Home » Aviation » Navy Plans MQ-XX Stingray With Only ISR, Tanking Capability; Marines Testing MQ-8C Fire Scout On Amphibs


Navy Plans MQ-XX Stingray With Only ISR, Tanking Capability; Marines Testing MQ-8C Fire Scout On Amphibs

The X-47B on the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) on Nov. 10, 2013. US Navy Photo

The X-47B on the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) on Nov. 10, 2013. US Navy Photo

CAPITOL HILL – The Navy is sticking to its plans to field an unmanned MQ-XX Stingray platform with just tanking and surveillance capabilities to start with, while the Marine Corps is experimenting with the MQ-8C Fire Scout to help inform its path forward for amphibious assault ship-based unmanned aviation, officials said Wednesday.

Despite the House Armed Services Committee making clear in its version of the Fiscal Year 2017 defense bill that lawmakers want long-range strike included as a capability – a HASC staffer said the committee is in the “encouraging phase” and will not this year force the Navy’s hand by withholding money – the Navy is not interested in starting out with strike as a primary mission.

Director of Air Warfare (OPNAV N98) Rear Adm. Mike Manazir said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that the MQ-XX, formerly known as the Carrier Based Aerial Refueling System, would only include tanking and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) as primary missions.

Manazir said “the United States Navy has been anxious to get an unmanned capability onto our CVNs for quite a while. Back in 2009 actually, (then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary) Roughead pounded a table in a secure space and said ‘I want unmanned on a carrier by 2018.’ And that started a series of conversations in the Pentagon about unmanned capability on the aircraft carrier.”

With the need and the momentum to get an unmanned system fielded quickly, the Navy will only consider non-developmental ISR systems, Manazir said, and will only include ISR and tanking missions at first because “we can accommodate those two missions on an unmanned system coming off the aircraft carrier more rapidly.”

Manazir said the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator (UCAS-D) proved that an unmanned aircraft could take off from and land on a carrier and refuel in the air.

“We got everything out of that platform that we need, now what we’ve got to do is show we can use a platform to do two basic meat-and-potato missions on the aircraft carrier using the MQ-XX,” he told the senators.
“And that will also provide a platform for us to go forward and do additional more advanced capabilities in the future,” he said, which could include long-range strike eventually.

An MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle takes off from Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu on Oct. 31, 2013. US Navy Photo

An MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle takes off from Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu on Oct. 31, 2013. US Navy Photo

Asked if the Marine Corps was also interested in the MQ-XX program, Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis told the committee that “we have tremendous interest,” but the Marines would likely need a different design than the Navy. The Marines would operate their unmanned ISR platform from a big-deck amphibious ship, which has a shorter runway than an aircraft carrier and does not have the carrier’s sophisticated launch and recovery system.

Instead, Davis said the Marines envision that perhaps an unmanned vertical lift aircraft might meet the service’s needs. To that end, the Marine Corps has borrowed some MQ-8C Fire Scouts from the Navy to begin testing on the big-decks. Davis said he believes the Marine Corps may want a Group 4 or 5 unmanned aerial system (UAS) – which are larger and have longer range and endurance – that could conduct ISR and fires missions, but the details are still being decided.

“We’ve got a requirements document study that’s going on at Quantico to go tell us exactly what they want us to go pursue, but there are several projects out there that give us a long-range, long-duration, multi-mission platform for UAS,” he said.
“We think UAS can deliver people, can deliver ordnance, can deliver fires, can deliver surveillance, all those things. So we’re looking for a wide aperture for what we can do with these platforms in the future.”

The Marine Corps currently operates the RQ-21 Blackjack from its ships, but that system – a smaller Group 3 system – is launched from a small catapult and recovered by hooking onto a tether, all of which limit the payloads that can be put on the aircraft, Davis said.

  • @USS_Fallujah

    Once they have a operational unmanned aircraft on the deck adding capabilities will be significantly easier. Trying to integrate a whole new weapons system, with all the additional R&D and testing that requires to the complexity of the first unmanned carrier borne system is a recipe for disaster, like a shotgun wedding of the BAMS & JSF. Crawl, walk, run is a wise choice here, especially since whatever strike platform the MQ-XX will be closely linked to the F-35C, so let’s let that baby grow out of the crib before we have another child.

  • RunningBear

    Naval Aviators have been reeling in shock, first the stubby F-35C was “able” to hook the “3” wire and then execute it 100+ times with no “bolters”. Then…the X-47 does the same thing w/o a manned backup… Magic Carpet took ten years to get into the system and now CNO is pressing this MQ-xx while they are trying to digest these other “world shattering” events. Tankers and ISR are exactly where the MQ should poke it’s ugly head and when it excels in those lone efforts the aviators will want to take them into the strike package to extend the “situational awareness” and “on station” times. Sharing that data with the F-35s and broadcast across a strike package should “UP” everyone’s game to obliterate a target or early detect a “bogey”. Go Navy!

    • USNVO

      The biggest benefit is that a tanker/ISR platform doesn’t gore any oxen. So unlike the F-18 guys who don’t like the F-35 (did NAVAIR really give the F-35 program the wrong data on the wire dynamics on accident and who can forget the whole “unprecedented” MLG to tailhook distance slide that laughingly left off the A-7, F-8, and virtually every other single engine aircraft), or the helo bubbas who don’t like FireScout, the only guys who would complain about a new refueling/ISR asset is the S-3 community who are already gone. The F-18 guys don’t want that mission anyway. You can add strike capability after the system is operational and there is a “drone mafia” built up to fight back.

      • @USS_Fallujah

        I’ve spoken to quite a few fighter jocks (and had a great conversation with a F-35C test pilot at PAX last fall) and they are already in love with the idea of off-boarding weapons. They want to keep the pilot “In the Loop” to pull the trigger, but then love to have the option of putting the magazine on a different airframe, at least for Air-to-Ground. ACM is still their holy grail and they have physics on their side in keeping the Air-to-Air arsenal onboard (though, IMO if you have a MQ-XX derivative carrying 6-8 long range AAM similar in size & profile to the Phoenix firing from tracks for an E-2D you have a very potent long range CAP capability manned aircraft can’t match)

        • USNVO

          Without question, when a philosophical question is raised, the pilots are all for it. But as soon as you gore someone’s ox, expect a different story.

          Long ago, I had the pleasure (used loosely here) of operating with both USA and USN Helos onboard. Although the Army Helos (warrant officer pilots all) operated in a much more strenuous manner requiring superior airmanship, the Navy pilots (all commissioned officers) were adamant that there was no possible way you could operate Navy Helos with warrant officers. I am sure if you had asked either of the group, they would have been completely against the possibility of operating unmanned Helos or even with only one pilot like the RNs Lynx. That would just be completely unworkable.

          Notice how the biggest group initially against the EF-18G were EA-6B NFOs. I wonder why that was? If unmanned aircraft become a threat to the fighter attack guys, all bets are off.

  • RunningBear

    USMC and unmanned helos…can you spell K-MAX, lots of flight time there! 🙂