Marines Buy 2 XQ-58A Valkyrie Drones for ‘Collaborative Killer’ Concept Testing

The Marine Corps used a new Pentagon program designed to quickly prototype systems for conflict in the Pacific to buy two unmanned aerial vehicles last month for $15.5 million, a service official told USNI News on Tuesday. The contract to Kratos for the pair of XQ-58A Valkyrie “loyal wingman” drones was bought through the Naval Air […]

The Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie is an experimental stealthy unmanned combat aerial vehicle designed and built by Kratos. US Air Force Photo

The Marine Corps used a new Pentagon program designed to quickly prototype systems for conflict in the Pacific to buy two unmanned aerial vehicles last month for $15.5 million, a service official told USNI News on Tuesday.

The contract to Kratos for the pair of XQ-58A Valkyrie “loyal wingman” drones was bought through the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division under the Department of Defense Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve (RDER) and wasn’t part of the Navy’s ongoing Next Generation Air Dominance program, Marine Maj. Jay Hernandez told USNI News.

“This purchase is part of ongoing USMC efforts to look at future autonomous collaborative platforms and is not tied to the Next Generation Air Dominance Program, or any other Air Force or Navy programs. The base contract was awarded primarily for the baseline aircraft—a decision for future modifications and operations has not been made as these aircraft are for experimental use,” he said.
“This project officially started with the award of the base contract and will develop into experimentation in [Fiscal Year] 24.”

The Pentagon awarded the contract on Dec. 30, and the initial announcement did not say the purchase was for the Marine RDER effort. Naval Air Systems Command did not respond to a request for comment when asked by USNI News in December. Breaking Defense first reported the contract’s connection to the Marines on Monday.

The UASs should have “sensor and weapon system payloads to accomplish the penetrating affordable autonomous collaborative killer” mission, according to the DoD announcement.

The two drones are part of the RDER experimentation program that allows services to military items to quickly test concepts with systems already in use in other arenas with an emphasis on the needs of commands in the Indo-Pacific.

2018 Kratos data sheet on the XQ-58 UAVs

“RDER is really a whole of [Defense Department] effort that’s focused on the exploitation of advanced technologies in order to provide capabilities that address some of our most pressing or difficult military challenges,” Air Force Col. Corey Beaverson said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Future Force 2022 conference in September, reported National Defense Magazine.
“The focus is going to be on long-range kill chains, long-range fires, command and control capabilities: how do we operate in a contested logistics environment? How do we defend forward fixed bases?”

The Valkyries were developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory to be a high-speed, low-cost aircraft developed for the AFRL’s Low-Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) project.

“The LCAAT portfolio was established to break the escalating cost trajectory of tactically relevant aircraft and provide an unmanned escort or wingman aircraft alongside a crewed fighter aircraft in combat,” according to Kratos.

The XQ-58As can operate without a runway and carry a variety of payloads from weapons to communication relays at a range of about 3,000 nautical miles with a cruising speed of about 550 miles per hour, according to a 2018 datasheet from Kratos. In addition to launching from land, Kratos developed a version of the UAV that can be moved in a standard shipping container.

Both the Air Force and Marines are developing expeditionary aviation concepts for their respective services. The Air Force is refining its Agile Combat Employment – a concept that disperses combat air power across several expeditionary bases. The Marines have also experimented with the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) that will be key to how it says it will fight in the island campaigns in modern conflict. The Marines have tested assembling remote airfields to support F-35s in austere locations.

The Marines are also experimenting with other unmanned vehicles like the MQ-9 Reaper UAV, unmanned ground vehicles and is developing its own large, unmanned surface vessel program.

CNO Gilday: Next-Generation Air Dominance Will Come Ahead of DDG(X) Destroyer

ARLINGTON, Va. – First the fighter, then the destroyer and finally the submarine. That’s the order the Navy is set to introduce its next three major acquisition programs in the 2030s, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said last week. The Navy’s next large surface warship program – now known as DDG(X) – might […]

Notional Navy DDG(X) hull design. PEO Ships Image

ARLINGTON, Va. – First the fighter, then the destroyer and finally the submarine. That’s the order the Navy is set to introduce its next three major acquisition programs in the 2030s, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said last week.

The Navy’s next large surface warship program – now known as DDG(X) – might not be ready for a contract award until Fiscal Year 2030. The Navy’s Next Generation Air Dominance program will start acquisition in the late 2020s and will enter service in the 2030s. The so-called “pathfinder” program for NGAD development is the MQ-25A Stingray aerial tanker that will replace F/A-18F Super Hornet fighters as tankers after the Stingrays reach initial operational capability.

