2017 Modern Day Marine Report (Day 3) 21 September
MONS Correspondent Marty Kauchak files this end-of-the-day report from the Modern Day Marine Exposition at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
Insitu’s RQ-21 BLACKJACK is the Small Tactical Unmanned Aerial System (STUAS) Program of Record for the US Navy, US Marine Corps and its first international customer through the US Defense Department’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme. While the BLACKJACK’s technology baseline evolves, the company is working to expand its international customer list and gain more efficiencies through this STUAS’s life cycle. Ricky Knowles, Insitu’s BLACKJACK Programme Manager, noted the RQ-21 programme is mature and indeed, at an inflexion point: “We are at full rate production. We’re getting the vehicle fielded in real world operations, giving us critical feedback to further improve it and enhance the capability for the end user.”
First and foremost among these enhancements is the camera – the turret on it – which needs to be improved both in resolution and have a laser designator as well. The Corporate Manager added: “We’re underway now with two major development projects for the turret. The first one is to put the laser designator on the existing turret. The next step beyond that, a simultaneous one, is to improve the resolution, the stand-off distance and the range of the cameras.”
At the end of the day, these and other RQ-21 enhancements are intended to provide elements of Group 4 or 5 capability on the Group 3 BLACKJACK. [US DoD has five UAS groups – 1 is least capable and 5 the most capable]. “You are getting the upper end of what the customer wants (Group 4 or 5) at Group 3 level, so we’re really pushing that boundary, and that really is the ultimate selling point for customers,” Mr. Knowles explained and added, “and this is on a BLACKJACK platform that is expeditionary and runway independent. This is disrupting the marketplace.” Earlier this month, Insitu delivered the system’s air vehicles (five vehicles are in one system) to the Canadian Armed Forces, with the intent to supply the remaining system components in the next several months. Mr. Knowles reflected on this first RQ-21 FMS sale, pointing out: “Our Canadian students have arrived to start operator and maintenance training, with the intent to be ready to start their real-world operations sometime in the future – next year.”
The Bingen, Washington’s company’s short-list for additional, potential BLACKJACK FMS customers in several NATO and non-NATO allies. The company along with NAVAIR recently hosted an FMS conference at DSEI in London to showcase the capability to an international defense audience.
Insitu is also relying on “cross pollination” from within its product portfolio to expand RQ-21’s presence in new nations’ orders of battle. As the company’s Integrator STUAS has several foreign customers, the RQ-21 team is paying attention to unique STANAG (NATO Standardization Agreement) requirements which may selectively be brought over from Integrator into prospective RQ-21 FMS contracts.
Beyond capability improvements, Insitu is also focused on reliability enhancements through the system life cycle. “We’re targeted on bringing down mishap rates, improving system reliability and lowering total ownership cost of the system,” Mr. Knowles concluded.