News | July 10, 2024

Building the Eye in the Sky: VMUT-2 Begins Assembly of First MQ-9A Reaper for 2nd MAW

By 2nd Lt. John Graham, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing

Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Training Squadron (VMUT) 2, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), began the assembly of 2nd MAW’s first MQ-9A Reaper, April 10, as part of the Marine Corps’ continued transition from the legacy RQ-21A Blackjack in accordance with Force Design initiatives.

“The delivery and build of VMUT-2’s first MQ-9A aircraft is yet another successful milestone in the transition of VMUT-2 to become the MQ-9A Fleet Replacement Squadron, responsible for the world-class training of the Marine Corps’ MQ-9A pilots and sensor operators,” said Lt. Col. Michael Donlin, commanding officer of VMUT-2.

Many of the parts for the aircraft were delivered to VMUT-2, known as the “Night Owls,” aboard Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, North Carolina, from General Atomics in March, making 2nd MAW the third and final MAW to receive the aircraft. Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron (VMU) 1, 3rd MAW, procured the first MQ-9A Reaper for the Marine Corps in August 2021, and VMU-3, 1st MAW, was the first VMU to achieve initial operational capability with the MQ-9A platform in August 2023.

The MQ-9A Extended Range Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Unmanned Expeditionary (MUX) Medium-Altitude, High-Endurance (MALE) aircraft is a medium-altitude, long-endurance Block 5 remotely piloted aircraft, enabling future Marine Corps, naval and joint force operating concepts by providing multi-sensor surveillance and reconnaissance; data gateway and relay capabilities through an aerial layer; and enabling or conducting the detection and engagement of targets during expeditionary, joint and combined operations. The aircraft will provide intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting as well as performing additional missions such as: maritime domain awareness, airborne network extension, airborne early warning and electronic support.

With a range of more than 1,600 miles and the ability to operate for more than 20 hours, the unmanned aircraft is designed to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in support of 2nd MAW and wider Marine Expeditionary Force missions. This extended range is possible through the Marine Corps’ addition of external fuel tanks to the aircraft that are capable of holding 1,300 pounds of fuel.

These capabilities will allow the MQ-9A Reaper to support future Marine Corps operating concepts, such as distributed maritime operations, littoral operations in a contested environment, and expeditionary advanced base operations as part of Force Design initiatives. The capabilities that the MQ-9A Reaper will provide represent an enhancement to 2nd MAW’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and data and communications network capabilities. The arrival and assembly of this aircraft represents a milestone in 2nd MAW unmanned aircraft systems’ support for future operating concepts and represents an additional milestone in VMUT-2’s continued transition from the RQ-21A Blackjack platform that served as 2nd MAW’s primary unmanned aircraft system until July 2023.

“Our ability to rapidly and safely build these aircraft sets the stage for flight operations in the near future and is a testament to the hard work of the ‘Night Owl’ maintenance department and the program office over the last 10 months,” Donlin said. "Night Owls don’t quit.”

Written by 2nd Lt. John Graham, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.