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Watch the Marines capture a $4 million drone with a bungee cord

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U.S. Marines with Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron One (VMU-1) launches RQ-21A Blackjack during assault support tactics 3 (AST-3) in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructors course (WTI) 1-18 at Canon Air Defense Complex (P111), Yuma, Ariz., Oct. 13, 2017.

AST-3 is a training exercise focused on conducting a noncombatant evacuation operation (NEO) in an urban environment while concurrently providing foreign humanitarian assistance (FHA) to the simulated host nation. WTI is a seven-week training event hosted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1) cadre.

Photo by LCpl Rhita Daniel

VMU-1 received the new aircraft in June and the Marines are excited about the advanced capabilities it brings over the RQ-7 Shadow the unit previously used.

“The Blackjack is runway independent, expeditionary, modular and a lot quieter than the Shadow,” said Cpl. Preston Martin, a UAS maintainer with VMU-1.

VMU-1 Marines received hands-on mobile training from maintenance instructors from Insitu, the company who developed the Blackjack.

“The Blackjack is faster to set up and tear down,” said Cody Cavender, a maintenance instructor with Insitu. “It comes loaded with payload packages, it has a longer endurance, and the training out here is going great.”

The Small Tactical Unmanned Aerial System Launching equipment and the STUAS Recovery System require a significantly smaller space to store and set up for operations, explained Capt. Garon Taylor-Tyree, director of safety and standardization for VMU-1 and will be the detachment officer-in-charge for the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

“The fact that our footprint has decreased substantially is the first benefit,” said Taylor-Tyree. “The second is that we don’t require a runway to operate the RQ-21.”

VMU-1 is slated to deploy in summer 2017 in support of the 15th MEU with the new RQ-21A Blackjack UAS which will primarily bring the unit Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance.

“The capability of the new aircraft will bring organic ISR to the MEU that is persistent and easy to manage,” said Taylor-Tyree.

“We’ll be able to distribute that [ISR] feed to other ships, or if satellite capabilities allow, back to the states to various units,” continued Taylor-Tyree. “This means that we can provide persistent ISR organic to the MEU instead of having to request it from sister services.”

The deployment with the 15th MEU will be the first chance for the Marines of VMU-1 to showcase their proficiency with their new equipment.

“We’re excited about the challenge of meeting the requirements of the first west coast MEU,” said Taylor-Tyree. “But we’re up for the challenge. It’s going to take a lot of training to make it work but we’ve received a lot of support from the [Marine Aircraft Group] and the 3rd [Marine Aircraft Wing] to make that all possible.”

Story by Sgt. Brytani Wheeler

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