The Pentagon has stopped taking deliveries of the F135 engine for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters following an F-35B mishap last month in Texas. The halt to deliveries started last week and comes as Naval Air Systems Command investigates the mishap, in which an F-35B crashed on the runaway in Forth Worth, Texas, […]
An F-35B Lightning II aircraft assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 262 (Reinforced) launches from amphibious assault carrier USS Tripoli (LHA 7), Aug. 24, 2022. US Navy Photo
The Pentagon has stopped taking deliveries of the F135 engine for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters following an F-35B mishap last month in Texas.
The halt to deliveries started last week and comes as Naval Air Systems Command investigates the mishap, in which an F-35B crashed on the runaway in Forth Worth, Texas, at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base.
“Currently, acceptance of new engines has been suspended. That pause began Tuesday, Dec. 27. The length of the pause is currently to be determined, and it is hard to say how long it will last given the current investigation of what specifically would allow deliveries to resume. The root cause analysis and accident investigation need to be completed first,” the F-35 Joint Program Office said in a statement.
Pratt & Whitney, which builds the F135 engine, did not immediately respond to an email from USNI News.
Last week, Lockheed Martin reached a $30 billion deal with the Pentagon for as many as 398 F-35 jets. The deal is for Lots 15 and 16, with the potential for Lot 17.
“The agreement includes 145 aircraft for Lot 15, 127 for Lot 16, and up to 126 for the Lot 17 contract option, including the first F-35 aircraft for Belgium, Finland and Poland,” Lockheed said in a Dec. 30 news release.
In the company release, Lockheed noted it had to halt flight operations and therefore did not deliver the 148 jets it was under contract to deliver to the Defense Department this year.
“The F-35 team was on track to meet the commitment of 148 aircraft as planned; however, due to a temporary pause in flight operations, which is still in effect, necessary acceptance flight tests could not be performed,” Lockheed said in the release.
The halt to flight operations followed the Dec. 15 F-35B incident, in which the short take-off and vertical landing aircraft crashed on the runway. The pilot safely ejected. That F-35 had not yet been transferred to the government, USNI News previously reported.
An F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter crashed on the runaway at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, Texas, Lockheed Martin said in a statement Thursday. The pilot ejected safely, according to the statement. The pilot was a U.S. government employee, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said during a Thursday […]
F-35 following crash. Image via NBC5
An F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter crashed on the runaway at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, Texas, Lockheed Martin said in a statement Thursday.
The pilot ejected safely, according to the statement. The pilot was a U.S. government employee, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said during a Thursday press conference.
The plane had not yet been transferred to the U.S. government, Ryder said. Lockheed manufactures the F-35B for the Marine Corps.
“We are aware of the F-35B crash on the shared runway at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth and understand that the pilot ejected successfully. Safety is our priority, and we will follow appropriate investigation protocol,” reads the statement from Lockheed.
Fort Worth. NASJRB. News media reporting an aircraft incident Near Spur 341. Reporting Pilot did eject from an F-35 still owned by Lockheed Martin.
The following is the Dec. 2, 2022, Congressional Research Service In Focus report, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Engine Options. From the report The Department of Defense (DOD) is considering whether to upgrade the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s (JSF’s) existing F135 engine—the Engine Enhancement Package (EEP)—or to develop and procure a new engine for the […]
The following is the Dec. 2, 2022, Congressional Research Service In Focus report, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Engine Options.
From the report
The Department of Defense (DOD) is considering whether to upgrade the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s (JSF’s) existing F135 engine—the Engine Enhancement Package (EEP)—or to develop and procure a new engine for the aircraft—the Adaptive Engine Technology Program (AETP). Congress has long expressed interest in issues relating to the F-35’s engine. Section 242 of the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 117-81) required DOD to develop an acquisition strategy for transitioning the engine of the Air Force version of the JSF (the F-35A) to the AETP. Section 243 required DOD to develop a separate acquisition strategy for transitioning the Marine Corps and Navy versions (the F-35B and F-35C, respectively) to some form of advanced propulsion.
