'Backpack-able drones' could soon be deployed to troops on ground

Friday - 10/28/2011, 11:20am EDT

Steven Gitlin, vice president for marketing, Aerovironment

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

Drones — officially known as unmanned aerial systems — have patrolled the U.S.-Mexico border and targeted terrorist leaders halfway across the world. Someday fighters and bombers will likely even be unmanned.

And now one company has learned how to downsize the latest weapon of war to a size small enough to fit in a soldier's backpack.

Steven Gitlin, vice president of Aerovironment, which creates the backpackable drone — formally known as the Switchblade Agile Munition Systems — joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris to discuss how it works.

The Switchblade air vehicle launches from a small tube that can be carried in a backpack. It also transmits live color video wirelessly.

"In a general sense, it's a highly precise, very portable targeted munition that we think is going to help our ground forces do their much more effectively and much more safely," Gitlin said.

The Army awarded the company a nearly $5 million contract for the technology this summer. That contract culminated years of research and development on the project, Gitlin said.

We've been developing this game-changing capability for a number of years" while the firm has been demonstrating it for the last few, he added.

But, troops shouldn't get too attached to the new tools. The Switchblade, which is designed to be more precise than larger ones is a "single-use munition," Gitlin said — part of its low-cost appeal in a technology environment rife with more expensive and higher-powered drones.

This story is part of Federal News Radio's daily DoD Report. For more defense news, click here.