Home » News & Analysis » MQ-25 Stingray Unmanned Aerial Tanker Could Almost Double Strike Range of U.S. Carrier Air Wing

MQ-25 Stingray Unmanned Aerial Tanker Could Almost Double Strike Range of U.S. Carrier Air Wing

Boeing image of the company’s MQ-25A Stingray bid. USNI News Photo

The inclusion of the unmanned MQ-25 Stingray aerial tanker into the U.S. carrier air wing could increase the effective strike range of the strike fighters aboard aircraft carriers by up to 400 nautical miles, the commander of Naval Air Forces told U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings.

Air Boss Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker said the service’s goal was for the Navy’s first operational carrier-based unmanned aerial vehicle to be able to deliver about 15,000 pounds of fuel at 500 nautical miles from the carrier to the air wing’s strike fighters, which would almost double 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 in an exclusive interview in the September issue of Proceedings.
“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.”

The strike range of a carrier air wing is now only about 450 nautical miles – the effective unrefueled radius of a Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The additional 300 to 400 miles could potentially extend the reach of the fighters up to or beyond 700 nautical miles.

The additional range extension would be the farthest the air wing could reach out since the Navy retired the Grumman F-14D Tomcat from its inventory in 2006. An F-14D had an estimated unrefueled combat radius – with two fuel drop tanks – of about 650 nautical miles.

Commander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker speaks with sailors in Atsugi, Japan on March 23, 2016. US Navy Photo

In addition to the extension of the air wing’s lethal radius, Shoemaker said the Stingray would take pressure off the current Super Hornets that refuel the air wing. At the moment, 20 to 30 percent of Super Hornet missions are for refueling other aircraft.

The Super Hornet has two refueling missions — recovery and mission tanking — that will be taken over by the Stingrays. Mission tanking extends the operational range of aircraft hundreds of miles from the strike group while recovery tanking missions happen close to the carrier and are a hedge against aircraft running out of fuel during landing.

“The MQ-25 will be much more efficient than the Rhino (Super Hornets), and it will give us the ability to get out there and refuel four to six airplanes at range,” Shoemaker told Proceedings.
“It will also work as a recovery tanker for cyclic ops, with the ability to cover at least three cycles. Launch one airplane, and it goes overhead, drops back down for the recovery, and goes back up to altitude to wait for the next recovery. We will not be putting any wear and tear on Super Hornets for the tanking mission, which is good. … Right now, the focus is to make it a tanker to extend the reach of the air wing and reduce some of the fatigue life expenditure on our Super Hornets. The only tankers we have in the air wing are the Rhinos.”

The Navy is also expecting the new MAGIC CARPET precision landing modes for aircraft to help reduce the need for standby tankers, Shoemaker said.

“We also have precision landing modes we are delivering in Super Hornets and [EA-18G] Growlers that will make landing on the carrier much easier. I think the combination of having extra gas airborne and the precision landing modes will reduce the number of tankers needed because the air wing’s ability to recover much more efficiently,” he said.

Shoemaker also talked about the Navy’s plans to man and operate the Stingray and described an arrangement similar to how the service’s helicopter community will cross-train to operate the MQ-8B/C Fire Scout UAV.

“We are looking at the manning construct of that right now. We will likely operate the MQ-25 in the same fashion—creating a small detachment of officers who run the MQ-25 and operate it on deployment,” he said.
“The pilots will come from the Hornet, E-2, Growler and F-35 communities.”

“Salty Dog 100,” an F/A-18F Super Hornet assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., lands on USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77) Apr. 20, 2015. The landing was part of the first sea trials for MAGIC CARPET, new flight control software and display symbology for F/A-18 aircraft designed to make carrier landings less demanding for Navy pilots. US Navy photo.

Shoemaker’s comments are the most specific information yet on the Navy’s refueling goals for MQ-25A program. Naval Air Systems Command has been more vague on the Navy’s goal for Stingray.

In a July interview with USNI News, Rear Adm. Mark Darrah, Program Executive Officer Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, and MQ-25A program manager Capt. Beau Duarte said they didn’t intend to release the specific goals for ranges and instead have only two public key performance parameters for the program.