History of F135 Engine
The F135 —designed and built by Pratt & Whitney (P&W) of Middletown, CT—is the only engine that currently powers the F-35. (For more on the F-35 program, see CRS Report RL30563, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program, by John R. Hoehn.) DOD awarded P&W the F135 contract in 2001. P&W decided to derive the F135 from the F119 engine, which powers the Air Force’s F-22 fighter, to speed up the F135’s development.
General Electric (GE) and Rolls Royce (RR), alternatively, collaborated to develop an engine for the JSF called the F136, and the F-35 program initially planned to use both engines. The Navy ended its participation in the F136 program. Following DOD’s F135 contract award in 2001, GE and RR continued to develop the F136. In FY2011, Congress ended development funding for the F136, and GE and RR announced in December 2011 that they would no longer continue developing the F136.
P&W has experienced design challenges with the F135 engine, such as bleed air requirements and sustainability issues. Air Force Lieutenant General Eric Fick, the Program Executive Officer for the JSF program, testified in April 2022 that DOD originally defined the F135’s requirements for bleed air (compressed air taken from within the engine) during early development. However, engine capability design modifications and new requirements emerged during the F-35 Continuous Capability Development Delivery (C2D2) program. The F-35 C2D2 program provides “incremental … improvements to maintain joint air dominance against evolving threats.” He stated that “[t]o provide the necessary bleed air, the engine was required to run hotter, and early engineering assessments suggest that this increase in operating temperature could decrease engine life, driving earlier depot inductions and an increase in life cycle cost.”
The following is the July 7, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, Defense Industrial Base DoD Should Take Actions to Strengthen Its Risk Mitigation Approach. From the report The Department of Defense’s (DOD) Industrial Base Policy office does not yet have a consolidated and comprehensive strategy to mitigate risks to the industrial base—the companies that develop […]
The following is the July 7, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, Defense Industrial Base DoD Should Take Actions to Strengthen Its Risk Mitigation Approach.
From the report
The Department of Defense’s (DOD) Industrial Base Policy office does not yet
have a consolidated and comprehensive strategy to mitigate risks to the
industrial base—the companies that develop and manufacture technologies and
weapon systems for DOD. The office is using a combination of four previously
issued reports that were created for other requirements because it devoted its resources to completing other priorities. Collectively, the reports do not include several elements GAO has previously identified that would help DOD achieve results, evaluate progress, and ensure accountability.
DOD must update its industrial base strategy following the submission of the next National Security Strategy Report, which is expected to be issued later in 2022. By including all elements in a consolidated strategy, DOD could better ensure that all appropriate organizations are working toward the same priorities, promoting supply chain resiliency, and supporting national security objectives.
DOD is carrying out numerous efforts to mitigate risks to the industrial base. This includes more than $1 billion in reported efforts under Navy submarine and destroyer programs and $125 million to sustain a domestic microelectronics manufacturer. However, DOD has limited insight into the effectiveness of these efforts and how much progress it has made addressing risks.
The Industrial Base Policy office and military services have not
established enterprise-wide performance measures to monitor the
aggregate effectiveness of DOD’s mitigation efforts.
DOD’s annual Industrial Capabilities Reports do not include information
about the progress the department has made in mitigating risks.
GAO’s prior work on enterprise risk management establishes that agencies
should monitor and report on the status and effectiveness of their risk mitigation efforts. Without key monitoring and reporting information, DOD and Congress do not have sufficient information to help determine whether industrial base risks have been mitigated and what additional resources or actions may be needed.
An Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship launched three Longbow Hellfire missiles that hit a land-based target in a demonstration last week, the Navy announced. USS Montgomery (LCS-8) launched the AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire missiles in the Pacific Ocean, the service said in a news release. The missiles, with a range of about five miles, make up the […]
An AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire missile launches from the Surface-To-Surface Missile Module (SSMM) aboard Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ship USS Montgomery (LCS-8) on May 12, 2022. US Navy Photo
An Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship launched three Longbow Hellfire missiles that hit a land-based target in a demonstration last week, the Navy announced.
