The U.S. military has launched miniature kamikaze drones against Taliban targets and plans to deploy more next year for U.S. special operating forces, according to documents and an Army official.
The tube-launched “Switchblade” drone, made by Monrovia, California-based Aerovironment Inc. (AVAV), was secretly sent to Afghanistan for the first time last year. “Under a dozen” were fired, said Army Deputy Product Director William Nichols.
“It’s been used in Afghanistan by military personnel” and “shown to be effective,” Nichols said. The drone’s GPS guidance is made by Rockwell Collins Inc. (COL) and the warhead by Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK)
Disclosure of the Switchblade’s use in Afghanistan highlights the Pentagon’s expanding range of missions for remotely piloted aircraft. The fleet also includes broad-area surveillance aircraft such as the Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC) Global Hawk, the missile-firing General Atomics Co. Predator and Reaper drones, and hand-launched short-range surveillance models, such as the Aerovironment Raven.
Nichols declined to detail the Switchblade’s targets. He said the drone’s “designed for open threats, something that’s on top of a building but you can’t hit it” with regular artillery or mortars for fear of collateral damage.
The drone is less than 24 inches long and weighs about six pounds.
“It’s a ”˜flying shotgun,’” Nichols said, not a “hit-to- kill” weapon that explodes on impact.
It’s known as IBISS, the acronym for the Integrated Building Interior Surveillance System. Like its name suggests, it can see through the walls of buildings and sketch out images of what’s inside.
Until this year, IBISS was a classified system, a piece of high-tech wizardry the military used to fight the war on terrorism. The contractor that made the system, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), couldn’t talk about it in public, but that’s changing. IBISS is one of the new products SAIC is hoping to sell to local police stations and fire departments as the defense contractor explores what is known in the industry as “adjacent markets.”
Adjacent markets can mean anything from foreign militaries to the Department of Homeland Security for the industry that makes the computer systems, software, remote sensors, radar and ground stations that comprise Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) for the military.
For the first decade of the war on terrorism, the ISR industry thrived, and companies like SAIC, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin made big profits. Those days are coming to an end though.
On Monday at the annual industry trade conference known as GEOINT, James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, broke the news to the assembled contractors: “We are all going to have to share in the pain.” Clapper said, as his office submitted billions of dollars in cuts to the Office of Management and Budget over the next 10 years. The overall annual intelligence budget is about $80 billion annually; most of the details of those budgets however are secret.