Friday, July 21, 2017

Navy Issues Tanker RFP

The Navy has issued a draft Request For Proposals (RFP) to industry for the planned carrier based unmanned aerial tanker, the MQ-25A Stingray, and the RFP has some interesting points and aspects to it.

First, the RFP has only two key performance parameters (KPP) and both are generic to the point of useless.  They are:

  1. Carrier compatibility – the aircraft must be able to operate from a carrier and use existing catapult and recovery systems.  Duh.
  2. Mission tanking – the aircraft must be capable of aerial tanking.  Again, duh.

The Navy believes this will provide greater flexibility to industry and, ultimately, to the Navy when it comes to the design of the aircraft.  Personally, I think this approach is wrong.  I think performance parameters need to be specified – speed, range, endurance, reliability, fuel capacity, etc.  Without those specs, there’s no guarantee that you’ll wind up with an aircraft that can do the job.  Frankly, this is just the Navy passing design responsibility off to industry in an attempt to avoid accountability if the program tanks (no pun intended).

On the plus side, the Navy is indicating that development should be minimized by using nothing but existing technology.

“…the new airframe effort is less about developing new tech and more about mixing and matching existing systems to make unmanned tanking a reality on the carrier.” (1)

If the Navy can actually hold to this intent, this is a monumental leap forward in common sense acquisition practice.  There is nothing about aerial refueling that requires the development of new technology.  If the Navy can hold to this intent, the resulting costs and timeline should be quite reasonable.  Unfortunately, the Navy has a very hard time resisting gold plating programs after they’ve started.  It will be interesting to see whether they can restrain themselves.

On a related note, if the Navy can actually hold to this intent, it will make an interesting contrast to the Air Force’s tanker program (admittedly, the two programs are vastly different in scope and mission) which has been a dismal failure and this program could actually become an example for how to do acquisition.  As I said, we’ll take a wait and see approach.

I’m extremely ambivalent about an unmanned tanker.  Most of the claims for it are suspect or false. 

  • It won’t reduce manning much, if at all.  For every pilot removed from the cockpit, one has to take their place at a controller of some sort.

  • It offers no greater endurance because its endurance will be limited by the size of the fuel tanks it will carry.  Once the tanks are empty, the aircraft will have to return to the carrier just like a manned tanker would.

  • It offers no cost savings.  An aircraft is an aircraft.  If you want a plane that can travel x miles, at y speed it’s going to cost the same whether there’s a seat in it or not.  In fact, when the additional shipboard control stations are factored into the cost, it will probably be more expensive.

  • There will be inevitable in-flight aircraft failures, as with any aircraft, and without a crew to deal with it and attempt to remedy it, many aircraft may be forced to abort their missions.

  • UAVs have a solid historical record of crashing with some regularity.  The data on this is quite clear.  While losing a UAV is no big deal, losing a tanker affects many aircraft and missions.

Honestly, I don’t really see any concrete advantage to an unmanned tanker.  The only “advantage” is that the Navy gains experience in operating unmanned aircraft in preparation for the time when they try to operate unmanned combat aircraft and, to be honest, this alone may be sufficient justification for the unmanned tanker.

Overall, I like the start to this program.  I’m quite pleased that the Navy is going to at least attempt to produce an aircraft using nothing but existing technology for a routine mission.  If they can hold to the intent, it will be a major accomplishment and could set a pattern for future acquisitions.


(1)USNI News website, “Navy Issues New MQ-25A Stingray Draft RFP to Industry Ahead of Final RFP in the Fall”, Sam LaGrone, 20-Jul-2017,


  1. Why??? I don't get this. In my time on a carrier I don't ever remember problems with tanker planes. The reasons and the requirements are unclear.


  2. Any reason other than it's not new that the Navy could not convert the ~ 90 stored S3B Vikings to updated tanker version of KS-3A which had a capacity of 4,382 US gallons.

    A minus point against the Viking in the Navy's eyes must be that it would be a few $billion less expensive compared to the future Stingray.

    Will be interesting to see what fuel capacity the new Stingray has and the numbers compared to the Viking for operations.

    At the moment Navy admits to '20 to 30%' of F-18 ops used as tankers.

  3. I'm a huge proponent of bringing back the Vikings, but both as a tanker and as an ASW craft. I hate to keep harping on something but the Navy has got to get its stuff together with ASW again.

    That said, the only knock against the S3 that I can think of is: Can it carry enough fuel for actual mission tanking. From what I've read the best mission tanker the Navy has had was the A3 Skywarrior derivative; and the S3 seems short of that in an era when the air wing has shorter legs to begin with.

    3 things I'd do right now if I was the Navy Czar:

    A) Bring back the S-3's for tanking/ASW
    B) Get the CFT's to the hornets to get range out to ~700 nm.
    C) Do an RFP for an honest to God Mission tanker. If you do it right, you might be able to make it a COD aircraft too. (I'm not a fan of multi-mission, but tanking and COD seem to have similar requirements. Loiter time, lots of range, and payload).

  4. There is ONLY ONE answer to this RFP which is supposed to be at IOC in 2020 (2 years away FY- CNO says 2019...). This platform was alluded to in the above comments already.

