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Insitu Blackjack UAS receives ‘go’ for Navy, Marine ops

January 28, 2016  - By

The Navy and Marine Corps’ RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aircraft system (UAS) received the official green light for operation Jan. 13, marking a major milestone for the program.

The program has achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC), announced Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis. IOC confirms that the first Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron (VMU) squadron is sufficiently manned, trained and ready to deploy with the RQ-21A system.

“We are ‘go for launch’,” said Col. Eldon Metzger, program manager for the Navy and Marine Corps Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office (PMA-263), whose team oversees the Blackjack program. “Achieving IOC designation means the fleet can now deploy using this critical piece of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance architecture to enhance mission success.”


An RQ-21A Blackjack in flight during testing aboard USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19) in 2015. The Marines will deploy for the first time with the unmanned air system this summer. (U.S. Navy photo)

In December 2015, builder Insitu delivered the first system from low-rate initial production (LRIP) lot 3 to VMU-2. The Blackjack system will support of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), based in Camp Legeune, North Carolina. The Marines will make their first shipboard deployment with the system this summer.

“The Blackjack team has endured many long hours seeing this program to fruition and I am very proud to lead such a dedicated team of professionals,” Metzger said.

A Blackjack system is comprised of five air vehicles, two ground control systems, and launch and recovery support equipment. At eight feet long and with a wingspan of 16 feet, the air vehicle’s open-architecture configuration is designed to seamlessly integrate sensor payloads, with an endurance of 10-12 hours.

The expeditionary nature of the Blackjack, which does not require a runway for launch and recovery, makes it possible to deploy a multi-intelligence-capable UAS with minimal footprint from ships.