has secured another order for its Switchblade loitering munition as it works to expand its small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) business in the face of slowing U.S. orders for its workhorse Raven.
In addition to expanding its family of small UAS with the lethal Switchblade and vertical-takeoff-and-landing Shrike, the company is promoting its common ground control system (GCS) as the standard for small UAS by adding capability. The moves come as sales of small UAS begin to slow in advance of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. The U.S. Army plans to buy 234 hand-launched Raven systems in fiscal 2013, down from 900 in 2012 but still slightly up from 2011.
The U.S. Air Force, meanwhile, has awarded AeroVironment a $4.2 million extension to an existing contract for Switchblade systems and support. This follows a $4.9 million launch order from the Army in June 2011. ATK supplies the warhead.
The 5.5-lb. Switchblade is carried in a backpack and ground-launched from a tube to down-link color video. When its target is confirmed, the air vehicle strikes autonomously, but the operator can call off the attack even after the warhead is armed.
AeroVironment says it conducted multiple day and night live-fire demonstrations for U.S. customers in December. In addition to the Army and Air Force, the U.S. Navy is to use Switchblade, with plans for a submarine-launched UAS demonstration this year.
Switchblade and the quadrotor Shrike use the same handheld GCS as the company’s Wasp, Raven and Puma small UAS. To increase the system’s capability, AeroVironment has licensed automatic target-detection software from Australia-based Sentient. The Land MTI Tier I software automatically detects and highlights moving targets in the full-motion video feed from small UAS using AeroVironment’s common GCS, and can cue the sensor to allow the operator to take a closer look at potential threats. AeroVironment says it has spent the past 18 months integrating and optimizing Sentient’s software, which is now available for fielding across existing small UAS that can use its common GCS.