    The answer really is to refurbish S-3B's at AMARG as the "aero- mechanical platform" (what tortured language, eh?...). You see, on this MQ-25 StingRay, the "platform" are secondary to the unpiloted systems (black boxes- digital controls) on board the aircraft and the CVN. Those are already designed and available and have been defined by the US Navy.

    Given the above SINGULAR answer discussed why didn't the folks who wrote this pre-RFP simply state the obvious- IE that refurbished Vikings will be the "aero mechanical system" because it exceeds the requirements and is "recoverable, sustainable and inherently airworthy"? IMO, they didn't specify re-use of the S-3 in this document because they just couldn't bring themselves to do that with this weasely logic.... What are they scared of?

    Having just read this, IMO and based on my expertise, I have very little (IE- zero) expectation this program will be even marginally successful because they will twist and turn requirements for years...I still believe THEY have expectations for a new vehicle made of plastic that looks like a Frisbee!

    CNOPS- this program started many years ago when they prematurely retired the Viking. The non-piloted gimmickry came later. Call it what you will UCAV/UCLAS/MQ-25.... As usual the problems for these acquisition geniuses ain't in the "geek control stuff" requiring software (at least theoretically). No, the real issue is the capability of the air vehicle to actually conduct the performance side of the mission... As a result, instead of defining a sure thing in this RFP they float spongy trial balloons like this...I'm disgusted with it...


  5. From my perspective....

    the ideal Navy Tanker or COD plane isn't something fancy, like an MQ or an Osprey.

    It's something simple. Aerodynamically efficient. Use of existing electronics and jets. Simple, and redundant controls.

    Mechanically, make this thing like the aircraft version of a Toyota High Lux or a Jeep Cherokee.

    Simple, easy to maintain, and durable. Over-engineer parts when necessary because its a truck.

    The ideal version to me would have a ton of range and payload and be operating 50 years from now because its simple and cheap to maintain.

    We don't need Uber stuff for this. We can do this. We've had designs like this in the past.

    It's only hard because its not sexy. No senator or admiral wants to waste political capital on something like this.

    1. Jim forget the S-3, it is simply not the right plane for the job. They should be thinking new generation C-2, only this time jet powered so it come fly fast enough to do the tanking mission, and bigger.

      This should be a general purpose utility type plane. Then you can make tanker, ASW, COD variants with relatively little cost.

      I hope the talk of trying to give this plane penetrating strike as a secondary mission comes to nothing. It would most likely kill the project with the extra cost that would add.


    2. Just read this. Yes, I'd like a C2 to be more of a general service carrier aircraft.

      But short term we need something. My ideal role for S3 is as an ASW bird again.

    3. See my comments elsewhere about C-2 payload.

    4. I see that now. That's where my ignorance bites me. I don't know what is a useful mission tanking payload.

    5. Jim, this is why I maintain archives of old posts. Look at the guest post by Mr. Bustamante (Aug 2016) about Navy tankers and you'll see tables of data on fuel loads and his analysis of what's needed.

      You should have these posts printed and bound into a naval bible that you carry around with you at all times for easy reference! Besides, the posts make great conversation starters at parties.

    6. I just re-read the Bustamante article. It was fascinating, if a bit depressing.

      It appears difficult for the Navy to be able to have a carrier launched mission tanker due to max weights for carrier aircraft. Maybe a flying wing type aircraft can maximize fuel load, but even a deliverable fuel load of 40K lbs is still not huge in terms of refueling an alpha strike.

      Even the Skywarrior had a 29K lbs fuel load compared to the 320K lbs fuel load (!) of the KC-135.

      It makes a little more sense to me now why the Navy hasn't been so hot to get on board with this. Not much, but a little. Its hard for them to compete.

      It would seem the best we could do in terms of improving "Mission Tanking" capability would be to either see if we could modify the S3's to the KS-3A capability (only one built) to carry 29K lbs of fuel, or bring back the K6 intruders (16K lbs of fuel), which is what Mr. Bustamante recommends. Combine that with the CFT's and long range stand off strike weapons (JASSM-ER, for example, which I believe is Hornet compatible) and you might be able to just 'top them off' at a range far enough from the carrier to get a tactically significant range.

      This is all just 'short term' stuff though to get as much bang out of the air wing as quickly as possible. In the long term, I'd hope that the tanker they come up with is as big and long ranged as possible, as well as long ranged strike aircraft.

      Given what B2 said about the 'airmanship' requirements, and my own concerns about operating a drone far from the carrier in a potentially EM spectrum contested environment and I don't know if unmanned is the way to go.

    7. One question for those 'in the know'. Is it possible to have an aircraft draw off of drop tanks first?

      I keep hearing that (if it makes it to the fleet and is as capable as they say) you don't want drop tanks on an F-35C because it increases its RCS.

      But if you can suck the drop tanks dry first, then go to internal fuel, why does it matter in a neer peer/peer fight? Just drop the darn tanks and get back to being more stealthy.

    8. One last thing.

      I know my 'Bring back the 'X' plane, combine with CFT's' might not be popular because its a patch. I'm not suggesting it as a long term solution, just an aid to move the needle on what I view as an existential threat to carrier air and carriers themselves: Lack of range.

