The RQ-21A small tactical UAS (STUAS) that Boeing Insitu is developing for the U.S. Marine Corps achieved Milestone C approval from the Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) on May 15, allowing the program to transition to low-rate initial production (LRIP).
Navair chose the Integrator-based RQ-21A over competing platforms for the STUAS requirement in July 2010, awarding Insitu a 27-month engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract. During the EMD phase, the company was required to build six air vehicles to support land and shipboard testing.
The program completed land-based developmental tests at China Lake, Calif., last December. In February, the RQ-21A completed its first maritime developmental test flight from the USS Mesa Verde, a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock. The Marines are also flying an early operational capability system at Twenty Nine Palms, Calif., for pre-deployment testing and concept of operations development.
The Marine Corps STUAS requirement is for 36 systems, consisting of five aircraft per system. The Milestone C decision authorizes the beginning of a two-system LRIP phase. Initial operating capability of the RQ-21A is planned in the second quarter of Fiscal Year 2014.
Insitu describes the RQ-21A as the first “organic” integrated land and marine UAS the Marines will operate for expeditionary missions. The aircraft carries a “multi-intelligence” sensor payload including day/night full motion video camera, infrared marker and laser rangefinder and automatic identification system (AIS) receiver. It is launched by pneumatic catapult and retrieved by a “SkyHook” arresting cable system.
“The expeditionary nature of the RQ-21A makes it possible to deploy a multi-intelligence capable UAS with minimal footprint, ideal for amphibious operations such as a Marine Expeditionary Unit conducts,” said Col. Jim Rector, program manager with Navair’s PMA-263 STUAS program office.