“We are on a path right now with MQ-25 on our aircraft carriers to go IOC in 2025. That is a significant capability in terms of extending the lethality of the wing, freeing up jets that would typically be used – strike fighters – to refuel and to turn that back to their original missions,” Gilday said during the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium. “That, for us, is the pathfinder for Next-Generation Air Dominance. And that is a phased program through the late 2020s, into the 2030s, that we need to deliver for the sixth-generation manned and unmanned aircraft.”

As of last year, the next-generation destroyer program was set to buy the platform in Fiscal Year 2028 but will be pushed beyond the Future Years Defense Plan for the next budget into 2030.

Following his remarks, Gilday confirmed to reporters that NGAD would enter the fleet ahead of DDG(X) and the next-generation nuclear attack submarine, now known as SSN(X). He stressed that the development would happen simultaneously.

The Navy has said little about its plan for NGAD, classifying the program’s development costs in the last three budgets. The effort will be centered on a manned fighter known as F/A-XX that will act in concert with unmanned aircraft. The so-called family of systems will eventually replace the Super Hornets in the 2030s.

US Air Force F-X concept from 2018. Air Force Research Lab Image

For the DDG(X), the Navy will refine the requirements for the service’s next major warship ahead of the 2030 contract award and in the meantime continue to build Flight III Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile warships.

“My priority right now is making sure that we get the Flight III DDG lines humming. The latest signal from Congress has been three a year. What the industry has to do is prove to us that they can produce three ships a year. We’re not there yet,” Gilday told USNI News.
“We really need to get stability in the DDG Flight III line. And that’ll help us, I think, inform the transition timeline in the DDG(X). What I don’t want to do – as long as I’m in this job – is to introduce a new platform too quickly. That transition plan needs to be graceful.”

Later during the conference, Rear Adm. Fred Pyle, the director of surface warfare on the chief of naval operations’ staff (OPNAV N96), gave more details on the progress of DDG(X).

“With DDG(X), we have a good set of top-level requirements,” Pyle told reporters last week.
“We are focused on, with DDG(X), the high-end fight. [We need] the capabilities like larger missiles, longer range, hypersonic strike missiles, the ability to employ higher power directed energy, whether those are laser or microwave, and you need DDGs with the power, and the space, and the weight and the cooling to land that kind of capability.”

The DDG(X), as its planned now, will use the Integrated Power System from the Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer, the Baseline 10 Aegis combat system and the AN/SPY-6 air and missile defense radar.

“We’re in preliminary design. So, we have about … seven years to iterate on this, as we go from preliminary design to a more detailed design later in this decade,” Pyle said.

While the service continues to develop the hull that would wrap around the new systems, a study from the Congressional Budget Office published in November estimates the ships could cost up to $3.4 billion each.

“The new DDG(X)’s combat capabilities would be equivalent or superior to those of the DDG-51 Flight III; it would also have a larger hull, substantially more power, more stealth characteristics, and a greater capacity to accommodate the installation of new weapon systems and other capabilities in the future,” reads the report.
“The Navy has indicated that the initial design prescribes a displacement of 13,500 tons. If that is the case, then the Navy’s estimates imply that the DDG(X) would cost 10 percent more than the DDG-51 Flight III but would have a full-load displacement that is 40 percent greater.”

The Navy has started the early development work on the SSN(X) attack submarine and is set to start acquiring the boats in the mid-2030s.

“Navy officials have stated that the Navy wants the SSN(X) to be an ‘apex predator.’ More specifically, they have stated that the Navy wants the SSN(X) to incorporate the speed and payload [of] the Navy’s fast and heavily armed Seawolf (SSN-21) class SSN design, the acoustic quietness and sensors of the Virginia-class design, and the operational availability and service life of the Columbia-class design,” reads a December report from the Congressional Research Service.
“These requirements will likely result in an SSN(X) design that is larger than the original Virginia-class design, which has a submerged displacement of about 7,800 tons, and possibly larger than the original SSN-21 design, which has a submerged displacement of 9,138 tons.”

Navy Buys 2 ‘Loyal Wingman’ XQ-58A Valkyrie Drones for $15.5M

The Navy is buying two stealth unmanned aerial systems – originally developed for the Air Force – that could operate with a manned fighter, as the service pursues the manned-unmanned teaming concept officials say is central to the future of naval aviation. The service issued a $15.5 million contract to Kratos for the XQ-58A Valkyrie […]

An XQ-58A Valkyrie low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle launches at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., Dec. 9, 2020. US Air Force Photo

The Navy is buying two stealth unmanned aerial systems – originally developed for the Air Force – that could operate with a manned fighter, as the service pursues the manned-unmanned teaming concept officials say is central to the future of naval aviation.

