It is Blackjack time for the Marine Corps, but the service is not playing the casino card game. The Corps is preparing for the first operational deployment of the RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), which will bring a big increase in capability
to its expeditionary forces.
The Blackjacks will deploy for the first time this
summer with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit
(MEU), said Col. Chris Patton, head of the Aviation
Expeditionary Enablers Branch, which manages aviation command and control, aviation ground support
and unmanned aircraft systems.
The MEU will take one Blackjack system, which
consists of five air vehicles and two ground control stations, he said. Each control station can manage two air
vehicles at once.
The Blackjacks will be operated by a detachment
from Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron Two
(VMU 2) with about 20 Marines, he said.
The Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based MEU is made up of
the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines; Combat Logistics
Battalion 22; and Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron
264 (Reinforced). It will deploy in
June or July aboard an amphibious
ready group (ARG) comprising the
amphibious assault ship USS Wasp,
the amphibious transport dock USS
San Antonio and the dock landing
ship USS Whidbey Island, a 22nd
MEU public affairs sergeant said.
Patton said the East Coast-based
MEU/ARGs usually sail to the
Mediterranean and likely will go
through the Suez Canal and the
Red Sea to move up into the Persian Gulf to support U.S. Central
Command. But it could be diverted
for duty around Africa.
“Just about the time you think
you know what you’re going to do,
As to how the Blackjacks will be used, Patton said,
“We know for sure that they’ll fly from the amphibs. If
the MEU goes ashore, certainly they can take the
Blackjack system with them.”
The Blackjacks were cleared for initial operational
capability (IOC) in January by Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, the
deputy commandant for Aviation.
“We are go for launch,” Col. Eldon Metzger, program
manager for the Navy and Marine Corps Small Tactical
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (STUAS) Program Office,
which oversees the Blackjack program, said in a Jan. 21
Marine Corps release. “Achieving IOC designation
means the fleet can now deploy using this critical piece
of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance [ISR]
architecture to enhance mission success.”
Go for Launch’
Marine Corps’ Blackjack UAV readies for first operational deployment
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) will take an RQ-21A
Blackjack unmanned aerial vehicle system with it when it deploys
with an amphibious ready group this summer.
; The Blackjacks were cleared for initial operational capability in
; The Marines deployed a Blackjack system to Afghanistan in April
2014 while the system still was under developmental testing.
; Once all 32 of the RQ-21A systems the Marine Corps plans to
buy are in place, a service official said, “every time a regiment or
an MEU goes out to deploy or train, they will always deploy or
train with one of the Blackjack systems.”