Marines’ Latest Recruit in Iraq: RQ-21A Blackjack

130210-N-NB538-168 GULF OF MEXICO (Feb. 10, 2013) The RQ-21A Small Tactical Unmanned Air System (STUAS) is recovered with the flight recovery apparatus cable aboard the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) after its first flight at sea. Mesa Verde is underway conducting exercises. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sabrina Fine/Released)

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Earlier this summer, at least one team of Raiders from Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command deployed to Iraq with a new drone. The device gave them a broader picture of what’s happening on the battlefield.

The RQ-21A Blackjack, which reached initial operational capability for the Marine Corps in January, is deployed as part of a wide-ranging experimental effort to get new equipment and technology into the hands of Marines more rapidly.

The Marines can benefit from experience and learn concepts of employment for use in real-world operations, and not just training, Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command told in a September interview. “We’ll be able to get them out there with their [Marine Special Operations Teams] in Iraq, operating with Iraqis as part of their special ops forces.”

The Blackjack, made by Boeing, weighs about 80 pounds with the ability to fly for 16 hours at a stretch. Uniquely, the Blackjack uses a tail hook recovery system that makes it capable of operating from a ship — a key capability for the Marine Corps.

The Blackjack is already testing its operational sea legs elsewhere: The 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed to waters around Europe and the Middle East in late June with one of the systems, which includes five aerial vehicles.

The amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, the lead ship of the amphibious ready group carrying the MEU, has been a launching platform for airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Libya since early August.

Walsh said the MEU was employing a package that could view signals on the electromagnetic spectrum, both to seek out the enemy and to assess friendly visibility.

“If you’re not watching your signature, you’re going to quickly be getting precision fires coming in against you with higher tech, higher-end capabilities, that a peer or near-peer competitor would have,” he said.

This is not the first operational outing for the Blackjack, which deployed with Marines on a limited evaluation basis to Afghanistan in 2014. The Marines’ requirement for the drone is relatively small containing according to, some 100 systems planned for purchase by the end of this fiscal year.