      The Carriers are hugely expensive. Even more now with the Ford class and all its unresolved issues. It gives credence to those who want to replace carrier air with B2's.

      I value carrier air for a lot of reasons, but in the world we are rapidly moving into, the carrier is becoming more vulnerable primarily due to the reduction of range of its air wing, which limits tactical options for the CVBG commander. He can't box. He has to get in close and slug it out with nation states. He's like a heavy weight boxer with arms 6 inches shorter than his opponent.

      I think that in order to keep the carrier relevant, and fix its problems in the next design cycle, we need to patch what we can to get as much range as we can in the short term; so we can give as much power and tactical options to the CVBG commander as possible.

    9. "the carrier is becoming more vulnerable primarily due to the reduction of range of its air wing,"

      Why? Why does a reduced range air wing make the carrier more vulnerable? You've made the statement, now provide the rationale.

      I think you're regurgitating simplistic concepts without really examining the overall picture. This is not a criticism, this is a challenge to think a bit deeper. Show me your statement is right or show me that it needs to be changed.

    10. fair enough, CNO, I'll take a swing at it. As usual my caveat is that I have no naval tactical experience. I'm just going off of my own deductions based on what is known we have and what is known they have.

      The scenario I'm proposing is one where a Carrier has to make strikes against the Chinese A2/AD zone, or perhaps in support of Taiwan.

      The Chinese can operate J-11 (Combat radius ~900 miles), J-16 (Combat radius ~900 miles) and the J8 (Combat radius ~ 500 miles). They also have the Y-8 Maritime patrol craft with a 3000nm range, ELINT packages, and radar. They can operate most of these from their new island bases. We know they have satellite imagery.

      The J-11's and J-16's can all carry anti ship missiles. The Y-18 has an surface search radar as well as optical camera's and infra-red cameras for surface search.

      In a situation where we had to support Taiwan, from invasion, were we to want to use carrier air the CVN would have to get within 350 miles. That is well within the range of the strike aircraft and maritime survelliance aircraft.

      True, the carrier could sit farther out and hope to have its jets refueld by KC-135's, but they will have to be close to the action to be useful as well, and also well within range of the J-8's J-11's, especially if they too are receiving tanker support.

      If I am the Chinese trying to face off a carrier strike, I'm going to use Satellite imagery to *try* to find the carriers. I'm also going to supplement that with escorted maritime patrols.

      If I can use those to find the carriers, I can direct raids against it. Raids supported by AWACS aircraft. In turn, those raids can provide updated targeting information for my DF-21's and subs.

      It won't be cheap. And I'm assuming Aegis beats back a raid or two. But between aircraft launched AShM's, submarines, and DF-21's I stand a good chance of at least mission killing the sub.

      At the very least, the CVN and its small airwing is going to be so busy staying alive that strikes against me are going to be hard to come by.

      Now, a multiple carrier formation provides different problems. But I might have my CVN's and DF-21's take a more active role there.

      The cost of my subs/missiles is relatively cheap. Even if I lose/shoot a lot it still makes both economic, propaganda, and military sense to try to at least mission kill the CVN.

    11. "my caveat is that I have no naval tactical experience."

      Don't ever apologize for that! Our professional naval leaders supposedly have experience and they're idiots.

      Common sense can come from anywhere (except, apparently, naval leadership) so continue to voice your opinions!

    12. "The scenario I'm proposing is one where a Carrier has to make strikes against the Chinese A2/AD zone, or perhaps in support of Taiwan."

      Why? Why would you have a carrier conduct strikes into the teeth of an A2/AD zone? Just because carriers have always done strikes? Just because we're talking about carriers? Why?

      This is the cusp that I referred to. The carrier isn't vulnerable because of some inherent attribute or lack thereof. If it's vulnerable, it's because you put it in a bad position!

      We fight joint. Think of all the ways the US military has to deliver firepower. Is sailing a carrier into the teeth of an A2/AD zone really the best way you can think of to conduct strikes? If it is, then you're right - the carrier is vulnerable. If it isn't, then the carrier isn't vulnerable - at least not in that scenario.

      You're the supreme commander of US forces. Can you think of no better way to conduct land attack strikes?

      This is the cusp! Think! Be the commander!

    13. Jim,

      I can't help you with these larger issues about ballistic missiles, etc. but I will make another attempt to tell you (and everyone else here, including CNOPS) about Carrier airwing tanking. If you want the history go to this link:

      I thought the author did a creditable job describing the history..

      As you can see all the former and existing tankers have been organic carrier based jet aircraft- A-2, A-4, A-7, A-6, S-3 F-18E/F. There is a reason for this that is under appreciated here.

      basically Jim there is zero operational similarity between a big wing USAF tanker and a 40 year old KA-3, or F-18E carrier tanker.

