MQ-25 drone moving forward for a new era of naval aviation

MQ-25 drone moving forward for a new era of naval aviation

The unmanned Boeing MQ-25 Stingray test aircraft refuels a manned F-35 joint-attack fighter.

Navy photo

The Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray Drone Program has been very successful in the past year and is on track to usher in a new era of manned and unmanned teams.

However, service authorities are still wondering if carrier-based tankers will be armed with aggressive offensive weapons.

In 2018, Boeing won a $ 805 million engineering and manufacturing development contract to build Stingray.

Experts say the new unmanned aerial vehicle system, the first large fixed-wing drone that operates from a ship and supports manned aircraft, will have a significant impact on the future of naval aviation.

“The MQ-25 lays the foundation for the operation of unmanned aerial vehicles in an aircraft carrier environment and lays the foundation for all future aircraft carrier-based UAS operations,” said Captain Sam Messer, Captain Sam Messer, an unmanned aircraft carrier aviation program manager. I mentioned in the email. .. “It also serves as an early example of manned and unmanned teaming. It’s an operational concept that provides fighters with the tactical benefits of winning a battle.”

Advanced technologies that support the program and facilitate future missions include deck processing equipment, ground control stations, and communication links.

The MQ-25, unlike the iconic drones of the post-9.11 counterterrorism war, such as the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper, fly autonomously and are not remotely controlled.

The way the platform works is similar to how commercial airlines take advantage of the autopilot feature. However, except that there are no humans in Stingray, Dave Bujold, MQ-25 Program Director, Autonomous Systems Division, Boeing Defense, Space and Security Agency, said.

“They don’t skip all stick and throttle movements by hand,” he explained in an interview. Instead, Stingray uses a waypoint system after being catapulted from the carrier.

“I know where to go right after takeoff and I go there, and from there it goes on in line with its authorized mission,” he said.

Aerial refueling is “properly scripted” and the receiving pilot has a communication link with the ground station that oversees the MQ-25’s mission, similar to today’s manned tankers.

When Stingray returns to the aircraft carrier, it will use the same techniques used by manned aircraft, the joint precision approach and landing system, or JPALS.

“It autonomously lands on the deck and catches the hooks on the wires,” said Bujold. When you disconnect the wire, the platform accelerates, takes off again, and re-enters the landing pattern, just as a manned jet does in that scenario.

The first MQ-25 test aircraft, the T1, achieved a series of achievements in 2021.

In June, the Navy and Boeing carried out their first aerial refueling using unmanned tankers when the T1 extended the drogue and gassed the F / A-18 Super Hornet fighter.

According to Boeing, both aircraft were flying at “operationally appropriate speeds and altitudes.”

In August, during a 6-hour flight test, the T1 refueled the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye combat management aircraft. According to the Naval Air Systems Command, the platform was flying at 220 knots and an altitude of 10,000 feet when linked.

The following month, the test aircraft refueled the F-35C joint attack fighter.

Another major development was made in December when the T1 was demonstrated on the first unmanned carrier air wing on the USS George HW Bush flight deck.

During the demonstration, personnel drove the aircraft around Bush’s flight deck at sea to check its maneuverability and the capabilities and capabilities of the deck handling system. According to Messer, this included taxiing and connecting to the catapult, clearing the landing area, and various other operations.

“The demonstration was very successful and important because the Navy has a rigorous and established process of moving the carrier’s deck. The goal of the MQ-25 is for the current carrier operation for seamless integration. Keeping the rhythm. “He said.

Separately, Lockheed Martin exhibited a prototype of the MQ-25 Ground Control Bureau. This gave the Navy “a unique opportunity to evaluate design constraints and collect feedback on human system interfaces.”

Bryan Clark, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Defense Conceptual Technology and former Chief of Naval Operations, said the demonstrations on board the Bush were “very important.”

“The challenge that the Navy always raises is that we need to understand how this works on the flight deck,” he said. “The fact that they can now do it and integrate it into something like a crowded flight deck is a big issue because it really completed all the major tasks needed to use the MQ-25. Because it means becoming a viable career-[based] Aircraft in operation.

