Marines believe years spent in Iraq, Afghanistan have prepared
unmanned aircraft squadrons for Asia-Pacific challenges
By DANIEL P. TAYLOR, Special Correspondent
Family of Systems
dreds of thousands of ISR [intelli-
gence, surveillance and reconnais-
sance] support hours, and, with
those lessons learned, we were able
to craft a solution, a program of
record that is uniquely suited to
the needs of the Marine Corps, and
that is the RQ-21A.”
The RQ-21A, or Small Tactical
UAS (STUAS), is a version of the
Insitu Integrator drone that eventu-
ally will replace the Insitu ScanEagle.
The Marines have been contracting
with Insitu to provide ISR services,
and the service has been pushing for
a UAS to call its own — hence STUAS, which will have a
heavy presence with Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs)
in the near future [see story on page 24].
The RQ-21A will provide Marines with options due
to its ability to host many payloads.
“One of the lessons that we’ve learned is we like to
provide as many options as possible,” Shand said. “We
don’t want to be limited by platform, by the distribu-
tion system or by the available payloads.”
But that does not mean other types of UASs will fall
by the wayside. The Marine Corps has a family of sys-
tems ranging from small UASs to larger ones. First are
the small UASs, a role filled by the RQ- 11 Raven, a
hand-launched unmanned aerial vehicle, providing
troops on the ground with a bit of short-range ISR abil-
ity. The service also uses Wasp and PUMA small UASs,
but the Raven is the primary vehicle.
The ScanEagle UAS — and eventually the RQ-21A
STUAS — fills the small tactical UAS role.
Finally, there is the Marine Corps Tactical UAS role,
which is filled by the RQ-7B Shadow. The Marines plan
to develop a new platform to replace the Shadow in the
One thing the Marines have gotten better at over the
years is connecting the UASs together so they act like
The Marine Corps has a family of unmanned aerial systems (UASs) at
its disposal for intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance purposes.
■ First are the small UASs, a role primarily filled by the hand-launched RQ- 11 Raven, along with the Wasp and PUMA.
■ The ScanEagle fills the small tactical UAS role. It eventually will
be replaced by the RQ-21A.
■ Finally, there is the RQ-7B Shadow, which fills the Marine Corps
Tactical UAS role.
Most would be hard pressed to find similari- ties between the arid climate of Iraq and Afghanistan and the salty seas of the western
Pacific, but the Marine Corps sees the former as a
training ground for the latter — particularly in the area
of unmanned systems.
Although the Marine Corps’ return to its amphibious roots represents a marked departure from the service’s role on the ground for more than a decade as
what some had termed a second land force, one Marine
official argues those years have actually prepared the
service for the shift to the Pacific, at least in terms of
Maj. Michael Shand, Marine Corps requirements
officer for unmanned aerial systems, said the service
has been fine-tuning its skill with unmanned aircraft as
the years have passed, whether it be the RQ- 7 Shadow,
the ScanEagle or a host of other smaller unmanned aerial systems (UASs) used for a variety of missions.
As Marines return to the decks of amphibious ships
and begin to operate more in the maritime domain,
they will be ready for a rapidly changing UAS world,
“We gleaned a lot of experience from our efforts in
Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “We’ve logged hun-