USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) and USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) will be the first two carriers to field the Navy’s MQ-25A Stingray unmanned aerial refueling tanker, a spokesperson told USNI News.
The two carriers will receive upgrades to include the control stations and data links needed to control the tanker, Naval Air Systems Command spokeswoman Jamie Cosgrove told USNI News.
Bush was the first carrier to have an unmanned aerial vehicle to perform an arrested landing on its flight deck in 2013 in a test of the Northrop Grumman X-47B UAV.
It’s unclear when the Norfolk-based carriers will be upgraded, but several sources have told USNI News that Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson intends to accelerate the deployment of the Stingray and get it on carrier decks as early as 2019.
The aircraft is in high-demand because it would help alleviate the burden on the carrier air wing’s current refueling aircraft: the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Anywhere from 25 to 30 percent of Super Hornet sorties are used for refueling missions, USNI News has previously reported.
A Navy spokesperson told USNI News on Monday the program was “too pre-decisional” to comment on the operational introduction of the MQ-25A tanker.
Service leaders have said they wanted the capability by 2020.