The drone with a death wish
October 19th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

The drone with a death wish

By CNN National Security Producer Jennifer Rizzo

There's a new drone on the block with a new mission - a suicide mission.

Part missile, part intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tool, the new drone locks on its enemy target and crashes into it, delivering a lethal attack.

Some are dubbing it the "kamikaze drone." The drone's maker, AeroVironment, is calling it the Switchblade. The Army awarded the company a contract worth almost $5 million for the system, according to a news release on the company's website.

The Army purchased "a limited quantity" of the Switchblade to "support an urgent operation," according to an Army statement.

The Army would not give any further details on quantities, fielding locations, dates and units involved "to protect operational security."  Bloomberg News reported Wednesday the Army had already used the drone against Taliban targets in Afghanistan.

"The Switchblade is designed to provide the warfighter with a 'magic bullet,'" the website says.

The unmanned aerial vehicle UAV can be launched from a tube small enough to be carried in a backpack, according to the company. Like a Switchblade knife, once removed from its container the drone's wings extend from its body.

While it is in flight, the drone's operator can view the video it transmits at a ground control unit.  The operator can identify and lock on a target, and then command the drone to crash. Even after arming the drone, AeroVironment said, the operator can call off the strike, which provides troops with "a level of control not available in other weapon systems".

"Switchblade provides a revolutionary rapid strike capability to protect our troops and give them a valuable new advantage on the battlefield," said Tom Herring, AeroVironment senior vice president and general manager of its Unmanned Aircraft Systems unit.

Billed as a "powerful but expendable" device, the Switchblade is a major change from the larger multimillion-dollar armed drones the military uses, like the Predator and Reaper. Those drone systems, which consist of four drones each, cost $20 million and $53.5 million respectively.

They are so costly and contain such a myriad of proprietary information and technology that U.S. troops often go into harms way to recover the drones if they crash.

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Filed under: DARPA • drones • Military • weapons
soundoff (93 Responses)
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  9. RobynH

    >> "to protect operational security."

    DODspeak for preventing American taxpayers from finding out how much of their money
    is being used to kill innocent bystanders and strengthen the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    October 31, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Reply
  10. ranger 830

    Awesome new capability, I can see many potential uses for a weapons system such as this! However I think it would be much more cost efective to just send in chuck norris to wipe them out single handed!!!!!! After all he is a ranger! Walker Texas Rannnngerrr!!!!!!!!! RLTW Bitches!!!! Warning Dont over think this is just a joke!!!!!

    October 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Reply
  11. josh

    Hope the enemy dosen't get this technology .. We'll be in a world of hurt .. unfortunately they always do ..

    October 24, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Reply
    • Aristocles

      They cannot really use this. The closest any terrorists have to this are a bunch of remote control airplanes with a small camera (Hezbollah). Attack drones are WAY too complex for terrorists to use and maintain. You might as well worry about them fielding F-22 fighters.

      November 14, 2011 at 10:50 pm | Reply
  12. TheLastIndependent

    It looks like all the world’s suicide bombers are going to be out of a job now. Ha ha. Seriously, though, did you guys got this idea from the guy who tried to blow up the Capitol building and the Pentagon with remote control planes and explosive. If you did, than great. Thanks, al Qaeda, now you can be targeted by our new, improve, and expendable drones, coming to a detonation near you.

    October 21, 2011 at 10:38 pm | Reply
  13. Sly

    I'll take a dozen. Then I can use them to get the neighbor's dogs when they come to do their thing on our lawn.

    October 19, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Reply
  14. M-Theory

    I thought about this a decade ago.... If you wanted someone taken out cheaply and easily you could simply fly a remote-controlled helicopter loading with explosives into them. You just have to attach a light-weight, real-time video camera to the chopper and guide it into the target. You could do something similar with a small remote-controlled plane... you would then attach the camera to a remote-controlled rudder missile that released from the plane. You would need to guide the missile in freefall into the target via a remote monitor. Easy and very cheap. Oh well, yup a little late.

