Future unmanned tankers and drones will use advanced carrier landing system

U.S. Navy’s future unmanned tanker will use the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System developed for F35 and other jet landings on US aircraft carriers.

The Navy will use the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System, or JPALS for short, to land the MQ-25 unmanned aircraft onto carriers without a human at the controls. Known as the Stingray, the Navy’s future unmanned carrier aviation air system will provide inflight refueling to the U.S. fleet’s fighters, allowing them to operate at far greater ranges than before.

“When you’re talking about auto-landing a flying unmanned tanker onto an aircraft carrier, then the system has to be infallibly accurate, which JPALS is,” said Mark Maselli, Raytheon JPALS deputy program manager.

JPALS is a differential, GPS-based precision landing system that guides aircraft onto carriers and amphibious assault ships in all weather and surface conditions up to the rough waters of Sea State 5. It uses an encrypted, jam-proof datalink, connecting to software and receiver hardware on the aircraft and an array of GPS sensors, mast-mounted antennas and shipboard equipment.

The first Marine Corps F-35 Squadron will deploy in early 2018 with an early operational capability JPALS unit aboard ship. The system is slated to go into production in 2019 and will be outfitted on the U.S. Navy’s newest fighter — the F-35 Lightning II — allowing pilots to land with accuracy.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 6, 2014) An F-35C Lightning II carrier variant joint strike fighter makes an arrested landing aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). The F-35 Lightning II Pax River Integrated Test Force from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 is currently conducting initial at-sea trials aboard Nimitz. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin by Alexander H Groves/Released)