By Bijan Razzaghi
The X-47B was originally introduced as a technology demonstrator designed to provide the US Navy’s aircraft carriers with an unmanned stealthy surveillance and strike aircraft to be introduced in the early 2020s. The program was named UCLASS and was going to be used to complement the F-35 in the role of penetrating area denial systems and striking targets behind enemy lines. Some expert in the defense department as well as with Northrop Grumman decided the possibility of using the X-47B platform as a missile truck that can be controlled by the F-35C through a battlefield network this would allow the UCLASS to carry AIM-120s guided and launched from F-35Cs. Despite these ideas the UCLASS has became CBARS or Carrier based aerial refueling system.
The primary reason to change the UCLASS to the CBARS was the research and development cost into arming the X-47B instead the Navy needed to address the fighter shortage. Instead of spending money to make the UCLASS more stealthy and combat capable the Navy has decided to buy more F/A-18 Super Hornets to complement the F-35C entering service in 2018 overall this will solve the fighter shortage while the UCLASS will become CBAR a unmanned tanker aircraft with the ability to also conduct surveillance through various sensors. Currently F/A-18 Super Hornet’s conduct tanker missions the introduction of CBARs now designated MQ-25 will free up those additional Super Hornets to serve as fighters making the overall carrier air wing more powerful and capable. The MQ-25 is also a positive alternative to reintroducing S-3 Viking witch were retired in 2009 or turning the slower MV-22 Osprey into a tanker. MQ-25s can fly at high subsonic speeds Mach 0.9, which makes them a better option for refueling F-35C and F/A-18, Super Hornets
There is still the possibility for the overall X-47B platform to be used for the UCLASS yet delays in the UCLASS program have made it uncertain. CBARS on the other hand is slated to be delivered to the Navy by 2021. Overall the creation of the CBARS program is a step forward for the Navy in securing funding for a stronger manned dedicated fighter force and allowing an unmanned dedicated refueling platform to join the fleet.