Carl Vinson

The first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) command centre, the MQ-XX system, has been successfully installed aboard the US Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70).

The installation was carried out during USS Carl Vinson’s Chief of Naval Operations Planned Incremental Availability (PIA), and work on all phases of installation is expected to be completed in 2022.

Carl Vinson commanding officer captain Karl Thomas said: "This suite is an incremental step necessary to extend performance, efficiency and enhance safety of aerial refuelling and reconnaissance missions that are expending valuable flight hours on our strike-fighter aircraft, the F/A-18 Echoes and Foxtrots."

“Having a UAV asset that provides persistent, potentially 24/7, surveillance coverage for the strike group is a game changer.”

The MQ-XX programme is expected to offer a high-endurance unmanned aircraft that will replace the existing F/A-18E/F aircraft in its role as the aerial tanker for the navy’s carrier air wing (CVW). This will help preserve the strike fighter’s flight hours for its primary mission.

The range and payload capacity of high-endurance unmanned aircraft will provide persistent, sea-based intelligence, surveillance and the reconnaissance (ISR) capability to support the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) and the Joint Forces Commander.

CSG 1 commander rear admiral James Loeblein said: "Having a UAV asset that provides persistent, potentially 24/7, surveillance coverage for the strike group is a game changer.

"Putting additional ISR capacity into the warfare commander’s hands increases the flexibility and warfare capability of the entire strike group."

The 333m-long third Nimitz-class supercarrier Carl Vinson has a displacement of 101,300t and can accommodate a crew complement of approximately 5,680.

The warship is equipped with an integrated communication advanced network (ICAN) throughout all areas of the ship, digital flat panels and titanium pistons for increased strength.

The aircraft carrier also incorporates rolling airframe missiles (RAM), which replace the Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) used on other carriers, in addition to Mk 29 Sea Sparrow missiles.

USS Carl Vinson was deployed to the AOR in 2011, where it conducted 1,656 combat sorties in support of operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn.

Image: USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) among three Nimitz-class aircraft carriers at the pierside at Naval Air Station North Island. Photo: courtesy of US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M Young/Released.