U.S. military officials say that a miniature "kamikaze" drone designed to hover in the sky before dive-bombing and slamming into a human target will soon be part of the U.S. Army's arsenal.
'Switchblade,' the new drone, weighs less than two kilos, is small enough to fit into a soldier's backpack and is launched from a tube, with wings quickly folding out as it soars into the air, according to its manufacturer AeroVironment.
Powered by a small electric motor, Switchblade transmits video in real time from overhead, allowing a soldier to identify an enemy.
AeroVironment said in a press release: "Upon confirming the target using the live video feed, the operator then sends a command to the air vehicle to arm it and lock its trajectory onto the target."
The drone then flies into the "target," detonating a small explosive.
The drone can be called off at the last moment, even after a kill mission has been ordered. That feature provides troops with "a level of control not available in other weapon systems," says AeroVironment.
The United States currently uses larger Predator and Reaper drones to hunt down suspected militants in Pakistan and elsewhere. The robotic planes fire powerful Hellfire missiles and drop heavy bombs that can cause civilian casualties and extensive damage.
In the war in Afghanistan, US and coalition troops fighting the the Taliban can call in artillery fire or air strikes from fighter jets and attack helicopters. But the heavy firepower has been blamed by Afghan leaders for claiming the lives of innocent civilians and causing strained US relations with Kabul.
The Switchblade, however, is touted as a way to avoid killing bystanders. "Flying quietly at high speed the Switchblade delivers its onboard explosive payload with precision while minimizing collateral damage," AeroVironment said.
The US Army in June approved a $4.9 million contract for AeroVironment to supply the new drones as soon as possible. Officials have not said how many Switchblade drones were ordered or when the robotic weapons would make into the hands of US forces.