Ukrainians Training with SA80s

In a recent video/article we looked at the AK-pattern rifles that the UK Ministry of Defense has procured to train Ukrainian troops with in the UK. In that video I touched on the use of British SA80/L85 pattern bullpup rifles used during the training of the Ukrainian troops. With fresh imagery it seems that the British rifles are playing a significant role in training the Ukrainian personnel at several training centres across the UK.

Ukrainian soldier seen with an SA80A2 with SUSAT during training, when visited by the Prime Minister in late-July (UK MoD/Crown Copyright)

The SA80 rifles were first seen in the initial imagery released around the announcement of the training scheme but have appeared again since. They featured in photographs of Defence Minister Ben Wallace’s visit in early July and again a couple of weeks later during another visit by General Sir Patrick Sanders’, Chief of the General Staff. The rifles were seen with iron sights and fitted with blank firing adaptors. Interestingly, at least some of the Ukrainian personnel have been shown how to field strip the British rifles. 

Deputy Defence Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Havrylov with visits Ukrainian troops training in the UK, 19 July (UK MoD/Crown Copyright)

On 19th July, imagery from a visit by the Deputy Defence Minister of Ukraine, Volodymyr Havrylov, also showed Ukrainian troops equipped with SA80A2s fitted with blank firing adaptors. As before the rifles were not fitted with optics.

The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that while AK-pattern blank firing adaptors have been procured, SA80’s with blank firing adaptors have also been used to ‘maintain strict safety conditions for both British and Ukrainian soldiers during training and to meet the urgency of the training requirement.’

Ukrainian troops field stripping and cleaning SA80A2s in early July (UK MoD/Crown Copyright)

Because the rifles don’t have railed forends some thought they might be the earlier SA80A1s. We can tell that these rifles are SA80A2s from the up-turned scalloped tear drop charging handle which also doubles as a brass deflector. The rifles have the non-railed green polymer handguards fitted.  While the Daniel Defense produced railed forends have come to characterise what many thing is the A2 configuration, these were actually developed in response to an urgent operational requirement for troops deploying in Afghanistan. Many of the rifles overhauled by HK to the A2 standard retained the classic green handguards. Some, like those recently provided to the Royal Bermuda Regiment, actually have a green handguard designed by HK. 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Ukrainian troops (Andrew Parsons/No.10 Downing Street)

We can easily identify British troops involved in the training, as we can see that they are equipped with the new SA80A3 with the characteristic new MLOK forends and Cerakote finish. 

On the 21st July, the UK Prime Minister’s office released photos and video of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to Ukrainian troops training in the North East of England. The imagery showed Ukrainian troops training in urban combat, known by the British Army as Fighting In Built Up Areas or FIBUA. This supports the theory that they are being issued for FIBUA and field exercises that require blank firing. Unlike in the earlier imagery the Ukrainians were armed with SA80A2s largely equipped with SUSAT sights. 


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Bibliography:

‘Defence Secretary Ben Wallace visits Armed Forces of Ukraine as training programme starts across the UK’, UK MoD, 9 July, 2022, (source)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the North East, UK Govt., (source)

Deputy Defence Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Havrylov meets with Ukrainian trainees in UK, UK MoD, (source)

National Army Museum Talk: The Vickers Gun & Indirect Fire

On the 16 July, I took part in a Spotlight Saturday event at the UK’s National Army Museum in London. Organised by the Vickers Machine Gun Collection & Research Association the event commemorated the 100th anniversary of the disbandment of the British Army’s Machine Gun Corps but also commemorated the legacy of the Vickers Machine Gun itself. In support of the event I gave a talk on how the Vickers was used in the indirect fire role. Find out more about the events commemorating the Machine Gun Corps here.


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Talking PIATs with Military History Visualised

Had the absolute pleasure of chatting about PIATs with Military History Visualized.

Ever since I wrote my book about the PIAT I have been passionate about explaining why it was actually a pretty decent bit of kit, just much maligned.

Always great to Bring Up The PIAT! Do check it out below:

A Look Inside A Heavily Damaged M3 Grant

I recently attended the We Have Ways of Making You Talk podcast’s history festival and one of the most striking things on display was a very rusty, heavily damaged M3 Grant! 

