Insitu drone

Boeing subsidiary Insitu has been awarded a more than $390 million contract by the U.S. Navy to manufacture 63 RQ-21A Blackjack unmanned air systems for the Marine Corp and the Navy. A Blackjack unmanned air system includes five air vehicles and two ground control stations. (Boeing photo)

Insitu landed another U.S. military contract recently, this time a more than $390 million Navy contract for 179 unmanned aircraft that will be built primarily in Bingen.

The unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) identified in the June 28 contract award are the RQ-21A Blackjack attrition air vehicle and the ScanEagle reconnaissance/surveillance drone. Work under the contract “is expected to be completed in June 2022,” stated the announcement posted on the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) website.

The contract is for up to 63 RQ-21A systems for the Marine Corps and Navy, and up to six RQ-21A UASs and 17 unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) for foreign military sales customers, including the governments of Canada, Poland, and Oman.

Moreover, Insitu is contracted to provide up to 93 ScanEagles in various configurations. According to the Navy, this contract “was not competitively procured.”

In addition, the contract provides for associated services, including training; testing and engineering; development of engineering change proposals; operations, maintenance/repairs, and field service support; land and ship surveys; hardware site activations and installations; and data.

Insitu responded to an emailed request for comment on this latest contract award but had nothing to offer beyond what’s already appeared in media reports. In May, Insitu received a $47 million Foreign Military Sales contract for 34 ScanEagle unmanned air vehicles.

In 2010, the Navy awarded Insitu the Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems contract to begin development of the Blackjack. The program reached full rate production in October 2016. (The Blackjack is the military version of Insitu’s Integrator drone.)

“The RQ-21A Blackjack system is modular, versatile, and multi-mission capable, providing rapid transitions between land and maritime environments. The aircraft can safeguard military bases and activities through a pattern of life identification and explosive device detection,” according to Insitu, a subsidiary of the Boeing Co. and the developer and manufacturer of UASs.

According to a July 1 story in Defense News by Allen Cone, a single RQ-21A unmanned aircraft system includes five air vehicles and two ground control stations, plus other equipment. Each drone's six payload spaces can carry up to 39 pounds with an endurance of 16-plus hours per day. The Blackjack is designed to operate off a Marine Expeditionary Unit in support of ground forces deployed worldwide.

The Blackjack is considered a category 3 drone with maximum gross takeoff weight of less than 1,320 pounds, normal operating altitude of less than 18,000 feat above mean sea level and less than 250 knots per hour. It weighs 81 pounds and the length is 8.2 feet, according to the company.

The ScanEagle, which has been deployed with the Marine Corps since 2004 and the Navy since 2005, is a smaller long-endurance, gas-powered UAV.

As a category 2, it can operate up to 19,500 feet and loiter over a battlefield for extended missions of 24-plus hours. Its normal operating altitude is less than 3,500 feet at an airspeed less than 250 knots per hour.

At a length of 3.9 feet and 39.7 pounds, its payload is a high resolution, day/night camera and thermal imager.

Rich Smith of The Motley Fool business website offered this analysis of the contract in a July 15 online article:

“At an average cost of roughly $2.25 million per drone, each of these sales can be expected to generate something on the order of $155,000 of profit for Boeing at the 6.9% operating profit margin common within the company's defense division (according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence).

“These are not new customers for Boeing. The company's ScanEagles have been in service with the Marines since 2004, and with the Navy since 2005. The newer Blackjack has achieved ‘program of record’ status with the Navy and Marines under their ‘Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System’ program. Even so, this is a large increase in the deployment of these systems — one of the largest ‘small’ UAV contracts I've seen come out of the DoD in some while.”

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