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Defence adds lethal kamikaze drones to its arsenal

The Australian Defence Force has added Switchblade 300 drones to its arsenal.

The Australian Defence Force has added Switchblade 300 drones to its arsenal. Photo: AAP

Soldiers will get a battlefield advantage with portable killer drones that crash kamikaze-like into the enemy, Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy says, as Australia looks to Ukraine to bolster its military capabilities.

The government has acquired the loitering munition Switchblade 300 for an undisclosed amount.

They will be in service from late 2024 “as a way of deterring potential aggressors”.

“They can be carried by a single person and they can obviously be deployed to devastating effect as they have been in Ukraine,” Conroy said on Monday.

The acquisition is the first stage of the plan to buy more loitering munitions, with between $500 million and $1 billion allocated for army drones.

“We’re running programs right now to develop Australian drones. And we’re hoping to get them into the inventory as soon as possible,” Conroy said.

Nationals senator Ross Cadell welcomed the purchase but added the drones “a long way from a game changer”. They couldn’t take out tanks or armoured vehicles but were good against infantry, he said.

“It can take out personnel but [at] between $90,000 and $120,000 a hit, it is a very expensive way of doing that,” he told Sky News.

Getting the Switchblade 600, which could target armoured targets, would make a more substantial impact, Cadell said.

“This is more of an announcement to pretend we’re doing something than actually changing the battlefield,” he said.

Liberal senator Dave Sharma said the short-range weapon system – which could be used between 10-15 kilometres – could be effective but didn’t tackle the bigger challenges the defence force faced.

Defence Minister Richard Marles needed to instead focus on frigates, destroyers, submarines “and the capability gaps we’ve got emerging there”, he said.

“It’s an important addition for us but I think the bigger challenges we face as the Australian Defence Force are some of the bigger platforms,” Sharma said.

Unlike other traditional drones, which are used for reconnaissance, loitering munitions are aerial weapons designed to stay in the area of a target before attacking it directly by crashing into it and exploding.

They are carried in a backpack before being fired into the air where the wings flick out, hence the name switchblade.

A range of drones, including loitering munitions, have proven to be potent weapons for picking off soldiers, tanks and other military assets by the Ukrainian forces trying to repel the Russian invasion.

The US government has delivered hundreds to the Ukrainian forces. Overseas news sites report that the US paid up to US$US80,000 ($118,885) for each of its Switchblade 300 drones.

Of the more than 20 drone systems already in use by the defence force, several are capable of being armed.

– AAP

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