Insitu to start production of first drone systems for US Navy

A RQ-21A Blackjack recovers after it was launched for the first time into Class D airspace over MCAS Cherry Point on March 21, 2016. Photo: US Navy

The U.S. Navy has awarded Insitu Inc., a Washington-based UAV manufacturer, a contract to produce initial six RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aircraft systems.

Under the $71.55 million contract, Insitu, a Boeing company, will deliver the air vehicles, ground control stations, launch and recovery equipment, shipboard equipment kits, and systems engineering and program management.

The RQ-21A Blackjack system is, at 61 kg, a larger twin-tailed follow-on to the ScanEagle; modular and multi-mission capable, providing roll-on, roll-off transitions between land and maritime environments.

The aircraft can safeguard military bases and activities through a pattern of life identification and explosive device detection. The electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) payloads support real-time monitoring to provide indications and threat warnings.

Insitu was awarded the Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System (STUAS) contract in 2010 to begin development of RQ-21A Blackjack. Other competitors were Raytheon’s Killer Bee, AAI’s Aerosonde, and the General Dynamics/Elbit Systems Storm.

The program began Low Rate Initial Production in 2013 and in 2014 Blackjack deployed in an Early Operational Capability capacity for the Marine Corps. The program of record for the United States Marine Corps and United States Navy is the first organic and dedicated multi-intelligence Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) for USMC and USN tactical commanders.

Work on the first six systems will be performed in Bingen, Washington and Hood River, Oregon.

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