WASHINGTON — The US Navy’s 10 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers have long been the envy of the world with unrivaled ability to project power on any shore anywhere on the globe — but they’re in danger.

US adversaries — China specifically — have purpose-built very long range missiles known as “carrier killers” which outrange the carriers by a healthy 300 or so miles.

But thanks to Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunkworks, which developed the SR-71 Blackbird in 32 months, that problem may soon get answered with the MQ-25A tanker drone.

Rob Weiss, general manager of Skunkworks, told reporters at Lockheed Martin’s Arlington, Virginia office this week that the Department of Defense and Lockheed were “frankly doing all the right things to accelerate this program and get it in the hands of the warfighter sooner rather than later.”

It’s no secret that new weapons acquisition in the US military can take a ridiculously long time, but Weiss, a Navy man of the 1980s, feels the need for speed.

The addition of a flying, unmanned tanker that could have some stealth integrated will “provide more legs, more reach for both the F-18 and the F-35,” said Weiss.

With China’s unilateral land grabs in the South China Sea and its burgeoning navy and missile force prowess, Weiss finds it “imperative, frankly, to national security” that the US extend the range of its carrier strike aircraft. Giving the US Navy’s jets more range means the carriers can stay out very long range missiles in China and Russia‘s inventories.

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Photo courtesy of US Navy