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Blackjack UAS deploys to Afghanistan

A new unmanned air system (UAS) – the Boeing/Insitu RQ-21A Blackjack –has deployed to Afghanistan with the US Marine Corps, the navy confirms.

The RQ-21A system deployed with five vehicles nearly four years after Boeing/Insitu won the small tactical unmanned air systems (STUAS) contract in August 2010 and more than two years after the Marines tool delivery of the first two systems.

That contract included a provision allowing the Marines to deploy with a raw version of RQ-21A called an early operational capability.

The next step in the system’s development is the initial operational capability (IOC) milestone. A US Navy acquisition web site devoted to the programme lists the IOC date as “spring 2014”, but a Navy spokeswoman says it will be achieved later this year.

As the successor of the 22kg (48.5lb) Insitu ScanEagle, the 61.2kg-sized RQ-21A is capable of performing many of the same missions. It carries payloads weighing up to 11.3kg in an internal bay, with electro-optic and infrared cameras and communications relay antennas as standard payloads.

The Marines have a requirement to operate 32 RQ-21A system. The navy plans to acquire 25 RQ-21As.

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