USS Montgomery (LCS-8) launched the AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire missiles in the Pacific Ocean, the service said in a news release. The missiles, with a range of about five miles, make up the LCS surface-to-surface mission module, one of the three original components of the LCS mission package.
“This test proved the critical next step in increasing lethality of the Littoral Combat Ship,” Cmdr. Dustin Lonero, the commanding officer of the ship, said in a Navy news release. “Using our speed and shallow draft, we are now uniquely optimized to bring this level of firepower extremely close to shore in support of our warfighters and operators on the beach.”
“The Longbow Hellfire missile already plays a key role in the up-gunned surface warfare mission package,” the Navy said in the news release. “Originally fielded by both variants of the littoral combat ship in 2019, the missile has repeatedly demonstrated the capability quickly defeat multiple swarming Fast Attack Craft/Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FAC/FIAC). Each LCS is capable carrying twenty-four missiles.”
The Hellfires replaced the Navy-Army joint Non-Line of Sight Launch missile system (N-LOS) that Navy officials initially planned to put onto the LCS in 2014, USNI News reported at the time.
The following is the May 2, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program. From the report The largest procurement program in the Department of Defense (DOD), the F-35 Lightning II is a strike fighter aircraft being procured in different versions for the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy. Current DOD […]
The following is the May 2, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program.
From the report
The largest procurement program in the Department of Defense (DOD), the F-35 Lightning II is a strike fighter aircraft being procured in different versions for the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy. Current DOD plans call for acquiring a total of 2,456 F-35s. Allies are expected to purchase hundreds of additional F-35s, and eight nations are cost-sharing partners in the program with the United States.
The F-35 promises significant advances in military capability. Like many high-technology programs before it, reaching that capability has put the program above its original budget and behind the planned schedule.
The Administration’s proposed FY2022 defense budget requested about $9.4 billion in procurement funding for the F-35 program. This would fund the procurement of 48 F-35As for the Air Force, 17 F-35Bs for the Marine Corps, 20 F-35Cs for the Navy and Marines, advance procurement for future aircraft, and continuing modifications. The proposed budget also requested about $2.1 billion for F-35 research and development.
FY2022 defense authorization act: The FY2022 defense authorization bill funded F-35 procurement at $8.7 billion for 85 aircraft (48 F-35As, 17 F-35Bs, and 20 F-35Cs, the numbers requested by the Administration.) The joint explanatory statement accompanying the bill included language
limiting the number of F-35s that could be procured based on the cost of operating and maintaining them;
transferring responsibility for the F-35 program from the joint program office under DOD to the military services;
requiring the Secretary of Defense to investigate, assess, and implement corrective actions for the F-35 breathing system;
requiring the Air Force and Navy to submit acquisition strategies for advanced F-35 engines; and
directing the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct an annual review of F-35 sustainment efforts.
FY2022 defense appropriations bill: The version of the FY2022 Department of Defense appropriations bill introduced in the House (H.R. 4432) funded F-35 procurement at $8.5 billion, plus $745 million in advance procurement for 85 aircraft (48 F-35As, 17 F-35Bs, and 20 F-35Cs), the requested numbers of aircraft and $.2 billion below the Administration’s request. The advance procurement amount represented a decrease of $73 million from the request. The report accompanying the bill (H.Rept. 117-88) included language providing for modification of two F-35s per variant to a test configuration.
The version reported to the Senate by the Senate Appropriations Committee (S. 3023) also funded 85 aircraft in the quantities requested, for $8.4 billion, plus $818 million in advance procurement, the requested amount.
