The San Diego-ported Carl Vinson last week became the first aircraft carrier in the U.S. fleet to install an unmanned aerial vehicle command center, the Navy says.

The USS Carl Vinson prepares for flight operations. Navy photo

“Having a UAV asset that provides persistent, potentially 24/7, surveillance coverage for the strike group is a game-changer,” said Rear Adm. James Loeblein, commander of Carrier Strike Group 1. “Putting additional ISR capacity into the warfare commander’s hands increases the flexibility and warfare capability of the entire strike group.”

Capt. Beau Duarte, program manager of Unmanned Carrier Aviation program office, inspected the site April 13 and recognized sailors instrumental in the security, logistics and installation of the UAV suite.

“This marks the start of a phased implementation of the MQ-XX system on an aircraft carrier,” Duarte said. “The lessons learned and ground-breaking work done here will go on to inform and influence future installations on other aircraft carriers.”

The UAV ready room was installed during Carl Vinson’s recent chief of naval operations Planned Incremental Availability. The completion of all phases of installation is scheduled for 2022.

“We are carving out precious real estate on board the carrier, knowing that the carrier of the future will have manned and unmanned systems on it,” said Capt. Karl Thomas, Carl Vinson’s commanding officer. “This suite is an incremental step necessary to extend performance, efficiency and enhance safety of aerial refueling and reconnaissance missions that are expending valuable flight hours on our strike-fighter aircraft, the F/A-18 Echoes and Foxtrots.”

The Navy said the MQ-XX program will deliver a “high-endurance unmanned aircraft that will replace today’s F/A-18E/F aircraft in its role as the aerial tanker for the Navy’s carrier air wing, thus preserving the strike fighter’s flight hours for its primary mission.”

The MQ-XX is set to be operational in the mid-2020s.

The Carl Vinson Strike Group will deploy to the Western Pacific in 2017.

Also Wednesday, the Navy noted that guided-missile destroyers Spruance and Decatur departed San Diego on Tuesday.

The destroyers will join the guided-missile destroyer Momsen in waters off Southern California before heading to the Western Pacific as the Pacific Surface Action Group.

The PAC SAG will conduct routine patrols, maritime security operations and theater security cooperation activities to enhance regional security and stability, the Navy said.

It also expected to also take part in the Oceania Maritime Security Initiative — a secretary of defense program leveraging Department of Defense assets transiting the region to increase the Coast Guard’s maritime domain awareness, ultimately supporting its maritime law enforcement operations in Oceania.

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