- US Navy
WASHINGTON – The US Navy’s 10 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers have long been the envy of the world, with their unrivaled ability to project power on any shore. But they’re in danger.
US adversaries – China specifically – have purpose-built long-range missiles known as “carrier killers,” which out-range the carriers by 300 or so miles.
But thanks to Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works advanced development program, which developed the SR-71 Blackbird in 32 months, that problem may soon be solved with the MQ-25A tanker drone.
Rob Weiss, general manager of Skunk Works, told reporters at Lockheed Martin’s Arlington, Virginia, office this week that the Department of Defense and Lockheed were “frankly doing all the right things to accelerate this program and get it in the hands of the warfighter sooner rather than later.”
Acquiring new weapons for the US military can take a ridiculously long time, but Weiss, who was in the Navy in the 1980s, feels the need for speed.
The addition of a flying, unmanned tanker that could have some stealth integrated would “provide more legs, more reach for both the F-18 and the F-35,” Weiss said.
With China’s unilateral land grabs in the South China Sea and its burgeoning navy and missile force prowess, Weiss said he found it “imperative, frankly, to national security” that the US extend the range of its carrier strike aircraft. Giving the US Navy’s jets more range would mean the carriers could stay out of range of the missiles in China and Russia‘s inventories.
- US Navy Photo
The MQ-25A stingray will be the Navy’s first carrier-based tanker and carrier-based drone, but drones could take on a bigger role in the future, Weiss said.
“It’s up to the Navy to find what they want beyond an MQ-25,” Weiss said. “It starts with this tanker. What may come after that, we’re going to listen to our customer and see what they say.”
But whatever the US military needs, Weiss and Skunk Works will be there to quickly put some of the best minds in the industry to work.
Weiss said the Navy is expected to put out requests for proposals on building the MQ-25 by this summer.