Loitering Munitions: The New Big Threat on the Battlefields

Loitering munitions are also known as suicide drones or kamikaze drones.
Turkish STM Kargu kamikaze drone

They are reasonably modern weapons that are wreaking havoc on the world’s battlefields, particularly in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Ukraine.

The firepower of loitering munitions is not really that destructive. Still, it’s precise enough with its limited payload to destroy armored vehicles and artillery and wipe out troops without air defenses.

The world’s militaries will need to rethink the role of some weapons and combat vehicles amid the sudden onslaught of loitering munitions.

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So, what’s the point of amassing thousands of expensive combat vehicles that can be destroyed by cheap loitering munitions?

What are loitering munitions?

Loitering munitions, AKA kamikaze or suicide drones, are devices that can operate semi-autonomously and fly around a target, waiting for the best time to strike.

Moreover, this type of weaponry can be operated day or night and can escape radar detection and modern anti-aircraft defense systems due to its small size, making it a very formidable weapon.

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How do they work?

MAW Marines Learn Loitering Munitions
MAW Marines Learn Loitering Munitions by Sarah Marshall. Public Domain.

Suicide drones are usually controlled by a human operator equipped with a guidance system. However, there are other kinds of loitering munitions that work autonomously by tracking and destroying the targets based on coordinates or by identifying images.

In any case, loitering munitions are similar to land mines but in the air. They are lethal and only limited by their flight time.

Most-produced loitering munitions

Switchblade

Switchblade 300 launch
Switchblade 300 launch by AMRDEC. Public Domain

Switchblades, employed by the U.S. military, are aimed at taking out small enemy units – and the latest version of this loitering munition, the Switchblade 600, is even able to blow up a tank.

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The manufacturer is AeroVironment, and the war in Ukraine catapulted these advanced American weapons to fame since the Ukrainian troops have been successfully using this loitering munition against Russian artillery, troops, and armored vehicles.

And the switchblade has excellent features that make it a lethal weapon for tanks as it can carry anti-tank loads – and is much more economical than Javelin or NLAWs.

Switchblade 300

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  • Mass: 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) 
  • Length: 130 centimeters (51 inches)
  • Operational range: 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) / around 15 min 
  • Flight altitude: 150 meters (500 feet)
  • Maximum speed: 185 km/h (115 mph) 
  • Cost: $6000 

Switchblade 600

  • Mass: 24.7 kilograms (54.4 pounds) 
  • Length: 49.5 centimeters (19.5 inches)
  • Operational range: 40 kilometers (25 miles) / around 40 min 
  • Flight altitude: 150 meters (500 feet)
  • Maximum speed: 160 km/h (100 mph) 

Warmate

Warmate UAV
Warmate UAV by VoidWanderer. Licensed under CC by 4.0

Warmate is a loitering munition system designed by WB Group that facilitates precision strikes against multiple types of targets.

These drones have exciting features as they can reach a maximum height of 500 meters (1600 feet), attack at a range of 40 kilometers (25 miles), and travels at 80 km/h (50 mph), carrying a weight of only 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds) – and like the Switchblades, they’re being used on a massive scale by Ukraine to defend against the Russian invasion.

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Kub-Bla 

The Russian army is witnessing how the Ukrainian resistance is facing them… And to save on more costly and high-value weaponry, they are resorting to loitering munitions.

The Kub-Bla is produced by the well-known Russian arms manufacturer Kalashnikov. Kalashnikov states that the Kub-Bla has a loitering time of up to six hours in the air, is very accurate, highly powerful, and surprisingly difficult for traditional air defense systems to counter.

The drone is operated through real-time streaming video, so it relies on the operator’s skill to hit the target.

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Now, the drone itself can do little to alter the course of the war because there’s no reported evidence that Russia is widely using them so far. But its arrival has generated some concern about its potential to inflict damage on Ukrainian troops.

Loitering munitions are here to stay

Loitering munitions are an insanely versatile weapon that can destroy equipment costing millions of dollars with a minimal investment that a soldier with minimal training can handle.

These weapons mark a before and after on the battlefields. Today, being in a war without loitering munitions is a massive disadvantage as they will indeed become a significant part of future wars.

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Featured image credit: Turkish STM Kargu kamikaze drone by Armyinform.com.ua. Licensed under CC by 4.0