The Marine Corps plans to transform its future force of unmanned aerial vehicles into more versatile weapon systems with cyber, electronic warfare and, perhaps, lethal capabilities, in addition
to their current role as tactically valuable intelligence,
reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR) platforms.
The transformation, detailed in the 2015 Marine
Aviation Plan and in recent congressional testimony, is
focused on the Corps’ newest unmanned aerial system,
the MQ-21A Blackjack, a Group 3 unmanned air system (UAS) that is being fielded.
But the plan includes development of a larger and
more capable Group 4/5 vehicle, currently designated
the MQ-X, which would be “network-enabled, digitally interoperable, and built to execute responsive, persistent, lethal and adaptive full-spectrum operations.”
Originally designated the RQ- 21, the Blackjack has
been redesignated MQ “since it will have more payload
than simple reconnaissance,” said Maj Paul Greenberg,
aviation programs spokesman at Marine Corps headquarters.
In prepared joint testimony from top Navy aviation
officials to congressional armed services panels in
March, LtGen Jon Davis, the assis-
tant commandant for aviation,
said, “The RQ- 21’s current config-
uration includes full-motion video,
communications relay package and
automatic identification systems.”
But its payload bay “allows for
rapid deployment of signal intelli-
gence payloads,” and the Corps is
seeking improved capabilities in-
cluding “over-the-horizon commu-
nication and data relay ability to
integrate the system into future net-
worked digital environments; elec-
tronic warfare and cyber payloads
to increase non-kinetic capabilities;
and change detection radar and
moving target indicators to assist warfighters in battlespace awareness and force application,” Davis said.
President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2016 defense budget requests $6.4 million in research and testing for the
Marines’ MQ-21A and $84.9 million to buy four MQ-
21A systems, which includes 20 air vehicles, “to
address Marine Corps ISR capability requirements currently supported by service contracts,” Davis said in
“This Group 3 UAS will provide persistent ship- and
land-based ISR support for expeditionary tactical-level
maneuver decisions and unit-level force defense and
force protection missions,” he said.
The aviation plan says the Blackjack also could
carry hyperspectral payloads capable of detecting explosives, synthetic aperture radar “capable of detecting
targets through clouds and tree cover,” and a laser designator to guide precision munitions.
Produced by the Boeing subsidiary Insitu, the MQ-21A
will replace the Marines’ current Group 3 UAS, the RQ-7B
Shadow, produced by Textron Unmanned Systems. It also
will allow the Corps to end its contract ISR service being
provided by the Aerosonde UAS, another Textron product.
Marine Corps builds interoperability,
versatility into plan for unmanned systems
By OTTO KREISHER, Special Correspondent
The Marine Corps plan for its future unmanned air systems force
is focused on the MQ-21A Blackjack small tactical unmanned aircraft system (STUAS).
; Originally designated the RQ- 21, the Blackjack has been redesignated MQ because it will do more than “simple reconnaissance.”
; The Blackjack also could carry hyperspectral payloads capable of detecting explosives, synthetic aperture radar and a laser
designator to guide precision munitions.
; The Corps’ aviation plan includes development of a larger UAS
capable of full-spectrum operations.