Success Story
Success Story

Demonstrating True Interoperability with RQ-21A Blackjack

Key Takeaways

  • Small tactical UAS play a key role coordinating disparate battle systems, military branches, and allies.
  • Insitu’s RQ-21A Blackjack demonstrated critical interoperability capability in target acquisition and confirmation, command and control, and battle damage assessment.
  • Insitu’s small UAS and payload variants with multi-int and multi-mission capability provide maximum flexibility across mission needs.

Full Story

Seamless interoperability across the battle-space with the capability for disparate systems, military branches and allies to coordinate intelligence, targeting, strikes, monitoring and battle damage assessment has been a long running goal of military services across the globe and will be critical for conflicts of the future. Small Tactical UAS (STUAS) can play an outsized role in many of these key functions, as was recently demonstrated by MRF-D in Operation “Loobye” in Australia.

The U.S. Marine Corps’ RQ-21A Blackjack UAS, brought on rotation for the first time to Darwin, Australia, in 2020, was deployed as part of a joint exercise between the Australian Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force, and Australian Defense Force. The scenario focused on a small naval expeditionary force’s ability to rapidly deploy, integrate with foreign partners, coordinate airstrikes and call for close air support on targets within contested environments.

Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 3, MRF-D’s Air Combat Element, utilized the RQ-21A Blackjack drone to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance of one target, while a simultaneous strike was conducted with Australian Army forward air controllers airborne in Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters. The RQ-21A UAS live recorded the attacks and provided BDA (Battle Damage Assessment) too, as the footage filmed at the Bradshaw Field Training Area by Cpl. Harrison Rakhshani, shows:

In an interview published in The Aviationist, U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Harrison Zhu, an unmanned aerial system commander with Aviation Combat Element, Marine Rotational Force – Darwin, highlighted the interoperability capability of RQ-21A, stating:

“What we provided was target acquisition, forward, in austere environment that allowed the MAGTF Commander to sign off on the strikes, confirm the targets with our FMV (Full Motion Video).” So we went out, found the target, sent the video feedback back to the command element for them to identify the target, and approve the strikes. We also acted as a command and control node, so we had a communication with the command element, and we are ready to relay execution checks, and relay information to the USAF bombers.

What the RQ-21 brings to the fight is a smaller RCS (Radar Cross Section) with a smaller footprint, that can go forward and operate independent from runways. So we provided a risk-worthy asset in a contested airspace. And then basically, a self supporting aerial reconnaissance asset. […] Additionally RQ-21 is a system that the Australians are looking at so we can we provide them a template and a peek into how we operate it. Integration with the US Air Force was extremely smooth. RQ-21 and VMU’s in general are trained with joint standards. So the language that we spoke with the Air Force was completely the same.”

With a variety of payload spaces available on Insitu’s Integrator platform (the same platform on which the RQ-21 variant is based), the multi-int and multi-mission capability of this Group 3 UAS provides maximum coverage for potential ISR needs. The small cross section, system affordability, and expeditionary footprint further provide for greater flexibility across various mission needs; and the Extended-Range variant brings these capabilities up to 500nm from the launch and recovery site.

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Capabilities Demonstrated


Expeditionary Forward Operations

Small Radar Cross-section

Battle Damage Assessment

Real-Time Targeting

Self-Supporting Aerial Recon

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