      No one here seems to grasp that the overhead and recovery tanker "mission" requires a tactically oriented jet aircraft capable of giving fuel at LG speeds down to ~200 kts and above 250-300 kts at which the basket becomes unstable for use. That tanking may take place at night between overcast moonless layers and in rainstorms from 1200' up to 25K'. There is not auto machine that helps... it is all visual, in close proximity like the blue angels and hands on...It requires experienced carrier jet pilot to be the tanker and good "airmanship" qualities. All the Popular Mecahnics level engineers and non aviators here will never understand unless you ask. carrier pilots would rather talk about dropping bombs on bad guys or shooting down bogies- that attitude is called professionalism...

      So, this is not a "nothing", bag of gas mission. Rather it is a critical repeatable zero defect, requirement for any fixed wing carrier ops, particularly blue water- no divert... I cannot emphasis this more.

      For organic mission tanking that I imagine is rarely conducted these days, is a planned ahead event with a strict give and return as the tanker accompanies the strike or meets at a rendezvous. In this role the F-18E/F makes a fine mission tanker but the give is sure lacking compared to a KC-135... But this carrier tanking game is not all about numbers.

      Since 2001 we have been conducting air support for "ground skirmishes", and USAF as well as Navy F/A aircraft have had to fly long ranges to take up station with their LGBs and JDAMs. Because we have total air supremacy everywhere in the ME, the USAF flies tanker tracks to provide fuel about everywhere. TISIS hasn't come up with a plan to attack our tankers, eh?

      In a US Navy West/eastpac, midlant or arctic sea, blue-water fight there will be no USAF tanker support, hence the need for US Navy "organic" carrier mission tanking for W.A.S. airstrikes or to have fighters spread out on the threat axis for AAW. That fuel has to come from within the airwing, "organically", on top of those unsexy overhead/recovery tankers that are always airborne for basic CVW needs...

      Is there anything you don't understand?


    14. b2, you seem to be arguing with someone over something but I don't get who or what. Who is disagreeing with anything you've said? I've not seen it.

    15. "Is there anything you don't understand?"

      Heh, alot.

      I will read your article and see if I can refine my point.

      FWIW, I don't think that the Navy *can* compete with a big wing tanker.

      But, this is the way I understand it, in order to increase the range of a strike you need a large, stable aircraft with enough speed to either keep up with a strike or get to a pre-ordained location at which it will rendevous with the strike. It also has to have enough gas to A) get out to the rendevous point and B) deliver enough to the strikers to meaningfully increase their range.

      Then its helpful to have a smaller recovery tanker flying overhead the carrier to give returning aircraft gas as they need it.

      Having this ability organically allows the CVN to be independent of big wing USAF tankers, and makes the air wing more capable.

      I never intended to imply that it was an easy job, or just a flying gas bag. Just that we need something, and that to meaningfully increase mission range that something likely will have to be big (or have a few of them).

    16. Well I ain't throwing any brickbats, just educating from an operator and strike/flight leader standpoint as one who has spent time in AirOps at night making decisions. The fact that I know this specific mission intimately makes it all the more difficult to explain in a couple paragraphs for layman. All I can say is the overhead tanking mission as flown today and tonight around the world by 5-wet SuperHornets will be hard to recreate by SW and black boxes in any platform, or should I say "aero mechanical vehicle" the Navy selects. If the Navy makes a dubious selection of the vehicle to fly this role will makes the program a sure failure from the gitgo.

      I just can't see it happening myself and I think the engineercrats of the Navy have bit off more than they can chew... What I think doesn't matter though.

      I'll leave this topic now. I am too close to it and seem to be an Army of one...


    17. I'll repeat, who's disagreeing with you?

      I, myself, am highly dubious that an unmanned tanker will be successful. You may remember this statement from the post,

      "There will be inevitable in-flight aircraft failures, as with any aircraft, and without a crew to deal with it and attempt to remedy it, many aircraft may be forced to abort their missions."

      Most commenters have expressed a preference for a manned aircraft (S-3 and C-2 being popular choices).

      Again, who is disagreeing with you and what are they disagreeing about?

    18. Re manned/unmanned. I have given up on that issue several years ago after the KS-3B manned tanker reintroduction was rejected back in 2012. Do you know that given a 2014 start we would have tankers flying today at 1/2 the price of the MK-25 development alone costs discussed in this RFI? Problem to Big navy was people/logs/looking stupid for having retired the Viking. Defeated by the nibblers...again.

      Today, with the Navy, publically and begrudgingly, finally saying they have a dire CVW problem overall that everyone here identifies and have come up with this tortured MQ-25 RFI, the least I can do to mitigate the cloudy situation is to at least talk with PRACTICALITY about what the "aero-mechanical vehicle" should be..

      We both know that any successful drone tanker will be difficult to field... So why should that "vehicle" be doomed from the gitgo? We are primed to spend dozens of billions to develop a clean sheet approach it seems. We have a lousy track record designing a new anything...Forget the SW/AI that will be required to do the mission.

      If this fight isn't won over the next weeks/months the program will really be doomed. It is all real spongy..


    19. "Why? Why would you have a carrier conduct strikes into the teeth of an A2/AD zone? Just because carriers have always done strikes? Just because we're talking about carriers? Why?

      This is the cusp that I referred to. The carrier isn't vulnerable because of some inherent attribute or lack thereof. If it's vulnerable, it's because you put it in a bad position!"

