Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles
Appendix 2: Modern UAVs
Copyright © 2024 Andreas Parsch

Boeing/Insitu RQ-21 Blackjack

The RQ-21 Blackjack is a variant of the Boeing/Insitu Integrator UAV to fulfill the U.S. Navy's and Marine Corps' STUAS (Small Tactical Unmanned Air System) requirement.

In 2007, Insitu Inc., since 2008 a subsidiary of Boeing, introduced their Integrator UAV. In 2009, the Integrator took part in the flight demonstrations for the Navy's STUAS requirement. In June 2010, it was announced that Insitu had won that competition, and that the Integrator would be developed into the RQ-21A for the Navy. The first flight of an RQ-21A occurred in July 2012. In 2013, the RQ-21A was named Blackjack, no doubt inspired by the MDS design number.

Photo: USMC, Lance Cpl. Rhita Daniel

Low-rate production for the Navy and Marines began in 2014, and in that same year, the USMC deployed the first RQ-21 system to Afghanistan for testing in an operational environment. At that time, the Blackjack reportedly had quite a few reliability issues, which delayed the approval of full-rate production. But these were apparently resolved, because in 2016, the Marines declared IOC (Initial Operational Capability) of the system, and in 2019 it was announced, that fielding of the RQ-21A has been completed.

Photo: Insitu

The RQ-21A is launched from sea or land by a rail launcher, and recovered by a "skyhook" system, where a vertical rope catches the wing in mid-air, and the vehicle then spins around the rope to the ground. It supports ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) missions in a line-of-sight operating radius of about 93 km (50 nm). The payload is highly configurable, with a maximum payload weight of 17.7 kg (39 lb). The typical standard equipment consists of EO and IR imaging systems, a laser range-finder, IR markers, and a communications relay.

By 2023, the Navy and Marines had received 31 system with 5 RQ-21A vehicles each. In USMC service, the RQ-21A replaced the RQ-7 Shadow. Sometimes the USMC Blackjack UAVs are referred to as MQ-21A, but it is unclear if this is an officially allocated designation.


Note: Data given by several sources show slight variations. Figures given below may therefore be inaccurate!

Data for RQ-21A:

Length2.5 m (8.2 ft)
Wingspan4.8 m (15.7 ft)
Weightmax: 61 kg (136 lb)
Speed167 km/h (104 mph)
Ceiling> 5940 m (19500 ft)
Range93 km (50 nm)
Endurance16 h
PropulsionPiston engine; 5.9 kW (8 hp)

Main Sources

[1] Wikipedia: Boeing Insitu RQ-21 Blackjack
[2] Insitu Website
[3] Boeing Website

Back to Directory of U.S. Military Rockets and Missiles, Appendix 2

Last Updated: 11 January 2024