Battleland

Yet Another Wonder Weapon

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You’d think with all the fancy armaments we’ve dispatched to Afghanistan over the last decade that we would have won by now. The latest to burst on the scene is the Switchblade — don’t you just love the names they come up with? — drone. It’s made by AeroVironment Inc. of California and has been used by Army and Air Force units in Afghanistan in the past year. The military likes it so much, they’re ordering more.

AeroVironment calls the six-pound drone a “breakthrough solution”:

The Switchblade air vehicle launches from a small tube that can be carried in a backpack and transmits live color video wirelessly for display on AeroVironment’s standard small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) ground control unit. Upon confirming the target using the live video feed, the operator then sends a command to the air vehicle to arm it and lock its trajectory onto the target. Flying quietly at high speed the Switchblade delivers its onboard explosive payload with precision while minimizing collateral damage.

There is an assembly-line quality to the munitions, sophisticated and otherwise, that the arsenal of democracy is pumping into Afghanistan. The press generally sings their “gee-whiz” praises, echoing the military buying them (“The unique capabilities provided by the Switchblade agile munition for standoff engagement, accuracy and controlled effects make it an ideal weapon for today’s fight and for U.S. military forces of the future”) and the contractor building them (“Switchblade provides a revolutionary rapid strike capability to protect our troops and give them a valuable new advantage on the battlefield”).

We’ve seen this act before. The Afghan war began with the stuff of sci-fi: B-52s dropping GPS-guided bombs onto Taliban positions radioed in by horseback-riding U.S. troops in the thick of the fight. Armed Predator drones, followed by bigger Reaper models, later lurked in the skies, killing suspected militants with triggers pulled at safe remove. The Pentagon then spent billions building thousands of Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles to shield U.S. troops from roadside bombs. Now comes the Switchblade, which its manufacturer calls a “magic bullet.” Sure, they’re all fascinating weapons, and state of the art. But they’re hardly magic. If they were, the nearly 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan would have disappeared years ago.

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