The service issued a $15.5 million contract to Kratos for the XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned aerial system, according to a Dec. 30 Defense Department contract announcement.

The UASs should have “sensor and weapon system payloads to accomplish the penetrating affordable autonomous collaborative killer” mission, according to the DoD announcement.

The Navy is currently developing its sixth-generation Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, which officials have said will be a family of manned and unmanned systems, with a manned fighter currently known as F/A-XX operating as the centerpiece. The Navy plans to employ the systems in what it calls a manned-unmanned teaming concept.

Naval Air Systems Command did not immediately respond to USNI News when asked for more information about the XQ-58A contract and how it fits in with NGAD development.

Navy officials have provided few details about NGAD’s development and have kept the research and development costs classified for the last three budget cycles.

“The NGAD [family of systems] will replace the F/A-18E/F Block II aircraft as they begin to reach end of service life in the 2030s and leverage Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) in order to provide increased lethality and survivability,” according to joint testimony that Department of Navy acquisition officials gave to Congress earlier this year. “F/A-XX is the strike fighter component of the NGAD FoS that will be the ‘Quarterback’ of the MUM-T concept, directing multiple tactical platforms at the leading edge of the battlespace.”

A U.S. Air Force test squadron already has XQ-58A aircraft to experiment with and the service could pursue a program that would employ UASs with manned fighters, Breaking Defense reported in November. The “loyal wingman” is key to the development of the Air Force’s next-generation fighter. The idea is that the UAS would act as an adjunct payload capability to the manned fighters.

“The Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie is an experimental stealthy unmanned combat aerial vehicle designed and built by Kratos for the United States Air Force Low-Cost Attritable Strike Demonstrator program, under the USAF Research Laboratory’s Low-Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) project portfolio,” according to the KRATOS website.
“The LCAAT portfolio was established to break the escalating cost trajectory of tactically relevant aircraft and provide an unmanned escort or wingman aircraft alongside a crewed fighter aircraft in combat.”

In addition to operating from land, Kratos has developed a version of the drone that can be transported in a standard shipping container.

SECNAV Del Toro: Navy Needs to ‘Be Realistic’ in Pursuit of Navy’s Next Destroyer, Sub, Fighter

The technologies developed for the Navy’s next destroyer, submarine and fighter must be mature and cost-effective before the new platforms go into production, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro told USNI News in an interview last week. The Navy’s next-generation guided-missile destroyer, attack submarine and fighter will rely on developing new technologies and keeping […]

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro delivers remarks during an all-hands call at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Souda Bay on Nov. 16, 2022. US Navy Photo

The technologies developed for the Navy’s next destroyer, submarine and fighter must be mature and cost-effective before the new platforms go into production, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro told USNI News in an interview last week.

The Navy’s next-generation guided-missile destroyer, attack submarine and fighter will rely on developing new technologies and keeping those costs under control for the new platforms is a priority, Del Toro told USNI News.

“We ought to test those technologies out before we fully commit to producing ships, aircraft, submarines in far larger numbers. So, my hope, in the Department of the Navy and the Marine Corps, is that before we move forward with producing the next DDG(X), SSN(X) and NGAD, is that we have designed maturity on these platforms. That takes tremendous discipline on our part, not to rush to production … It’s going to take a lot of compromises, a lot of balance, to come up with the right answers,” he said.
“Let’s be realistic about how fast we should move forward before we’re ready to commit to a major [acquisition] program.”

Naval aviation, surface and submarine warfare all are in the early stages of developing replacements for ships and aircraft designs that are decades old. The Navy is working on the DDG(X) next-generation guided-missile destroyer, the next-generation SSN(X) nuclear attack submarine and the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program that will develop a new F/A-XX fighter and unmanned combat aircraft.

All the warfare areas have an argument for a new platform.

Arleigh Burke destroyers Jack H. Lucas (DDG-125), Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG-123) and the Legend-class cutter Calhoun (WMSL-759) at Ingalls Shipbuilding on Aug. 4, 2022. USNI News Photo

The Flight III Arleigh Burke guided-missile desroyer has maxed out the space, weight and power of the existing hull designed in the 1980s and has reduced margin for growth. The 2000s-era Virginia-class submarine design will be under construction for well into the next decade – potentially into a Block VII variant, USNI News has learned. But the service wants a faster platform with more torpedoes than the current hull can accommodate. In aviation, the 1990s-era F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets fighters don’t have the range to operate far enough away from the strike group to keep the carrier and its escorts away from anti-ship ballistic missile threats. The Navy stood up its Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) office to develop F/A-XX as the Super Hornet replacement, as well as unmanned combat aircraft.

But given the trends of flat defense budgets relative to inflation, the service is unlikely to develop all the platforms at the same rate at once. Last year, then-acting SECNAV Thomas Harker issued a memo outlining the issue for the Fiscal Year 2023 budget.