“Carrier suitability. The system needs to be able to operate off of the aircraft carrier and integrate with all of the subsystems of the carrier. That’s catapults, that’s existing launch and recovery equipment,” Duarte told USNI News in July.
“Mission tanking. Sea-based tanker is the second KPP. It needs to be able to deliver a robust fuel offload at range to support an extension of the air wing and add flexibility of what’s available from a mission tanking perspective. There are a number of key system attributes or other requirements lower than that that are subsequent to [those] and are of lower importance and that will allow us to focus on those two key areas on tanking and carrier suitability and let those be the primary design drivers. “

Additionally, Darrah said NAVAIR would also be non-specific on price.

“When we put a number out there, eerily they tend to get to that number and go backward, go backward in their development so they hit that number. We are taking a different approach this time,” he said.
“We’re not going to define that number at this point and direct them to provide us with their input so that we can adequately and accurately determine what they truly can do.”

NAVAIR released a draft request for proposal for the MQ-25A’s air segment, which will be the last refinement of the program before an anticipated fall full RFP to competitors Northrop Grumman, General Atomics, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The Navy is developing the datalinks and ground control system for the effort.

USNI News understands that Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson wants the first Stingrays operating from carriers as early as 2019.

  • airider

    Nice to see NAVAIR bringing some emphasis back to the logistics side of the air wing. Assigning it to a more risky UAV effort doesn’t seem like the smartest bet to actually deliver some relief for the air refueling Hornets and increase the whole wings combat radius.

    The history of the last 30 years has been horrible for “support” aircraft on the carrier. Kicking the air refueling can down to the next tactical aircraft has been a disaster.

    Having dedicated “K” aircraft is a good “old” idea that needs to be refreshed and implemented.

    My big question to NAVAIR is “what will the wing makeup look like once the MQ-25 is introduced?” If they don’t have enough onboard, it will be a fight about how to use the M capabilities it brings.

    IMHO they need to have at least eight in the wing to support the demands that will be placed on it for “R” and “K” support missions. During the first gulf war the wings had four KA-6Ds and four F-14’s with TARPs pods so eight looks like a good mix based on past experience.

    An army marches on its stomach … an air wing doesn’t go anywhere without gas.

    • DaSaint

      I could see between 6 and 8, that makes sense.

    • PolicyWonk

      Lets face it – the USN didn’t have much choice, especially given they decided that they weren’t going to invest in long-range aircraft for fleet defense after the Tomcats were retired, combined with the proliferation of A2/D2 weapons.

      • Curtis Conway

        With 80+ S-3s parked at in the desert with lots of hours left on them. Damn Shame, and lack of using ‘what they have’.

        • DaSaint

          That was one of the more shortsighted decisions ever made. That and the early retirement of the Tomcat.

          • Curtis Conway

            If the new Gen 6 US Navy aircraft does not at least meet that range and firepower requirement, I am going to wonder what the Chain of Command is thinking with , if they still are . . . thinking, or just following orders from the Military Industrial Complex. Wonder Woman’s ‘God of War’ seems to be in charge today . . . just to make money.

          • DaSaint

            But when does do those RFI documents even come out, 2022? RFP in 2024? Fly-offs in 2030? Selection in 2032? IOC in 2040?

            The MIC has to do better at shortening the cycle. A Gen6 aircraft should be achieving IOC in 2030 the latest. We can’t push revolutionary over evolutionary.

        • PolicyWonk

          A very sad example – especially given that our carriers are going to sea with plenty of room for more aircraft on their flight decks.

          As we’ve discussed/observed over the years – the USN’s priorities seem, um, rather misplaced, or otherwise questionable/lacking common sense.

          • Curtis Conway

            There appears to be no righteous, normal, or logical center, save logic based upon faulty emotional assumptions, or driven by the money changers.

            Assuming a principled approach based upon what the Unified Combatant Commanders require to perform their functions, in culmination with the required National Defense Posture as defined by the administration, while being able to conduct two fronts of conflict at the same time, should be our goal. We must support NATO, and assist ASEAN, while keeping Europe and the Western Pacific safe for developing Democracies. All while maintaining and training our world class forces who have suffered so much through recent negligence w/r/t training and maintenance cuts while the services have been trying to maintain required tasking without sufficient budget. At least this administration is showing the right direction of supporting our defense w/r/t maintenance and training, and getting away from using the military as a social engineering tool, which IS NOT THEIR MISSION!

