US ‘Switchblade’ drones heading to Ukraine can target Russian vehicles and artillery: Pentagon official

(WASHINGTON) — The Pentagon has been providing daily updates on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Ukraine’s efforts to resist.

Here are highlights of what a senior U.S. defense official told reporters Thursday on Day 22:

U.S. drones heading to Ukraine effective against Russian vehicles and artillery

After the White House on Wednesday announced 100 “tactical unmanned aerial systems” would be part of a new $800 million weapon package for Ukraine, a U.S. official confirmed to ABC News these would be small “Switchblade” drones.

Unlike long-range Predator drones, which look similar to small planes and fire missiles at targets, Switchblade drones are the missiles, using GPS to guide themselves straight into their targets to detonate their payloads.

The smallest version, the Switchblade 300, fits in a backpack, weighs only 5.5 pounds, and has a range of about six miles. It can be sent into flight from a small mortar tube, its wings extending into place as it exits the launcher. The larger Switchblade 600 weighs nine times more, but carries an anti-armor warhead and can hit targets up to 25 miles away, according to the manufacturer.

Both models have a “wave-off” feature so that human operators can abort an attack if civilians appear near the target or if the enemy leaves the area.

The U.S. official could not confirm which versions the U.S. is sending to Ukraine, but a senior U.S. defense official told reporters on Thursday that they would be effective against various targets.

“These tactical UAVs can be useful against Russian vehicles and artillery,” the senior U.S. defense official said.

Taking out Russian long-range artillery is especially important for Ukraine as Russian forces ramp up their bombardment of major cities.

No Russian progress on Kyiv in 7 days

The Russian forces nearest Kyiv are still about nine miles to the northwest of the city’s center, the senior U.S. defense official said. This is the same distance away they were estimated to be last Friday.

They haven’t been able to advance because Ukrainian forces “are very actively resisting any movement by the Russians,” the official said, but adding that Russia maintains an advantage with “long-range fires” — missiles and artillery.

Although those nearest troops have stalled, other forces are coming to join them from behind, bringing with them long-range artillery pieces.

“So, it appears that they continue to want to conduct a siege of Kyiv, that’s what you want to use artillery for,” the official said. “We haven’t seen that manifest itself, we’re just seeing them move them into place.”

The only notable advancement of Russian forces since Wednesday is to the southeast of Kharkiv, where the Pentagon assesses they have taken control of Izyum. The official said their intent is likely to push south toward Donetsk and Mariupol to seal off the Donbas area and prevent Ukrainian troops in the east from moving westward to defend other areas.

Russian warships near Odessa

The U.S. continues to see Russian naval activity “not far from Odessa” in the northern Black Sea, the official said. This includes about six surface-war vessels: at least two amphibious landing ships, frigates, and one mine-warfare ship. Despite this activity, there are still no indications of an imminent amphibious assault.

Unlike on Wednesday, there have been no signs of Russian ships shelling towns around Odessa, the official said.

Russian bombardment of cities continues, more civilians hit

Russia has now launched more than 1,000 missiles against Ukraine, according to the official. This is up from an estimate of 980 on Wednesday. These estimates count missile launches, not necessarily effective hits. The official said they could not offer an estimate of how many of these munitions end up being duds.

Again the official said Russians are relying more on “dumb” munitions, meaning unguided weapons.

The official said it’s not clear why, but said it could be an effort to conserve their precision weapons, or a sign they’re running low on them. At any rate, these less-discriminate weapons are seen as a greater threat to civilians.

“We have seen an increase of strikes on civilian infrastructure and civilian targets,” the official said, but could not quantify the damage or casualties.

S-300s for Ukraine

The official would not directly address questions about whether the U.S. would help facilitate Russian-made S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems for Ukraine.

“We are working with allies and partners to continue to provide security assistance to the Ukrainians on short-range and tactical systems as well as long-range systems, to include long-range air defense. And there’s a lot that goes into that, and some countries just have access to inventory that are more suitable for the Ukrainians than some of our systems because they’re trained on them — they operate them, they know them, they’re comfortable with them. And it’s a whole suite of things. And I’ve stayed away from naming individual systems and I think it’s just better if I continue to do that. But we are in active conversations with countries about all these kinds of capabilities to see what they can do to continue to provide support to Ukraine,” the official said.

Russian disinformation campaign

“In Russia, anecdotally, we see their narratives having more of an effect. But then again, they shut down independent media. The only thing available for most Russians now is state media, and so you would expect that those narratives would be more widely consumed and even more widely believed. But outside of Russia, there’s little to no evidence that their information ops are working. In fact, we’ve seen quite the opposite,” the official said.

Low Russian morale

The U.S. has anecdotal evidence of low morale in some Russian units, according to the official.

“Some of that is, we believe, a function of poor leadership, lack of information that the troops are getting about their mission and objectives, and I think disillusionment from being resisted as fiercely as they have been,” the official said.

The official also said it’s “noteworthy” that Russians are considering bringing in more troops and supplies only three weeks into the invasion. The Pentagon believes this is due to poor logistical planning and stronger-than-expected resistance.

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