    October 19, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Reply
    • Go Ducks

      The Nazi's did that way back in WWII, so neither the technology nor the idea is even remotely new.

      November 8, 2011 at 6:47 pm | Reply
  15. SKYNET

    Must find Sarah Connor....

    October 19, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Reply
  16. Martin

    Although this looks like a model aircraft with a warhead its somewhat more sophisticated than you or I could put together in a basement (or cave, for that matter). The initial cost of these planes is quite high because it includes the cost of developing the system. I'm told that these planes were developed as a sort of sniper replacement and they're quite lethal if they hit you even if they don't explode.

    I'd guess their biggest value is that just having them will persuade the bad guys to back off.

    October 19, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Reply
  17. Kris


    October 19, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Reply
  18. UncleVinny

    Wow, more death from the sky. $5 million to take out a $300 truck on some god-forsaken road in Afghanistan. Whoop-de-doo. Can't you think of something better to do with our tax money?
    Yeah, you'll print this, ha, ha!

    October 19, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Reply
    • Leaf on the Wind

      We could send you over there to do the job, Uncle Vinny. Would that be cost-effective enough for you?

      October 19, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Reply
  19. TommyDeluge

    "They Army?" Come on!! Please stop publishing articles without editing. Do you need an Editor? I'm not one but I could be if you need one. Do you guys work for free or something and just don't care? I see more and more errors everyday and think it's lame that someone might get paid as an editor or a writer even, and they publish these articles without checking them. Fire them. Hire me. I will do a much better job and will absolutely prevent people like Jennifer Rizzo from sounding like she has more than the correct amount of chromosomes she needs. Thank you for your time.

    October 19, 2011 at 6:26 pm | Reply
  20. Nevander

    Now I know what I want for Christmas!

    October 19, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  21. Stu

    It says the CONTRACT is for 5 mill, for "a limited quantity". It doesn't say how many so unknown how much they cost, but its not 5 mill each. The only mention of "4 drones" is in regards to the current systems that range 20-53 mill. l2r

    October 19, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Reply
  22. SKYNET

    Just give me control of your drones and nuclear devices. Let me start production of your weapons so we can get your enslavement started.

    October 19, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Reply
    • mark

      Judging by your comment and name you've been watching WAY too much terminator

      October 19, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Reply
      • Sarcasm

        joke   [johk] Show IPA noun, verb, joked, jok·ing.
        something said or done to provoke laughter or cause amusement, as a witticism, a short and amusing anecdote, or a prankish act: He tells very funny jokes. She played a joke on him.
        something that is amusing or ridiculous, especially because of being ludicrously inadequate or a sham; a thing, situation, or person laughed at rather than taken seriously; farce: Their pretense of generosity is a joke. An officer with no ability to command is a joke.

        October 19, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  23. cpc65

    They should dress it up as Super Grover or Under Dog.

    October 19, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Reply
  24. Joshua Wertheim

    What's the difference between this and an IED that the bad guys use? More moving parts? More technology? More expensive? All three? Instead of planting it in the ground and waiting for our troops to drive or walk over it, this thing flies around looking for the enemy and kills them first. Which makes me ask with all our remote-controlled bling, why don't we have these fancy flying machines cruise over the roads our troops use and blow up anybody that stands still long enough to put an IED in the ground?

    October 19, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Reply
    • FUNR

      Predators do that all the time, either delivering the missile directly or calling in an AC-130 gunship to do the work.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Reply
    • Chuck

      "What's the difference between this and an IED that the bad guys use?"

      Remember, the I in IED is for improvised. Our version isn't improvised; it's manufactured in a factory. That's a world of difference.

      Seriously, what if there was no difference? What's wrong with learning a trick or two from the enemy?

      October 19, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Reply
    • Ronald Hussein Reagan

      See the movie The Battle for Algiers for your answer. (Short version – the people we're fighting would use these if they could.)

      October 19, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Reply
    • Joe

      you need to pull your head out of your @ss

      October 19, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Reply
  25. jimbowt

    A 1/2 lb of well placed H.E. ought to ring a bell or two.

