According to the latest reports, the French Army is looking to add the US-made Switchblade Munitions to its arsenal.
The Chief of Plans at French Army headquarters, Colonel Arnaud Goujon, said on June 13 that the service plans to add loitering munition to its inventory within the next six months. He also mentioned the Switchblade loitering munition offered by the US manufacturer AeroVironment.
On June 21, the French Armed Forces Ministry confirmed the country is in the process of launching a Foreign Military Sales request “for the acquisition of Switchblade remote-operated ammunition,” reported Defense News
“This launch aims to set up a first urgent capacity for the benefit of the French forces,” the ministry wrote in an email to Defense News.
“You need something different than a mortar or an artillery shell,” Colonel Goujon told reporters during the Eurosatory Expo. “If it is the same price of a mortar round that goes about three kilometers away and flies for 15 minutes, then it’s interesting,” he said.
However, if it costs ten times as much as a mortar or an artillery round with the same range, then it’s not as interesting, Goujan added.
If the weapon can fly 30 or 50 kilometers away and endure for two to four hours, “then it’s a different animal,” he said.
Switchblades In Spotlight
The news comes after several reports of success enjoyed by the Switchblade munitions in the ongoing Ukraine war following the Biden administration’s decision to supply the Ukrainian Army with hundreds of these weapons.
The war in Ukraine has put a spotlight on Switchblade munitions that were not much known earlier despite being used by the US military, for example, in Afghanistan against the Taliban, who referred to the weapon as an “angry bird” or a “buzzing bee,” according to Wahid Nawabi, the Afghan-born CEO of AeroVironment.
#Ukraine: For the first time we see the self-contained ground launch of US-supplied Switchblade 300 loitering munitions by the Ukrainian forces- these drones are starting to be used more widely in the East and are great against non-armoured targets and infantry. pic.twitter.com/ZAUPyLePOk
— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) May 25, 2022
AeroVironment’s loitering munitions have been “out of public view for many years” despite being used for more than a decade by the US Army, noted Charles Dean, the company’s vice president of global business development for unmanned systems.
“But with the crisis in Ukraine and the donation by the US government of our loitering munitions to support the Ukrainians, many more people are aware of these systems,” Dean told Defense News.
The company provides two variants of the munition: Switchblade 300 and an extended range Switchblade 600 munition.
Switchblade 300 vs. Switchblade 600
The Switchblade 300 weighs 2.5 kilograms, including the warhead; it has a range of 10 kilometers and an endurance of 15 minutes. The company says the system can be set up in less than two minutes.
It has cameras on board but is often used with a mini surveillance drone for better battlefield awareness. The two drones are integrated with sensor-to-shooter software that enables instant transfer of target coordinates from the surveillance drone to the Switchblade 300.
It can be used for pinpoint strikes against enemy personnel.
The Ukrainian MoD has released this video that reportedly show SOF using a U.S provided Switchblade 300 “Kamikaze” Drone to destroy a Russian T-72B3 Tank in Eastern Ukraine, the Switchblade 300 doesn’t have an Anti-Armor Warhead so it most likely only killed the crew on top. pic.twitter.com/ZBwjJyI70d
— OSINTdefender (@sentdefender) May 24, 2022
While the extended range 600 variant has a range of 40 kilometers, it weighs 54.4 kilograms and is equipped with a dual electro-optical and infrared sensor suite.
With an endurance of 40 minutes, it can be used against larger, hardened targets via an anti-armor warhead and does not need external surveillance or fire assets. The company claims that the system can be assembled in less than 10 minutes.
Switchblade munitions have a remarkable feature called “waved off” capability, which allows for the prevention of collateral damage. For example, the operator can adjust the blast radius, so the drone kills only the vehicle’s driver but not a passenger.
According to AeroVironment, the weapon can be waved off up to two seconds before the impact.
The Switchblade 600 also has the ‘recommit’ capability in addition to ‘wave-off,’ allowing the drone operators to abort the mission at any time and re-engage either the same or other targets multiple times.
France Could Buy Switchblade 600 Munitions
The US has been providing Ukraine with Switchblade 300, but Dean told Defense News that the 600 variant is on its way to Ukraine “right now.”
The United Kingdom is the only foreign country authorized to purchase the Switchblade, which may change if France’s request is accepted.
AeroVironment declined to comment on the potential sale.
While the French army officials at Eurosatory told Defense News that the aim is to identify a low-cost solution that can target and neutralize an ‘armored vehicle’ between ‘5 and 50’ kilometers away, which means the service could purchase the Switchblade 600 loitering munitions.
Also, it is unknown how many units the French Army plans to procure or what the value of this foreign military sale will be. According to French media reports, the French Armed Forces Ministry is looking to acquire 82 remotely operated weapon systems.