Thursday, September 28, 2023

U.S. Marine Corps phases out the Shadow tactical unmanned aircraft system

U.S.  Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 4 prepared the RQ-7B Shadow Unmanned Aircraft System for its final flight during Exercise Steel Knight in Twentynine Palms, California, Dec. 11, 2017.  

Steel Knight is an annual exercise led by 1st Marine Division that combines air and ground assets to complete a wide range of military operations focusing on ground fires, maneuver warfare tactics, and command and control capabilities. said in announced on official U.S. Marine Corps website.

“The flight was our last of the evolution for Steel Knight and also our last Shadow flight in the Marine Corps,” said Capt. Shanna Ream, an operations officer for VMU-4, Marine Aircraft Group 41, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Forces Reserve. “We have been flying the Shadow for a very long time, it is a system that we employed to Iraq and Afghanistan. It has a lot of capabilities and it’s been in the fight for a long time.”


For over five years with the unit, the Shadow has been operated by two enlisted Marines through the use of a computer system or a remote control system.

More: Butts Army Airfield conducted its first ever Shadow unmanned aircraft launch

The Shadow is an Army owned product leased by the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps is currently phasing out the Shadow and upgrading to the RQ-21A Blackjack system, which is a Marine Corps owned product.

The Blackjack will provide day and night intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance coverage in real time. It can fly up to 16 hours, is eight feet long, and will include day and night full motion video cameras, infrared markers, laser range finders, a communications relay package and automatic identification system receivers.

More: Meteor Aerospace unveils new armed unmanned ground surveillance vehicleThe Marine Corps completed its first land based operational deployment for the system in September 2014. After several test runs and operations, the Marine Corps is ready to begin training on the RQ-21A Blackjack in March 2018.

“The RQ-21A Blackjack is going to bring a lot of capabilities for us to the fight,” Ream said. “Because of its upgraded features, we will have a smaller footprint then we did with the Shadow, and we couldn’t be more excited for it.”

Photo by Lance Cpl. Desiree D King

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Executive Editor


Dylan Malyasov
Dylan Malyasov
Dylan Malyasov is the editor-in-chief of Defence Blog. He is a journalist, an accredited defense adviser and a consultant. He graduated in business management and worked at leading European defense companies before becoming a military journalist. read more



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