As the drone battle in Ukraine unfolds, the US Army is scrambling to get its soldiers a new one-way tank-buster – DAVID RAUDALES

DAVID RAUDALES

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As the drone battle in Ukraine unfolds, the US Army is scrambling to get its soldiers a new one-way tank-buster

A US Marine launches a Switchblade drone during an exercise in California in September 2020.

US Marine Corps/Cpl. Jennessa Davey

The US Army is rushing to develop its own tank-killing drone that soldiers can carry into combat.
The weapon will be a loitering munition, a type of drone being used widely in the war in Ukraine.
A drone powerful enough to destroy a tank but cheap enough for mass employment would be valuable.

As kamikaze drones wreak havoc in the Ukraine war, the US Army is rushing to develop its own tank-killing version.

The Low Altitude Stalking and Strike Ordnance program aims to develop a lightweight weapon that can be carried by soldiers in the Army’s Infantry Brigade Combat Teams.

Known as LASSO, the weapon will be “a man-portable, tube launched, lethal payload munition,” according to an announcement by the Army’s Program Executive Office Soldier. “It includes electrical optical/infrared sensor, precision flight control, and the ability to fly, track and engage non-line-of-sight targets and armored vehicles with precision lethal fires. LASSO currently consists of three modules: the launch tube, unmanned aerial system, and fire control station.”

In a sign of how seriously the Army is taking this project, LASSO has been deemed an urgent capability acquisition, a Department of Defense procedure designed to deliver new systems to the field in less than two years. These acquisitions are reserved for capabilities that are “meant to save lives or ascertain mission accomplishment.”

A Ukrainian serviceman attaches a simulated explosive to a drone during training.

Narciso Contreras/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Loitering munitions — the US military avoids the term “kamikaze drone” — are a cross between a drone and a guided artillery shell.

Light enough to be carried by foot soldiers and equipped with a warhead and a camera, they can orbit an area while relaying imagery to an operator who decides when to crash it into a target. They were designed to give infantry an indirect-fire capability to hit targets shielded from sight by terrain or other obstacles.

Though loitering munitions such as the US-made Switchblade have been around for years, they have seen their most prolific use in Ukraine. Ukrainian troops have often strapped small explosive charges to commercially produced quad-copters, turning them into suicide drones capable of knocking out armored vehicles and artillery pieces. Russia has used military-grade Lancet 3 loitering munitions to hunt Ukrainian artillery and disrupt Ukraine’s counteroffensive.

All of which makes LASSO interesting on multiple levels.

It is an indication that the US Army is no longer keen on the Switchblade, a backpack-size loitering munition that has been used by the Army, Marine Corps, and Special Operations Command for more than a decade, including in Afghanistan.

In a move that generated a lot of buzz, the US sent more than 700 Switchblades to Ukraine, mostly the 6-pound Switchblade 300 but also a few of the 33-pound Switchblade 600.

Remains of a Russian-made Shahed-136 used to attack Kyiv on display in May.

Oleksii Samsonov /Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

Curiously, the Army’s 2024 missile procurement budget doesn’t include any Switchblades. One reason may be their price. Each Switchblade costs $58,000, though defense writer David Hambling estimates the true cost at about $80,000 apiece. But Ukraine is launching swarms of militarized commercial drones that cost a few hundred dollars each. Even if some are shot down or disrupted by Russian jamming, economics favor the cheaper drone.

What is also interesting about LASSO is that the Army is emphasizing it as an anti-armor weapon. “This anti-tank capability is a key contributor to our efforts to increase the lethality of the Army of 2030’s IBCT and maintain overmatch against our near-peer threats,” an Army spokesman said.

While there are frequent videos of Ukrainian drones crashing into Russian tanks, these are improvised weapons. The Switchblade 300’s warhead is only the size of a 40 mm grenade, while the Switchblade 600, which is designed to kill armored vehicles, is expensive. It’s not clear what kind of warhead LASSO will pack, and the Army didn’t mention cost in its announcement, but if combat in Ukraine is a guide, LASSO will target the thinner armor on top of tanks.

There are numerous top-attack anti-tank weapons — the US-made Javelin missile and laser-guided artillery shells such as US’s Excalibur and Russia’s Krasnopol, to name a few — but these munitions cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each. If the Army can figure out a way to build a LASSO that’s powerful enough to destroy a tank but cheap enough for mass employment, the impact could be immense.

Michael Peck is a defense writer whose work has appeared in Forbes, Defense News, Foreign Policy magazine, and other publications. He holds a master’s in political science. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Read the original article on Business Insider