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(An X-47B demonstrator with folded wings on the aircraft elevator of USS George H.W. Bush on May 14, 2013.MC2 Timothy Walter)
The US Navy just named the first carrier-based Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) the MQ-25A Stingray.
The Navy has been pursuing a carrier-based drone since 2006 — first as a long-range stealthy bomber, then as a surveillance and strike craft, and finally as a flying tanker. Though air-to-air refueling is hardly a breakthrough, having a carrier-based tanker provides the Navy with a possible solution to one of their most pressing problems — anti-access area denial (A2AD).
Both China and Russia have developed ranged platforms capable of locking US forces out of key locations in their respective areas, but the Stingray could increase the range of US carrier-based aircraft indefinitely, allowing them to burst enemy A2AD bubbles.
For instance, China's famous DF-21D "carrier killer" ballistic missile has a range of about 810 miles. The US's longest-range carrier-based aircraft only have a range of about 550 miles, which forces the US to either operate carrier-based aircraft outside of their effective range or risk bringing an entire carrier, with 6,000 sailors and about 70 aircraft, within range of the DF-21D.
The Stingray, once integrated into carrier fleets, will extend the range of US carrier's existing F-18s, allowing them to effectively operate from a safe distance.
Once fielded, the Navy will look to increase the role of the Stingray.
“We’re probably going to drop some of the high-end specs and try to grow the class and increase the survivability [later],” Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, told the US Naval Institute's news service.
“It has to be more refueling, a little bit of ISR (Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions), weapons later and focus on its ability to be the flying truck.”
The Naval Institute reports that a request for proposals to build the Stingray will be issued this year, and the service hopes to field the Stingray by 2020.