          • PolicyWonk

            Sir, where we typically agree on most defense related issues, I beg to differ: the US military has been used for “social engineering” for decades. One example, is that the US military (DoD) was the first major federal agency that was completely desegregated.

            All the complaints preaching potential gloom and doom, cats having puppies, the sky falling, etc., never came to fruition.

            However, w/r/t this administration, they have several very smart guys at the top, including McMaster, Mattis, and Allen. All of whom have deep respect for each other and have earned the respect of those of us who follow military affairs and foreign policy.

            Where I’ve found several reasons to find the judgement of the POTUS to be questionable, I’ve found no reason whatsoever to have anything other than respect for these three men who earned their stars the hard way. Whether this administration is able to get it together and truly demonstrate the resolve necessary to get our military back on track, IMO, remains to be seen.

          • Curtis Conway

            We are in agreement for the most part. Great Leaders surround themselves with Excellence, not yes men.

          • lugnutmstr

            The three you speak of should resign for aiding and abetting a serial sexual abuser, liar, thief, Russian Collaborator and bring shame to their respective services!

        • airider

          I think a bird in the hand is definitely worth two in the bush, and the S-3 could have been a good gap filler for both the “K” and “C” missions the Navy needs filled.

          I’m still scratching my head a bit about the V-22 taking on all COD duties. V-22 makes sense for our L-class “pocket” carriers and it’s already embarked so no big impact there. It makes less sense for our fixed winged capable CVNs. Plus having the “KC-3’s” embarked with the wing increases the flexibility of the CVN’s since the can perform more than one mission.

          • Curtis Conway

            This is another area the Traditional CVN Air Wing, and NAVAIR lacks vision. As far as I have read there are no provisions for bringing on board an F-35B under any circumstances . . . and that eventuality WILL HAPPEN, and it should NOT always be treated like an emergency. Some of the space forward of the superstructure should have a Starboard Side transition area for CMV-22B and F-35Bs coming on-board, with the path ALREADY cleared of antennas, and the deck ALREADY coated with Thermion with deck markings present for landing orientation. So much for thinking ahead.

  • DaSaint

    “The pilots will come from the Hornet, E-2, Growler and F-35 communities.”

    I can understand E-2 (and soon to be eliminated C-2) communities, but why would you take a Growler or F-35 trained-pilot to operate these UAVs?

    Navy getting back on track in terms of extending the reach and therefore lethality of the strike wings since the retirement of the S-3. Glad to see that operational radius is being extended to possibly 700 miles. With long-range air-launched anti-ship missiles, and additional 150+ nm of reach can be added to that capability.

    • James B.

      It is possible that operating MQ-25s will be a disassociated sea tour, which aviators have to do, but most options are a lot less pleasant. Afterwards, they’ll go back to flying the platforms they came from.

      • DaSaint

        Thanks James. That could be interesting, as well as a lead-in to the possible future of a significant portion of carrier aviation.

    • Duane

      One obvious answer is you want someone at the controls of the tanker during extremely risky, precision formation flying refueling ops who understands the flight characteristics of the both the tanker and the aircraft being refueled, and has proven their flight skills in tight formation flying. Any significant errors in managing the refueling op could result in loss of both the tanker and the aircraft being refueled, and other aircraft waiting to be refueled who depend upon the tanker to make it back to the carrier. Risks to human lives, and hundreds of millions in aircraft and munitions, not to mention risk to the mission itself.

      As stated above, tanking missions are not for teenagers with DJIs, or casual minimally-qualified pilots.

  • Nick

    The Navy has 91 S-3 Vikings retired to the boneyard, the single conversion/development KS-3A had a capacity of 4,382 gallons/29,000 pounds so similar capacity to Stingray if not more. LM verified that the airframes had an average of 11,000 flight hours remaining. So for a fraction of billions required to bring Stingray into service they could have had the KS-3A in operation for many years.

    Currently spending $billions on refurbishing F-18s worn out by 30 per cent of flight hours acting as tankers.

    The Admirals / Congress policy is to spend money, the more the better, pork barrel politics remain supreme.

    • James B.

      The S-3 airframes may have life on them, but they don’t have a logistics chain, an aircrew program, or any future beyond a stopgap.

