The Biden administration is sending U.S.-made armed drones equipped with guided missiles that can target Russian armor and artillery positions in Ukraine. The decision to do so comes amid the White House’s pledge to offer another $800 million in assistance to Ukraine to combat Russia.
“It includes 800 anti-aircraft systems to make sure that the Ukrainian military can continue to stop the planes and helicopters that have been attacking their people,” Biden said Wednesday.
The decision to arm Ukraine with state-of-the-art drones that act as “loitering missiles,” also known as Switchblades, as part of a new military aid package that President Biden was expected to discuss earlier this week following leaks from congressional officials close to the matter, NBC News reported early Wednesday.
Two variants of the kamikaze-style drone, the Switchblade 300, and the 600, have been sold to the U.S. Special Operations Command by Washington D.C.-based defense manufacturer AeroVironment. According to the company, the 300 is designed for surgical strikes on personnel, and the larger 600 is intended for use against armored vehicles.
The publication reported on an exclusive demonstration of the Switchblade 300 last December, company representatives said that the government forbade them from demonstrating the 600 to the press.
“We stand with our allies and sovereign nations in their right to protect their homelands and their very lives when this fundamental right is threatened,” said the company in a statement on its website headlined “AeroVironment stands with the people of Ukraine and all of NATO.”
The Switchblades are drones equipped with cameras, guidance systems, and explosives, that can be programmed to automatically strike at targets in a kamikaze fashion. The company says that the 600 can fly for 40 minutes, and up to 50 miles.
The weapons are much cheaper than Hellfire missiles, and its British equivalent, the Brimstone, which are fired from attack helicopters and U.S. Reaper drones.
According to estimates provided by NBC News, the 300 can cost as little as $6,000. Both the 300 and the 600 can be set up in minutes and launched from tubes. They fly much faster than the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones, widely deployed by the Ukrainian armed forces in the war against Russia.
To date, the Switchblade has only seen limited use in Afghanistan and a few conflict zones elsewhere.
While the Biden administration has pledged to provide the Ukrainian military with state-of-the-art weapons, it is unclear how many of the kamikaze bombs the U.S. will be supplying to the war effort, or how fast the manufacturer can make new ones. It is also unclear how much Ukrainian soldiers will need to operate the weapon.