The explanatory statement accompanying the bill (available at https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/download/defrept_final) included language criticizing the F-–35 Continuous Capability Development and Delivery program, denying the requested increases except for C2D2 test and evaluation. Further, the committee directs that with submission of the FY2023 budget request, the C2D2 program be reported as a separate Major Defense Acquisition Program.
The following is the April 25, 2022 Government Accountability Office report, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Cost Growth and Schedule Delays Continue. What GAO Found The Department of Defense (DOD) has not yet authorized the F-35 program to begin full-rate production. Full-rate production generally is the point when a program has demonstrated an acceptable level of […]
The following is the April 25, 2022 Government Accountability Office report, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Cost Growth and Schedule Delays Continue.
What GAO Found
The Department of Defense (DOD) has not yet authorized the F-35 program to
begin full-rate production. Full-rate production generally is the point when a
program has demonstrated an acceptable level of performance and reliability;
and in the case of the F-35, is ready for higher manufacturing rates. The delay in
reaching this milestone stems largely from problems and delays developing the
F-35 simulator, needed for crucial testing. The program is projected to finalize its
schedule in spring 2022. As a result, the date for the full-rate production decision
remains undetermined at this time. Despite this delayed decision, DOD is
planning on acquiring up to 152 aircraft per year. At that rate, DOD would
purchase about one-third of all planned F-35 aircraft before achieving this
production milestone, which increases risk. For example, it means that more
aircraft will need to be fixed later if more performance issues are identified, which
will cost more than if those issues were resolved before those aircraft were
produced. At the same time that DOD is purchasing aircraft at these high rates,
those that are already in the fleet are not performing as well as expected.
DOD is also 4 years into development of its modernization effort, known as Block
4, which is continuing to experience cost growth and schedule delays. Block 4
costs continued to rise during 2021 due to higher costs associated with
upgrading crucial hardware and testing upgrades, among other things. The
program office extended Block 4 development and delivery into fiscal year
2029—which is now 3 years beyond the original plan (see figure). To avoid
further delays, the program office is taking steps to improve the timeliness and
quality of software deliveries, but it is too soon to tell whether these actions will
result in improved outcomes for Block 4.
The F-35 program office has changed plans from replacing its logistics system
and is now taking incremental steps to improve and modernize it. The Autonomic
Logistics Information System (ALIS) has faced long-standing challenges,
including technical complexity, poor usability, and inaccurate or missing data.
Initially, the F-35 program intended to develop a new system to replace ALIS.
However, the program office now plans to make gradual improvements to ALIS
and eventually rename it. These planned improvements include smaller
hardware and improved program data access. The program has yet to identify a
date for when it will consider this transition complete but has mapped out the
improvements it intends to make over the next 3 years.
The following is the Government Accountability Office report, Littoral Combat Ship: Actions Needed to Address Significant Operational Challenges and Implement Planned Sustainment Approach on Feb. 24, 2022. From the report What GAO Found The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) fleet has not demonstrated the operational capabilities it needs to perform its mission. Operational testing has found […]
The following is the Government Accountability Office report, Littoral Combat Ship: Actions Needed to Address Significant Operational Challenges and Implement Planned Sustainment Approach on Feb. 24, 2022.
From the report
What GAO Found
The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) fleet has not demonstrated the operational capabilities it needs to perform its mission. Operational testing has found several significant challenges, including the ship’s ability to defend itself if attacked and failure rates of mission-essential equipment. The Navy is also behind schedule in developing the various mission modules—different configurations of key systems for different missions, such as mine countermeasures—for the LCS. In addition, GAO found that the LCS has frequently encountered challenges during deployments. The Navy has begun to take steps to address some of these issues, but it does not have a comprehensive plan to address the various deficiencies identified during testing and deployments. Without a comprehensive plan to address deficiencies, perform adequate testing of the mission modules, and implement lessons learned from completed deployments, the LCS will remain at risk of being unable to operate in its intended environment. Further, gaps between desired and demonstrated capabilities have substantial implications for the Navy’s ability to deploy the LCS as intended. Until the Navy makes future operational deployments contingent on progress in addressing gaps between desired and demonstrated capabilities, the LCS will continue to be dependent in combat and require protection by multi-mission combatants.
