The US Air Force (USAF) has awarded an extension contract to AeroVironment to supply its Switchblade loitering munition systems to provide enhanced force protection and multiplication.

Under the new contract, the company will deliver operational units of the Switchblade systems including engineering services and operator training.

The Switchblade system was recently tested in a series of day and night live fire demonstrations under a variety of operating environments to validate its capabilities to neutralise threats from a stand-off distance.

AeroVironment Unmanned Aircraft Systems business segment senior vice president and general manager Tom Herring said that Switchblade provides a new strike capability to protect troops on the battlefield.

The Switchblade is a tactical armed, miniature unmanned aerial vehicle and has an operational altitude of less than 500ft, a range of more than three miles, and a speed of between 63 – 99mph.

The remotely piloted vehicle features an intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance package and supports beyond-line-of-sight operations.

Launched from a small tube, the Switchblade air vehicle variant wirelessly transmits live colour video information of the target to the small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) ground control unit.

The operator, on receiving the data, arms the air vehicle to engage the target, which delivers its onboard explosive payload with precision onto the target, causing minimal collateral damage.

Troops can benefit by using the Switchblade to respond to enemy combatants with precision fire instead of depending on external support from weapon systems controlled by other operating units.

Work under the new contract will be performed in collaboration with its munition subcontractor, ATK.

The prototype system completed military utility assessment with the US Army and received safety confirmation in 2010.