The tank, T24193, was one of the first M3 Grants to arrive in Britain in 1941. It was used for cross country and gunnery trials before later in the war it was used as a range target. The owner was kind enough to share some photographs of the tank before it was salvaged.

The tank was salvaged from Pirbright Ranges in Surrey in 2003 and restored mechanically but its external damage is going to be retained as a visual display of its history as a range target. According to the tank’s owner the M3 was used to test captured German Panzerfaust and Panzershreks and has approximately 100 10mm diameter holes from Panzershreks and nearly 400 12-13mm diameter wholes from Panzerfausts fired at the tank. There also appears to be larger holes, perhaps some HESH round damage and lots of small arms strikes or spalling marks.

Here are some photos of the tank:

I would love to read the report on that testing to see what they were trying to find out – a possible research project for the future. The Panzerfaust (capable of penetrating up to 200mm) and Panzershreks (capable of penetrating up to 160mm) definitely penetrated the M3 Grant’s 2 inch frontal and 1.5 inch side armour. 

With the tank on display I couldn’t resist getting some video of it, the surreal sight of light coming through both sides of the tank’s hull becomes sobering when you consider that Allied tanks faced the weapons which made the holes, in actual combat.


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UK Purchases AKs To Train Ukrainian Troops

On the 9th July, the UK’s Ministry of Defence announced that as part of its agreement to train 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers it had acquired a significant number of AK-pattern rifles. Initially sharing only one, fairly low res, photograph the official announcement stated that:

“The Government has rapidly procured AK variant assault rifles for the training programme, meaning Ukrainian soldiers can train on the weapons they will be using on the front line. This effort was supported by the Welsh Guards, who tested more than 2,400 such rifles in 17 days to ensure they were ready for the Ukrainians to commence their training.”

Ukrainian soldier at the range July 2022 (UK MoD / Crown Copyright)

The types of AK-pattern rifles procured was not announced but from the initial photograph released it was clear that at least one of the rifles was a Serbian-produced Zastava M70AB2, chambered in 7.62x39mm.

The programme is the latest phase of Operation ORBITAL, the British Army’s name for the long term support and training programme undertaken since 2015. To-date ORBITAL has reportedly trained some 22,000 Ukrainian personnel, with the initial phase being run in Ukraine until early 2022 when the threat of imminent invasion saw the training personnel in Ukraine withdrawn. At the same time Canada and the US have run similar programmes in Ukraine. T he UK has agreed to train 10,000 Ukrainians within 120 days and in comments to the press the Uk’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace saying that “if the Ukrainians ask for more, we’ll be open to more”.

Ukrainian soldiers seen here receiving training from 3 RIFLES, July 2022 (UK MoD / Crown Copyright)

The rifles procured will likely be retained in Britain to train successive cadres of Ukrainian personnel, however, the UK has gifted a substantial amount of uniform and kit with the Ministry of Defence’s 9th July statement saying that each soldier will be issued with:

  • Personal protective equipment including helmets, body armour, eye protectors, ear protectors, pelvic protection, and individual first aid kits
  • Field uniforms and boots
  • Cold and wet weather clothing
  • Bergens, day sacks and webbing
  • Additional equipment required for field conditions including ponchos, sleeping bags, and entrenching tools

The training is being undertake by around 1,050 UK service personnel largely drawn from 11 Security Force Assistance Brigade. The brigade was formed in 2021 and is tasked with “building the capacity of allied and partner nations”. Personnel from the 12th Armoured Brigade Combat Team and 1st Armoured Infantry Brigade as well as Ukrainian-speaking interpreters are involved.

The course the Ukrainian troops are undergoing is a condensed basic infantryman course which includes weapons handling and marksmanship fundamentals, battlefield first aid, fieldcraft, patrol tactics and the Law of Armed Conflict. From the file dates on the imagery released it appears that many of the photographs were taken in late June and early July.

