The introduction of drones has led to a number of shifts in the way America’s military conducts both combat and reconnaissance operations. Drones like the MQ-1 Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper have demonstrated that large-scale drones, comparable in size to many aircraft already employed by the U.S. military, offer a real value to the war effort through their long duration loitering capabilities, on board intelligence gathering equipment, and the ability to launch offensive operations without putting an American pilot in harm’s way.
Drones have become a common facet of America’s military presence the world over, but many of them aren’t quite as large and imposing as the Reapers that rain death down upon insurgent strongholds in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the drones employed by the U.S. military are significantly smaller, and offer a cheaper alternative to devoting a manned aircraft of even a massively expensive Reaper to operations that could benefit from overhead surveillance.
That’s where drones like the RQ-21A Blackjack come in. The 135-pound drone isn’t designed to carry weapons, but offers Marines “dedicated day and night Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) coverage, target acquisition, and communication relay,” in forward deployed locations. They are capable of remaining airborne for 16 hours at a time, before returning to a safe area for a landing and refuel.
But what if you don’t have enough space for an aircraft with a nearly 16-foot wingspan to land? For the Navy and Marine Corps, the answer may be the Sky Hook. No, not the James-Bond-esque program intended to provide special operations soldiers with emergency exfil, but rather a recovery system for drones like the Blackjack that simply snatches them right out of the air.
In the video below, you can see the Sky Hook in action during both daylight and night-time operations.
Image courtesy of YouTube