The Navy wants to extend how far the F-18 can fly to counter China's anti-ship missile advantage

Wikimedia commonsUS Air Force Airmen assigned to the 4th Equipment Maintenance Squadron (EMS), Seymour Johnson Air Force Base (AFB), North Carolina (NC), remove a conformal fuel tank (CFT) from a USAF F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft on the flight line at Nellis Air Force Base (AFB), Nevada, August 7, 2002.
  • China has advanced anti-ship missiles that can seriously limit the strike capability of US Navy jets.
  • The Navy is turning to ways to extend the flight time and range of its aircraft through the use of conformal fuel tanks and aerial refuelling drones.
  • The fuel tanks and are expected to be fully ready for the Navy by 2022.

The US Navy wants to increase the range of its aircraft so carriers can remain out of missile range, an apparent response to China’s anti-ship defences.

The Navy recently announced that it has awarded Boeing a $US219,600,000 contract to build and deliver conformal fuel tanks for its air wings workhorse, the F/A-18 Super Hornet, as part of an emphasis on increasing fuel capacity and refuelling ability.

CFTs are additional fuel tanks that are attached to the outside of the aircraft, somewhat similar to drop tanks. Unlike drop tanks however, they are attached to the structure of the aircraft instead of the wing, and cannot be dropped.

The CFTs can carry hundreds of pounds of extra fuel, allowing for more hours of flight time.

The tanks are not a new concept – both the F-15 and the F-16 have conformal fuel tanks that can be fitted to them, as do the Dassault Rafale, and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

The Navy is also trying to implement aerial refuelling for carrier missions that do not require large tankers like the KC-46 and KC-135. This will be done through the use of the MQ-25 Stingray.

The Stingray is a unmanned aerial vehicle that is part of the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refuelling System, a program that started after the Navy decided to change the direction of the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike project, which was intended to create a UAV that would strike enemy targets.

China has a distinct advantage when it comes to anti-ship defences and reportedly has the world’s most advanced anti-ship ballistic missile.

The DF-21D has an approximate range of 1,100 miles, whereas the F/A-18 Super Hornet only has a range of 500 miles. The DF-21D has been referred to as the “carrier killer.”

China is also developing other missiles that are just as intimidating, such as the DF-26, which reportedly has a maximum range of 2,500 miles. China is also testing hypersonic glide vehicles that can go as fast as mach 10, making them almost impossible to intercept.

Carrier strike groups are extremely important to the US method of waging war. They have often been the first units sent to conduct strikes in places like Syria and Iraq.

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