U.S., Canada Agree to First Foreign Sale of RQ-21A Blackjack

 - August 31, 2016, 11:44 AM
The RQ-21 Blackjack ordered by the U.S. Navy and Marine is shown on its launcher. (Photo: Pfc. Nicholas Baird, U.S. Marine Corps)

The U.S. Navy and the Canadian Department of National Defence have signed an agreement providing for delivery of the Insitu RQ-21A Blackjack to Canada, the first foreign military sale of the unmanned aircraft system (UAS). The agreement calls for delivering one system to the Canadian Army next year, according to the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (Navair).

A variant of Insitu’s catapult-launched Integrator small tactical UAS, the RQ-21A achieved initial operational capability with the U.S. Marine Corps in January. It is currently deployed with the amphibious transport dock ship USS San Antonio and completed its first operational flight on July 5, Navair said.

The command announced the Blackjack sale to Canada on August 29. “We are very pleased to have our Canadian allies and neighbors as our first foreign military sales case and we look forward to helping them grow their small tactical UAS capability and ensure maximum interoperability with our assets, if desired,” said Col. Eldon Metzger, the manager of Navair’s PMA-263 program office.

The international sale also helps drive down the unit cost of the Blackjack, said Navair, which selected the platform in 2010 under the small tactical unmanned aircraft system (STUAS) program. The command awarded Insitu a $71 million contract in June for a fifth low-rate initial production lot of six systems, and a full-rate production review is expected this fall, according to the manufacturer. The Marine Corps has a requirement for 32 RQ-21A systems; the Navy’s requirement is for 25.

A Blackjack system consists of five air vehicles, two ground control stations and launch and recovery equipment. The aircraft is 8.2 feet long with a 16-foot wingspan. It has a maximum takeoff weight of 135 pounds and carries a standard payload consisting of an electro-optic imager, mid-wave infrared imager, laser rangefinder, infrared marker, communications relay and automatic identification system transponder.

On March 21 for the first time, Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 flew the Blackjack in Class D controlled airspace over Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., achieving a milestone in the effort to integrate UAS in the airspace with manned aircraft.

The Class D airspace consists of a five-mile radius of the air station, from ground level to 2,500 feet. “This is airspace that is constantly under the control of Cherry Point air traffic control, and is frequently busy with military air traffic, as well as contracted commercial flights landing and departing the air station,” the service said.