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A company is making high-tech drones in Ventura County which are being used in Ukraine

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AeroVironment
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The Switchblades are part of a military aid package sent to Ukraine by the United States.

The small, precise weapons are part of a U.S. military aid package delivered to help Ukraine fight back amid Russia’s invasion.

A so-called kamikaze drone, that dive-bombs its target, is being built at a secret facility in Ventura County.

The small and precise weapons are part of a US military aid package delivered to help Ukraine fight back amid Russia’s invasion, which started eight months ago.

"These are very sophisticated drones, they've been used in a number of different environments and right now they're being used in Ukraine," explained John Aldana, Director of Development Programs for Tactical Missile Systems, which is a division of AeroVironment, which manufacture the drones.

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AeroVironment
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The drones are manufactured in Ventura County

The Switchblade comes in two sizes. The smaller 300 model weighs about 5lbs and is small enough for a soldier to carry in a backpack, and can fly for about 15 minutes.

Its small size and silent flight makes it extremely difficult to detect or intercept, explained Aldana.

The heavier 50lb version can fly for longer - about 40 minutes -and is used to target tanks and armored vehicles.

The name Switchblade comes from the way the spring-loaded wings are folded up inside a tube and flip out once released, which Aldana demonstrates.

"They're both called 'loitering munitions'. They're almost like model planes that can go out a certain distance." said Aldana. "The bigger ones can take out a tank."

The Switchblade uses daytime and night-time infrared, as well as an "aided target tracker" to lock on to stationary and moving targets.

It has a unique ability to hover above a potential target – and – says AeroVironment Chief Executive Officer Wahid Nawabi – has patented technology designed to reduce the risk of civilian casualties.

"There's always a human 'in the loop'. Meaning that all the way until the last few seconds of the mission, the operator can see what's going on and can decide to intervene and change the mission," he told KCLU.

"That is one of the most critical features of Switchblade and what makes it unique. It's called WaveOff capability," said Nawabi.

"If there's an innocent life, or the wrong mission or the wrong angle of attack, the operator can call it off, or loiter or take on another mission or come back at a different time," added Nawabi.

"No other missile that I know of can do this. All other missiles that I know of are 'fire and forget' missiles. You push the button, designate a target and you can't change your mind after that. And that's really different," said Nawabi.

1st ANGLICO trains with UAS
Lance Cpl. Tyler Forti/I MEF Information Group
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Digital
The Switchblade in flight

The company doesn’t just manufacture drones. In fact, they also created the Mars helicopter Ingenuity.

"What we do here is all about robotics," explained Nawabi. "Drones that fly, robots that crawl and walk on the ground and even spacecraft/aircraft that flew in the atmosphere of Mars."

Kamikaze drones are becoming more popular and are replacing missiles in multiple missions because they’re cheaper and - for the situation in Ukraine - Nawabi says, are a game-changer.

Caroline joined KCLU in October 2020. She won LA Press Club's Audio Journalist of the Year Award this year, and also won two further first place awards, for Lifestyle Feature and Personality Profile/Interview. Last year, Caroline won first place for Use Of Sound. She also won two Golden Mike Awards this year, for Best News Reporting and Best Entertainment Reporting, as well as a National Arts & Entertainment Award from LA Press Club for One-on-One interview. Caroline started her broadcasting career in the UK, in both radio and television for BBC News, 95.8 Capital FM and Sky News and she was awarded the Prince Philip Medal for her services to radio and journalism in 2007. She moved to Los Angeles in 2013 and is both an American and British citizen. Caroline lives in Agoura Hills with her daughter - her proudest production.