      Now I'll admit to being confused. Not being critical, just confused; I thought one of your major points was that naval power had to influence events on land. How does it do that without strikes unless you accept things like a blockade; or (what I understand) is the 3rd offset strategy where we go cutting off China from its oil and merchant trade.

      If the US Navy is going to fight China, where else will it do it?

    20. Yes, naval power exists to influence events on land. The old axiom - The seat of power is on the land.

      But - and this is the big but - we don't have to use naval forces for every combat task there is and we certainly don't need to use carriers any particular way just because we've done so in the past. If you want to attack a target deep in an enemy's A2/AD zone, use unmanned, long range strike aircraft - we call those Tomahawks - which have a range of a thousand miles. We can deliver those via SSGN (ideal way) or Burke (with the carrier providing escort and protection for the Burkes instead of the other way around!) or Air Force bomber with long range cruise missiles. The point is that we don't need to force a carrier to fit the task if there's a better option. In this case there are multiple better options. Thus, the carrier is not vulnerable if we don't force it to be. We can find plenty of other vital tasks for the carrier. I've got a post coming on the future role of the carrier (hint: it ain't strike!).

      Does that make sense - that we don't need to force the carrier into an inherently vulnerable situation? We fight joint and we can use any firepower delivery method that we have.

      All that said, yes, the carrier air wing's limitations do impose limitations on the carrier that we'd rather not have to take into account. So, in that general sense, you're correct but specifically and operationally there is no inherent vulnerability unless we create it by doing something tactically unwise.

      The "cusp" that I'm referring to, as you can gather from the foregoing, is the role of the carrier. It's time for a major reorientation about our operational use of the carrier.

      What do you think of all that?

      Related note: We have an incredibly powerful force in the SSGNs and we're dropping them with no direct replacement. The ability to deliver 150+ Tomahawks with absolute stealth is priceless and we're unilaterally dropping it. The idiocy of Navy leadership seems truly boundless.

  6. "Will be interesting to see what fuel capacity the new Stingray"

    Yeah, and thats the most interesting thing, no one has heard how much fuel for tanking this thing will be able to carry ?

    A reasonable thing the USN could do would be a NEW aircraft design for
    Basically a new and improved airframe of the S-3 in different mission configurations

    And before you ask, it was not me who first tough of this ;)

    The Common Support Aircraft (CSA) will serve as the Navy's carrier-based surveillance, control, and support aircraft for the 21st century, replacing existing S-3B, ES-3A, E-2C, and C-2A aircraft. Envisioned as a single aircraft design, the CSA will be able to carry different mission suites of sensors and avionics in order to fulfill future mission requirements and will possess significant capacity for logistics support and aerial refueling. CSA will facilitate naval fires in the joint warfare battlespace with fuzed tactical data obtained from both on- and off-board sensors and with its organic warfighting capability.

  7. On pilots, its true that they will still need an operator somewhere, likely on the boat, but if they do things like the USAF it could be an enlisted operator versus a commissioned pilot. That's a huge savings over time if they have Chiefs operating these versus Officers.

    Also, if there isn't an ass in the cockpit, you would save on all those pesky keeping the human alive elements within the aircraft. So I see decent cost savings are possible by building a simple roving automated gas station.

    I think there is enough need for the S-3s to be brought back for sea control and ASW missions. I'd rather not muddy the water making them monkey around as refuelers when they should be dropping torpedos on hostile subs and ASMs on surface ships at long distance.

    1. "you would save on all those pesky keeping the human alive elements within the aircraft. So I see decent cost savings are possible by building a simple roving automated gas station. "

      Yes, there are savings to be had from removing some of the life support elements (the interior still needs climate control, however) but those savings are offset by the need to add additional communications and a complete automatic flight control system (all the inputs that used to come from the pilot's stick, rudder, and throttle must be duplicated with automated valves, hydraulics, linkages, etc. I have no data to support this but I suspect it's actually more costly to make an aircraft unmanned versus manned. So many functions that are handled by the pilot in passing must be mechanically, electrically, and programmatically duplicated with additional equipment in an unmanned aircraft.

  8. "The answer really is to refurbish S-3B's at AMARG as the "aero- mechanical platform"

    Before you embark on a complex exercise like this keep in mind that:
    -The last S-3 rolled off the assembly line in the late 70ties
    -For all of they're service life they have been operating from carriers and as all know thats one of the harshest environments a aircraft can operate from
    -The airframes have been in the boneyard for over 10 years

    So in the longterm even if not investing in a new aircraft design to perform similar missions, it would be cheaper to just build new and improved S-3's to serve on 30+ years

    And yes, i know but please do not bring the B-52 argument, they have complex depot level maintenance and basically most of the time fly a civilian airliner flight profile hence very little stress on the airframe

    1. Let's be objective about this. It would cost far, far less to reactivate an aircraft than to design and build one from scratch - we've seen what that costs.

      Cost effectiveness is a separate issue and that's where service life enters. I suspect it would still be cheaper to reactivate an existing aircraft. The savings on the R&D development alone would be billions of dollars. We could reactivate a lot of aircraft for just the R&D costs.

