US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is canvassing the aerospace industry for information on expeditionary Group 3 unmanned aerial vehicles that are “runway independent,” according to SOCOM spokesman U.S. Navy Captain Kevin Aandahl.
A Group 3 drone is medium-sized, weighing fewer than 558kg (1,230lb) and typically flying at an altitude lower than 18,000ft. The one currently employed by SOCOM is the AAI RQ-7 Shadow, but it requires a runway.
Systems that meet the specifics set by SOCOM include the Boeing Insitu RQ-21A Blackjack (formerly Integrator), Lockheed Martin Fury and Northrop Grumman Bat.
In September, the US Navy bought one twin-boom RQ-21A system for $8.8 million as a prelude to a future full-rate production contract. The Blackjack has an air endurance of 13-plus hours and can carry a maximum payload of 17.7kg.
Another Group 3 drone, the Fury is a rail-launched flying wing that can carry a 56.7kg payload and fly for more than 15h. The Bat is also a flying-wing design with a slightly smaller wingspan and less air endurance time.