“The Navy cannot afford to simultaneously develop the next generation of air, surface, and subsurface platforms and must prioritize these programs balancing the cost of developing next-generation capabilities against maintaining current capabilities,” the memo reads. “As part of the [Fiscal Year 2023] budget, the Navy should prioritize one of the following capabilities and re-phase the other two after an assessment of operational, financial and technical risk.”

Within the last week, Pentagon and Navy have held discussions on how the service will prioritize the three new programs, two defense officials with knowledge of the meeting told USNI News.

When asked by USNI News about prioritization on Thursday, Del Toro said, “I think there’s a lot to be determined yet on whether it is going to be DDG(X), SSN(X) or NGAD.”

Notional Navy DDG(X) hull design. PEO Ships Image

Basing the programs just on technological maturity, DDG(X) is the furthest along, USNI News understands.

The DDG(X) concept would take the combat system aboard the Flight III and the Integrated Power System concept developed for the Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer and move them to a new hull with the space, power and cooling to accommodate larger hypersonic missiles and directed energy weapons for the ship’s defense.

“Flight III are great. They’re wonderful platforms but eventually, they’re going to be challenged by the power capability of the ship, especially when you start implementing directed energy weapons, and other things that have great power demands on them,” Del Toro said.
“You don’t need to build a completely new transformational destroyer [costing] $5 billion, either. It’s the technology and the weapon system that matter the most. Why not go with a slightly revised hull form? Perhaps it isn’t too different from DDG Flight III, but bigger, has simply more space to accommodate the power required. I’m an engineer, I like to think about things incrementally and not get overhyped about the sexy new toy that looks good.”

The SSN(X) nuclear attack boat would require the Navy to build a new hull that would be much larger in diameter than the current Virginias and have a higher level of stealth than the current attack boats in the fleet.

USS Vermont (SSN-792) transits the Thames River while conducting routine operations on Oct. 15, 2020. US Navy Photo

“The assumption [is] that the SSN(X) would be similar to a Seawolf-class submarine but would have an entirely new design,” reads the Congressional Budget Office report on future ship construction.
“The submarine’s advanced features would make it as quiet and stealthy as possible; it could launch missiles from missile cells and would contain a torpedo room the size of those on Seawolf-class submarines.”

The Navy would also need to develop a new nuclear reactor for SSN(X) and decide if it would use an electric propulsion system like the one developed for the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, Hudson Institute senior fellow Bryan Clark told USNI News.

The NGAD program is the least defined of the three major acquisition priorities, Clark said.

“These manned and unmanned aircraft plus attritable assets will be employed across domains to enable integrated kinetic and non-kinetic fires at tactically relevant ranges,” reads the Navy’s 2030-2035 aviation vision document from 2021. “As autonomy and [machine learning] efforts mature, the appropriate mix of F/A-XX, manned and unmanned platforms will be evaluated to ensure the most lethal and affordable [carrier air wing] possible.”

US Air Force F-X concept from 2018. Air Force Research Lab Image

Key to the development of the F/A-XX will be a new efficient jet engine that would extend the combat radius of the carrier air wing beyond the range of shore-based anti-ship ballistic missiles. The Navy is developing its next fighter in conjunction with the Air Force’s own F-X program.

“The Navy’s version is much further behind, but the Navy is not as under the gun as the Air Force,” Clark told USNI News.
“The Navy could in theory buy more F-35s or Super Hornets.”

The Navy has classified the program, but given a broad outline of the goals of the aircraft that would replace the Super Hornets.

Overall, Del Toro stressed that controlling cost and reducing risk are the top priorities for the new systems. He cited the cost growth in the Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer and the Littoral Combat Ship programs as examples of what not to do.

“As the CEO of the Navy and with oversight over the acquisition accounts, one of my chief responsibilities is to try to bring all these major [acquisition] programs and other programs under good discipline,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said during a trip to Columbia University on Thursday.
“We’ve had excessive cost creep, across many of our programs and I’ve told my acquisition force to cut it out. We need to build capabilities on time and on schedule.”

Report to Congress on the Air Force F-15EX Eagle II Fighter Program

The following is the Oct. 11, 2022, Congressional Research Service report: Air Force F-15EX Eagle II Fighter Program. From the report On March 11, 2021, the U.S. Air Force took delivery of its first F-15EX Eagle II fighter. The original Eagle II program was intended to deliver 144 aircraft to replace aging F-15Cs, most of […]

The following is the Oct. 11, 2022, Congressional Research Service report: Air Force F-15EX Eagle II Fighter Program.