      I strongly suspect that you're throwing out an opinion of yours that you have absolutely no data to back it up with. There's nothing wrong with offering an opinion - it's what I do all the time! However, don't present it as "fact".

      If you believe what you claim, why don't you construct a case study, make reasonable assumptions about costs, see whether it's cheaper to reactivate or buy new, and present the results to us? I think it would make a fascinating post!

    2. Even both versions of the F18 have either had or will need major rebuilds. Why not factor in the same as its likely all the electrical and hydraulics of the S-3 would need total replacement anyway, along with actuators, aircon and so on.
      Its almost like the navys version of the A10, they just refuse to accept anything that doesnt have 'digital DNA' when of course the enemy doesnt care

  9. Storm, et all here,

    Regarding your -, - -. I can technically debunk every one of your "layman's" legitimate but inaccurate/uninformed statements....

    - Age. So what? Actually it was 1977.

    - Service life? First off, exactly, the jet is "carrier suitable" and exceeds the MQ-25 requirement...

    More importantly to this particular discussion, they were well maintained during their lives and preserved properly before induction at AMARG 2004-2009. In fact, they are still in long term preservation today. Please read up on what preservation actually entails and then come back.

    - "10 years in the boneyard", Again- your age argument....Moot. here's why:

    Let me explain, and keep it simple. An aircraft's life is based on a complex equation (SAFE life) re flight cycles, cats/traps, various other cycles and nominal incursions to normal operations (overstress, hard landings, etc.). Based on that "science" and the fact that in 2003 the S-3 Full Scale Fatigue Test was completed by the OEM (after it was announced by the Navy that the Viking be retired...) it was technically determined that the S-3 could operate from carriers safely, an additional lifetime of nearly 100% based on the fleet average hours...Ex- Bend a paper clip back and forth until it breaks. That's SAFE life. Multiple those cycles/hrs x 2 (engineering safety factor) and you will have the safe life of that paper clip... And that's a fact Jack- That's all that matters technically re "airframe life", get it?

    No Storm, "age being just a number" on a machine, CORROSION is what we are most concerned with because that will have to be removed after they are recovered. That type work is called "Depot Maintenance" and that process is well documented and established from all those years in the past when it was being done every 5-7 years on each BUNO. Those Phased Maintenance Intervals will have to be performed first. Same type depot rebuild/maintenance with the engines (TF34)will need to be done also. BTW, the core is nearly exact as the TF34 flown on the A-10 and even has commonality with the regional jet..

    Reusing the S-3B Viking Much cheaper than building new and based on the flight hours averaged per year by the Viking fleet 1976-2009 of ~400 hrs per year, a refurbished Viking re-used in the MMQ-25 StingRay role (tanking, ISR/ASuW?) would offer an additional service life off ~30 years or more!

    Now for everything I've mentioned above I can get nibbled by minnows to death....normally via all the logistics details but I'd like to just say that what I have written above are the facts re the S-3 and are simply technically irrefutable. It is not only doable but is really the only solution...Almost a no-brainer.. However, in my 40 years association with this business I have never seen the navy select that COA much...

    B-52? I am the same age. LOL.


    1. Just a reminder - keep the comments polite and impersonal.

    2. CNOPS-Simple facts and the navy knows it. They just don't want to believe. Or listen.
      I did not disemble his valid points I am simply stating the facts impersonally.
      Re an S-3 vehicle, unmanned as a tanker only, using a buddy store, total fuel could be upwards of 24-25 k. Given the S-3 burn rate, a nominal cycle time of 2 hours a total give would upwards of 18 k. As much or more than any KA-6 or KA-3 in the past and if unused for overhead tanking most of that fuel could come back aboard
      The flexibility and performance of this platform could never be matched by any other air vehicle existing or planned, or even imagined, without a 10 year development cycle if at all.
      Trust me.

    3. And thats what i have been saying, If you want S-3's, just build them NEW and a little bit improved.
      Just give the blueprints to LM or Boeing and tell em :
      "hey, we just want the same thing if you can add some new bells and whistles fine, but don't screw up so much "

    4. b2, and about that proposal of reactivating old airframes
      whats to keep em from not suffering the same fate like this:

    5. Don't nibble please. I stated facts based on data and science and I can't explain material, structural and aeroengineering from my android. Its my business to know. Do some more research on S-3 specifics. Basically it was over designed for its function and well cared for.

    6. "whats to keep em from not suffering the same fate"

      Anything could happen but it's not likely.

      The F-35's were grounded a few times for cracks and that's a brand new plane so I guess that rules out building a new S-3, right?

      If we moan and worry about "what if" scenarios, we'll never do anything. At some point, we have to make a reasonable evaluation and proceed with whatever makes the most sense. If "what if" happens, we'll deal with it.

    7. "Just give the blueprints to LM or Boeing and tell em :
      "hey, we just want the same thing if you can add some new bells and whistles fine, but don't screw up so much ""

      The idea sounds rational. But in this acquisition environment I bet you do that and it still ends up over budget and late.

      If possible, I'd look at building a C2 again as your COD/Tanker, and the S3 as your ASW/Sea Control/recovery tanker in a pinch.

