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Air Platforms

Xponential 2017: Blackjack procurement stalls, while SUAS could expand

11 May 2017

The US Marine Corps (USMC) is slowing its procurement of RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and is considering new capabilities within its family of smaller systems.

An RQ-21A Blackjack UAS attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 (Reinforced) is launched from the USS Mesa Verde amphibious transport dock ship. (US Navy)An RQ-21A Blackjack UAS attached to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 365 (Reinforced) is launched from the USS Mesa Verde amphibious transport dock ship. (US Navy)

USMC officials plan to buy fewer of the ship-capable RQ-21A while issues with the expeditionary systems are resolved, said Lieutenant Colonel Noah Spataro, USMC UAS capabilities integration and requirements officer.

The USMC has an official programme for 32 Blackjack systems (a system is five air vehicles, two ground-control systems, and launch and recovery equipment), but the corps is focusing on "addressing its deficiencies" and plans to buy 21 systems while it considerers upgrades for the payload and other components, Lt Col Spataro said during 10 May remarks at AUVSI's annual Xponential conference in Dallas, Texas.

Nonetheless, he said the USMC is pleased with the RQ-21A's modularity and its expeditionary nature.

Lt Col Spataro also said the USMC is exploring new capabilities within its family of small UAS (SUAS) of Group 1 and 2 systems. The corps has fielded a variety of smaller UAS but the SUAS family is primarily comprised of the RQ-11B Raven, RQ-12A Wasp, and RQ-20B Puma platforms.

The USMC is experimenting with a Sky Ranger UAS to validate a possible new rotary wing type, and is exploring a long-endurance SUAS that could be a larger Group 1 or a smaller Group 2 type of platform.

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