On Wednesday. the White House announced a new $800 million military support package for Ukraine in a bid to help that country fight back against the ongoing Russian invasion. Part of the aid package is for cutting-edge aerial drones that experts say could prove exceedingly lethal to Russian forces.
The list of weapons to be shipped, President Biden said, includes 9,000 anti-armor systems, 7,000 small arms and 100 tactical unmanned aerial systems. A U.S. official later confirmed to ABC that the aerial systems to be sent would be small Switchblade drones.
Manufactured by the California company AeroVironment, the drones come in two variations: the Switchblade 600 and the 300. The latter is built to hit at smaller and more precise targets; the 600 is built to strike armored vehicles and tanks.
The 300 is less than 2 feet long, weighs 5.5 pounds and can fly up to 15 minutes. The larger drone weighs 50 pounds and can fly for 40 minutes over a range of 25 miles. Both can be carried in a backpack and deployed by individual soldiers. It has not been confirmed whether both models will be included in the shipment.
According to its manufacturer, the drones can cruise at around 65 mph and come fitted with cameras and GPS systems. They are single-use, which means they explode after striking their target and are not recoverable after they have been launched. The Switchblades also have a “wave-off” feature so that operators can abort a mission if civilians appear near the target or if the enemy withdraws.
“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,” Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense, told ABC News.
Ukraine’s drones have proved vital in carrying out successful attacks in the early stages of the invasion. Jack Watling of the London-based Royal United Services Institute told Euronews that Ukraine had used drones to strike Russian forces before they were able to set up their air defenses in the battlefield.
Watling went on to say that the Ukrainian army drones “have been essentially flying in at a low level and then coming up and raiding with them. So striking targets of opportunity.”
A senior defense official confirmed the Switchblades’ effectiveness for Ukrainian forces by claiming that the drones would be useful in taking out long-range Russian artillery as Russia ramps up the bombardment of major cities in Ukraine.
"These tactical UAVs can be useful against Russian vehicles and artillery," the official told reporters this week.
On Friday, the Times of London reported that an elite Ukrainian drone unit had destroyed dozens of “priority targets” by attacking static Russian forces as they slept. That specialist unit within the army, named Aerorozvidka, has reportedly been striking vehicles, including tanks and trucks, since the invasion began on Feb. 24.
“We strike at night, when Russians sleep,” Yaroslav Honchar, the unit’s commander, said from his base in Kyiv.
The latest allocation of military aid came after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on the West to “do more” in the fight against Moscow's aggression when he addressed Congress on Wednesday. In his speech, Zelensky invoked the horror of the 9/11 terror attacks as he pleaded for more military aid.