A US Marine Corps unit is planning to deploy its Insitu RQ-21 Blackjack to Norway in 2018 in support of the Trident Juncture exercise, which according to present planning will be the first European deployment of the type. Based out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina, VMU-2 is the first East Coast USMC unit to operate the Blackjack, and has received all six of its RQ-21 systems.
The unit is also the entry level training element for all USMC Blackjack, and work is currently underway to train personnel to carry out the two main missions the service uses the UAV for, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and close air support (CAS).
It is now planning to deploy the system to Norway for testing around September 2018, which will include participation in the NATO exercise in October and November of that year. It is likely that most of this will be land-based operations, but there might be some sea-based element as part of Trident Juncture if the USMC decides to send vessels.
“‘‘This environment is very challenging, so if we can fly there we can fly anywhere,’’ Lt Col Brad Green, commanding officer of VMU-2, told Jane’s show daily.
Green explained that manned-unmanned teaming is very much part of the mission the USMC is using the Blackjack for, and it is integrated into CAS operations to provide information to joint terminal attack controllers. ‘‘We help to find the targets and provide the cueing for that,’’ Green said. ‘‘We do manned-unmanned teaming as regularly as we do ISR.’’
Meanwhile, Insitu (Stand S9-115) has announced that it has reached one million flight hours with its fleet of UAVs, with a Blackjack carrying out the milestone flight on 26 July 2017. The company is also targeting an expected requirement from India to provide a tactical UAV to the navy, and Insitu is preparing to transfer some manufacturing in-country.
‘‘We’re prepared to be able to manufacture some of the systems in India to support the navy customer,’’ Ryan Hartman, president and CEO said.
The requirements are not yet ironed out - there have been several requests for proposals issued to date - so it is unclear if the company’s ScanEagle or Blackjack will be offered.
While there are no partners in India in place at present, Insitu’s parent company Boeing has deals in place with Tata, so that could be an avenue the UAV manufacturer leverages off.