An RQ-21A Blackjack is launched at a test range in Boardman, Oregon

The US Navy and the US Marine Corps (USMC) have begun initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) of the new small unmanned aircraft system RQ-21A Blackjack at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California, US.

During the testing, the first low-rate initial production (LRIP) lot of the Blackjack, previously known as RQ-21A small tactical unmanned aircraft system (STUAS), will validated its effectiveness and suitability in realistic combat conditions.

The Navy and Marine Corps STUAS programme office programme manager colonel James Rector said the Insitu-built system will meet the needs of warfighters deployed on land or at sea with the marine expeditionary units.

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Fitted with five air vehicles, two ground control systems and launch and recovery equipment, the Blackjack is a larger twin-tailed follow-on to the ScanEagle unmanned air vehicle.

Following completion of IOT&E for the next several months on Blackjack by Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 1, the government and Insitu team will transition the system to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron (VMU) 2, located at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina for operational use.

"The Insitu-built system will meet the needs of warfighters deployed on land or at sea with the marine expeditionary units."

The US Navy is scheduled to receive one system from the second LRIP lot in the spring.

VMU-2 commanding officer lieutenant colonel Anthony Bolden said the Blackjack’s payload and persistence will significantly enhance the Marine Air-Ground Task Force’s (MAGTF) situational awareness.

Designed to provide intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications relay to troops on land and at sea, the 8ft-long Blackjack air vehicle features open-architecture configuration to enable integration of new payloads quickly.

Capable of carrying sensor payloads as heavy as 25lbs, the vehicle’s standard payloads include day and night full-motion video cameras, an infrared marker, a laser range finder, a communications relay package and automatic identification system receivers.

Image: an RQ-21A Blackjack being launched at a test range in Boardman, Oregon, US. Photo: courtesy of Insitu Inc.

Defence Technology