      There are probably enough spare parts to keep a couple dozen KS-3s flying for a decade or so, but that’s a guess, assuming no parts were cannibalized for other programs. All the electronics are were obsolete when the planes were retired, so even fully complete aircraft are going to cost real money to be useful again.

      All the S-3 aircrew we had are now either out of the Navy or promoted past full-time flying. The Fleet Replacement Squadron obviously doesn’t exist to train more. It all could be restarted, but it would cost a bundle.

      Other than a stopgap, and not a cheap one at that, what would the future be for the KS-3? The MQ-25 is intended to be stealthy and provide experience on operating unmanned aircraft from the carrier deck, so it’s value will be felt far beyond just the gas it pushes. The KS-3 would be a large unstealthy aircraft, that would literally and figuratively get in the way of unmanned programs in the airwing.

      • b2

        Same tired logistics argument made against bring S-3’s back in 2015 by the same Air Boss in the article and in 2012 by others from a proposal generated up the chain in 2011….
        Doesn’t anyone here have the imagination to consider recovering the S-3’s and make it unpiloted? The platform is eminently “carrier suitable” and exceeds the mission requirements stated for this StingRay…. IMO, it will cost 4 times in R&D $$ to design a prototype that could even capture 80% of the S-3’s inherent capability let alone carrier suitability…And it will take time too…don’t forget that…….
        No. A risky venture is to go forth and try to design a new plastic/composite air vehical vehicle, especially with that 400Lb gorilla word “stealth” hanging around…
        What’s more important for all of you, winning war at sea blue-water or having an unmanned program?

        • James B.

          The logistics arguments made five years ago are still valid, and the S-3s in the boneyard are five years older. The Navy will keep making those arguments until the wings fall of the S-3 carcasses, and they will still be valid.

          They already build and carrier-qual’ed the X-47B, which the MQ-25 is going to build directly off of. So that money’s already been spent. The flying-wing UAV that will result will have some stealth advantages, and it will also be substantially smaller than the S-3, which gets to be a rather big deal on a carrier deck.

          I would be incredibly leery of a drone-converted S-3, because that is an old design where “fly by wire” involves pulleys rather than electrons. One jammed control cable, and that cost-effective tanker could hit the jet shop on the fantail rather than the 3-wire.

          • b2

            All that means is they are 5 years older… They are preserved and it might cost a little more to refurbish them is all…. The fatigue life remaining lies latent in the aluminum, but I would not expect to understand that. Chronology is meaningless here….
            The Navy control package for the MQ-25 might be “built” as you say from lessons learned on the X-47B, but the Air Vehicle for MQ-25 is not defined. By itself the X-47B is useless and is not suitable as a tanker or anything else mission wise the CVW needs. That’s a fact. BTW, The S-3 folded (deck multiple we call it) up is tiny and I would say nearly the same as the X-47B…
            LOL you make the S-3 sound like a Curtis-Jenny! There’s no “pulleys” in an S-3B just electro-hyd servos and solid state sensors controlled by a Digital Flight Data Computer( W/code), dual channel and for all phases of flight- tanking, attack, approach/CV operations all….. Just like everything else that actually operates today in an airwing… How do think the X-47 flies, by some kind of fiber optic cable?
            All you can spout is that the S-3 is “old”, chronology-wise. You’d probably say the same about me to discredit me too for the same reason. I have forgotten more than you know however.
            But Navy leadership will continue on as you said but it is only because they do not care about what we field really or how capable/incapable the US Navy is..How can they? Look at our recent track record. No imagination or innovation there to grasp something that will actually work.

          • James B.

            I’m not worried about the aluminum; I’m worried about the electronics and the moving parts. The S-3s in the desert probably have no radios, no navigation gear, and anything else that was useful to the fleet. If they still had those parts, it’d mean that they were too old to be of any use.

            As drones, how would an S-3 be controlled? The Navy won’t go for a full RPA setup, wasting bandwidth having a trained pilot do the stick-and-rudder work, and you can’t just plug in a laptop to turn old aircraft into drones.

            At minimum, the aircraft would need a modern datalink, modern flight control computers, and all-digital instruments. It’d probably need new computer architecture to interface all that. You’d need digital workarounds for all the analog tasks aircrew perform in emergencies, like pulling/resetting breakers, manual gear operations, and such.