    October 19, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Reply
    • Chuck

      And it's the well-placed that matters.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Reply
  26. FUNR

    Can't carry much explosive if it's man portable, just a little weakling system that sounds nifty so the idiots buy it, will have limited use. Gotta blow that GWT allocation any way they can...

    October 19, 2011 at 5:31 pm | Reply
    • fred

      Doesn't take more than a handful of C4 or other compact high-powered explosive to blow up a building full of Al_Queadas.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Reply
    • Yakobi.

      You don't know what you're talking about. All militarys have shoulder-launched weapons that pack quite a punch.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Reply
    • Chuck

      I would rather us use less explosive, just enough to do the job. When you go around dropping 5000lbs bombs, you do a lot of "colateral damage" which doesn't make you very popular. 5000lbs bombs are for destroying large buildings. Many of the targets we need to hit are very small, often just one specific person. That only takes a few ounces.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Reply
      • Sandman

        5000 pound bombs? I hauled anywhere from 250 to 2000 depending on the mission. Put a fuse extender on it and you can clear a LZ for a helo real quick. Or blow the snot out of a lot of soft targets.

        October 21, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • 55BANGBANG

      Your an idiot, look up davy crocket nuclear bazooka and tell me a man portable device won't pack a punch. Or if you want a movie example, Swordfish had some wonderful ideas for a human claymore.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Reply
  27. Bob

    If it is cheap and it works, trust me, our enemies will be making the drones. Thanks CNN for publicizing it.

    October 19, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Reply
    • Mike

      There's been a video of this weapon online for quite a while.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Reply
    • fred

      My friends and I made this for about 20 bucks back in the 1970s. We used my friends RC gas powered plane to drop acorns on stupid kids down the block. It was a pisser of a time !! LOL !! Oh, the good old days. Now the military figured out a way to spend $5million to do the same thing ! We also made a cool UFO fly at Boy Scout camp. We used a thin clear plastic bag (from the cleaners) and taped a box of birthday candles into the open bottom, lit the candles and taped it shut. The candles heated and expanded the bag until it lifted off and flew over the lake at camp glowing in a big round ball !! Really cool for 13 years olds.! Aaah, good times. Of course, the bag melted, the bag fell into the woods, and the candles started a forest fire. Oh crap.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:48 pm | Reply
    • Chuck

      We've already seen some indications that they are. There's nothing new about small, remote-controlled aircraft. American hobbiests have been buying the parts at local hobby stores and building and flying the planes for decades. The big nut that would-be low-tech military users have to crack is secure and reliable communications with the aircraft. And that's not an easy not to crack.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Reply
    • jake

      Except, our enemies can't even afford remote controlled planes from the '70s. Even used ones.

      That's the ironic thing about backwards, oppressive, totalitarian regimes - they keep themselves from having the economic ability to get good weapons even if they wanted them.

      October 19, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Reply
  28. kingsman64

    Hey, US1776, you need to practice self-immolation!

    October 19, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Reply
  29. Lee

    These wars blow!

    October 19, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Reply
    • fred

      War is COOL ! It's a real live video game. Where are the vampire zombies aliens from outer space? Let blast 'em !

      October 19, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Reply
  30. James PDX

    It seems to me that when you're contrasting the cost of the new drone against the cost of the current drones that you should tell us the cost the new drone. Otherwise the information is superfluous.

    October 19, 2011 at 5:25 pm | Reply
    • Leaf on the Wind

      $5 million for a "limited number" - anything more specific is probably classified.

      October 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Reply
  31. the_dude

    It seems like a kid or some crazy person could attach a bomb to a model airplane and accomplish the same thing for way less money and no govt contracts.

    October 19, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Reply
    • cocoloco

      The reason Radio Control Airplanes and Helicopters are banned or many times restricted in third world countries is the same reason about your idea. By you and I posting this, we are also giving Muslims and other terrorists (I lump everyone on purpose since the Koran is a terrorist book), we are also giving the terrorists a simple idea of how to further their evil religious goal – to convert or manipulate or even kill infidels.

