Successful air-to-air refueling of F-35Cs and MQ-25s has massive implications for naval warfare – KION546

By Security Television Network, Author: by Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven

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September 16, 2021 (Security television network) – The Navy recently completed its very first in-flight refueling of the F-35C using an MQ-25 Stingray refueling drone launched by an aircraft carrier

What would it mean for the US Navy’s ability to project power if its carrier-launched F-35C could instantly double its combat radius and attack range, increasing time to stay above targets and launch offensive operations from more remote and more survivable sea locations?

F-35C and MQ-25 Stingray Refueling Drone The Navy is about to find out, as the service recently completed its first-ever air-to-air refueling of the F-35C using a test model from the first emerging carrier of the genre. -a launched refueling drone called the MQ-25 Stingray.

While the test flight took place over St. Louis in central America, the intention is of course to prepare the integrated attack and refueling system for maritime warfare and the attack on aircraft carriers.

“During the three-hour flight, a Navy F-35C pilot from Air Test Squadron and Evaluation Squadron Two Three approached T1 (TEST MQ-25 aircraft), conducted training evaluations, wake surveys, drug tracking and hooked up with the MQ-25 test active at a calibrated airspeed of 225 knots and an altitude of 10,000 feet.

From the ground control station, an air vehicle operator then initiated the transfer of fuel from the T1 aerial refueling store to the F-35C, ”a Navy report said.

The F-35 flight was the third actual refueling flight for the T1, as it has previously refueled an F / A-18 Super Hornet and an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye.

“Conducting refueling test missions with various aircraft allows the program to analyze the data and determine if guidance and control adjustments are necessary,” the Navy report added.

Implications for F-35C Refueling Although seemingly uneventful in some respects, air-to-air refueling of an F-35C launched by an aircraft carrier has enormous implications in several key respects.

First by considering only the tanker itself, the MQ-25 Stingray is an aircraft carrier-launched drone, something made possible through massive amounts of research, testing and experimentation by the Navy. Landing a drone on an aircraft carrier is an extremely complex task, as an aircraft has to operate under changing sea conditions, fluctuating weather conditions and, of course, take-offs and landings from a large aircraft carrier. moving.

This means that maritime power blast refueling can work with built-in organic capability, meaning it doesn’t have to depend on large, non-stealth land-launched tankers such as the KC-46.

Not only is a KC-46 much less likely to survive as a large, non-stealth fixed-wing aircraft, it must of course take off from land, a circumstance that complicates its access, access and take-off from which it can support oceanic planes. .

Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance An F-35 launched by a refueled aircraft carrier not only increases attack range, but also brings great intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance value. Since the F-35 operates with drone-like sensors surrounding the aircraft and the ability to share real-time targeting data as an aerial node, a drone launched by an aircraft carrier could significantly extend the time to aircraft stay to support targeting, data sharing and surveillance. missions.

An in-flight refueling of an F-35 per se may not seem particularly important, as fighter jets have been refueled in the air for decades. However, what if it was a Navy F-35C launched by an aircraft carrier that could be refueled over the ocean by a refueling drone launched by an aircraft carrier? It changes things.

It opens up a whole new sphere of mission possibilities to include additional surveillance, targeting, networking and offensive strike capabilities.

Attack range At the same time, it also performs the specific and extremely critical task of being able to attack beyond the strike range of a particularly deadly Chinese “aircraft carrier killer” missile that would be capable of striking ships. up to 1000 miles away. bank. Of course, carriers increasingly have layered defense systems with new weapons that could potentially include laser interceptors, EW missile guidance jamming systems, and various interceptors fired or mounted on ships.

Navy officials confidently say aircraft carriers will be able to operate from anywhere, despite threats posed by Chinese guided anti-ship missiles. Nonetheless, extending the range of ocean-launched F-35Cs is extremely important as it gives commanders a much wider range of tactical attack options as well as additional survivability.

According to information from Lockheed Martin, the F-35C operates within a combat radius of about 500 to 600 nautical miles, which means that once it travels that distance, it must turn around and come back. it is not in supply.

Just looking at the math, if a Chinese DF-21D anti-ship guided missile can travel 900 to 1,000 nautical miles, then an F-35C might not be within striking range of an enemy land target if the aircraft carriers were to operate over 1,000 miles offshore. An F-35 would not be able to hit its target if it took off 1,000 miles away, because it would have to turn around before it got over a target area. A refueled F-35, however, could not only reach the sky above ground targets, but operate with sufficient dwell time to search for targets and respond to new information if new targets emerged.

Now, in the case of the Chinese DF-26, the circumstances might be a little different, given that this weapon could hit ranges of up to 2,000 miles offshore.

However, since the F-35 can function as a proven aerial ISR node capable of locating targets and sharing data beyond the horizon at extremely large distances, double the range of an F- 35C introduces a whole new sphere of networking possibilities.

An F-35C could function as a surveillance node within a larger multidomain network, so that it could alert other aircraft, alert surface ships of approaching targets, and even help guide missiles to long range to their targets.

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Dr James [email protected] (202) 607-2421

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