            Again, turning aircraft into drones is only easy if you don’t expect them to return.

      • Blain Shinno

        I thought LM, Boeing, and GA had transitioned to wing, body, tail designs with external fuel tanks. Not very stealthy.

        • James B.

          I haven’t followed the various proposals too closely. I know that there was a move away from fully-blended designs to ones with buddy pods hanging off, making them less stealthy but easier to engineer.

          I can’t imagine any serious proposal will include a conventional tube fuselage, wings, and tail: the whole reason for that traditional construction was dynamic stability in the pre-computer days of flight controls. The cost of that was efficiency, as the tail was essentially pushing against the wings. A flying wing needs a fast computer simply to fly, but is much more efficient.

    • @USS_Fallujah

      This would have been a great solution in 2002, 15 years later…not so much. Unfortunately it’s too late to “buy back” all those wasted F-18 flight hours by being smarter 20 years ago. looking ahead I’m dubious this solution would actually save significant procurement costs or flight hours compared to the existing tanker replacement program.

  • Tony4

    What was the strike range with the S-3 in a tanking role? Can Stingray do the ASW mission? Is Navy aviation going to be as shortsighted as the SWO community has proven to be?

  • TheFightingIrish

    When Admiral Shoemaker says we can “sustain a nominal number of airplanes at that distance,” how many is nominal?

    • USNVO

      I am not sure what he considers a nominal number, but the numbers would seem to indicate it is not much more than 2 aircraft for every tanker. 15klbs is roughly the internal fuel load of the F-18E and whatever the loadout they are using with a combat radius of 450nm, roughly half of the fuel load will be gone when it gets to 450nm. So two tankers will get a flight of 4 F-18Es to somewhere around 800nm and then another one or two will be required to get them home as well. So it is not a huge number,

      • Blain Shinno

        There is a solution for extending the Super Hornet already – CFTs. 2 JDAMs and a CL ET gets you out to 700 nm. The value of the MQ-25A will be to the F-35Cs. In a low observable strike you don’t want to hang ETs or even install CFTs. If you can extend 8 or more F-35s per CVW out to 900 nm then it significantly expands the coverage area of the CVBG. In a semi permissive environment land based tanking would likely be adequate. I would be more interested if the Navy could find some way to develop a low observable tanker. It would not have to have the RCS of the F-35, but an RCS low enough to be tactually significant.

        But a top off at 500 or 600 nm will require another tanking on the way back – you would think.

        • USNVO

          The CFTs on an F-18 add 3000lbs of fuel which Boeing claims add 120nm or so to the combat radius. So your two JDAMs strike would go from 430nm to roughly 550nm. Carrying an “air dominance” loadout, you get roughly 640nm according to Boeing. Still significantly less than a F-35C. So CFTs are better than nothing but far from a magical solution.

          • Blain Shinno

            Well, according to Boeing it’s 730 nm with CFTs, a CL tank, and two Mk. 84s. Is that marketing to outdo the F-35? I don’t know.

            But it would be nice if the SHs and Growlers could play at 730 nm. It would lessen the need for tankers for those jets and enable the CVW to increase the numbers in the strike.

  • Barney Rubel

    Mission tanking would also include allowing the air wing to maintain more robust CAP stations at a longer range. The wing could also render longer range protection to assets like Tritons and P-8s.

  • Rob C.

    Cutting costs on people is what this was about. I don’t think it’s going to be easy transition. Frankly the Stingray was suppose to be recon / light strike vehicle, not a tanker. I prefer pilots vs remote/AI planes any day, since i don’t plain trust them from being hacked. Given how hard it is to get anything built that new, i think this was only good option. We can’t keep flying 30 year old plus planes repurposed.

  • RobM1981

    Nice to see progress, but always remember the tradeoffs. An F/A-18 used for refueling can be rapidly reconfigured to all of the other missions that an F/A-18 can be used for. The Stingray is a UAV, with very limited utility beyond refueling. See the statement on KPP’s – the Navy isn’t currently asking for it to do any more than refuel. Thus, for every square meter dedicated to the MQ-25, something else has to be removed.