British instructor with M70 rifle (UK MoD / Crown Copyright)

From examination of further imagery released it appears that the AK-pattern rifles procured for training the Ukrainian troops are all chambered in 7.62x39mm and the 2,400 rifles procured include: wooden-stocked Zastava M70 (or M70B)s, milled receiver M70As, folding stock M70AB2s, Hungarian FEG AK63Ds and East German MPi KMS-72s.

Interestingly, some photographs and video suggest that as part of the training at least some of the Ukrainian personnel have been shown how to field strip the British SA80/L85 rifles. These are believed to have been used with blank firing adaptors during training this theory was supported by Ukrainian troops being pictured with SA80/L85 pattern rifles, with the easily recognisable yellow blank firing adaptors fitted, during a visit by General Sir Patrick Sanders’, Chief of the General Staff, to meet Ukrainian troops doing Fighting In Built Up Areas (FIBUA) training. The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that while AK-pattern blank firing adaptors have been procured, SA80’s with blank firing adaptors have also been used to ‘maintain strict safety conditions for both British and Ukrainian soldiers during training and to meet the urgency of the training requirement.’

Ukrainian soldier at the range July 2022 (UK MoD / Crown Copyright)

The reasoning behind the procurement of rifles chambered in 7.62x39mm rather than the more regularly issued 5.45x39mm AK-74 pattern rifles is also unclear. Perhaps this was due to weapon availability and regardless of calibre the manuals of arms remains the same. There is no indication that training with support weapons such as general purpose machine guns or light anti-armour weapons is being provided.

When approached for comment on the sources and types of AK rifles procured, the Ministry of Defence told The Armourer’s Bench:

“The Government has rapidly procured AK variant assault rifles through a combination of international donations and private purchase, meaning Ukrainian soldiers can train on the type of weapons they will be using on the front line. All weapons were tested in accordance with UK legislative and safe working practices.”

While this doesn’t offer much detail it does suggest that the rifles were procured via donations and private purchase – the scale of the donations and private purchases remains unclear.

It has also been confirmed that elsewhere British personnel are training Ukrainian mechanised troops on various vehicles including Spartan, Husky and Mastiff at Bovington as part of ‘Project Spring Generation’. It was confirmed by the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, on 18th July, that the first cadre has now completed its training in the UK. Wallace also noted that Dutch personnel will be joining the British effort to train Ukrainian troops in the future.


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Bibliography:

‘Defence Secretary Ben Wallace visits Armed Forces of Ukraine as training programme starts across the UK’, UK MoD, 9 July, 2022, (source)

‘First Ukrainian Volunteer Recruits Arrive In UK For Training’, Overt Defense, (source)

Video 11 July, 2022, UK MoD, (source)

Video 12 July, 2022, UK MoD, (source)

Video 15 July, 2022, UK MoD, (source)

‘Thousands of Ukrainian ‘battle casualty replacements’ are being trained in England’, Sky News, (source)

‘British troops training Ukrainian forces seen ‘huge improvements”, Forces News, (source)

16 Vickers Machine Guns in Action – Commemorating the Legacy of the Machine Gun Corps

A couple of weeks ago I had the honour of taking part in a shoot at Bisley to commemorate the disbandment of the British Army’s Machine Gun Corps. The Corps was formed in 1915 and disbanded in July 1922. They left an important legacy of skills and doctrine for machine gun use which remains with the British Army today. 

Myself an TJ manning a Nepalese contract Vickers Gun during the shoot. We portrayed members of the Guard Machine Gun Regiment (all photos courtesy of Adam Blackmore-Heal)

The shoot was organised by my friend Rich Fisher of the Vickers Machine Gun Collection & Research Association. The shoot gathered 16 Vickers Machine Guns, the equivalent of a First World War Machine Gun Corps company.  Each gun represented a different period of the British Army’s use of the Vickers Gun from 1912 all the way through to 1968, when it finally went out of service. 

Here’s some photos from the shoot (courtesy of Adam Blackmore-Heal):

Throughout the day I captured some behind the scenes footage and Rich Willis was kind enough to run my camera for me during the shoot when I had my hands full. This was the first time this many guns had been fired together in 20 years and all in all around 16,000 rounds were fired and over 700 people turned out to watch the event.