From the report

On March 11, 2021, the U.S. Air Force took delivery of its first F-15EX Eagle II fighter. The original Eagle II program was intended to deliver 144 aircraft to replace aging F-15Cs, most of which are in the Air National Guard; however, the FY2023 President’s budget request adjusts the intention of procuring 80 aircraft.

The Biden Administration’s FY2023 budget proposal included a request for $2.6 billion to buy 24 F-15EX aircraft, the second to last procurement toward a planned initial buy of 80.

The subsequent FY2022 defense budget proposal requested about $1.32 billion in procurement funding for 12 Eagle IIs and $133.5 million in advance procurement for future aircraft. The proposed budget also requested about $118.1 million for F-15EX research and development.

FY2022 defense authorization act: The FY2022 defense authorization bill funded F-15EX procurement at $1.76 billion, an increase of $576 million from the requested level, for “additional aircraft, spares, support equipment.”

FY2022 defense appropriations bill: The final omnibus budget bill funded F-15EX procurement at $1.16 billion for 12 aircraft, $82.4 million below the Biden Administration’s request, citing “prior year carryover.”

Download the document here.

STRATCOM Nominee: U.S. Dealing with Expanding Nuclear Threats from China, Russia

Russia and China’s nuclear capabilities require continual assessment due to the threats these powers pose to the United States and its allies, the nominee to head U.S. Strategic Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. Testifying Thursday, Air Force Gen. Anthony Cotton said the assessment needs to cover how “the two might work […]

General Anthony Cotton, Air Force Global Strike Command commander, speaks during the Striker Stripe event May 9, 2022, at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. Cotton emphasized the importance of familiarizing Airmen with today’s complex strategic environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Chase Sullivan)

Russia and China’s nuclear capabilities require continual assessment due to the threats these powers pose to the United States and its allies, the nominee to head U.S. Strategic Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
Testifying Thursday, Air Force Gen. Anthony Cotton said the assessment needs to cover how “the two might work together” and “how they might not work together” in a crisis. He pointed to Russia’s warnings that it could use limited nuclear weapons to take over Ukraine and China’s breathtaking advances in building its nuclear triad in fewer than four years. Cotton said this is the first time, since the dawn of the nuclear age in 1945, that the United States had to weigh the threats coming from more than one power with strategic weapons.

That assessment will play a crucial role in understanding “what needs to be done” in force shaping and future security and nuclear strategy and the role the command plays in carrying them out, he added.

“I absolutely believe that our nuclear deterrent” helped deter Russia from using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Cotton, who heads the Air Force’s Global Strike Command, said he supports accelerating the development of nuclear weapons systems, platforms, command and control, and infrastructure modernization when possible.

“We have to roll up our sleeves” to meet the challenges of modernization in facing two near-peer competitors, he added.

To do this, “we’re going to need stable, predictable funding” from Congress and the administration. In turn, the same stability and predictability needs to come from the Pentagon in defining requirements for nuclear programs across the board.

While Cotton on several occasions voiced his support for modernizing all three legs of the triad in both oral and written testimony, the only direct question about the Navy’s ballistic missile submarine program concerned extending the service life of some Ohio-class class boomers.

Cotton said that he needed to understand “what aging we really see” in extending some of the Ohio boats’ service lives to 42 years instead of the originally planned 30. Will the extension “get the result we want” or build new is the question that has to be answered, he said.

He also voiced his support for the continued development of the long-range stand-off cruise missile for the Air Force’s bomber fleet to keep that leg of the triad viable. His support also kept the door open for a nuclear long-range sea-launched cruise missile, an effort the Biden administration canceled earlier this year. Long-range in these cases means missiles capable of covering distances over 1,500 miles.

This spring, Adm. Charles Richard, the current STRATCOM commander, and Adm. James Grady, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee that they favored the continued development of the sea-based weapon.

“I have seen that capability gap as well,” referring to the long-range strike program in general, Cotton said.

Now that electro-magnetic and spectrum warfare falls under STRATCOM, Cotton said, “it’s going to be a front-burner issue.” He added that over the years the program in the Pentagon has atrophied. Cotton said he intends to have the command “not pace our adversaries, but lead our adversaries” in this domain.

The command is still feeling the pandemic’s impact on defense production and delivery, he added. Even with American-made parts, he said that in some areas it is taking 90 days to deliver components versus 10 before COVID-19 reached pandemic levels.

The committee and full Senate are expected to confirm Cotton’s nomination.