The Navy has implemented eight of the 10 recommendations from its 2016 Review of the LCS program. Among other things, it has implemented new approaches for assigning and training sailors for the LCS crew. However, the Navy is facing challenges in implementing a revised maintenance approach, under which Navy personnel will perform some maintenance currently being conducted by contractors. Until the Navy determines the specific tasks Navy personnel will perform, it risks not being able to meet the maintenance needs of the LCS, thus hindering the ships’ ability to carry out their intended missions.
The Navy’s operating and support (O&S) cost estimates for the LCS do not account for the cost implications of its revised maintenance approach. Specifically, the Navy has not assessed the cost implications of its revised maintenance approach, and thus lacks a clear picture of its impact on O&S costs. Some of the Navy’s O&S actual cost data are also incomplete and inaccurate. For example, the Navy reported on each O&S cost element for the seaframes in its Visibility and Management of Operating and Support Costs database, but it reported only on the maintenance cost element for the mission modules. Further, the Navy does not report maintenance costs separately for each mission module, but instead totals those costs for all mission modules and divides by the number of seaframes in the fleet. Without complete and accurate cost data, the Navy is at risk of failing to anticipate O&S cost increases that could create challenges in funding LCS as intended or delivering capabilities when expected.
Finally, the Navy has not updated its O&S cost estimates to reflect its revised operational and sustainment concepts and has not incorporated actual cost data into some of its estimates. Without complete information on the cost of implementing the revised operational and sustainment concepts, and the use of actual cost data, the Navy will not be able to analyze the differences between estimates and actual costs—important elements for identifying and mitigating critical risks to the LCS.
The prototype for the Navy’s unmanned refueling tanker has wrapped up deck handling tests aboard an aircraft carrier off the East Coast The service performed tests of the T-1 prototype aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) to assess how the aircraft functioned aboard the flight deck in winds of more than 25 knots. “Once underway, […]
A Boeing unmanned MQ-25 aircraft is given operating directions on the flight deck aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) on Dec. 13, 2021 in the Atlantic Ocean. U.S. Navy Photo
The prototype for the Navy’s unmanned refueling tanker has wrapped up deck handling tests aboard an aircraft carrier off the East Coast
The service performed tests of the T-1 prototype aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) to assess how the aircraft functioned aboard the flight deck in winds of more than 25 knots.
“Once underway, the MQ-25 test asset, known as T-1, completed a series of test points that evaluated the functionality and capabilities of the deck handling system during both day and nighttime operations. Maneuvers included taxiing and parking on the flight deck, connecting to the catapult and clearing the landing area. Data was collected related to deck motion and wind over deck impacts to controllability and the propulsion system,” Naval Air Systems Command said in a news release this week.
The Navy worked with both Boeing, which built the prototype, and Lockheed Martin on the testing to better understand how the aircraft could be controlled on the flight deck and assimilate onto the carrier.
During testing, those handling the prototype aboard the carrier integrated with the Navy’s taxi directors and utilized the Deck Control Device built by Boeing, NAVAIR said.
Prior to assessing how the prototype functioned on the deck of the carrier during the recent at-sea testing phase, the Navy and contractors placed a control station in George H.W. Bush’s Unmanned Aviation Warfare Center while the ship was pier side.
“During the in-port portion of the UCAD, Lockheed Martin installed the prototype MD-5 ground control station in the Unmanned Aviation Warfare Center (UAWC), the CVN-based control room,” NAVAIR said. “The team specifically demonstrated the functionality of the GCS to the MQ-25 fleet integration team, giving them the opportunity to assess design constraints driven by shipboard installation and capture feedback on human system interfaces.”
The service and contractors only tested deck handling of the prototype, not how it flew on or off the carrier, but did use a King Air plane to test out the Joint Precision Landing System (JPALS).