Not only did the day illustrate the impressive volume of fire that the guns were capable of but it also put their lethality into perspective. The shoot illustrated the devastation the weapons could bring and the important legacy of the men who manned them.

 I highly recommend visiting the Vickers Machine Gun Collection & Research Association’s YouTube channel to watch the stream of the full 45 minute shoot, a brilliant 360-degree view video which puts you right on the firing point and a really special 20 minute mini documentary about the shoot. 


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Original CETME/G3 Fold Out Brochure

In this video/article we’ll examine an original 1950s brochure for the CETME ‘Rifle 58’, which was manufactured under license by Nederlandse Wapen en Munitiefabrik (NWM) in the Netherlands. The rifle would later become more widely known as the G3 when a version of the weapon was adopted by the Bundeswher.

Printed in 1957, the brochure is in German and refers to the ‘Gewehr 58’, it is a quality publication and a considerable outlay appears to have been made with good photographs, excellent graphic design and a very clever ‘fold out’ central section which highlights the features of the rifle.

The brochure details the rifles operation, attributes and some of its accessories including optics, bipods, rifle grenades and what appears to be an intriguing suppressor. The brochure represents an interesting period in the G3’s history as it began to enter service in Spain and in West Germany. (though in slightly different chamberings).

Once adopted the rifle would later be produced in West Germany by Rheinmetall (see example below) and Heckler & Koch. Heckler & Koch would eventually acquire the sole rights to production and the G3 would become synonymous with the company.

Rhinemetall-produced G3 field stripped (Matthew Moss)

We have previously taken an in-depth look at an early G3, manufactured by Rhinemetall, check out that video/article here.

The brochure is part of the reference collection TAB is building, check out more videos on items from the collection here.

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Ukraine’s Polymer Machine Gun Belts

Ukraine’s Plastic Machine Gun Belts

A Ukrainian company, the Kharkiv Plant of Individual Means of Protection (HZISZ), which operates under a number of trade names including RAROG, have developed disintegrating plastic machine gun links for various Soviet/Russian-pattern 7.62x54mmR chambered belt-fed machine guns. The ‘KS-122 Machine Gun Tape’ can be used in PK, PKM, and PKT pattern guns as well as the older Goryunov-pattern machine guns, the SG-43 and SGM.

‘Plastic machine gun tape’ demonstrated from a container of dry ice (HZISZ/RAROG)

Development of the links reportedly began back in 2015. According to Maksym Plekhov, the company’s deputy director, the links were originally developed following feedback received during RAROG’s development of their ‘Predator’ PK Machine gun ammunition backpack system.

Between 2015 and 2017 the company refined the design but did not go into large-scale production of the links. In a 2017 promotional video for the links RAROG state that they tested over 200 types of plastic and made 26 design changes during development. The links are made by injection moulding with a material based on polycarbonate. The initial videos and photographs of the links being tested and demonstrated show them as translucent but RAROG have confirmed that the final colour of the production links will be black.

In February 2021, the company shared a new video showing a demonstration of the links at a wintery outdoor range to showcase their cold-weather performance. Over the last couple of weeks RAROGhave begun posting about the links on their social media again, sharing new videos of them being tested at the range and announcing that sample bags of the links have been sent to Ukrainian troops.

RAROG confirmed that the links had been placed on the back burner for a time while the company focused on other projects, noting that the company has supplied their other products to “the armed forces and the National Guard of Ukraine, as well as NATO special forces, for example, the special operations forces of Bulgaria.”

A month ago the company announced that they had shipped pre-production sample batches with some of their PK belt box pouches to allow troops in the field to provide feedback, noting that “serial production without performance statistics cannot be started.”

‘Plastic machine gun tape’ being tested, seen here are translucent links (HZISZ/RAROG)

Unlike the classic metal 7.62×54mmR belts, the new polymer belts are disintegrating – meaning once the round held in the belt link is fired and the next round is loaded it falls out of the gun just as with NATO standard disintegrating belts. While this means the links are difficult to collect and reuse when in the field, it has the benefit of not having the empty portion of the belt dangling from the gun.

While the links are marketed as disposable, the company claims that in trials they have been reused as many as 10 times without issues. The links are shipped in packs of 1000. RAROG list the links at 4,900 Ukrainian Hryvnia or $165.

