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    HomeMilitaryRevolutionary Software Streamlines Aerial Refueling with MQ-25 Drone

    Revolutionary Software Streamlines Aerial Refueling with MQ-25 Drone

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    Lockheed Martin MQ-25 refuels a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    In a significant advancement for U.S. naval aviation, Boeing has successfully tested new software that enables F/A-18 Super Hornet pilots to directly command the unmanned MQ-25 Stingray, initiating the aerial refueling process from the cockpit.

    Lockheed Martin MQ-25” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    This development is poised to enhance operational flexibility and represents a substantial leap forward in manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) technology.

    Lockheed Martin MQ-25” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The groundbreaking simulation occurred in St. Louis on May 1, 2024, where Boeing’s new software was put through its paces, demonstrating the refined communication between the MQ-25 and the F/A-18 using existing communications systems.

    Lockheed Martin MQ-25” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The test validated that fighter pilots can now command the MQ-25 to deploy its refueling drogue and transfer fuel effectively, without the need for a separate carrier-based air vehicle operator.

    Lockheed Martin MQ-25s” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    Boeing’s lead for F/A-18 New Product development, Alex Ewing, highlighted the significance of this update, stating, “MQ-25 is designed to typically receive commands from air vehicle pilots on an aircraft carrier.

    Lockheed Martin MQ-25” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    This software will add a second option.” The flexibility afforded by this software could be critical in combat scenarios where electronic emissions from the carrier need to be minimized.

    Lockheed Martin MQ-25” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The MQ-25 Stingray, built by Boeing, is designed to fulfill the primary role of an aerial refueler, thereby alleviating the F/A-18 Super Hornets from their current “buddy tanker” duties.

    MQ-25 on the flight deck of USS George H.W. Bush” by US Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Roberson is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

    By doing so, this conserves Super Hornets for their intended combat roles. The MQ-25 is equipped with an electro-optic/infrared sensor, allowing it to function in a secondary capacity as an airborne sensor platform.

    RAAF F/18 Hornet” by Two Big Paws is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Juan Cajigas, director of the Advanced MQ-25 program, likened aerial refueling to a ballet, and hailed the software as a major step forward: “To be able to direct the activities via a single pilot, safely and efficiently, is a major step forward in aerial refueling technology.”

    F/A-18 Research Jet Tests for Space Launch System (NASA, SLS, 11/19/13)” by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    The U.S. Navy’s fleet of MQ-25s, currently in development, promises a significant enhancement in its at-sea refueling capabilities. The Navy plans to acquire 76 of these drones, with at least 67 operational models supporting carrier air wings.

    F-18 exhibidor del Ala 12” by Ejército del Aire y del Espacio Ministerio de Def is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    The MQ-25 does not require remote piloting, relying instead on sophisticated flight control algorithms to execute missions autonomously.

    Los F-18 del Ala 15 parten hacia el Tiger Meet” by Ejército del Aire Ministerio de Defensa España is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    This technology advances the MQ-25 beyond its prior capabilities, which had included successful refueling tests of carrier-based aircraft like the F/A-18, F-35C, and E-2D Hawkeye.

    Lockheed Martin F-35C ‘Lightning II’ (BuNo 169601) (with VMFA-314 at Miramar NAS)” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The first MQ-25 example was delivered to the Navy for testing in February, with operational implementation expected in the second half of 2026, when an initial 13 aircraft will have been delivered.

    An F-35C Lightning II flies over the Bay of Bengal during Maritime Partnership Exercise 2021.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Boeing’s efforts underscore the importance of aerial refueling in power projection, particularly for the U.S. Navy, which traditionally cannot operate large tanker aircraft from its carriers.

    An E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is moved across the flight deck aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70).” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The development of the MQ-25 Stingray stems from the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS) program and is a testament to Boeing’s commitment to innovation and the future of combat readiness and sustainability in military operations.

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