Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander of Naval Air Forces, has said the integration of an unmanned aerial refueling tanker with the U.S. carrier air wing could raise the operational range of strike fighter jets by as much as 400 nautical miles, USNI News reported Thursday.
Shoemaker told the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine in an interview the service branch intends for the aircraft carrier-based MQ-25A Stingray drone to deliver approximately 15,000 pounds of fuel to the air wing’s fighter jets at 500 nautical miles.
“The MQ-25 will give us the ability to extend the air wing out probably 300 or 400 miles beyond where we typically go,” Shoemaker said.
The carrier air wing’s strike range is pegged at approximately 450 nautical miles and the additional miles could potentially boost the strike fighters’ operational range by at least 700 nautical miles.
Shoemaker noted Stingray would help relieve Boeing-built F/A-18E/F Super Hornets of mission and recovery refueling operations.
MQ-25 “will give us the ability to get out there and refuel four to six airplanes at range,” he added.
“It will also work as a recovery tanker for cyclic ops, with the ability to cover at least three cycles.”
Shoemaker’s remarks came a month after the Navy asked Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to submit proposed concepts for the MQ-25A Stingray program through an updated draft request for proposals issued in July.