Friday, January 16, 2015

Marine Corps Set to Deploy Next-Generation Unmanned Aircraft

Marine Corps Set to Deploy Next-Generation Unmanned Aircraft: The Marine Corps and Navy will launch their newest unmanned aerial system, the RQ-21A Blackjack, from a ship this spring for the first time, and are looking into developing pocket-sized reconnaissance drones, a service aviation official said.

At 140 pounds, the new Blackjack is considered a small tactical unmanned aerial system designed to support infantry regiments.

“Blackjack is still in test and low-rate initial production, but will provide persistent land-based and maritime, tactical [reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition] data collection and dissemination capabilities,” Col. Eldon Metzger, program manager for the Navy and Marine Corps small tactical unmanned air systems program office at Naval Air Systems Command, said in an email.

“RQ-21A will bring the Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Expeditionary Units a dedicated [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] system capable of delivering intelligence products directly to the tactical commander in real time,” he said.

Blackjack is slated for its first maritime deployment this spring, he added.

The aircraft, manufactured by Boeing Insitu, has already seen action in Afghanistan. A Marine UAS squadron took one system there in spring 2014 for operational land-based tests.

The twin-tailed drone is eight-feet long and has a 16-foot wingspan, according to NAVAIR press releases.

It fits the service’s expeditionary nature by not requiring a runway for launch or recovery, Metzger said.

It is the first unmanned aerial vehicle specifically designed for the Marine Corps.