A small number of Ukrainian soldiers already in the United States have been trained on how to use Switchblade tactical drones as the U.S. military sends more of the vehicle-destroying weapons to the ex-Soviet country, the Pentagon’s top spokesperson said Wednesday.
The “very small number” of Ukrainian soldiers, who have been in the U.S. since last fall for military training, were taught to use the drone with the expectation that they would soon return to their country to train others on the equipment, press secretary John Kirby told reporters.
“We took the opportunity — having them still in the country — to give them a couple of days’ worth of training on the Switchblade so that they can go back — and they will be going back soon, back home — to train others in the Ukrainian military,” Kirby said.
A senior U.S. defense official told reporters earlier on Wednesday that less than a dozen Ukrainian military personnel had been trained.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed a day prior that Switchblades are being sent to Ukraine as part of a $300 million lethal aid package announced by the Pentagon on Friday. He did not say how many, though multiple outlets have reported that 10 of the drones will be delivered.
Bloomberg reported that those Switchblades would be a newer, more advanced “series 600” version of the drones, which weigh about 50 pounds, can fly more than 24 miles, stay aloft for 40 minutes and are equipped with a heavier warhead that can damage tanks.
Kirby on Wednesday would not say whether the Switchblade-600 would be sent to Ukraine.
The White House has already sent 100 of the drones as part of an $800 million weapons package announced last month, but those Switchblades were the “series 300” versions. That variant weighs less than five pounds, can fly about six miles, hover over a target for about 15 minutes and is designed to attack personnel and light vehicles.
Kirby said those 100 aerial systems arrived in Europe earlier this week and will “be getting into Ukraine quickly, if they aren’t already there.”
As Ukrainian forces don’t typically use the Switchblade, some training will be needed, he added. “It is not a very complex system. It doesn’t require a lot of training. An individual could be suitably trained on how to use the Switchblade drone in about two days or so.”
Kirby also said Ukrainians were not being trained by the U.S. military on other weapons but would not rule out such assistance moving forward.