“They have already demonstrated aerial refueling on different platforms. Now it’s a matter of testing to make sure it provides what the contract requires for its characteristics …. They assess autonomy. I’ve almost finished the difficult part, “he added.

The immediate purpose of introducing Stingray to the fleet is to allow more F / A-18 Super Hornets to focus on fighter missions rather than tanker refueling.

According to Clark, the platform will extend the range of the fighter to about 1,000 miles, significantly improving the MQ-25’s capabilities. Armed with fire-and-forget weapons, these jets were able to engage targets 1,500 miles away from the carrier.

“It’s a big problem, because … carriers can probably stay in a relatively safe place,” he said. “For example, Chinese don’t have much 1,500 nautical miles. [range] A weapon that can come out and hit an aircraft carrier. Therefore, the MQ-25 allows carriers to operate in a viable location. … From that point of view, the game changes considerably. “

With Stingray, he added, the Navy’s aviation community would “leap” more than the Air Force when it comes to integrating manned and unmanned teaming into operations. “This is a big step forward for the MQ-25 … in terms of how manned and unmanned aerial vehicles work together.”

The demonstration onboard the bush has completed the planned activities of the T1 prototype. According to Messer, the MQ-25’s initial engineering, manufacturing, and development aircraft are under construction, with mission space preparation, control station installation, and changes to existing networks, commands, controls, and communication systems. Operational use is supported.

This service will continue to evaluate the refueling of other carrier-based aircraft, such as the CMV-22 Osprey Tiltrotor unit transport aircraft.
Meanwhile, as the Navy moves towards the first ground and flight tests and the MQ-25 is controlled for the first time from its platform, work on the new ground control station will continue.

In particular, the first group of warrant officers designated as unmanned aerial vehicle operators are currently in training. Upon completion of training, you will be assigned to the MQ-25 Fleet Replacement Squadron VUQ-11.

In September, Boeing will begin construction of a new high-tech 300,000-square-foot facility near St. Louis Airport in Mid-America, Illinois, where Stingray will be built.

“The factory is big enough for us to close the recording program as soon as possible,” said Boujold.

The Navy plans to purchase more than 70 aircraft as part of its recording program. Boeing wants to have additional orders from potential international customers, he said.

The MQ-25 is expected to reach its initial operational capacity in 2025 and is expected to be fully operational in the 2030s.

An important question that has not yet been officially answered is whether Stingray will be armed with missiles or other attack systems, as advocated by some lawmakers and other observers.

When asked if the Navy is currently considering adding offensive weapons or electronic warfare capabilities, Messer first focused on introducing the platform to the aerial wing, playing a major role as a tanker, and then: Said that it would play a “secondary” role as intelligence. , Surveillance and reconnaissance platform. However, the MQ-25 “has payload capacity to prepare for future mission growth,” he said.

Bujold said it was “Job 1” to get Stingray to the fleet as soon as possible so that he could perform tanking missions.

However, “I expect this platform to be a very versatile multi-mission platform, and I think the Navy gave it up when it was named MQ,” says the “M” for multi-mission capabilities. We anticipate that additional payloads such as ISR systems and strike weapons will be added to the platform. “It’s a chance space.”

Clark said the Navy is already looking at what the MQ-25 can do beyond tanking.

“I think they will put their weapons on them,” he said.

With its high fuel capacity, the platform has a range of 1,500 nautical miles. Not designed for speed, maneuverability, and stealth, he may not survive much in airspace or dogfights, but he says the system can perform offensive missions in standoff ranges and non-competitive areas. Suggested.

According to Clark, the platform can also be used to deploy small drones and other “air-launched effects.”

“There is a mission bay that can carry weapons, such as anti-ship missiles,” Clark said. “You can add a sensor to it …. You can use it to hit a fixed target or to monitor and capture targets on behalf of other platforms. After the MQ-25 is integrated with the Airwing, we are looking at how we can provide these other features. “

topic: Navy news


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