Updated Apr 21, 2022 - World
Axios Explains: Ukraine

The "kamikaze" drones the U.S. is giving to Ukraine

Photo illustration of the Switchblade 300 drone.

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Image: AeroVironment

Switchblade drones are among the military support items President Biden announced in March in an $800 million package for Ukraine.

Why it matters: Unlike the large drones the U.S. military uses for reconnaissance and deploying weapons against targets, these tiny Switchblades are themselves the weapon.

The latest: An additional $800 million package for Ukraine announced by Biden in April will include more than 120 "Ghost Phoenix" tactical drones recently developed by the Air Force and manufactured by AEVEX Aerospace.

  • Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Thursday that the drones are similar to Switchblade drones and were designed "specifically to Ukrainian requirements,” according to Bloomberg.

Why are Switchblade drones called "kamikaze drones"?

The Switchblade drones are sometimes called "kamikaze drones" because they act as single-use, remote-controlled bombs.

  • They are small and easily deployed, and are intended to hit targets that are outside the line of sight. They are launched out of a tube much like a mortar.
  • Once launched, the Switchblade drone can be controlled from the ground before striking its programmed target.
  • It has a feature that allows a service member to call off the strike should the target have moved away or civilians are in the area.
  • Manufacturer AeroVironment has two different models.

What is a Switchblade 300 drone?

The Switchblade 300 drone weighs 5.5 lbs. and is small enough to be transported in a rucksack.

  • It can fly for up to 15 minutes, with a range of just over six miles.
  • It has a cruising speed of 63 mph and top speed of 100 mph.
  • It's designed for strikes on soldiers.

What is a Switchblade 600 drone?

The Switchblade 600 drone weighs 50 lbs. and fly for more than 40 minutes, with a range of about 25 miles.

  • It has a cruising speed of 70 mph and top speed of 115 mph, and it was designed for strikes on soldiers and tanks.

It's not clear how many of each model are being sent in the support package.

What Turkish drones are in Ukraine?

Ukraine has used Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2s to launch guided missiles at Russian tanks, missile launchers and supply trains, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

  • The Bayraktar TB2s are not considered to be particularly fast or stealthy.
  • But drones have had success against keeping Russian forces from securing air superiority.
  • The smaller, more easily deployed Switchblades are expected to be even more effective in the war.

What they're saying: "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.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with information on "Ghost Phoenix" tactical drones recently developed by the Air Force.

Go deeper