I’m excited to be taking over this program at its current state because
a lot of hard work has gone into getting us to this point. As we enter
into and continue on this low-rate initial production for the Navy and
Marine Corps, we’re making great strides … not only by increasing the capability of the Marines to meet operational demand, but also by fielding a
product to put into the warfighters’ hands. We’re driving toward the next
major milestone of full-rate production, which we anticipate early next year.
The system itself is supporting both land and sea operations. We completed the IOT&E phase, which included both of those types of mission
sets. The currently fielded systems are at VMU- 2 [Marine Unmanned
Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 at Cherry Point, N.C.], where the Marine Corps
operates them on a daily basis.
There were lessons learned [from the deployment in Afghanistan]. In
response to those, we have focused on and built a tremendous and robust
supply chain … which includes aligning our parts availability with levels
that support warfighter requirements. The other one is payload agility.
That will be key moving forward, the ability to rapidly integrate payloads
in support of known and emerging warfighter needs.
On the Marine Corps side, there’s a particular focus on being as expeditionary as possible, and we wholly support that requirement moving forward. That’s been our focus over the past few years in development and
will continue to be a focus as we develop a fielding strategy and implement
that fielding plan for the Marine Corps.
I’m confident that the increase in payload capacity and capability that
the Marine Corps and Navy will obtain through the use of this system will
not only help them in a warfighting environment, but also demonstrate the
need for this type of capability moving forward and ultimately
increase demand for this type of system.
Blackjack Program Moves
Toward Full-Rate Production
Boeing subsidiary Insitu Inc., Bingen,
Wash., was awarded a $78 million
contract for six low-rate initial production (LRIP) Lot IV RQ-21A
Blackjack Small Tactical Unmanned
Aircraft Systems (STUAS) for the
Navy and Marine Corps on July 24.
It includes air vehicles, ground control stations, launch and recovery
equipment, spares, and system engineering and program management.
The STUAS program of record is 32
systems for the Marine Corps and 25
for the Navy. A Blackjack system
comprises five air vehicles, two
ground control systems, and launch
and recovery equipment. The system
provides persistent maritime and
land-based tactical reconnaissance,
surveillance, and target acquisition
data collection and dissemination.
The air vehicle’s open-architecture
configuration can integrate new payloads quickly and accommodate 39
pounds of total payload weight.
Naval Air Systems Command awarded the STUAS contract to Insitu in
2010 to begin development of RQ-
21A Blackjack, a variant of the company’s Integrator system. The first
LRIP system was delivered in January 2013. As part of initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E),
the Marine Corps deployed its first
Blackjack system to Afghanistan in
April 2014. The system’s first ship-based deployment was this spring.
Mark Bauman is the program director for RQ-21A Blackjack at Insitu.
The RQ-21A Blackjack Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems air vehicle
makes its first shipboard flight from the amphibious transport dock ship USS
Mesa Verde in February 2013.