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Marines deploy new small unmanned aircraft

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The RQ-21A Blackjack, a new, small unmanned aircraft developed for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, is making its first deployment overseas, the Navy Department announced May 7.

A squadron from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina began using the intelligence-gathering plane in late April to support ground missions in Afghanistan, the department said. The RQ-21A can carry day/night video cameras and other sensors and has more payload capacity and power than other small unmanned aircraft fielded by the Marines Corps.

The Navy Department is buying the RQ-21A from Insitu, a Boeing subsidiary. The 8.2-foot-long aircraft is a larger variant of the company’s ScanEagle unmanned aircraft, which has supported Navy and Marine deployed forces for years under a services contract.

The Navy and Marines plan to acquire dozens of RQ-21A “systems,” each of which consists of five air vehicles, two ground control stations, and launch and recovery equipment.

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