Ukrainian Coasties get Switchblades

Right around the corner from me, in the green “dark space” that is Stennis, the Navy has NAVSCIATTS, the old small boat schoolhouse that moved there after Rodman Naval Station went full-Panama in the 1990s. Co-located with Special Boat Unit TWENTY-TWO (SBU 22), the direct descendent of Coastal River Division TWENTY-TWO and the only NSW Riverine unit, NAVSCIATTS trains riverine and coastal patrol students from around the world, all from the muddy banks of the Pearl River.

From February

It’s another day of maritime specialized training for our international partners from Ukraine, Romania, and Mauritius, who are participating in our seven-week Patrol Craft Officer-Coastal (PCOC) course.

Then, last month, of course, came the Russian invasion and the Ukrainian small boat guys were still over here, no doubt wishing to get back home to the fight. Well, it seems they are soon to be on their way, and as subject matter experts on the Switchblade.

What’s a Switchblade? 

We talked about them last year, before they were cool: 

U.S. Marines with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO), I Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, launch a [AeroVironment Switchblade] lethal miniature aerial missile system during an exercise at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, Sept. 2, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Lance Cpl. Tyler Forti)

Rapidly deployable loitering missile systems, designed as a “kamikaze” being able to crash into its target with an explosive warhead, are the “hot new thing.” However, as witnessed in the recent five-week Nagorno-Karabakh war, between Azerbaijan– supported by Syrian mercenaries and Turkey — and the so-called Republic of Artsakh together with Armenia (who had the low-key support of Moscow), they are a 21st Century game changer. In a nutshell, the Azerbaijanis claim to have smoked almost 400 high-value military vehicles– ranging from main battle tanks to SAM batteries– with such munitions, for zero lives traded.

The U.S. Army, Marines, and Naval Special Warfare Command have been experimenting with such systems over the past decade, such as the Switchblade shown above. The small (6-pound) Switchblade 300 and the larger 50-pound Switchblade 600 both use the same Ground Control Station (GCS) as other small UAVs in the military’s arsenal such as the Wasp, RQ-11 Raven, and RQ-20 Puma. Quiet, due to their electric motors, and capable of hitting a target with extreme accuracy out to 50 nm with a 100-knot closing speed in the case of the larger munition, they could easily target ship’s bridges or soft points with lots of flammable things such as hangars and small boat decks.

From DOD on Sunday:

This morning, via videoconference, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke to a small number of Ukrainian forces who are returning to Ukraine from the United States.
The forces were in the United States as part of the Defense Department’s long history of hosting Ukrainian service members for training and education.

The Ukrainian soldiers were participating in a pre-scheduled professional military education program at the Naval Small Craft Instruction and Technical Training School in Biloxi, Mississippi, when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, according to Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby.

That school is a security cooperation school, operating under the U.S. Special Operations Command in support of foreign security assistance and geographic combatant commanders’ theater security cooperation priorities.

The Ukrainian forces received training on patrol craft operations, communications and maintenance, Kirby said.

Since the conclusion of the course in early March, the DOD provided the group additional advanced tactical training on the systems the United States has provided to Ukraine, including on the Switchblade unmanned aerial vehicle, Kirby said.

Today was the group’s last day in the United States. They spoke to Austin from the Navy’s base at Little Creek, Virginia, where they completed additional advanced tactical training.

Odds are, the Ukrainian swabbies, fueled by crawfish and Barqs root beer, probably won’t be seeing any more boats for a minute.

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