MQ-25 Stingray is an air-refueling aircraft under development (2018). You can not read anywhere on the open internet what dimensions the aircraft has. Wing span and length are not mentioned on NavalDrones website. However, a reasonable guess based on the former aircraft F-117 Nighthawk is that the wingspan is about 78-82 feet but not exceeding that, because Stingray is a carrier-based airplane as was the F-117 Nighthawk.
NavalDrones states on its website: ”GA-ASI has designed a specially built MQ-25A Stingray, optimized for the tanker mission and provides an exceptional fuel task, which more than doubles the Carrier Air Wing.”
It is true that one doubles the range if one air-refuel the F-35C twice per mission, but not more than doubles the range. If one calculates the numbers correctly, one will come to the conclusion that the range of a Carrier Air Wing increases by about 3/4 if this Air Wing is air-refueled only once during one and the same mission.
If the Air Wing is air-refueled twice during a single mission, the range is still limited by the combat radius the aircraft has. 500 miles + 500 miles which become a 1 000 miles is in any case the maximum range.
With a single MQ-25A Stingray, one can only air-refuel one (1) F-35C per mission, once on the flight path to the target and once on the way back, if it takes about 4 minutes for a refueling. I have studied pictures on the Stingray in action and it does not appear anywhere that you could air-refuel two F-35C at one and the same refueling instance by using the Stingrays two opposite wing tips. It’s not optimal.
Stingray can in turn be fueled in the air by larger air-refueling airplanes operating from bases on solid land. Though I do not see how one could gain something from air-refueling a Stingray within the framework of a single mission with the F-35C.
A more realistic combat radius for the F-35C than that stated by the manufacturer which is 670 miles on internal fuel is <500 miles without air-refueling, given that the F-35C pilot may need to make several approaches with the airplane before landing if he fails with any landing attempts on the aircraft carrier, and only one airplan at a time can come in for landing on the Carrier’s deck. In fact, the Combat radius of an F-35C could be as low as 434 miles if one values good safety margins.
However, if we assume that the combat radius of an F-35C is 500 miles and that it is air-refueled once per Stingray, which can take up to 4 minutes with an air-refueling distance of approximately 60 miles, then the F-35C plane must return to the Carrier after a total flight distance of 870 miles from the aircraft carrier. After air-refueling, the F-35C may continue to fly for a further distance of 370 miles + the return journey of 870 miles = 1 240 miles. The F-35C has a maximum range of 1 370 miles.
In total, there is a margin of 6 minutes for all F-35C pilots to circulate and go down for landing on a carrier vessel. These 6 minutes corresponds to a 125 miles flight distance. It would provide a F-35C Air Wing of four planes supported by four Stingray 1.5 minutes for landing per F-35C airplane. It’s not much of a safety marginal, but with a well-oiled organization it would perhaps be possible to meet the demands.
In this example, I did not count on hanging extra fuel-tanks on the aircraft.
But how optimal is it to base four MQ-25 Stingray on a lone Carrier group? The Carrier group would have to adjust their distance to the goal after any caprice of the Stingray mechanic, so these Stingrays must be kept in top condition so that the aircraft carrier group is not constantly forced to maneuver into a new position in a jerky way.
As one can count on at least one Stingray always being on maintenance aboard the Carrier, one must make place for one more Stingray on the Carrier. Five Stingrays will occupy a lot of space on the aircraft carrier at the expense of at least twice the space required for the F-35C. Then it’s probably better to invest in the existing E/A-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft and the radar plane E2-C Hawkeye battle management and control aircraft, if you want to optimize. These must still be carried on board the Carrier.
I think five MQ-25 Stingrays on the aircraft Carrier will cause the Navy to combine two carrier ships for one and the same mission. Then the Navy’s controlling perimeters of the world’s oceans is halved. The alternative is that a group of four F-35C attack-airplanes gets reduced with two airplanes for a single mission, and with only three Stingrays, whereof two must be available at every given mission, based on one and the same Carrier. It is not well thought through.
Roger M. Klang, defense political spokesman for the Christian Values Party (Kristna Värdepartiet) in Sweden
What do you think, is MQ-25 Stingray a Cuckoo in the nest?