      I know there will be a backlash of comments, but as an RC flier and U.S. citizen I cannot help but to say the truth since reading parts of the Koran one obviously comes to the same conclusion of this evil Muslim religion. Muhammad is a liar and is rotting in hell. Save yourselves now, Muslims!

      October 19, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Reply
      • David808

        Looking past the issue of religion: do you not think that anyone could have come up with the idea of strapping an explosive to an inexpensive RC plane? I really doubt that someone in Afghanistan read this article and thought, "Wow, I'm glad they posted this online! I never would have had this idea on my own."

        October 19, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
      • Chuck

        There's nothing new about small, remote-controlled aircraft. American hobbiests have been buying the parts at local hobby stores and building and flying the planes for decades. The big nut that would-be low-tech military users have to crack is secure and reliable communications with the aircraft. And that's not an easy not to crack.

        October 19, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
      • mark

        LOl I agree with David, what...did you think everything is ooo-ahh American-only? that other countries have not long explored remotely controlled devices? C'mon get real – there is nothing here other countries have not already seen; and a drone is not a little remote plane, its inaccurate to even compare the two.

        October 19, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • fred

      The Muslims already went way bigger than a bomb on a RC plane. remember the real planes they flew into America on 9/11? How soon we forget. How sad. Kill Muslims now.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Reply
    • J3sus Sandals

      Guess you missed the part in the article referencing the full capabilities of this little puppy – recon and's not just a surgical bomb. Your RC helo has neither the range or ability to surveil across secure channels. Good luck with that.

      October 19, 2011 at 6:05 pm | Reply
  32. us1776

    Cut the criminal Dept of Defense budget by 90%.

    We live on an isolated continent among friendly neighbors.

    We do not need to spend 60% of our annual budget on defense.

    It is immoral.


    October 19, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Reply
    • Jbone

      Dumbest thing I have ever heard. You are cut off....

      October 19, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Reply
    • Sean

      Only an idiot would think Mexico is friendly. Don’t confuse weakness for friendship.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Reply
    • Umptysquat

      Immoral? Nah.. Fun? Heck ya!

      October 19, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Reply
    • fred

      Dude...ever hear of rockets and airplanes? They go right over borders and "friendly" countries. By the way, Mexico is NO friend of America.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Reply
    • ME

      ... And waiting for the next global threat until it has enough power to reach across those oceans to strike us is insanity.

      I'm sure there's millions of dead Europeans and Asians that would have loved for the US to have had an "immoral" defense expenditure in the 1930s and 1940s.

      October 19, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Reply
    • Leaf on the Wind

      I work in the defense industry and I happen to like my job. Mostly, I like getting paid, so please shut your pie hole. Thank you very much.

      October 19, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Reply
  33. Blood on the Beach

    Blood on the Beach horror convention taking over Virginia Beach, Va, April 20-22, 2012

    October 19, 2011 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  34. mur

    Only a matter of time before this ends up in the wrong hands and causes us harm.
    We developed atomic weapons and now we live in dread that they may fall into the wrong hands.
    I guess we are incapable of learning.

    October 19, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Reply
    • zombie kid

      I like turtles.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:20 pm | Reply
      • Turtle

        who likes pie!!

