New Navy carrier-drone launched to fly this year

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The Marine is a first-of-its-kind carrier-based drone is to perform advanced soil testing exercises in preparation for its first flight as soon as this year, a process intended to allow the introduction of a new attack tactics for the service and substantially improve the “strike” aircraft carriers.

The promise of this emerging refueler drone, which will ensure F-35Cs and F/A-18’s to nearly double their attack range, is expected to contribute clearly in the Navy’s future plans with respect to carrier designs, strategies and new technologies. Demonstrator aircraft of the type Boeing-built MQ-25 have undergone a series of tests and Boeing developers have announced that the accelerated progress of the aircraft can accelerate first flight-testing. Last year, the Navy chose Boeing for the next phase of the development of the new drone.

This testing and preparation phase, described by Marine developers as an Engineering, Manufacturing and Development phase, begins with carefully executed ground testing. These tests will probably try to closely replicate the fast-changing, difficult circumstances which complicate the carrier landing to the greatest extent possible.

“The government/industry team work closely to manage the test plans and expects to be in flight test by 2021 and to meet the initial operational capability by 2024,” Capt. Chad Reed, MQ-25 Program Manager, told the Warrior Maven in a written statement.


During the flights for this new EMD phase of development planned for 2021, Navy officials tell Fighter of the first flight, in fact, be this year.

While Reed the declaration established that, in the coming test phase of a duration of up to six years, a rapid progress, according to several reports, speed that. An important factor in this, as reported by Seapower Magazine, is that the acquisition process with a high degree of “digital modeling.”

“Everything about the plane is replicated in a digital environment,” Rear Adm. Brian Corey, Program Manager, the Aviation and Strike Weapons, Naval Air Systems Command, told Seapower magazine.

Through the years, the Navy carrier air wing drone-developers to have the emphasis on the challenges of the technique, a drone is able to navigate through the complex field of variables complicating the drone carrier landings. Unique conditions, such as wind speed, the transport speed through the water, the condition of the sea or the weather, obscurants can challenge a carrier drone’s landing job.

On-board human pilots can have the opportunity to quickly to sudden changes and maintain focus on the “fresnel lens” – a series of lights intended to direct a landing aircraft in a safe and accurate glide slope” on the carrier deck. These tasks are, however, known that it is much harder for the human teleoperated flight controllers or semi-autonomous drones are driven by algorithms. In essence, there are fundamental challenges to carrier landings are known to rely heavily on the problem-solving capabilities and cognition.

Nevertheless, an aerial refueler will massively extend the attack range of the carriers, may prompt the start of a high volume of attacks, while safely outside the range of the often talked about Chinese “carrier-killer” anti-ship guided missiles. These weapons, such as the DF-21D and DF-26, are reported to a ability to achieve the targets with a range up to 900 km.

For example, if a carrier launched fighter has a current range of somewhere between 300 and 500 nautical miles to run, a doubling of that with an aerial refueler can greatly improve its power projection and attack options for the ship commanders. This brings not only the ability for carriers to attack further from an enemy coastline, but also makes it possible for carrier-launched fighters for a longer stay on the station during missions or destroy targets much further inland than may have been previously possible.

While the next generation “layered” carrier defense now-in-development, such as advanced electronic warfare, laser weapons, or a lot more-range sensors will undoubtedly improve a carrier’s ability to operate in high-threat areas. At the same time, impact studies have shown over the years that the rockets just landing “near” a carrier can lead to serious problems. Therefore, an anti-ship missile, such as a DF-21D can cause significant damage to a carrier platform – even if it does not directly hit the ship. In fact, an enemy’s missiles’ guidance system is jammed, derailed or trapped in the vicinity of a carrier, it might still pose significant risks.


A 2007 Ministry of Defence-focused Shock Tests analysis of the non-profit MITRE corporation declares that many of the expected or most probable threats to warships of non-contact explosions, where a high pressure wave is launched in the direction of the ship.”

MITRE report, interestingly, also gives the inspiration for Shock Studies like the one from the second world War.

“During the second world War, it was discovered that, although such a “near miss” explosions do not cause serious hull or superstructure damage, shock, and vibrations associated with the blast still turn the ship, by knocking out critical components and systems,” the HAT assessment, the so-called “Navy Ship Underwater Shock Prediction and testing capability Study” states.

The MITRE analysis, it is further determined that, after an explosion in the vicinity, the shot of a ship can oscillate, allowing the ship to move up.

“Highly localized deformations are seen in the deck modes,” MITRE writes.

Given these factors, a carrier launched refueler still brings unparalleled, even potentially indispensable benefits of future attack options. Even if, for the sake of discussion, advanced carrier defense will enable a carrier to operate at one-wants-in essence, to any desired range or the attack position — having an aerial refueler will open up a whole new atmosphere of targets for carrier-launched fighters.

— Kris Osborn is a Senior Fellow at The Lexington Institute

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