As Marines return to amphibs, the service hopes to bring STUAS aboard
By DANIEL P. TAYLOR, Special Correspondent
A System of Its Own
A key attribute of the RQ-21A, a
modified version of the Insitu
Integrator drone, will be its flexibility,
said Col. Jim Rector, program manager for the Navy and Marine Corps
STUAS program office. The aircraft
will be able to take on all sorts of different payloads, from signals intelligence to small radars to whatever
else a Marine might want to put on it.
“The No. 1 attribute of this UAS,
and why we’re getting it, is the payload bay,” Rector said. “That payload
bay allows us to take other sensors
and seamlessly and very quickly integrate them into this UAS because of
the open architecture that exists.
There are probably about 100 pay-
loads that we’re tracking that [companies] are targeting for
our system that we’re not having to develop ourselves.”
The primary user of STUAS will be Marine
Expeditionary Units (MEUs), which will play a big role in
the Defense Department’s shift to the Asia-Pacific region.
The program just finished up developmental testing
as well as a land-based operational assessment at Naval
Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif. The next step
is to get the system aboard a ship and finalize developmental testing.
The program plans to do that work aboard the San
Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS
Mesa Verde (LPD 19), and already has made a permanent installation on the ship. If all goes well, STUAS
will be aboard the vessel in February, just before a
Milestone C production decision.
“It’s going aboard an LPD, so that is the primary L-
class ship that we targeted for ship installs,” Rector said.
“That doesn’t take up a whole lot of space to do that.”
Basically, the ground system includes the ground
control station, monitors for the crew and not much
else, Rector said.
With the RQ-21A Small Tactical Unmanned Aerial System
(STUAS), the Marine Corps is looking forward to not having to
rely on contracting out intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) services to companies.
■ Contractor-owned and contractor-operated UASs can only be
taken into certain areas, thus limiting troops.
■ STUAS will be expeditionary, allowing the Marines to tow a system behind a Humvee for land-based missions.
■ The focus will be on Marine Expeditionary Units, so the Marines
plan to begin phasing out ISR services contracts aboard amphibious ships.
As the Marines look to put more boots on amphib decks in the coming years after more than a decade spent on the ground in
Afghanistan, perhaps nothing better exemplifies what
the service aspires to be as it looks toward the future
than the unmanned aircraft it now is developing.
Marine Corps leaders often viewed the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan as a distraction — albeit a necessary
one — from the service’s primary role as the nation’s
amphibious force. And as the Marines return to the
maritime domain, the service is in the midst of a full-fledged effort for an unmanned aircraft built just for
them and well suited for such an environment: the
RQ-21A Small Tactical Unmanned Aerial System
In the years since heading to Iraq and Afghanistan,
the Marines have had to rely on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) services contracts with
Boeing subsidiary Insitu to operate ScanEagle UASs, a
less-than-ideal situation. Soon, however, the Marines
will have a true ISR platform to call their own, and just
in time for its move to the Pacific.