The US Navy just named the first carrier-based Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) the MQ-25A Stingray.
The Navy has been pursuing a carrier-based drone since 2006 — first as a long-range stealthy bomber, then as a surveillance and strike craft, and finally as a flying tanker. Though air-to-air refueling is hardly a breakthrough, having a carrier-based tanker provides the Navy with a possible solution to one of their most pressing problems — anti-access area denial (A2AD).
Both China and Russia have developed ranged platforms capable of locking US forces out of key locations in their respective areas, but the Stingray could increase the range of US carrier-based aircraft indefinitely, allowing them to burst enemy A2AD bubbles.
For instance, China’s famous DF-21D “carrier killer” ballistic missile has a range of about 810 miles. The US’s longest-range carrier-based aircraft only have a range of about 550 miles, which forces the US to either operate carrier-based aircraft outside of their effective range or risk bringing an entire carrier, with 6,000 sailors and about 70 aircraft, within range of the DF-21D.
The Stingray, once integrated into carrier fleets, will extend the range of US carrier’s existing F-18s, allowing them to effectively operate from a safe distance.