USMC starts divesting RQ-21A Blackjack UAVs

As part of the radical re-organisation of the US Marine Corps (USMC) under the Force Design 2030 programme, the service has retired its first two Boeing Insitu RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The two RQ-21As – BuNos 169368 and 169369 – were delivered to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AFB), Arizona, for long-term storage on June 2. Both of the UAVs had previously been operated by Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 (VMU-1) ‘Watchdogs’ at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, Arizona, prior to their divesture.

RQ-21A BuNo 169368 27-03-19 [USMC/Lance Cpl Auburne D Johnson]
USMC-operated RQ-21A Blackjack - BuNo 169368 ‘WG-70’ - being prepared for launch to support Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course 2-19 at Canon Air Defense Complex in Yuma, Arizona, on March 27, 2019. This was one of the first two Blackjacks that arrived at AMARG for storage on June 2, 2021. USMC/Lance Cpl Auburne D Johnson

VMU-1 provides aerial surveillance capabilities for I Marine Expeditionary Force – a Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF). The unit operates under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 13 (MAG-13) and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW).

Aviation Combat Element changes planned under the Force Design 2030 programme include the complete withdrawal of the USMC’s RQ-21A Blackjack fleet. However, the Marine Corps is currently introducing the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) MQ-9A Reaper into service. It will also continue to fly Martin UAV’s VBat vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) UAV for further experimentation.