“The team also coordinated the first Joint Precision Landing System (JPALS) surrogate flight with a King Air,” NAVAIR said. “Ship motion data collected during these first representative hardware and software approaches will be extremely valuable in refining the software.”
The MQ-25 will perform the aerial refueling mission for the Navy and free up some of the F/A-18F Super Hornets that do buddy refueling for the fleet. The program is expected to reach initial operational capability in 2025 and its development comes as the Navy seeks to operate aircraft from carriers at longer ranges in regions like the Indo-Pacific.
Rear Adm. Andrew Loiselle, who leads the chief of naval operation’s air warfare directorate (OPNAV N98), told USNI News in an interview earlier this month that the deck handling test aboard Bush would help the Navy get a better sense of how the prototype’s engine functions in certain wind conditions.
“We’re making some great progress with T-1 and reducing risks for the program. And so the primary goal of this is to look at [performance] on the flight deck, in relevant flight deck wind conditions,” Loiselle said at the time. “When you look at the intake on that thing up on the top of the aircraft, I’m very interested to know how that thing’s going to behave from an engine perspective with 25 plus knots of wind from all directions.”
THE PENTAGON – The prototype for the Navy’s unmanned refueling tanker is now aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier ahead of at-sea testing. Rear Adm. Andrew Loiselle, who leads the chief of naval operation’s air warfare directorate (OPNAV N98), told USNI News in a recent interview that as of Tuesday, the T-1 prototype is aboard […]
MQ-25A being lifted aboard carrier USS George H.W. BUsh (CVN-77) on Nov 30, 2021. US Navy Photo
THE PENTAGON – The prototype for the Navy’s unmanned refueling tanker is now aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier ahead of at-sea testing.
Rear Adm. Andrew Loiselle, who leads the chief of naval operation’s air warfare directorate (OPNAV N98), told USNI News in a recent interview that as of Tuesday, the T-1 prototype is aboard USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77) for the ship’s carrier qualifications.
The tests for the Boeing-built MQ-25A Stingray are the next steps in providing a capability for the service to operate at longer ranges in regions like the Indo-Pacific, as it adjusts to a strategy focused on conflict with peer competitors like China and Russia.
“We’re making some great progress with T-1 and reducing risks for the program. And so the primary goal of this is to look at [performance] on the flight deck, in relevant flight deck wind conditions,” Loiselle said. “When you look at the intake on that thing up on the top of the aircraft, I’m very interested to know how that thing’s going to behave from an engine perspective with 25 plus knots of wind from all directions.”
Loiselle, who became the top aviation requirements officer in June, described MQ-25 as a crucial component of the Navy’s effort to gear up for operating at longer ranges, like those it would face in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Navy plans to have warrant officers operating the tankers, with the first 10 currently going through “processing” ahead of a training that will be specific to the MQ-25A, Loiselle said. He noted that the Navy’s approach to unmanned aerial systems includes more autonomy than that of the Air Force.
“That degree of autonomy leads us to believe air vehicle operators are the way to do this. And then when we look at from a manpower perspective of what the training tracks are and the complexity of current tactics requiring people to stay in a given field in order to get the expertise necessary for the high-end fight, it’s hard to pull people out and have them do something different. Doesn’t mean that we couldn’t do it in a surge time or something along that path. But the thought is that an individual operator is going to be capable of controlling multiple drones simultaneously because of the autonomy involved.”
Rear Adm. Andrew Loiselle, Director, Air Warfare Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, speaks to Naval Aviators at the 2021 Naval Helicopter Association (NHA) Symposium. US Navy Photo
Loiselle said the Navy tried to make the MQ-25 requirements simple to expedite how fast it could get the aircraft out to the fleet, but now he is recommending other potential missions for the tanker.
“We kind of went skinny on the initial requirements for this in order to be sure that we’re able to go fast. So MQ-25 is capable of significantly more than we are asking it to do at [initial operational capability]. So at IOC, it needs to be able to operate around an aircraft carrier and be able to conduct aerial refueling and that’s as far as we went,” Loiselle said.
