Marine Corps to Retire Shadow UAVs in 2019 as Blackjack Deliveries Complete
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Marine Corps will retire its last RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) by the end of fiscal 2019 as it completes the transition of its UAV squadrons with the RQ-21A Blackjack, according to the 2018 Marine Corps Aviation Plan.
The RQ-7B, a surveillance UAV built by Textron, can be rail-launched but requires a short runway to land. The RQ-21A, built by Boeing’s Insitu, is launched from a rail assembly and recovered by a skyhook, greatly reducing the footprint of its land-support requirements and enabling it to be launched and recovered by a ship.
The Marine Corps’ force of four UAV squadrons (VMUs) is about halfway through transition to the Blackjack. VMU-2, based at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, N.C., led the way and has deployed detachments with Marine Expeditionary Units, reaching initial operational capability (IOC) with the RQ-21 in January 2016 and has since achieved full operational capability.
VMU-1, based at MCAS Yuma, Ariz., is scheduled to reach full operational capability in fiscal 2018. VMU-3, based at MCAS Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, will reach IOC with the RQ-21A in fiscal 2018. VMU-4 is scheduled to receive its first RQ-21As in fiscal 2019, the year the last Shadows will be transferred to the Army.
The Marine Corps also plans to activate a VMU Fleet Replacement Detachment in 2019 at Cherry Point to train operators for the RQ-21A.
The Shadow replaced the RQ-2 Pioneer, the Marine Corps’ first widely used operational UAV, in 2007.