The RQ-21A Small Tactical Unmanned Air System (STUAS) flies for the first time at sea after launching from the San
Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS Mesa Verde in the Gulf of Mexico May 21. The Marine Corps plans to buy
32 STUASs and expects to start deploying them by the end of 2014.
But to meet the growing demand for these small
UASs to provide immediate surveillance for small
infantry units on the move in Afghanistan, the Corps
has obtained other Group 1 systems, including the 3-
pound Wasp and the 13-pound Puma.
All three of the small UASs are produced by
AeroVironment, Monrovia, Calif., and use the same
control unit. The Puma, in addition to the EO and IR
sensors the other UASs carry, has a laser designator,
which can direct laser-guided weapons into a target.
The Marines currently do not have a Group 2 UAS.
The Marines’ Group 3 requirement was filled until
early this year by the ScanEagle, which was operated in
theater under contract with the manufacturer, Insitu, a
Boeing subsidiary based in Bingen, Wash.
But a congressionally mandated competition for
that service to provide more than 4,000 hours of full
motion video was won by Textron Corp.’s AAI Corp.,
Hunt Valley, Md., with the Aerosonde UAS, Shand said.
Now, the Marines plan to replace that contracted
service with the RQ-21A, procured under the Small
Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (STUAS) program.
Also produced by Insitu, the RQ-21A is slightly larger
than ScanEagle and has a greater sensor payload capacity that can be configured as needed.
The Navy was buying the RQ-21A, but eliminated
funding in the fiscal 2014 budget request. Shand said the
Navy still was in the program, because of “strong interest
from their Special Warfare community,” and will consider
buying more “when the fiscal situation clears up.
“The RQ- 21 is a system that uniquely fits Marine
requirements,” he said. “It’s transportable and it is
capable of being used both from land and from sea.”
Like ScanEagle, the RQ-21A is launched from an
easily erected launcher and recovered by using a wing-
tip hook to snag a vertical rope held up by a collapsible
stand. It is powered by a fuel-burning engine.
The RQ-21A will be assigned to Marine Unmanned
Aerial Vehicle Squadrons (VMU), and will be attached
at the Marine Expeditionary Unit level, Shand said.
The vehicle has completed operational testing and
been cleared for low-rate initial production. It is
expected to deploy by the end of 2014.
The Marine Corps plans to buy 32 systems, with a
total of 160 air vehicles. Each system has two ground
control stations, each capable of controlling two vehicles at once, the major said.
The Corps’ largest UAS is the RQ-7B Shadow, a 380-
pound, fuel-burning air vehicle produced by AAI.
Shadow is launched by a trailer-mounted pneumatic
catapult and recovered on a small runway. Like the
RQ- 21, it is operated by a VMU and is a Marine
Expeditionary Force-level asset, Shand said.
The Marines have 13 Shadow systems, including
those in a Marine Corps Reserve VMU, with four air
vehicles to a system. The Shadow is being upgraded
with a tactical communications data link, which will
enable it to serve as an airborne communications relay
facility in addition to its intelligence, surveillance and