      Longer term, we could use a sea control aircraft or tanker that has some stealth to it. If we're going to park a significant portion of our fule train nearer to the enemy, or want OTH targeting from an aircraft, it will have to have some low observability.

      But That's step 2, I think.

      A Carrier with F-18's with CFT's and LRASM/JASSM and the ability to mission tank those SuperHornets is an immediate step up from what we have now.

  10. Before we start talking about this, I'd really like to see a number on that RFI for gallons and range.

    Given the short legs of the airwing, we need to supplement. The only way I can think of doing that is CFT's for the Superhornets and mission tanking for a tanker. Mission tanking is a big job, and is going to require a long range for the tanker as well as a lot of fuel for the planes its taking.

    We should be able to determine the range of the Superhornets, the range of our enemies weapons, and come up with the amount of fuel we need for the tanker to carry.

    Without that I feel the Navy has left itself room to make an expensive unmanned stealthy bird with 3K of fuel and call it a mission tanker. 'Look Congress! Its a tanker! And ISR! And Unmanned! And Stealthy! WooHoo! Whizbang on the Flight Deck all from your district! Only 75 mil!"

    This strikes to the heart of one of my biggest beefs with the Navy.

    I'm just a civilian with no experience. But it seems we have a force that's like an M&M. Hard on the outside but soft and squishy in the middle.

    By that I mean we've let the hard, unsexy stuff like logistics, ASW, MW, and readiness and maintenance flag. Didn't we just retire some high speed CLF's?

    A big shiny navy is nothing without logistics and maintenance behind it.

    For Logistics, we have little tanking ability now, and I'm skeptical of a mission tanker because the navy seems fine with short legs in the LCS, Hornet, and going from C2 to the Osprey; all while 'pivoting to the Pacific'. How did the navy that won WWII in the Pacific forget its own institutional knowledge?

    For maintenance, we know what the Navy did with INSURV and the status of the ships before it classified INSURV.

    Finally, those boring bits of warfare, ASW and MW, are going to be key, as CNO has pointed out before. But from what I can tell we have shredded our ability in those areas.

    If we persist in this, it doesn't make sense to keep funding the Navy. And I love the Navy.

    1. I read where the navy gave the go ahead to build some block 3 superhornets to include CFTs.

  11. Couple of thoughts:

    If USN keeps it and STICKS to just a unmanned tanker, Ok, I'm willing to go for it although as others have mentioned, would be nice of USN to produce payload/range specs. As long as USN sticks to that and doesn't try to add a bunch of other demands, USN trying out to integrate unmanned ops on a carrier is necessary, will happen sooner or later and USN needs to start somewhere. I'm just afraid USN will add ISR, attack, etc,etc and just turn this into another mess.....

    Not really sure where I stand with S3B, could we bring some back? I don't know, generally, Ill assume today's services don't want to bring back anything "old", maybe in the 80s or 90s DoD could still do that but I don't see them bringing back anything from the desert. I would far prefer to see a study how much it would cost to bring back a new S3B. Same aerodynamics design, same fuselage, same landing gear, slap some new civilian CF34s and put a new glass cockpit, THAT'S it, nothing else, no need to reinvent the wheel and no need for anything fancy so let's keep most of the design and just put in a refresh: new engines and new cockpit. That would be interesting to compare to a refurbished S3B or a complete new design....

    Last, I haven't seen anything about it BUT I don't understand why we can't take a E2D air-frame, remove the extra crew and radar, put some extra fuel tanks inside and turn that into a KE2A. You already have the design and it's in operation, you would have the same parts, engines, crew training,etc,etc...seems to me it would be the cheaper than a whole new unmanned 2 cents.

    1. Hmm, the E-2 airframe is rather slim it would not carry enough fuel as a tanker, better use a new build C-2 airframe because its more bulkier could potentially carry a lot more fuel for tanking duty

    2. The C-2 is listed as having a payload of 10,000 lbs. I don't know whether that would also be the fuel limit in a tanker role but, if so, it's not even close to what's needed. Even the F-18E in a tanker role can carry 15,000 lbs of fuel (though it's not normally used in that max configuration anymore).

      Before we all jump on the C-2 bandwagon, someone needs to find a realistic fuel capacity because, at the moment, it doesn't look like it's suitable.

  12. We should be EXTREMELY hesitant in funding UAV snake oil salesmen (like General Atomics, Boeing) to pursue endeavors that change the way we operate. They do not have the interest of the service in mind. They do NOT respect the military, nor do they respect its veterans. I speak from experience. Good job being critical of this hogwash, NAVCONOPS.

  13. There's a fairly obvious reason for the vague specification. It gives the Navy a lot more discretion in any purchasing decision. As well as all the usual reasons for that, such as currying favour with Congressmen, there's a new reason this year.

    The President has a somewhat mercurial management style. If I were a Navy project officer, the idea of framing my project so that a presidential decision could be accommodated, no matter what it was, would be quite tempting.

