Navy completes first ship-based flight of Boeing Insitu’s RQ-21A small tactical UAS

The Navy completed this week the first flight at sea of its RQ-21A small unmanned aerial system, the service said Feb. 12.

The maiden flight of the Boeing Insitu-built RQ-21A Small Tactical Unmanned Air System (STUAS) was launched from and recovered by the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS Mesa Verde (Landing Platform Dock 19), the Naval Air Systems Command said. 

The flight at sea followed three months of land-based trial flights at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake, Calif., before launching from the ship.

The 7.2-feet-long RQ-21A weighs 125 lbs., has an air speed of 80 knots and can fly as high as 15,000 feet. The RQ-21A's range is 50 nautical miles. It can carry a variety of payloads, including electro-optical/infrared, communications relay, automated identification system, laser range finder, and infrared pointer.

The Navy plans to use the RQ-21A to perform persistent maritime and land-based tactical reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) data collection and distribution, according to NAVAIR.

The RQ-21A will give the Navy persistent RSTA support for tactical maneuver decisions and unit-level force defense and force protection for its ships, Marine Corps land forces and special warfare units, NAVAIR said.

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William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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