Several UAVs Under Development for Next-Generation Carrier Air Wing

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Several new unmanned aerial vehicles are under development as part of the Navy’s air wing of the future concept in addition to the unmanned aerial tanker set to deploy in 2026, Navy officials said on Wednesday. The new aircraft are being designed to meet growing requirements for range for carrier air wings, […]

An MQ-25 test asset, known as T1, conducts its first aerial refueling test flight with an F-35C Lightning II Sept. 13, 2021 near MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois. Boeing Photo

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Several new unmanned aerial vehicles are under development as part of the Navy’s air wing of the future concept in addition to the unmanned aerial tanker set to deploy in 2026, Navy officials said on Wednesday.

The new aircraft are being designed to meet growing requirements for range for carrier air wings, Rear Adm. Andrew Loiselle, the Navy’s air warfare director (OPNAV N98) ,said during a naval aviation panel at the Naval Institute, co-hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“As we go to the air wing of the future, we will be operating at ranges off of the aircraft carrier that vastly exceed what we’re doing today,” Loiselle said.
“In order to do that the unmanned portfolio really needs to be part of that system, because it’s the easiest way for us to keep a normally sized aircraft, but then have all of that extra space for fuel that gets us the range that we require to be able to get out there.”

With the F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter, the current air wing has an effective combat range of about 700 nautical miles from the carrier, USNI News previously reported. Prior to the F-35C inclusion on the carrier, the service relied on F/A-18E/F Super Hornets for strike and air-to-air missions with even shorter ranges.

In order to be effective in the vast distances in the increasingly dangerous Western Pacific, aircraft would notionally have to operate more than 1,000 nautical miles from the carrier to keep out of range of Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles like the DF-21 and DF-26, analyst Bryan Clark told USNI News in 2020. 

The next step for the Navy is to bring an unmanned aerial refueling aircraft to operate further from the carrier to extend the range of the existing airwing. The first operational MQ-25A Stingray aerial refueling UAVs are set to deploy aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-73) by 2026, Vice Adm. Kevin Whitesell said in April.

Carrying 15,000 pounds of gas up to 500 nautical miles from the carrier, the Stingrays would take over the tanking mission from the existing fleet of F/A-18F Super Hornets.

“We have the MQ-25, which is first envisioned as a tanker. And so that’s its primary role in its initial instantiation, Loiselle said.
“And there are several other things under development right now that I’m very excited about.”

MQ-25A was initially conceived as a more capable unmanned aircraft as part of the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program that was pared back to the unmanned carrier tanker.

“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 told USNI News in December.
“The rest of it will be spiral developed because it’s got significant additional capabilities with a mission bay… we plan to take use of in the future.”

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

As for new aircraft, he did not elaborate on the UAVs in the works. The Navy has kept mum on its research and development efforts into almost all of its new carrier air wing aircraft.

The Navy has classified the spending for the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program that is expected to produce a manned fighter to replace the Super Hornets in the 2030s.

Loiselle did define three categories of unmanned aircraft his office is considering.

“The first set is something that can go into a hostile environment, high threat environment, and it can stay there, it can persist in a high threat environment. The second set is something that can go to that high threat environment, perform a given mission, briefly – a strike mission –and then leave and have a very high chance of coming home,” he said.
“The last set is something that is at an attritable price point, a much smaller vehicle that might perform any number of different missions. Anything from going out there with our fighter aircraft and carrying more air-to-air missiles… or we might someday integrate that type of thing into our electronic warfare, a distributed architecture that would conduct that mission. And then we might also use those same types of drones for a distributed command and control network.”

The UAVs aren’t part of the NGAD (pronounced En-JAD by the Navy, Loiselle said) program but would be part of the ongoing development of the fighter.

“They are not exclusively for that platform. Okay, there’s equal applicability in the manned-unmanned teaming concept for any small [UAS] to be used with any aircraft on our flight deck. It’s not limited to that one capability,” he said.

Loiselle spoke just days after the ninth anniversary of the July 10, 2013 landing of X-47B Salty Dog 502 aboard carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) – the first arrested landing of an unmanned aircraft on an aircraft carrier.

Report to Congress on Air Force Next-Generation Air Dominance Program

The following is the June 23, 2022 Congressional Research Service In Focus report, Air Force Next-Generation Air Dominance Program. From the report According to the Air Force, the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program is intended to develop “a portfolio of technologies enabling air superiority.” The Air Force intends for NGAD to replace the F-22 fighter […]

The following is the June 23, 2022 Congressional Research Service In Focus report, Air Force Next-Generation Air Dominance Program.

From the report

According to the Air Force, the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program is intended to develop “a portfolio of technologies enabling air superiority.” The Air Force intends for NGAD to replace the F-22 fighter jet beginning in 2030, possibly including a combination of crewed and uncrewed aircraft, with other systems and sensors. NGAD began as a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency project. Since 2015, Congress has appropriated approximately $4.2 billion for NGAD.

