Explosive drones are said to be part of a ‘wishlist’ of American weapons sought by Kiev
A rendering of a ‘Switchblade’ drone, seen in a promotional video © YouTube / AeroVironment Inc.
The Biden administration is weighing whether to send explosives-laden ‘Switchblade’ drones to Ukraine, NBC News reported on Wednesday. The aircraft, which can loiter above the battlefield before propelling themselves toward an enemy, are just one weapons system Kiev has petitioned the US for.
The drones, manufactured by Virginia defense contractor AeroVironment, come in two varieties: One that targets personnel and another that targets vehicles. Equipped with cameras, guidance systems, and explosives, the robotic bombs can fly up to 50 miles to strike a target, or can circle above a battlefield before dive-bombing an enemy below.
These “kamikaze” drones are significantly cheaper than larger and more sophisticated vehicles, and have a lower price tag than other single-use munitions that the US has supplied to Ukraine in recent weeks. A single Javelin launch system and missile costs $178,000, according to the Pentagon’s 2021 budget, while an anti-personnel Switchblade drone costs $6,000, NBC reported.
It is unclear how many of these drones the US has in its stockpile, how quickly they could be sent to Ukraine, and how much training Ukrainian soldiers would need to correctly operate them. So far, NBC reported, the UK is the only foreign country authorized to purchase the killer robots.
Congressional Republicans meanwhile wrote a letter to Biden and other administration officials on Tuesday, urging them to send to Kiev cash allocated for military aid “without delay,” and to include weapons from a “wish list” submitted by Zelensky.
Among the weapons named on the list are “armed drones, anti-ship missiles, ‘off-the-shelf’ electronic jamming equipment and surface-to-air missiles that can strike aircraft at higher altitudes,” NBC reported, citing unnamed sources in Washington. Republicans have also called on the administration to send Soviet-era warplanes recently provided to the US by Poland, although delivering these jets into Ukraine could be seen by Russia as an act of war, and Biden has thus far refused.
President Joe Biden is expected to discuss a new package of military aid for Ukraine on Wednesday, after an address to Congress by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During his address, Zelensky again called for the US to increase sanctions on Moscow and impose what he termed a “humanitarian no-fly zone” over Ukraine, imploring the American lawmakers: “is this too much to ask?” As an alternative, he asked for S-300 air defense systems or fighter jets.
While imposing this zone would counter Russia’s air superiority over the country, there are fears that it would also bring NATO troops into direct conflict with Russia, and in the words of Biden, would lead to a “third world war.”
Moscow attacked its neighbor in late February, following a seven-year standoff over Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols had been designed to regularize the status of those regions within the Ukrainian state.
Russia has now demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.