Several drones under development for the Next Generation Aircraft Carrier Air Wing

An MQ-25 test asset, known as the T1, conducts its first aerial refueling test flight with an F-35C Lightning II on September 13, 2021 near MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois . Boeing Pictures

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Several new unmanned aerial vehicles are being developed as part of the Navy’s future concept air wing, in addition to the unmanned aerial tanker slated for deployment in 2026, officials from the Navy said Wednesday. Marine.

The new aircraft are designed to meet increasing range requirements for the aircraft’s air wings, Rear Adm. Andrew Loiselle, director of Navy Air Warfare (OPNAV N98), said during a naval aviation panel at the Naval Institute, co-hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“As we move towards the air wing of the future, we will operate at distances off the aircraft carrier that far exceed what we do today,” Loiselle said.
“To do that, the unmanned wallet really needs to be part of that system, because it’s the easiest way for us to keep a full-size plane, but then have all that extra fuel space that we have. gives us the autonomy we need to be able to get by.”

Along with the F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter, the current air wing has an effective combat range of about 700 nautical miles from the carrier, USNI News previously reported. Prior to the inclusion of the F-35C on the carrier, the service relied on F/A-18E/F Super Hornets for strike and air-to-air missions with even shorter ranges.

In order to be effective over the vast distances in the increasingly dangerous Western Pacific, the aircraft would theoretically have to operate more than 1,000 nautical miles from the carrier to stay out of range of Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles like the DF-21 and the DF-26 analyst Bryan Clark told USNI News in 2020.

The next step for the Navy is to get an unmanned aerial refueling aircraft to operate farther from the carrier to extend the range of the existing air wing. First operational MQ-25A Stingray aerial refueling drones ready for deployment aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-73) by 2026, Vice Admiral Kevin Whitesell said in April.

Carrying 15,000 pounds of gasoline up to 500 nautical miles from the carrier, the Stingrays would take over the mission of refueling the existing fleet of F/A-18F Super Hornets.

“We have the MQ-25, which is envisioned as a tanker first. And so that’s its primary role in its initial instantiation, Loiselle said.
“And there are several other things in development right now that I’m very excited about.”

The MQ-25A was originally designed as a more capable unmanned aircraft under the UCLASS (Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike) program which was scaled down to an unmanned tanker.

“MQ-25 is capable of much more than we ask it to do at [initial operational capability]. So at IOC it has to be able to operate around an aircraft carrier and do aerial refueling and that’s all we went for,” Loiselle told USNI News in December.
“The rest will be spirally developed as it has significant additional capabilities with a mission bay…we plan to use it in the future.”

An unmanned Boeing MQ-25 receives operating instructions on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS George HW Bush (CVN 77) December 13, 2021 in the Atlantic Ocean. US Navy Photo

As for the new planes, he did not give details of the drones in the pipeline. The Navy has kept quiet about its research and development efforts into nearly all of its new air-wing aircraft.

The Navy has filed spending on the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program which is expected to produce a manned fighter to replace the Super Hornets in the 2030s.

Loiselle has defined three categories of unmanned aircraft that her office is considering.

“The first set is something that can go into a hostile environment, a high threat environment, and it can stay there, it can persist in a high threat environment. The second set is something that can go into this high-threat environment, do a given mission, briefly – a strike mission – then leave and have a very high chance of coming home,” he said. declared.
“The last set is something that is affordably priced, a much smaller vehicle that could perform a number of different missions. Anything, get out there with our fighter jets and carry more air-to-air missiles…or we could one day integrate that sort of thing into our electronic warfare, distributed architecture that would do that mission. And then we could also use these same types of drones for a distributed command and control network.

The drones are not part of the NGAD program (pronounced En-JAD by the Navy, Loiselle said), but would be part of ongoing fighter development.

“They are not exclusively for this platform. Okay, there’s equal applicability in the uncrewed crewed team concept for any small [UAS] for use with any aircraft on our flight deck. It’s not limited to that ability alone,” he said.

Loiselle spoke just days after the ninth anniversary of the July 10, 2013 landing of X-47B Salty Dog 502 aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77) – the first arrested landing of an unmanned aircraft on an aircraft carrier.

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