NGAD is a classified aircraft development program, but the Air Force has released a few details. On September 15, 2020, then-U.S. Air Force acquisition executive Dr. Will Roper announced that the Air Force had flown a full-scale flight demonstrator as part of the NGAD program. Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall announced on June 1, 2022 that NGAD program technologies have matured enough to allow the program to move to the engineering, manufacture, and design phase of development.

Is the Goal of NGAD a New Fighter? 

While a stated aim of the NGAD program is to replace the F-22 fighter jet, the aircraft that come out of the NGAD program may or may not look like a traditional fighter. The Air Force is developing technologies involved in NGAD to provide air dominance. Part of the program’s goal is to determine how to achieve that end, independent of traditional U.S. military approaches to air dominance. NGAD could take the form of a single aircraft and/or a number of complementary systems—manned, unmanned, optionally manned, cyber, electronic—forms that would not resemble the traditional “fighter.”

For example, a larger aircraft the size of a B-21 may not maneuver like a fighter. But that large an aircraft carrying a directed energy weapon, with multiple engines making substantial electrical power for that weapon, could ensure that no enemy flies in a large amount of airspace. That would achieve air dominance. There appears to be little reason to assume that NGAD is going to yield a plane the size that one person sits in, and that goes out and dogfights kinetically, trying to outturn another plane—or that sensors and weapons have to be on the same aircraft.

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Joint Chiefs Vice Chair, STRATCOM CO Still In Favor of Navy Nuclear Cruise Missile

The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Strategic Command’s top officer told a Senate panel Wednesday they favored continued development of the Navy’s low-yield Sea-Launched Cruise Missile-Nuclear capability, despite last year’s guidance the program be abandoned and being zeroed out in next year’s budget. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, STRATCOM’s […]

Navy Adm. Charles Richard, commander, U.S. Strategic Command provides testimony at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in review of the fiscal 2023 budget on March 8, 2022. DoD Photo

The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Strategic Command’s top officer told a Senate panel Wednesday they favored continued development of the Navy’s low-yield Sea-Launched Cruise Missile-Nuclear capability, despite last year’s guidance the program be abandoned and being zeroed out in next year’s budget.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, STRATCOM’s Adm. Charles Richard said, “without [SLCM-N], adversaries may perceive an advantage.”

Adm. James Grady also testified that he was in favor of the missile development continuing.

His answer echoed that of the chairman, Army Gen. Mark Milley, who told the House Armed Services Committee last month that research into SLCM-N would give the president more options in a crisis.

The missile with a range of about 1,500 miles could fill a “deterrence and assurance gap” against China and Russia and with allies and partners, Richard testified.

“To address this gap, a low-yield, non-ballistic capability to deter and respond without visible generation is necessary to provide a persistent, survivable, regional capability to deter adversaries, assure allies, provide flexible options, as well as complement existing capabilities. I believe a capability with these attributes should be re-examined in the near future,” Richard wrote in an April 5 letter to Congress, first reported by Defense News.

He repeated that observation Wednesday.

“We don’t know where China is going in capacity and capability,” Richard told the panel.

He reminded the senators of Russia’s threat to use low-yield tactical nuclear weapons to get its way in Ukraine after the poor performance of its conventional ground forces and the possibility of China using nuclear coercion to bring Taiwan under its control.

In last year’s budget request, the Navy sought about $15 million for the missile’s research and development, as well as its warhead.

Cutaway image of a nuclear tipped Tomahawk cruise missile

“The Navy indicated that the program was ‘cost prohibitive and the acquisition schedule would have delivered capability late to need.’ According to the Navy, this cancellation would save $199.2 million in FY2023 and $2.1 billion over the next five years,” according to the Congressional Research Service’s most recent report on the program.

Although the missile and warhead were called for in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, a Pentagon official said last month the program’s cancellation was called for in the Biden administration’s review, which was released earlier this year.

At Wednesday’s hearing, William LaPlante, under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said the Pentagon will be sending its latest report on the sea-launched cruise missile-nuclear program to Congress soon.

When asked, LaPlante said he expects “larger numbers to come” in future budget requests for the nuclear enterprise. The request for Fiscal Year 2023 is $34.4 billion, $7 billion above last year’s. He added this amounts to about 4.5 percent of the overall Pentagon request. In addition to modernizing all three legs of the triad, the budget is providing for the development of five new warheads plus the rebuilding facilities at Los Alamos and other laboratories that date to World War II.

“Moving at the speed of relevance is a must,” Grady said about all three efforts.

Citing his two predecessors’ warnings to Congress, Richard said, “I very little ability to mitigate risk” if the modernization program stalls. “What we have is the absolute minimum” now.

Citing China’s “breakout” as a nuclear power, Richard said it “rivals the biggest expansion of any nation” including the United States and Soviet Union in the 1960s.

