The Marine Corps last week confirmed plans to divest of the RQ-21A Blackjack Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the coming years due to relevancy issues.

Last year, the Marine Corps released an annual update of the Force Design 2030, which outlines how the service plans to redesign the force for expeditionary warfare and the National Defense Strategy. In the document, the Marine Corps said it had “initiated the divestment of all RQ-21 aircraft.”

Boeing’s [BA] Insitu Inc. builds the RQ-21A Blackjack as a single-engine aircraft meant to supplement Boeing ScanEagle UAS. The Marine Corps formerly used the vehicle for forward reconnaissance in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The service said it was replacing the uses of the Blackjack via experimenting with additional capabilities with the General Atomics’ MQ-9A Reaper and Martin UAV’s VBat UAS.

Then, on April 14, the Navy published its FY 2023 Budget Highlights Book over two weeks after releasing the initial budget request documents. The Defense Department said the delay in the detailed justification book documents is due to needing extra time to update the documents with FY ‘22 enacted levels.

The highlights document elaborated somewhat on the Marines’ reasoning for eliminating the RQ-21A.

“The RQ-21A does not meet the capabilities required to support the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations and Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment Concepts, and is no longer operationally relevant,” the document said.

The Department of the Navy said with the divestment it will save almost $8 million in FY ‘23 and over $108 million over the next five years. The service said the UAS divestment will be complete by FY ‘25.

While the Marines are ramping down the Blackjack, it has recently been featured as an option for Air Force and international use.

Last month, an Air Force sources sought notice said Air Force Global Strike Command was considering buying more drones for F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming. The RQ-21 Blackjack was one of the UAS on an Air Force Special Operations Command non-commercial off the shelf drones list along with 20 other options (Defense Daily, March 24).

In 2020, Boeing Insitu said a potential $80 million sale of 20 RQ-21As to the United Arab Emirates with $12 million of ScanEagle drones had not gone forward. The sales were part of an approved $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in 2019 for the Saudi-led war against Houthi forces in Yemen (Defense Daily Aug. 21, 2020).

Earlier, in 2019, Boeing’s Insitu won a $390 million deal to provide 63 RQ-21As attrition air vehicles to the Navy and Marine Corps along with six more UAS and 17 air vehicles for foreign military sales to Canada, Poland and Oman. The sale included up to 93 ScanEagle UASs as well (Defense Daily, July 1, 2019).

The Blackjack is eight feet long, has a 16-foot wingspan, has an endurance of up to 16 hours and is designed to integrate multi-mission payloads in support of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. It can fly up to 20,000 feet high and has a range of 50 km and travels up to 60 knots.