“The rest of it will be spiral developed because it’s got significant additional capabilities with a mission bay and weapons phase that, you know, we plan to take use of in the future. But we expect that thing to be able to pass around 15,000 pounds of gas 500 miles away from the carrier. And so you know, you can split that up and use it however you want to be able to use it. And so it’s got some significant capabilities that I think we’re going to look at adding in the future. But right now – that stuff – that’s all stuff I’m proposing and looking to get funded.”
Boeing beat out Lockheed Martin and General Atomics for the contract to build the carrier-based drone in 2018. The first few Engineering Development Model aircraft, currently under construction, are slated to come off the production line next year, while IOC is scheduled for Fiscal Year 2025.
While the Navy is currently focused on the refueling requirement, Loiselle said the service sees a future for the MQ-25 program to perform more missions like intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
“It’s something that on the last launch of the night, I can shoot that thing. And it’s – instead of me launching all my helicopters from all my destroyers – I’ve got an airborne asset that can stay up all through the night and provide that recognized maritime picture overnight. [It] saves me all the wear and tear on – I mean, I’m still going to be launching some helicopters, but I don’t need as many to be doing that,” he said. “And then I’m working on the manned-unmanned teaming portion of that. Now if the helicopters get a contact here and they can have an MQ-25 overhead moving at five times the speed of a helicopter, then that allows me to get those information points into the operational picture on a much more rapid manner.”
Tim Walton, a fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Defense Concepts and Technology, said a future variant of the MQ-25 could help the Navy have an aircraft aboard its carriers that can operate at longer ranges and perform other missions.
“The MQ-25 has a great deal of potential not only for ISR, but also for other missions such as strike or airborne electronic attack,” Walton, who recently co-authored a report about aerial refueling, told USNI News.
MQ-25A T-1 prototype in the hangar aboard carrier USS George H.W. BUsh (CVN-77) on Nov 30, 2021. US Navy Photo
Walton’s report argued that the U.S. military needs to invest more money in the aerial refueling mission to remain competitive against China in the Indo-Pacific.
For example, the Navy would need “far more” MQ-25 tankers or help from the Air Force if it were operating an aircraft carrier outside the range of China’s DF-26 missile – which is reportedly 4,000 kilometers – with four F-35Cs, according to the report.
“The addition of the MQ-25A to the [carrier air wing] will increase the operating range of other carrier aircraft; however, the increased standoff distance that carriers and other ships may need to maintain from dangerous threats, such as land, sea, and air-launched cruise, ballistic, and hypersonic missiles, may offset the opportunities enabled by the MQ-25A,” the report reads. “Moreover, the small number of MQ-25As currently planned for procurement may drive the Navy to operate MQ-25As as ‘recovery tankers’ that provide fuel to aircraft in exigencies to help them recover aboard the carrier, rather than ‘mission tankers’ that accompany aircraft on missions far from the carrier.”
Loiselle said discussions about expanding the MQ-25A program of record “are nascent and in pending budget and top line” review.
“Right now we don’t really know where we sit for [Fiscal Year 20]22, so it’s very hard for me to say where things are going to end up in the future right now,” he said.
As for China’s capabilities in the region, Loiselle pointed to the Navy’s pursuit of MQ-25 and the sixth-generation fighter program as evidence that naval aviation is seeking to keep up with the evolving threat environment.
“Just because we’ve had the next iteration of offensive capabilities doesn’t mean that there isn’t going to be a next iteration of defensive capabilities that match those requirements. So we look very closely at it. You can see the advent of the MQ-25 to extend the range of our current fighters. You can see the NGAD program coming up looking to operate at extended ranges. And so we’ve clearly recognized this and we have acquisition strategies in place that are going to mitigate” worries about China’s missile capability and potential targeting of U.S. aircraft carriers.