An RQ-21A Blackjack

Unmanned Systems

Navy says hit me again with Blackjack UAS

The Navy is expanding its fleet of Blackjack unmanned aerial systems, small rail-launched aircraft used by the Navy and Marines for ISR (intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance) on land and sea.

The service has awarded Insitu a $71.5 million contract for six low-rate initial production Lot V RQ-21A Blackjacks that also covers ground control stations, launch and recovery equipment, shipboard equipment kits, and systems engineering and program management, according to a Defense Department announcement.

The Navy and Marines have been using Blackjacks since 2011 and last July modified an earlier contract to obtain a half-dozen more of the aircraft. Blackjacks are 8.2 feet in length with a wingspan of 16 feet and can fly for up to 16 hours at speeds up to 80 knots. Originally designed to work from land (the Marines currently operate more than the Navy does), the RQ-21A version was designed to allow for shipboard launches.

The Marines also in March successfully conducted tests with the Blackjack flying domestically in controlled airspace within Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, which was seen not only as a step toward using drones domestically but also toward integrating their operations with those of manned aircraft. DOD officials have cited better manned-unmanned teaming as a key part of the department’s Third Offset Strategy.

The latest contract with Insitu is being funded by both the Marines and Navy. Work is expected to be completed by October 2017.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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