    OTOH, it does say that a single MQ-25 will refuel four to six other aircraft. I don’t know the figure for the “Rhino” configuration, and it’s not my business. If it is much lower, however, then this is likely a net gain for the striking power. For the loss of some number of F-18’s, you significantly increase the range (and perhaps payload, if they swap fuel tanks for ordnance) of the remaining aircraft.

    Not a new problem, by any means, but the article should have perhaps discussed it.

    • Duane

      If carrier based aircraft must be refueled by other carrier based aircraft, then it is obviously a net benefit to use an unmanned MQ-25 at a purchase and operating cost far below that of any attack aircraft it is refueling. Of course, carrier based aircraft can also be refueled by land based tankers, which we have in relative abundance (though the KC-135 birds are very old now, and will eventually be replaced with the KC-46s) and which can operate on very long range missions, longer than the MQ-25 can support..

      If stealthy aircraft such as the F-35 (all three models) and the F-22 need to be refueled by a similarly stealthy tanker,then that is an obvious advantage for the MQ-25 too, which seems to feature a low observable airframe.

    • Blain Shinno

      I have no problem with a single purpose aircraft as long as it can carry a lot of fuel. But there will be space and engineer limitation of squeezing that much fuel into a carrier based aircraft. The A-12 was a 80,000 lbs aircraft can carried 21,000 lbs of fuel. You could probably squeeze more in by converting the weapons bay to a fuel tank. But how much would it be able to off load at 500 nm?

      And how many would you need for a strike of 4 F-35Cs? Two MQ-25s? Four? Would they top off at 500 nm and then I would assume they would need to meet them on the way back. Wouldn’t the MQ-25s give away the location of the ingress of the F-35s?

      Additionally, every company with the exception of NG seems to be focused on developing a wing, body, tail planform with external tanks.

      It will be interesting to see how this program progresses.

  • Another_Perspective

    We used to call them A-6’s

  • @USS_Fallujah

    As the MQ-25A program matures it will be interesting to see how many they decide to deploy per CVW. Ideally you’d like enough at sea to support an Alpha strike to maximum range, plus at least 2 in reserve for maintenance & recovery tanking. If you figure 1 MQ-25 can tank 6 F-18s (giving maximum credit to the platform) you’d deploy a minimum of 10 aircraft (48/6+2) which I think jives with what KA-6Ds an 80s/early90s CVN carried. Considering how many aircraft our current CVNs carried 25 years ago that seems a very reasonable number.

  • b2

    Article title “Could” or “Will” tells me that hope is not a strategy. Or is it? I smell near-beer. …… 700nm is what we used to be able to do alone/organically in the CVW up through the mid/late 90’s. The Boss doesn’t remember maybe.

    He discusses only “mission tanking” pure and simple. I would also be concerned about the “mechanics” of overhead day/night recovery tanking and the numbers but that complicates matters…Even the KA-6 purpose built tanker(not a bomber) would come up short to make that 15K/500nm hi/hi/hi. An S-3 modified to carry another 5000lbs internal fuel may could possibly do it because its burn rate for in/out is 1/2 that of an KA-6…But…they are gone, too…
    Furthermore, its sounds great to have “savings” by not building a TMS “community” of professional StingRay operators, but savings($$) and unrealistic R&M claims got us into this problem we now have in the first place, starting in the late 1990’s. I smell the same unrealistic expectations here…
    One cannot have your Cake/JP5 and eat it/burn it, too!

    Re the “Hope” of fielding a “new build” air vehicle ala the other UAVs boilerplates- UCAV, Predator, Triton – I just cant see them doing this mission… Having it out there by 2019/2020? Having “Carrier suitability” like those venerable jets discussed above, does not come cheaply or quickly..as a matter of fact, our record these past 20 years says it is impossible to achieve given our design/acquisition recordand there aren’t any Heinemans/Kelly Johnsons out there anymore…

  • Please note the comment policy. These are not suggestions.

  • Blain Shinno

    How does GA get to 15,000 lbs fuel off load at 500 nm with the Avenger? It needs to grow by a lot. So does the X-47B. I am not an aeronautical engineer but that’s my best guess.

    • “Arctic Para ”

      Blaine, I agree..looking at both the XB-47 / MQ-25A Payloads…numbers dont add up????..

      besides..–> “Northrop Grumman pulls out of MQ-25 competition”. FlightGlobal. 25 October 2017. Retrieved 26 October 2017.

