Story by Sgt Jesus Sepulveda Torres on 08/01/2018MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII -- After years of service to the U.S. Armed Services, the RQ-7B Shadow unmanned aerial system (UAS) was retired after its final flight during the culmination event for Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise at Pyramid Rock Beach on Marine Corps Base Hawaii July 29, 2018. Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle 3 (VMU-3) was the last squadron to utilize the Shadow, while the other VMU squadrons have already transitioned to the RQ-21 Blackjack UAS.
U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Madhur Sawhney, an air crew chief with operations and training for Marine Aircraft Group 24, said the Shadow's support for operations to RIMPAC's final exercise was vital.
"The Shadow provided real-time footage of the objective area for the Marine Air-Ground Task Force commander to guide his decisions," Sawney said. "Prior to any forces landing on the beach, we were up in the air gathering intelligence alongside our other air combat element aircraft."
He added that the Shadow is a versatile system that makes a difference during missions and with the transitioning to the new Blackjack, the U.S. Marine Corps mission to be expeditionary becomes even sharper.
U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Mathew Kramer, an unmanned aerial vehicle commander with VMU-3, said the last flight was the ending of an era.
"Variances of the RQ-7 have been flying since Operation Desert Storm, throughout the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, right up until operations ceased," he said. "It's exciting to see how the Blackjack will perform."
Kramer added, after 20 years of service, the RQ-7 platform has performed well and will be improved on through the Blackjack.
"Serving for as long as I have, we have retired multiple platforms over the years to continuously be a more effective force to assist in operations," Sawhney said. "The last flight of the Shadow is a positive direction towards returning to our expeditionary roots."
Sawhney said that San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ships who are part of amphibious ready groups and Marine expeditionary units will be able to launch the Blackjacks. He also said that the platform is lighter and smaller than its predecessor.
"The Blackjack has a smaller footprint with a 16-foot wing span and a lighter weight distribution at 135 pounds when wet with an average flight time of 10 hours," Sawhney said. "Before the Blackjack, a detachment to support the Shadow mission included around 70 Marines, but now it's decreased to 21 personnel."
Sawhney said as the mission continues, technology will also continue to advance and lead UAS systems to return to their expeditionary roots.