The Corps’ tiny InstantEye quadcopters fielded to the rifle squads take off with ease from a Marine’s hand and require no additional equipment for launch.
Now the Corps wants the same capability for its much larger group three drone known as the RQ-21 Blackjack.
According to the Corps’ 2019 aviation plan, the Marines are in pursuit of a vertical take-off and landing, or VTOL, kit for the Blackjack.
The new kits will give the Blackjack a lighter footprint and make the system more expeditionary.
The Corps considered a variety of drones with an array of ranges and capabilities integrated at the battalion level all the way down to the squad.
The Blackjack system is currently fielded with a cumbersome launcher and recovery hook, which can be used to launch the aircraft from the ground or even the deck of a ship.
“Vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) for the RQ-21 would significantly decrease the logistical footprint of the system by eliminating the launcher and recovery system, to include the support equipment for those items," Capt. Christopher Harrison, a Marine spokesman, told Marine Corps Times in an email.
“Retrofitting the Blackjack with VTOL provides a rapid expeditionary capability and ultimately greater lethality in support of the MAGTF [Marine air-ground task force]."
But it’s not the only upgrade coming for the Blackjack. The Corps is also interested in adding a signals intelligence and electronic warfare payload to the group three drone.
That will afford more Marine units at lower echelons of the tactical level organic electronic warfare capability.
The RQ-21 Blackjack replaced the the RQ-7B Shadow, which flew it’s last flight in July 2018.
According to the Corps’ most recent aviation plan, the RQ-21 Blackjack has already racked up 8,700 flight hours.