        October 19, 2011 at 5:55 pm |
    • Garrett

      I'm generally a democratic voter, because I think environmental regulations ought to be more progressive and aggressively implemented – on a state and local level, where it could be more cost-effective. The only reason this local implementation cannot take place is that pro-business states seek to repeal any effective environmental policy, because businesses that take credibility for their negative outputs ultimately have to pay more money = lower profit margin. That said, I think Prez. Obama hasn't held himself to his campaign statements of enhancing environmental quality, nor has he gotten Congress to appropriate $ to an incredibly underfunded EPA. No, instead he has increased his use of the military, thereby using funds from Congress via D.O.D. Pres. Obama has also utilized drones, and with our innovative free market ways intersecting with greed, technology designed for destruction has tapered itself down to automated impersonal death by a backpack sized item. This is scary stuff, and for the paranoid among us it is a step-up to increased probability of a significant "big brother" type government takeover. For those reasons, I am actually considering Ron.P. for pres. His economic plan would be disastrous in the beginning; perhaps Congress could convince him to compromise on his $1 trillion cut in 1 year. The point is that he would cut a lot of money from D.O.D. and possibly turn America's attention to itself, therefore being less prone to war, therefore stemming use/development of drones. Of course, Ron P. would = bad news for env., but I want all CNN commentors to be concerned hat extremely explosive/destructive devices will soon be the size of a lighter. Wanna see what happens when one of those gets into the wrong hands? Me neither. - Thanks for reading–that was long

      October 19, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  35. hawaiiduude

    we love war! Iran is next right? Who care if they never started war with anyone, who cares if the alledged iran bomb suspect is a lie like iraq wmd, it's because israelis want so we must bomb them because we are the military wing of the idf.

    October 19, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Reply
    • Yakobi.

      Iran has been at war with the West since 1979. You're obviously not up on current events.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Reply
    • Wolf

      Pretty sure Iraq war had something to do with the US need for oil. Israel has nothing to do with your SUV

      October 19, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Reply
      • Yakobi.

        That was the Gulf War. The Iraq War was all about getting rid of Saddam Hussein and his sons once and for all.
        Mission Accomplished.

        October 19, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • mark

      It has nothing to do with Israel, and everything to do with a perverse desire to go to war every chance they can find, and not having done very well at it either. it took over a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan against two remarkably inferior countries – what will that suggest of a conflict with a much larger, tougher adversary? It's a fair question and not anti-American, the fact is the Chinese and Russians aren't losing a lot of sleep having seen the US in action.

      October 19, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Reply

    USA USA USA, may God be with us and protect our troops. God Bless America. Seriously, USA need to remember not to abuse it's power. With power COMES GREAT GREAT RESPONSIBILITY. Let us unite and lead the way for peace and justice.

    October 19, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Reply
    • Sean

      God is dead, and no one cares.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:29 pm | Reply
      • jknows

        How did God Die? Who killed God?

        October 19, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
      • Jordan

        Nice NIN rip off sean.

        October 19, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
      • J3sus Sandals

        Reznor ripped from Neitzsche, Jordan. Learn your history.

        October 19, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • fred

      Sean is poopie head and God is alive and well. You better start apologizing to Him. He is already pissed that there are so many cancerous bags of slime called Muslims defacing His earth.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Reply
  37. Kevin Stone

    Just great news. And right on the heels of a terrorist plot to use model airplanes to do the same thing. Model airplanes are probalbly cheaper to boot.

    October 19, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Reply
    • JonPeter

      ...with nowhere near the controllability, not the durability to carrt in a backkpack. I can imaging some soldier trying to get their 'model airplane' airborne on a battlefield whhile under enemy fire.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Reply
    • Yakobi.

      The reduced scale airplane that homegrown terrorist was trying to use is a LOT bigger than these and definitely wouldn't fit on a soldier's back.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Reply
  38. Joe

    "Those drone systems (which consist of 4 drones each), costing $20 million and $53.5 million respectively" No wonder our defense budget is completely screwed

    October 19, 2011 at 5:08 pm | Reply
    • JonPeter

      These prices refer to the Predator and raptor, not the Switchblade.

      October 19, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Reply
      • Dude

        Good catch on the pricing. I was a bit confused on that myself. These are $5 million for 4 drones. Not much more than the missiles currently in use. And with the added bonus of being able to call them off if they are headed towards an empty house or worse, innocent people.

        October 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  39. knuckle

    lovin' me some drones

    October 19, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Reply
    • J3sus Sandals

      hey, that's the new McDonald's slogan!

      October 19, 2011 at 6:10 pm | Reply
  40. James

    Sounds like a good idea.

    October 19, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Reply

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