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Drones can provide detailed information about the battlefield, look out for new threats, and guide long-range weapons with more accuracy. A familiar drone is getting a new radar payload. The RQ-21 Blackjack drone, a small unmanned system originally designed for the US Navy, is a useful platform for real-time information, launched by Marines on land or on ships, due to the fact that it doesn’t need additional fixed infrastructure such as runways.

IMSAR Radar Systems has configured its NSP-5 radar system payload as a possible mission kit for the Blackjack drone.

The new radar payload lets the drone create synthetic-aperture radar imagery, observe and note changes in the area it is surveilling, and also track moving targets on the ground. Marines watching from a control station can then take that processed information and send it out to units in the field, giving them useful real-time information for operations.

The advantage of the synthetic aperture radar, or SAR, is that it can collect imagery at night or during inclement weather.


More capability for the Blackjack drone is likely a welcome development, as Marines in 2018 found they were flying the RQ-21s more than three times as much as expected in operations in Iraq and Syria, according to c4isrnet.

The new radar is part of a program dubbed “Split Aces,” which doubles-down on the operational needs of the existing high-tempo missions. The UAS Sensor Payload program design came after the identification of the need to expand and improve intelligence sensor capabilities. Program efforts seek to capitalize on developing technologies to reduce size, weight, and power while addressing emerging processing and data management challenges. Development of these payloads give deployed units modular, tailored, and mission-specific capabilities that have normally been limited to larger unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) theater assets, according to candp.marines.mil. The program is expected to begin procurement and delivery this spring.