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US NAVAIR orders three Blackjack UAV systems

Insitu has been awarded a contract worth some $42 million to provide three RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned air vehicle systems to the US Navy Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).

Awarded on 18 December and announced on 5 January, the Low-Rate Initial Production Lot 3 contract for the three systems comes under the USN’s fiscal year 2014 budget. Each system consists of five air vehicles, two ground control stations, payloads and a launch and recovery system.

A further three LRIP systems are expected to be delivered under the USN’s FY2015 budget, which the Department of Defense estimates will be valued at some $70.5 million, ahead of an expected full rate production contract in the future. One RQ-21A system was ordered in FY2013.

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The Blackjacks will be delivered under the small tactical unmanned air system engineering manufacturing and development (STUAS EMD) contract awarded to Insitu in 2010 by NAVAIR to provide surveillance to the USN and US Marine Corps.

The USMC requirement is for 32 RQ-21A systems, while the navy requirement is for 25.

According to the DoD’s FY2015 budget estimates, some $67 million was earmarked for the three FY2014 systems, including two ship installations and contractor support, in addition to the contracted parts that come under the $42 million award.

Notably, in November 2014 President Obama requested $55 million from Congress in overseas contingency operations funds to procure small tactical UAVs to be used in the USA’s Operation Inherent Resolve mission against Islamic State militants in Iraq.

A funding request earmarked the amount specifically for a navy procurement of STUAS-class systems, and although a platform was not named, a likely candidate – given its previous experience with the navy – would be the RQ-21A.

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