Small Bird, Big Job
Testing of Marine Corps’ latest small
tactical unmanned aircraft nears completion
By JOHN M. DOYLE, Special Correspondent
A Multimission ‘Flying Truck’
Hartman said operational testing
and evaluation should take about a
year, with initial operational capability expected to be reached near
the end of 2013. Shipboard testing
also is expected to begin next year.
Current acquisition plans call
for the Marine Corps to buy 32
RQ-21A systems, with another
four to be acquired by the Navy.
The Marines want them for a
number of missions, including land-and sea-based tactical reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) data collection. The
The Navy version will provide persistent RSTA support for tactical maneuvering decisions and unit-level
force defense and/or force protection for Navy ships,
Marine Corps land forces, Navy Expeditionary Combat
Command forces and Navy special warfare units.
In announcing the first flight in August, the pro-
gram manager, Marine Corps Col. James E. Rector, said
the “organic ISR capability” the RQ-21A provides “to
the Marine Air Ground Task Force will be a huge
enabler of our Marine Expeditionary Units and the
Navy and Marine Corps team afloat.”
Rector is manager of PMA-263, the Naval Air Systems
Command office overseeing the STUAS program for the
Navy and Marine Corps. It also manages the Shadow and
Raven programs of record, as well as ISR services and the
smaller T-Hawk and Wasp programs.
Insitu was awarded a $43.7 million contract for the
STUAS program in July 2010 to provide persistent
maritime and land-based tactical ISR data collection
The RQ-21A small tactical unmanned aircraft system (STUAS)
Tier III, a multimission drone, is nearing the end of developmental
and operational testing.
■ The drone is a bigger, heavier and more capable version of the
ScanEagle unmanned aircraft that has logged thousands of hours
with the Marine Corps and Navy in Iraq and Afghanistan.
■ Like the ScanEagle and the Integrator drone, the RQ-21A can
be launched and recovered on land or aboard ship.
■ The Marines want it for tactical intelligence, surveillance and
reconnaissance missions. The Navy likes it for maritime domain
awareness and force protection in theater.
The RQ-21A, the latest small tactical unmanned aircraft system (STUAS) developed for the Marine Corps and Navy, is nearing the end of
a 27-month development and testing period, on its way
to limited initial production.
The 135-pound, twin-boomed unmanned air vehicle
(UAV), manufactured by Insitu Inc., a Boeing subsidiary,
completed its first one-hour test flight July 28 at an
Insitu facility in eastern Oregon.
“We’ve been flying ever since,” said Ryan Hartman,
Insitu senior vice president of Integrator Programs.
Now the UAV is at Naval Air Weapons Station China
Lake, Calif., to complete developmental and operational
testing. That should wrap up in December, he said.
After that stage is completed, the Navy is slated to
consider purchasing a low-rate initial production version of the RQ-21A — one system for land-based testing, another for shipborne testing. The RQ-21A can be
launched and recovered from land or sea. Each system
consists of five unmanned aircraft with a ground control station, launch and recovery systems, and support