CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — Australia said it ordered its first loitering munitions from overseas, the U.S.-manufactured Switchblade 300 from AeroVironment.

This same weapon is widely used by Ukrainian soldiers against Russian invaders, plus Taiwan recently had a USD $60.2 million Foreign Military Sale of 720 of these loitering munitions approved.

Canberra’s announcement did not mention quantities or price, but it said the first examples would reach Australia later this year and enter Australian Defence Force service in 2025.

The Switchblade 300, which has a 3.69-pound (1.68kg) warhead and 19-mile (30km) range in its latest Block 20 variant, will “boost the ADF’s arsenal of drones, including those capable of being armed,” according to a Department of Defence statement.

The weapon can be transported in a backpack, before being launched from a tube.

“With autonomous weapon systems increasingly prevalent, the Defence Strategic Review made clear that new technology and asymmetric advantage are important priorities,” said Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy. “The delivery of this proven precision loitering munition demonstrates the speed at which we are introducing capabilities to the ADF.”

However, his reference to speedy introduction is incongruous. Ukraine has been demonstrating the utility of loitering munitions for the past 2.5 years of combat, and yet Australia is only now introducing this class of weapon.

Indeed, Travis Reddy, CEO of the Australian firm DefendTex, criticized the ADF for its tardiness in acquiring any loitering munitions. His company manufactures the D40 drone, essentially a flying 40mm grenade.

He told Defense News the Australian government even prevented DefendTex from exporting warhead-equipped D40s to Ukraine, because its fuse had not “been through all the certification and qualification stages”. Therefore, the Australian company could send only camera-equipped D40s.

Conversely, the “U.K. took a pragmatic approach” and delivered to Ukraine 300 warhead-equipped D40s that it had commercially procured from DefendTex. Reddy said this D40 case “very much talks about this risk-adverse culture that exists within Defence”.

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

One example is the One-Way Loitering (OWL) munition developed by Western Australia-based firm Innovaero.

Innovaero officials didn’t immediatelyrespond to Defense News requests for details, but it is known the OWL is being trialed by Australian Army special forces, and more will be delivered to the army this year.

The OWL is in a different class to the Switchblade 300, since it has a 125-mile range, 100-minute endurance and carries a 15-pound anti-armor or fragmentation warhead.

Another Australian firm delivering drones to Ukraine is Sypaq Systems. Amanda Holt, Sypaq’s CEO, previously told Defense News that her firm had been delivering 100 low-cost Corvo drones per month, and that Ukrainian troops often jury-rigged them with explosives to act as loitering munitions.

Gordon Arthur is an Asia correspondent for Defense News. After a 20-year stint working in Hong Kong, he now resides in New Zealand. He has attended military exercises and defense exhibitions in about 20 countries around the Asia-Pacific region.

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