now. That means 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.”
Just as an infantry battalion would not go into the
field without their 80mm mortars, they will not go out
without a Blackjack system in the future, Patton said.
“They’ll just be a standard part of the kit. Although
it won’t reside in the battalion, it will be in direct support of the battalion,” he said.
Patton said the Marines have at least three RQ- 21 systems of the 32 they plan to buy. The Navy plans to buy
25, some of which will go to the SEALs. The fiscal 2017
defense budget requests funding to buy eight Blackjack
systems, split evenly between the two services.
The Blackjacks can carry a sensor payload similar to
the Shadows, which includes a standard day-night
electro-optical and infrared camera that feeds streaming
video to the ground station. But they also will have a
payload called the Spectral Bat, which collects signals
intelligence information, and the Automated Identification System, “which is essentially an identification-friend-or-foe for ships,” Patton said.
It also can carry a communications relay system to
allow ground units to extend the range of their normal
The Blackjack system has an operational range of
about 50 miles and a normal endurance of 11 to 12
hours, although that can be increased if the operators
trade off sensor payload for more gas, he said. It can fly
at 80 miles an hour and up to 15,000 feet altitude.
Although the larger UAVs, such as Blackjack and
Shadow, are operated by the Marines’ VMUs, infantry
units as small as a company may have hand-launched,
short-range air vehicles including the RQ-11B Raven
and the RQ- 12 Wasp, for their own ISR.
And while the smaller UAVs are operated by cross-trained infantrymen, the VMUs are being filled with
officers, who serve as mission commanders, and enlisted Marines who operate and maintain the air vehicles
and control stations. They are specifically trained for
their jobs and have their own military occupational
The Marines currently have four VMUs and may
establish a fifth as the UAS inventory grows. ;