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Sun, Feb 07, 2016

Navy's UAV Could Be A Tanker

Carrier-Based Unmanned Gas Station Might Be Result Of X-47B Program

While there was much speculation about the ultimate role for the Navy's unmanned X-47B aircraft that demonstrated the ability of an unmanned aircraft to launch and trap from an aircraft carrier, its ultimate mission may be far less sexy than attack aircraft or intelligence gathering.

It may be a tanker.

An acronym being tossed around in military circles is CBARS, for Carrier-Based Aerial Refueling System. Defense News reports that there is still an intelligence role for the aircraft, even as a tanker, but it would be "limited." Any strike capabilities would be pushed off into the future, sources said.

Congress, however, is more keen on a strike mission for the unmanned aircraft. The UCLASS program was funded at $350 million by Congress in the 2016 defense authorization, which was well above the $135 million requested by the Obama administration.

With that authorization, Congress directed the Navy to “develop a penetrating, air-refuelable, unmanned carrier-launched aircraft capable of performing a broad range of missions in a non-permissive environment.” The aircraft, Congress said, “should be designed for full integration into carrier air wing operations — including strike operations — and possess the range, payload, and survivability attributes as necessary to complement such integration.”

Last year, the X-47B demonstrated the capability for autonomous aerial refueling, but as the aircraft receiving the fuel, not delivering it.

Defense News reports that it is not clear how the UCLASS aircraft could be adapted for a tanker role.

But the idea is not without precedent. Several Navy aircraft, including the F/A-18 Hornet, can be equipped with refueling pods and used as a tanker ... but they can quickly be changed back to their primary missions.

(Image from file)

FMI: www.navy.mil

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