on Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Oct. 23, 2019.
U.S. Marine Corps

Less than 2-feet long and weighing only 5.5 pounds, the Switchblade 300 can be launched from a small tube that resembles a mortar, after which it can fly for up to 15 minutes. The larger Switchblade 600 is effective against armored targets and can fly for more than 40 minutes, but weighs 50 pounds, according to the manufacturer.

PHOTO: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Graham Rouse launches the Switchblade 300 1-20 on Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Oct. 23, 2019.
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Graham Rouse with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, launches the Switchblade 300, a weaponized Small Unmanned Air System, at Range 230 for Integrated Training Exercise (ITX) 1-20 on Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Oct. 23, 2019.
U.S. Marine Corps

The U.S. official could not say whether one or both of the systems would be included in the 100 units destined for Ukraine.

Both Switchblades use onboard sensors and GPS to guide them to their targets. Both also have a "wave-off" feature so that human operators can abort an attack if civilians appear near the target or if the enemy withdraws.

PHOTO: U.S. Marines with 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, train with a Switchblade 300 10C system as part of Service Level Training Exercise 1-22 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., on Sept. 24, 2021.
U.S. Marines with 1st Battalion, 3d Marines, train with a Switchblade 300 10C system as part of Service Level Training Exercise 1-22 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., on Sept. 24, 2021.
U.S. Marine Corps

"These were designed for U.S. Special Operations Command and are exactly the type of weapons systems that can have an immediate impact on the battlefield," said Mick Mulroy, former deputy assistant secretary of defense and an ABC News national security and defense analyst.

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