      F-35C holds—19,625 lb Fuel
      F-18E— 14.400 lb Fuel

  • Bruce Probert

    Some times I am really amazed at the procurement process that seems to reinvent the wheel for each series. Let me be really clear the airframe capability doesn’t always improve from one to the next. We can expect improvements in sensors and stealth technology as well as improvements in engines. So why do we accept a inferior airframe because it has a superior weapons delivery package? Why do we have issues with a new oxygen system when the old one worked fine? Take the A10 why would we replace a fully capable airframe with a less weapons capable airframe. How about we add the sensor suite that truly makes it an all weather capable aircraft. Sometimes survivability is more important than any other issue it’s pretty difficult to press home an attack if the likely hood of failure is preeminent. There isn’t in my opinion a more survivable aircraft. It is the electronics on board the give first sight advantage to our war fighters, so it’s time to make sure that includes getting first round hits as well. We have only scratched the surface with passive seekers and controls. The ability of smart weapons to recognize their targets and avoid fratricide cannot be over stated and passive tracking and guidance precludes early threat detection.

    • El Kabong

      “ake the A10 why would we replace a fully capable airframe with a less weapons capable airframe. How about we add the sensor suite that truly makes it an all weather capable aircraft.”?

      That does ZERO for it’s RCS in today’s IADS environment.

      Time moves on.

      Let it go.

      People lamented the passing of the A-26 and A-1, but they’d be dead meat in today’s world.

    • Curtis Conway

      The Boeing concept is quite different but has lots of room for weapons, systems, and fuel including fuel transfer.

      • Bruce Probert

        It really boils down to the capabilities of the airframe and the cost of added capabilities how much space the system requires. As only a tanker the cost in all factors are fixed and without multi roles we have to ask the question.

        • Curtis Conway

          Room and space for upgrades is the issue. The rest if FUNDING!

  • James Obrasky

    Assume MQ-25 IOC’s about 2027. The CVW at that point will consist of 10 F-35C (2019 IOC), 12 F/A-18F, 24 F/A-18E, 6 EA-18G, 5 E-2D, 1 CMV-22 (COD), 4 MH-60R, and 12 MH-60S. There will be space for one squadron of 10-12 MQ-25’s.

    The F-35C in a clean configuration will have a range of about 700 nm. Assume a Ao=0.8 for the MQ-25 would support 8-9 aircraft flying producing about 7-8 available for mission refueling. I would expect each mission tanker would give 7000 pounds to two F/A-18 aircraft (internal fuel capacity = 14,000 pounds). That implies that the largest max range F/A-18E/F/EA-18G strike supported would be 14-16 aircraft ( probably 2 EA-18G and 12 F/A-18 E/F) twice a day. The F-35 C at that range will not need mission tanking so add a 4 aircraft component to the strike.

    I should note that if one wanted to support a F-35C strike at its maximum extended range, the F-35C maximum internal fuel capacity is 19,600 pounds. The maximum fuel transfer at 500nm would be about 7000 pounds. Give would extend the F-35C clean strike range to about 950 NM. 4 MQ-25’s would support an 8 F-35C aircraft maximum extended range strike twice a day.

    The numbers offered are my estimates based on open literature data on this topic. Treat them as simply rough engineering estimates. The real numbers will differ.

    • USNVO

      With a published strike combat radius of 630nm or so, if you top-off a F-35C with 7000lbs at 500nm you will have to refuel it again on the return trip somewhere if it goes out to around 1000nm, probably around 200-300nm. So probably 3 tankers per every 4 strikers. The same is true for the F-18, they will need some kind of tanking on the return trip. Not as much as the outbound leg but enough to get back to the carrier.

  • Curtis Conway

    Back when Vice Admiral Jerry O. Tuttle lead battle groups, we would fly a 1,000 mile mission every deployment. How far we have come! Wrong leaders in charge. Took our equipment, dumbed us down, and we get to play with power instead of dominate on the field. The F-14 Tomcat should have been replaced. The US Navy 6th Gen Fighter better be able to perform at this level.

  • jim

    Of course the brass will want a KF 35 version of that turd as an answer to this boondoggle.