The US Marine Corps (USMC) has begun the initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) of the Insitu RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aircraft system (UAS), the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) announced on 28 January.
Taking place at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, California, this IOT&E test phase is designed to demonstrate the system's effectiveness and suitability in realistic combat conditions.
According to NAVAIR, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 1 will undertake IOT&E testing on the Blackjack for the next several months, before handing over to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron (VMU) 2, located at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, for operational use. Initial operating capability (IOC) for the Blackjack is set for later in 2014.
News that IOT&E has now begun comes two months after Boeing subsidiary company Insitu was awarded a USD8.8 million contract modification to supply an additional RQ-21A system to augment the one already under contract. One system comprises five Blackjack aircraft (dubbed Integrator by the company), two ground control stations, as well as a pneumatic catapult launcher and a SkyHook recovery system.
The Blackjack's baseline payload comprises an electro-optic sensor, a mid-wave infrared (IR) imager, an IR marker, and a laser rangefinder. The tactical UAS has a cruise speed of 55 kt, a service ceiling of 19,500 ft, and an endurance of 24 hours.