Beijing doubled its stockpile in two years — much faster than intelligence agencies expected, Richard said. He added China went from zero to 360 intercontinental ballistic missile silos in a few years, doubled the number of its mobile missile launchers, plussed up its ballistic missile submarine fleet and can count its air-launched nuclear missiles as an effective part of its own nuclear triad.

As Beijing was developing its strategic intercontinental nuclear force, Richard said it continued expanding its intermediate-range nuclear capabilities. Although the United States withdrew from the intermediate-range nuclear treaty [IMF] with Russia during the Trump administration, China was never a party to the agreement.

Navy’s F/A-XX Fighter Will be the ‘Quarterback’ for a Team of Unmanned Aircraft

The future F/A-XX sixth-generation fighter will operate as the Navy’s “quarterback” for manned and unmanned teaming in future carrier operations, according to the service. Navy officials described the vision for the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, meant to expand the range for carrier-based operations, in written testimony to Congress this week. “The NGAD [family […]

An F/A-18F Super Hornet, attached to the ‘Red Rippers’ of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 11, lands on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), Jan. 7, 2022. US Navy Photo

The future F/A-XX sixth-generation fighter will operate as the Navy’s “quarterback” for manned and unmanned teaming in future carrier operations, according to the service.

Navy officials described the vision for the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, meant to expand the range for carrier-based operations, in written testimony to Congress this week.

“The NGAD [family of systems] will replace the F/A-18E/F Block II aircraft as they begin to reach end of service life in the 2030s and leverage Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) in order to provide increased lethality and survivability,” reads joint testimony from Department of Navy acquisition officials. “F/A-XX is the strike fighter component of the NGAD FoS that will be the ‘Quarterback’ of the MUM-T concept, directing multiple tactical platforms at the leading edge of the battlespace.”

Jay Stefany, who is currently performing the duties of the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, deputy chief of naval operations for warfighting requirements and capabilities (OPNAV N9) Vice Adm. Scott Conn, and Marine Corps deputy commandant for combat development and integration Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl submitted the written testimony earlier this week to the Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee.

According to their testimony, the Navy initiated the “concept refinement” stage for F/A-XX, which is expected to be a manned fighter, in Fiscal Year 2021. That phase is progressing on time, the officials told Congress.

Stefany, along with the chief of naval operation’s air warfare director (OPNAV N98) Rear Adm. Andrew Loiselle and Marine Corps deputy commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Mark Wise submitted similar testimony about NGAD this week in a joint statement to the House Armed Services tactical air and land force subcommittee.

The idea for NGAD is that a family of manned and unmanned systems will work together, centered around F/A-XX, which is expected to be a manned fighter.

“These manned and unmanned aircraft plus attritable assets will be employed across domains to enable integrated kinetic and non-kinetic fires at tactically relevant ranges,” the Navy’s 2030-2035 aviation vision document from last year reads. “As autonomy and [machine learning] efforts mature, the appropriate mix of F/A-XX, manned and unmanned platforms will be evaluated to ensure the most lethal and affordable [carrier air wing] possible.”

The F/A-XX platform will ultimately succeed the F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as they reach the end of their service lives in the 2030s.

“Its specific capabilities and technologies are under development, however analysis shows it must have longer range and greater speed, incorporate passive and active sensor technology, and possess the capability to employ the longer-range weapons programmed for the future,” the aviation vision says of F/A-XX. “As the Super Hornets are retired from service, a combination of F-35C and F/A-XX will provide Navy tactical fighter aircraft capability and capacity within the CVW.”

The effective combat radius of the carrier air wing has contracted since the F-14 Tomcat interceptor left the inventory in the early 2000s. Due to the Pentagon’s strategy focused on the Indo-Pacific and the need to counter China in a potential conflict, the Navy has had to explore ways to extend the range of carrier operations due to the vastness of the region. The combat radius will nominally increase with the introduction of the MQ-25A Stingray unmanned carrier tanker. The first MQ-25As will deploy on USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-73) in 2026.

While the Navy is currently putting more research and development dollars into the NGAD program, the service has kept those costs classified for three consecutive budget cycles. During the March rollout of the FY 2023 budget proposal, Navy deputy assistant secretary for budget Rear Adm. John Gumbleton acknowledge that the research and development spending for NGAD increase “somewhat dramatically” across the Pentagon’s five-year spending plan.

Navy officials have repeatedly cited classification when asked for details about the program, but the service has not said why the research and development costs for NGAD are classified.

The Air Force is developing a separate Next Generation Air Dominance program. While the Navy and Air Force efforts are different programs, the concepts are similar in that a manned fighter would operate with unmanned aircraft.