RAROG’s website states that the “Plastic machine gun tape is already on sale” and has been “tested in battle” with the product listing stating that: “Since 2017, a large batch of tape has undergone battle tests to identify possible problems during its use in difficult exploitation conditions. Recently, the Kharkiv plant of personal protective equipment has resumed the issue of the improved tape.”

‘Plastic machine gun tape’ – black and grey polymer links (HZISZ/RAROG)

RAROG state the plastic link belts to be three times lighter than metal link belts, with a 250-round belt with polymer links weighing 0.5kg (1.1lbs) instead of 1.5kg (3.3lbs). They also emphasise that the polymer links are also not susceptible to corrosion. RAROG’s product listing for links also notes that they are ‘significantly cheaper in production’. As demonstrated in the videos featuring dry ice, the links are said to be resistant in temperatures ranging from -70°C up to +120°C [-94F to 248F] – details on the exact polymer used to make the links hasn’t been shared.

RAROG confirmed that a large batch is currently in production. While we haven’t seen the links in photos and videos from the field yet with them going into larger production they might appear in the future.

 


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Walkaround: Bovington Tank Museum Vehicle Conservation Centre

A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of being able to take a stroll around the Vehicle Conservation Centre at the Tank Museum at Bovington.

The VCC was built in 2013 to ensure the vehicles not on display were stored undercover and there are some real treasures in there including rare tanks from the First World War onwards.

Thank you to the Tank Museum for letting me take a walk around the VCC. Can’t wait to visit the museum again!  Check out their website here.

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Switchblade Loitering Munitions in Ukraine

So far during the fighting we’ve seen everything from M14s to Brimstone missiles transferred to Ukraine. One weapon which was hailed as a game changer when it was announced was the Switchblade loitering munition. While not game changers we have begun to see evidence of their use in the field and they are definitely an interesting new weapon.

Switchblades are a loitering munition capable of being launched and then remaining on station to be tasked to destroy a ground target once the target has been identified. Back in March it was announced that as part of the US’ military aid to Ukraine Switchblades made by AeroVironment.

Pvt. 1st Class Brandon Norton launches a Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile System (LMAMS) for aerial support during a Robotic Complex Breach Concept assessment and demonstration, at Grafenwoehr, Germany, April 6, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Gregory T. Summers)

The system was originally developed for use in Afghanistan with the first US Department of Defense contract awarded in 2011. These have been designated the Lethal Miniature Aerial Missile System (LMAMS). AeroVironment currently offers two models, the Switchblade 300 and the larger Switchblade 600.

On the 16th March the US announced it would provide Ukraine with “100 Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems”.[1] It was widely theorised that these would in fact be Switchblade loitering munitions. 

So what is a Switchblade? It is a tube-launched, rapidly deployable munition which can strike beyond-line-of-sight targets with precision at a range of up to 10km. The system is small enough to be man-packed weighing 5.5lbs (or 2.5kg). 

It can also be launched from a multiple launch system which can be vehicle mounted. Once launched its wings deploy and its electrically-powered propeller spins up, it can remain in the air for 15 minutes. It has a maximum altitude of 5,000 feet and cruises at around 60 miles per hour (but can dash at speeds up to 100mph).[4] AeroVironment claim the system can be set up and launched in under 2 minutes.

Its payload is described as ‘modular’ by AeroVironment, who also mention it carries a ‘Northrop Grumman advanced munition’, which some sources suggest is roughly equivalent to a 40mm grenade – said to be capable of knocking out light armoured vehicles. The warhead has a highly directional fragmentation charge which is triggered by a sensor that detonates it as a specific distance from the target in mid-air. 

Remains of a Switchblade 300 following detonation of its warhead (via social media)

The system is controlled manually or autonomously and uses a dedicated ruggedized laptop with a built-in mission planner (which is also pre-loaded with a simulator). The Switchblade is equipped with electro-optical and infra-red cameras which provide the operator with real-time video and can be directed by fly-by-radio frequency signal. Once launched Switchblade is not recoverable and does have a wave-off and redirection capability. 

