Navy to use drones as tankers to keep other aircraft fueled?

USNI News:
Striking the balance between a tanker and a surveillance aircraft is an area of concern for Navy aviation planners and industry as they craft what will be the service’s first operational, carrier unmanned aerial vehicle, commander of Naval Air Forces said on Thursday.
X-47B Salty Dog 501 flies over USS Theodore Roosevelt on Aug. 17, 2014. US Naval Institute Photo

Once tasked with being primarily an information, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft native to the carrier strike group, the Navy’s first push into unmanned fixed wing aviation – MQ-25A Stingray — will now fulfill a badly needed tanker role for the air wing in addition to the ISR mission, said Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker during a presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and co-hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute.

The Navy has recently collected the results from a draft request for proposal for the Stingray program and is currently mulling the results from competitors Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Based on the responses, the Navy is refining the requirements for the full RfP expected next year. Affordability will be a key requirement to the program, USNI News understands.

The problem that industry and the service are dealing with is the ISR and the tanking mission inherently requires two very different types of aircraft shapes or planforms, Shoemaker said.

A primarily ISR UAV would be a high-endurance platform “probably not carry a lot of fuel, have a large wingspan,” to be an efficient platform, Shoemaker said.

For example, the highflying Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton UAV is built with a 131 foot wingspan and can fly unrefueled for up to 30 hours.

“If you’re going to be a tanker at range, you’re obliviously going to have to be able to carry a fair amount of fuel internal to the platform. That drives the different design for those two,” he said.
”So the industry is working on an analysis of where that sweet spot is to do both of those missions.”
 There is much more.

The two missions they have in mind for this aircraft do not seem that compatible.  The compromises that you have to make to incorporate both missions tend to degrade the performance in both areas.  It is a little like trying to design an America's Cup racing sailboat that can also act as a live aboard cruiser.  The results would be a slower craft with cramped living conditions.

The proposed designs are interesting looking.


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