SOF - Special Operations

DSEI 2017: USMC special ops look for new UAS

14th September 2017 - 10:09 GMT | by Beth Maundrill in London

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The US Marine Corps Special Operations Command (MARSOC) will be looking to trial a group two UAV in the near future, Shephard  has learnt.

MARSOC recently conducted trials of the Insitu RQ-21A Blackjack, a smaller group three UAS, completing 1,000 hours of flights over a five month period from August 2016 to April 2018, according to Col John Neville, programme manager for the Navy and Marine Corps Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office (PMA-263).

Neville said that the trials were ‘borne out of an urgent need that came into the [PMA-263] office’.

There is an expeditionary requirement for MARSOC to have an unmanned capability that can be launched and recovered without the use of a runway. The trails with a group two UAS could see a VTOL solution utilised.

In January 2017 the US Navy and Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) contracted manufacturer Insitu for the first full-rate production lot of the RQ-21A Blackjack. Neville said the Blackjack trails with MARSOC was the same configuration as that destined for the USMC.

The $70.8 million contract will see six systems manufactured.

A system includes five RQ-21A aircraft, ground control stations, payloads, launch and recovery equipment, and systems engineering and programme management.

Ryan Hartman, Insitu CEO, said that the company currently has the capacity to manufacture one system a month under the current full rate production lot but it is primed for two systems a month.

Work on Lot 1 is expected to be complete by February 2018, the requirement was first set back in 2006.

The USMC will be outfitting Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadrons one through four with the RQ-21A, replacing the RQ-7B Shadow UAS.

The RQ-21A was the aircraft utilised to complete the company’s one millionth fight hour in August 2017. The milestone was reached with the company’s ScanEagle, Integrator and Blackjack UAS.

Hartman said that the company was continuing to look at next generation capabilities, which could include new sensors, and was in that process now.

The Canadian Army is also utilising the RQ-21A having signed an agreement with NAVAIR in August 2016 for use of the system.

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