On 1 April, a fresh military assistance package was announced which expressly named ‘Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems’ but did not indicate a quantity.[2] These were believed to have been ordered direct from the manufacturer under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) which allows procurement of systems and capabilities from industry rather than delivering equipment Department of Defense stocks. 

On 7 April the US Department of Defense’s fact sheet on aid supplied to Ukraine referred to ‘hundreds of Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems’[11], a week later the wording had changed to a more specific ‘Over 700 Switchblade Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems’.[12]

An intact, undetonated but damaged Switchblade 300 captured by Russian forces (via social media)

On the 6 May AeroVironment were awarded a contract modification worth nearly $18 million for “Switchblade hardware production” for a Foreign Military Sale to Ukraine. This contract is estimated to be completed by 4 May, 2023.[3] The US Department of Defense announced on 10 May that it would supply a total of 700 Switchblade systems, but did not state the split between 300s and the newer, more capable Switchblade 600s.[10]

We’ve yet to see evidence of Switchblade 600 use in Ukraine, likely because the system has only been produced in pre-production runs and substantial orders for the munition have not been made yet. The 600s capabilities are regularly compared to those of an Anti-Tank Guided Missile. With a 40km (25 mile) range and a 20 minute loiter time they offer considerable capability and much longer range than ATGM like Javelin or Stugna P. For now only 300s have been visually confirmed in use in Ukraine. But the larger 600s have the potential to have significant impact on the battlefield.

On the 6 May the Ukrainian 53rd Separate Mechanized Brigade shared a clip showing a Russian machine gun position being struck by a Switchblade, we can see the characteristic mid-air blast and fragmentation pattern.[5]

On the 24 May the SSO, a Ukrainian special forces unit, shared a video of a Switchblade 300 strike against a Russian tank crew which had dismounted and were sat on the vehicle’s hull. Memes are one thing the war in Ukraine isn’t short of and the video features the Star Wars theme and concludes with a Curb Your Enthusiasm credit reel meme.[9]

A Switchblade 300 in the field in Ukraine (via social media)

On the 25 May a pretty comprehensive video showing the launch and targeting of a Switchblade, said to be on the eastern front was shared.[6] The video shows the launch tube and control laptop. A largely intact Switchblade 300 was recovered by Russian troops on 26 May, with photos of the munition shared online.[8] This is potentially an example of the munition running out of loitering time or one which has potentially taken damage from ground fire.

On 1 June footage of another Switchblade 300 launch was released but no indication of if it struck its target. The video is said to have originated from the Kharkiv region.[7] On the 6 June a further photo of a Switchblade 300 appeared. The photo shows the remnant of the Munition – given the front portion of the Switchblade is missing it appears that it fired its payload. Around the 12 June further photos of an expended Switchblade 300 were shared online with very little of the fuselage remaining.

Footage released by the Ukrainian Armed Forces of a Switchblade 300 strike against a machine gun position

On 15 June, a short clip of another fired Switchblade gives us a close up look at the electronics inside the weapon and at the propeller at the rear which powers it. Again given the damage and the fact the front portion of the munition is missing it would indicate that the Switchblade detonated its payload.

On the same day more footage of what might be the same expended Switchblade 300 appeared in a Russian news report. The report allegedly shows the location where the Switchblade detonated, somewhere near Avdiivka in Donetsk.  The nature of the Switchblade 300’s forward firing payload it is suited to softer targets like infantry in the open or in the case of at least one video claimed to be from a Switchblade attack against dismounted vehicle crews. 

Some have criticised the Switchblade 300 for its apparent lack of punch but they were never designed to take on Russian armour, they were designed as a focused munition intended to take out soft targets with the minimum collateral damage. In Ukraine the use of commercial drones has rapidly proliferated, many of these are delivering grenade-based gravity bombs onto enemy positions and assets. It could be argued that these systems, rather than a sophisticated loitering munition like the Switchblade 300, are arguably more cost effective, efficient, more versatile and easier to use. The larger, more capable loitering munitions, such as the Switchblade 600s, will likely see the concept come into its own and have the potential to have a more significant impact on the battlefield.


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Sources: