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Insitu building more small UAVs for Navy, Marines

Insitu has announced it is to build RQ-21A Blackjack small unmanned aerial vehicles for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, while Northrop Grumman has announced it is to use Australian-made components in its MQ-4C system.

By Richard Tomkins
Insitu building more small UAVs for Navy, Marines
Insitu's RQ-21A small unmanned aerial vehicle. Photo by Insitu.

BINGEN, Wash., July 31 (UPI) -- Insitu, a Boeing company, is building more small tactical unmanned aircraft systems for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

The six RQ-21A Blackjack systems come under a Lot IV low-rate initial production contract worth $78 million.

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"This award will increase the number of systems to the fleet and bring a greater footprint and capability to the Marine Air-Ground Task Force and Naval Special Warfare teams to meet operational demands," said Col. Eldon Metzger, program manager for the Navy and Marine Corps Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

"Blackjack will deliver unparalleled organic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance coverage," said Ryan M. Hartman, Insitu's president and chief executive officer. "We are proud to support the Navy and Marines and provide a capability that helps them rapidly deploy the system into a warfighting environment."

RQ-21A is 8.9 feet long and has a maximum speed of 86 miles per hour. It can fly as high as 19,500 feet and has a flight endurance time of 24 hours.

Insitu said its payload mass and volume are significantly larger than other small UAS being used by the Marines in theater.

The system includes electro-optic and mid-wave infrared sensors with a laser rangefinder and infrared marker.

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Insitu was given a STUAS engineering manufacturing and development contract in 2010 for the system, which achieved approval for low-rate initial production in 2013.

Information as to the delivery schedule for the RQ-21A Blackjack systems ordered was not disclosed.

In other UAV-related news, Northrop Grumman has contracted Australia's Ferra Engineering to manufacture components for the U.S. Navy's MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial system.

The contract is the first given to an Australian company for the Triton and is for the first production lot of the UAS.

"At Northrop Grumman, it's very important to not only develop our own capabilities but to develop and foster capabilities in local supply chains," said Ian Irving, chief executive, Northrop Grumman Australia. "This is a great opportunity for quality-focused Australian companies to be involved in the production and sustainment of one of the U.S. Navy's and Royal Australian Air Force's key capabilities for many years to come.

"This contract, and the opportunities we expect will be available in follow-on production lots, highlight Northrop Grumman's commitment to Australian industry."

The MQ-4C is a broad-area maritime surveillance aircraft. It is more than 47 feet long, has a maximum speed of 357 mph, a service ceiling of 60,000 feet, and an endurance of 24 hours. It made its first flight in 2013.

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Under the Northrop Grumman award, Ferra Engineering will manufacture mechanical sub-assemblies for the first four Triton air vehicles including structural components. Northrop Grumman's contracting of Brisbane-based Ferra Engineering was facilitated by the Australian Department of Defense's Global Supply Chain program through which international companies can assess and utilize Australian industry in their supply chains.

Australia announced its decision last year to purchase the Triton UAS and its sensor suite.

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