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    US Marines Special Ops in Iraq to Launch New Surveillance Drone

    © AP Photo / Kirsty Wigglesworth, File
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    The US Marine Corps is now equipped with a new combat surveillance drone as part of experiments to upgrade the technology used by the military branch.

    The RQ-21A Blackjack, an American unmanned air vehicle, got its operational capability for the Marine Corps in January, thus meeting a United States Navy requirement for a small tactical unmanned air system (STUAS). The drone, made by Boeing subsidiary Insitu, weighs about 80 pounds unloaded, can fly for 16 hours at a stretch, and "uniquely, the Blackjack uses a tail hook recovery system that makes it capable of operating from a ship," according to Military.com.

    US MQ-9 Reaper drone in flight
    © Photo : US Air Force / Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson
    This unmanned aircraft system will be used for reconnaissance, surveillance, and to identify potential targets, providing crucial information to troops on the ground.

    Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, told Military.com in a September interview, "We can benefit from what [U.S. Special Operations Command] does, from what we're doing, bring that back and go, 'OK, this is what we need to do with equipping the RQ-21,' or concepts of employment that they will use in real-world operations, and not just training. 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 system has been tested on five aerial vehicles. It was launched from the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp for airstrikes on Daesh (ISIS) targets in Libya. Fleet Marines and MARSOC employ the drone, testing payloads, including some developed for United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

    As Walsh stated, using MARSOC as a test force allows the corps to leverage the resources and insights of SOCOM for the benefit of Marines.

    "We're working with them, partnering with MARSOC. Give them the platform, RQ-21, now they can put their own stuff on there. We can learn from that, we can buy off their contract, we can learn from it, develop our own. There's a lot of opportunities here from working with SOCOM in that area," he said, according to Military.com.

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    Tags:
    military upgrades, surveillance drone, US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), US Marine Corps, US Navy, Robert Walsh, United States
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