May 23, 2012: The U.S. Marine Corps is buying an unspecified number of Switchblade micro-UAV/cruise missiles. The marines apparently noted the success the U.S. Army and SOCOM (Special Operations Command) had with this system.
The Switchblade is a one kilogram (2.2 pound) expendable (used only once) UAV that can be equipped with explosives. The Switchblade is launched from its shipping and storage tube, at which point wings flip out, a battery powered propeller starts spinning, and a vidcam begins broadcasting images to the controller. The Switchblade is operated using the same gear the larger (two kg/4.4 pound) Raven UAV employs. A complete Switchblade system (missile, container, and controller) weighs 5.5 kg (12.1 pounds).
The army sent some Switchblade UAV systems to Afghanistan two years ago for secret field testing. This was apparently successful. It appears that Switchblade is currently used largely by Special Forces and other special operations troops. Last year, after a year of successful testing, the army ordered over a hundred Switchblade UAVs for troop use.
Switchblade can also be launched from the 70mm rocket tubes used on army helicopters. Moving at up to a kilometer a minute, the Switchblade can stay in the air for 20-40 minutes (depending on whether or not it is armed with explosives). The armed version can be flown to a target and detonated, having about the same explosive effect as a hand grenade. Thus the Switchblade could be useful for ground troops, to get at an enemy taking cover in a hard to see location. Switchblade completed development three years ago. Technically a guided missile, the use of Switchblade as a reconnaissance tool encouraged developers to refer to it as a UAV. But because of the warhead option, and its slow speed, Switchblade also functions like a rather small cruise missile.