Aerial-Refueler. The U.S. Navy is spending $13 billion buying 72 MQ-25 Stingray tanker drones for its 11 aircraft carriers.
The idea is for the Boeing BA-made MQ-25s to refuel manned fighters, extending their range while also relieving the fighter squadrons of their own tanking duties.
Not only a Aerial-Refueler
But the MQ-25 always had potential to be more than just an aerial-refueler. With its stealthy airframe and high endurance, it could be a surveillance plane and even a light strike platform, too.
At least one fleet community isn’t waiting for the Navy and Boeing to adapt the MQ-25 to other missions.
The fleet’s airborne command-and-control weapons school at Naval Base Ventura County in Point Mugu, California, already thinks of the Stingray as more than a tanker.
Robbin Laird, a military analyst and writer, spoke to Cmdr. Christopher Hulitt, the head of the school, and summarized the conversation at Second Line of Defense.
Laird and Hulitt’s main point is that the Navy is acquiring new aircraft with highly-sophisticated communications systems and sensors.
The F-35C stealth fighter, E-2D early-warning plane, MQ-4C high-altitude drone and the MQ-25.
Advanced U.S. Navy Comm Doctrine
Where before, E-2s would fly over a maritime battle, detecting targets and relaying commands to fighters, now a new system is coming together. The F-35C, E-2D, MQ-4C and MQ-25 all possess the qualities of a sensor- and command-and-control platform.
So instead of passing information just one way—from an E-2 to a fighter—in coming years info could begin moving in all directions.
An F-35C in stealth mode might detect an enemy ship using its passive sensors and beam, via secure datalink, the target’s general location to the nearby MQ-25 that just refueled the F-35C.
The MQ-25 could hand off the data to an E-2D. The E-2D crew could instruct the operators of an MQ-4C to steer their drone toward the enemy ship’s location.
Once the MQ-4C pinpoints the ship, the E-2D could then pass the targeting data back to the F-35C as well as to other allied vessels and planes, all of which could fire missiles. Imagine this whole process happening in minutes.
“It is about deploying an extended trusted sensor network, which can be tapped through various waveforms, and then being able to shape how the decision-making arc can best deliver the desired combat effect,” Laird wrote.
The Navy hopes to deploy the first MQ-25s as early as 2024.
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