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June 27, 2019 | International, Aerospace

USMC gets final RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aircraft system

The US Marine Corps (USMC) has received the final RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aircraft system (UAS) under a programme to procure 21 of these platforms.

The final unit was delivered by the US Navy and Marine Corps Small Tactical UAS Program Office (PMA-263) at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina.

In a release, Naval Air Systems Command stated that the fleet readiness detachment (FRD) at MCAS Cherry Point will use the RQ-21A for training purposes.

Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 (VMU-2) is also located at MCAS Cherry Point and will be responsible for maintaining the UAS.

This delivery comes after VMU-3 received its fourth and final system in March this year to complete the squadron deliveries. VMU-3 is stationed in Hawaii.

PMA-263 Program Manager colonel John Neville said: “As we wrap up the production phase of the RQ-21A programme for the Marine Corps and Navy, we have also been transitioning to continued sustainment for the fleet to include platform and payload capability improvements.

“While it's a normal shift in the life of any programme, we maintain our focus on system readiness, affordability and capability improvements to ensure Blackjack remains a critical intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability that's relevant for the warfighter.”

Medium UAS lead lieutenant colonel Russell Strange noted that the programme also intends to enhance the capability of the RQ-21A system.

In addition, the focus will be on growing the customer base for foreign military sales.

Strange said: “Increased capability will include work on command and control, communication systems, avionics, optics, laser designation, and payloads.”

RQ-21A Blackjack UAS was developed by Boeing Insitu in collaboration with the US Navy to meet requirements for a small tactical UAS that can operate from land and sea.

With a flight endurance of up to 16 hours and an altitude ceiling of 19,500ft, RQ-21A can carry loads up to 39lb.

The runway-independent system can be used to support tactical missions on land and at sea.

The Marine Corps' RQ-21A Blackjack UAS achieved initial operational capability in 2016.

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