The US Navy and Marine Corps‘ RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aircraft system (UAS) has achieved initial operational capability (IOC) milestone.
With the achievement, the first Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron (VMU) squadron is ready to deploy the RQ-21A system. The marines will make their first shipboard deployment with this system in summer this year.
Navy and Marine Corps Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office (PMA-263) programme manager colonel Eldon Metzger said: "Achieving IOC designation means the fleet can now deploy using this critical piece of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance architecture to enhance mission success."
Last month, the VMU-2 received the first system from the low rate initial production (LRIP) lot three, which was authorised in May 2013. The Blackjack programme is monitored by the PMA-263.
It can be deployed in persistent maritime and land-based tactical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, data collection, target acquisition, and dissemination missions.
It does not require runway for launch and recovery, enabling the deployment of a multi-intelligence-capable UAS with minimal requirement of launch pads on ships.
The multi-intelligence aircraft system constitutes five air vehicles with multi-mission payloads, two ground control stations and ancillary equipment.
The RQ-21A Blackjack successfully performed its first flight in July 2012. The land-based testing of the aircraft system was concluded in December 2012.
The Blackjack successfully performed the first ship-borne flight from the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) in February 2013.
The first east coast flight trials were performed from the Webster Field Annex at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in June 2013.