  14. Or just build a dedicated tanker variant of the Super Hornet.
    No radar, no weapons systems and unnecessary electronics, should cost significantly less than the a standard F-18E.
    The aircraft is still in production, just take out as many unnecessary systems and increase as much as more the internal fuel load and also developing larger external fuel tanks would be a option , and call it KF-18 ;)

    1. Buying more $85m superhornets to do tanking is exactly what the navy has been doing the past decade and folks like me have been telling them.
      That is why this mq-25 RFP exists to stop the bleeding.
      My problem is they just continue to make bad choices and not take bold decisive action.

    2. A dedicated tanker version of the Hornet would be fine for overhead tanking at the carrier but mission tanking requires far more fuel load than a Hornet could ever carry.

      This has all been discussed in a previous post which includes tanker capacity numbers for a variety of aircraft. See, Tanker Post

      Please review the referenced post before continuing this discussion to be sure you have a grasp of the actual data.

      There is simply no significant extra space in an F-18 Hornet for fuel no matter what you take out. You'd be lucky to squeeze in a hundred extra gallons. The current F-18E is already maxed out at 5 buddy tanks. There is no way to add more. Postulating bigger tanks is not reasonable. The aircraft must be able to get off the carrier deck and be able to fly.

    3. You beat me to it. I remember that post and re-read it today.

      You made a good argumemt for a large, clean sheet design, tanker like the EKA-3 to provide more fuel downrange compared to other platforms. Such an aircraft could also serve as a much needed submarine hunter. Maybe even a cruise missile launcher.

      When the MQ-25 was all the rage, someone suggested having 3 or 4 of them supporting a single F-35. I hope that is not the case with this newest iteration.

  15. /sarcasm_start

    Here comes the V-22 tanker version!!!


    1. Please don't give them any bad ideas. Next thing you know there will be an F-35T (tanker) introduced.
      Someone tell me again what was wrong with the old tankers?
      Solutions searching for problems?
      I bet one of the smaller commercial aircraft manufactures could design and build a suitable (but manned) tanker, and they'd be happy to do it.


    2. My realistic thought would be to look really hard at the S-3 and C-2 and see which one would be best for both tanker service and long-range COD and then evaluate whether or not existing airframes are worth rebuilding for the combined role.

      Considering that the E-2 is still in production, an updated new production C-2 might make more sense long-term instead of rebuilding old airframes.

    3. See Mat, that would have made WAYYYY too much sense for USN to update the old C-2 using some hardware from new E2D and produced a new COG C-2 with a new tanker version too or some kind of cargo/tanker combo KC-2A. That would have been faster, cheaper and more common sense BUT we know that's not how USN operates. Instead we will have a limited role cargo V22 and a UAV tanker that probably won't have the right payload/range so basically USN will have 2 NEW SYSTEMS that are going to be more expensive and not as good.....

    4. "I bet one of the smaller commercial aircraft manufactures could design and build a suitable (but manned) tanker, and they'd be happy to do it.

      MM-13B "

      You'd think. But look at the Pegasus. That was a 'cheap, COTS' tanker and it's been a nightmare.

    5. C-2 is listed as having a 10,000 lb payload. That's not even close to being useful in a tanker role.

  16. Excuse me for asking the obvious, but why is the Navy so fired up about a drone tanker? Is it because they don't really have a tanker right now? Tanker just doesn't seem to me to be the role that best matches the drone skill set.

    1. As I stated in the post, I think they view this as a good way to gain operating experience for UAVs on and around the carrier. If they're committed to combat UAVs, which they certainly seem to be, this is not a bad way to start down that path.

  17. This link describes the issue and why the mq-25 program is so important. It is accurate. This problem will not be solved by the hypothetical or the clever use of terms. We are beyond brainstorming.Believe me:

  18. Wouldn't a KV-22 tanker give the ability to refuel F-35Bs/helicopters off the amphibs? What about operating them directly off tankers, leaving more space on the flattops? Perhaps forward base them off off something like Puller to extend range further?

    1. There are two general types of tanking needs: overhead and mission.

      A V-22 tanker might be able to perform the overhead tanking but lacks the speed and range to conduct mission tanking.

    2. The path to this mq-25 has been tortured. The CBAR study disqualified both V-22 and C-2 as tanker platforms for the reasons stated by CNOPs and others suitability/performance shortcomings.
      A carrier tanker must have the tactical capability of those it refuels. A bag of gas in a port orbit at 10k may seem all that is required of an overhead tanker but there is more to it..
      The tanker is first off the cat and last to recover. Only experienced pilots are equaled for the mission at night or in bad wx. That is because the tanker must be able to refuel those low on fuel or with emergencies quickly and efficiently. That takes "airmanship". I do not think the SW required to accomplish that crucial task has been designed yet. Only ta air tanker pilots and CVN air ops officers who plan and execute the daily plan really understand. Overhead/recovery tanking for a CVW is not simple despite characterizations to the contrary. Another compelling reason to select a platform that will not fail the mission...

      That takes airmanship

  19. I'm not a fan of the Osprey. Its maintenance cycle is, from what I've read, a mess. I think the Navy is making a grievous mistake going from the C2 to the V22.

    the only advantage I can see to making the Osprey a tanker is that *maybe* it could operate off of the America class too.


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