Navy refueling drone will dramatically extend range of carrier-based fighters

Adding the unmanned MQ-25 Stingray aerial tanker to its U.S. carrier air wing can increase the effective strike range of carrier-based fighter jets by as much as 400 nautical miles, say Navy officials.

Air Boss Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker says the Navy’s objective for the refueling drone was to be capable of delivering about 15,000 pounds of fuel some 500 nautical miles from the carrier, nearly doubling their operational range.

“The MQ-25 will give us the ability to extend the air wing out probably 300 or 400 miles beyond where we typically go. We will be able to do that and sustain a nominal number of airplanes at that distance,” Shoemaker said.

“That will extend the reach of the air wing, and when we combine that with additional weapons we are buying, we will get an impressive reach.”

Currently, a carrier-based strike fighter only has a range of about 450 nautical miles, which is the effective unrefueled range of an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Adding 300 to 400 more nautical miles could extend the reach beyond 700 nautical miles.

The Navy has not had a carrier-based strike fighter with that kind of range since it retired all of its F-14D Tomcats in 2006; they had a range of about 650 nautical miles.

Officials said the MQ-25 could be deployed with the fleet by 2019.

Source: USNI News

Why it’s on our radar: Our peer competitors — principally Russia and China — have not based their military strategy on expeditionary forces (though China is moving in that direction). Rather, they have based their strategy on fighting much closer to home. Think missiles.

The Navy has been looking for ways to extend the range of its strike fighter aircraft to keep carriers out of range of enemy anti-ship missiles, which have been increasing in range. This is one of the ways the Navy intends to continue projecting its power without putting large, expensive aircraft carriers at risk.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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