$390.4 million to supply Blackjack drones for the US Marine Corps US Navy, as well as Blackjacks and smaller ScanEagle unmanned air vehicles, for three foreign allies. The contract provides for up to 63 RQ-21A Blackjack attrition air vehicles plus six RQ-21A Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and up to 17 RQ-21A air vehicles for FMS customers, including Canada, Poland and Oman. The contractor will also provide up to 93 ScanEagle UASs
in various configurations. Insitu developed the RQ-21A Blackjack program together with the Navy in order of filling the requirement for small tactical drones capable of operating from land and sea. With a flight endurance of up to 16 hours and an altitude ceiling of 19,500ft, RQ-21A can carry loads up to 39 pounds. The runway-independent system can be used to support tactical missions on land and at sea. The Marine Corps’ RQ-21A Blackjack UAS achieved initial operational capability in 2016. Under the new contract, Insitu provides for associated services, including training, test and engineering, development of engineering change proposals, operations support, organizational level maintenance, field service representatives, land and ship surveys, hardware site activations, hardware installs, repairs and data. Work will take place in Bingen, Washington as well as other locations inside and outside the continental US. Scheduled completion date is in June 2022.
ScanEagle’s base Insight UAV platform was originally developed by Washington state’s Insitu, Inc. to track dolphins and tuna from fishing boats, in order to ensure that the fish you buy in supermarkets is “dolphin-safe”. It turns out that the same characteristics needed by fishing boats (able to handle salt water environments, low infrastructure launch and recovery, small size, 20-hour long endurance, automated flight patterns) are equally important for naval operations from larger vessels, and for battlefield surveillance. A partnership with Boeing took ScanEagle to market in those fields, and the USMC’s initial buy in 2004 was the beginning of a market-leading position in its niche.
This article covers recent developments with the ScanEagle UAV system, which is quickly evolving into a mainstay with the US Navy and its allies. Incumbency doesn’t last long in the fast-changing world of UAVs, though. Insitu’s own RQ-21 Integrator is looking to push the ScanEagle aside, and new multiple-award contracts in the USA are creating opportunities for other competitors. Can Insitu’s original stay strong?