In recent testimony before Congress on the fiscal
2017 budget proposal, Gen. Robert B. Neller, the Ma-
rine Corps commandant, said the Marines will “con-
tinue to pursue technologies that enhance our
warfighting capabilities, such as unmanned aerial sys-
tems and robotics.”
The Marines deployed a Blackjack system to Af-
ghanistan in April 2014 while the system, which was
developed under the STUAS program, still was in
The Blackjack, produced by Boeing subsidiary Insitu,
is a propeller-driven, twin-tailed aircraft, 8 feet long with
a wingspan of 16 feet and a maximum takeoff weight of
135 pounds. It is powered by an 8-horsepower reciprocating engine that burns diesel or jet fuel.
It was developed by Insitu as a follow-on to its
ScanEagle UAS, and originally was called the Integrator.
The RQ-21A will take over some of the missions previously conducted for the Marine expeditionary units by
the ScanEagle, with contractor support.
“We really look at this as a new capability. It’s not a
replacement for anything,” Patton said.
The Blackjack is launched by a portable pneumatic
rail system and recovered by using a hook on its
wingtip to snag a wire dangling from a telescoping
pole, called the sky hook.
That launch-and-recovery system frees it from needing a runway, which the larger RQ- 7 Shadow UAS that
the Marines also use requires, and enables it to be operated from ship or land.
“Probably the biggest thing is the expeditionary
nature of it, not needing a runway,” Patton said. “So it
can just travel with the MEU, or the battalion, whatever
it is supporting. Everything is Humvee and trailer trans-portable. So anywhere our battalions or regiments are
going with Humvees and trucks, this can go with them.”
“This is much more flexible,” he said.
“Another really important thing that Blackjack does
for us, it gives us capacity for ISR,” the colonel said.
“We’re ultimately going to buy 32 systems, which is a
big increase from the 13 Shadows systems we have
41 WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG SEAPOWER / APRIL 2016
A U.S. Marine Corps RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) assigned to Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
Squadron (VMU) 2, flies above the amphibious transport dock ship USS New York off the coast of North Carolina on
Sept. 30. The flight was part of VMU 2’s qualification to launch UAVs from naval vessels. A detachment from VMU 2
will operate a Blackjack system on its first operational sea deployment this summer.