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Boeing MQ-25 Stingray Will Extend The Combat Range of Fighter Jets

[Estimated read time: 4 minutes]
  • Boeings reveals a MQ-25 Stingray prototype, an unmanned carrier aviation air system.
  • It has a wing-body-tail configuration with strike, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.  
  • It will extend the combat range of fighter jets and seamlessly integrate with carrier’s catapult, and launch and recover systems. 

Boeing believes that unmanned aircraft systems are perfect for refueling United States Navy jets operating from aircraft carriers. On 19th December, the company revealed its prototype of MQ-25 Stingray Unmanned Carrier Aviation Air System (UCAAS) competition.

Along with extending the combat range for deployed Boeing EA-18G Growler, F/A-18 Super Hornet, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters, MQ-25 also seamlessly integrate with carrier’s catapult, and launch and recover systems.

In addition to the aircraft, rockets and satellites, Boeing provides leasing and product support services. Based on 2015 revenue, it is the second largest defense contractor. The company has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for nearly 90 years. For now, the Unmanned Aircraft System is going through extensive engine run tests before heading to the flight ramp for deck handling demonstrations early in 2018.

Planning MQ-25 Stingray

It’s a Carrier Based Aerial Refueling System (CBARS) that came from the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance Strike (UCLASS) program.

After several delays, in February 2016, UCLASS reported that they will be producing Super Hornet-sized carrier based aerial refueling tanker as CBARS, with strike, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. In July 2016, the aircraft was officially named ‘MQ-25A Stingray’.

The aircraft will likely have a wing-body-tail configuration, which will limit its ability to strike in contested airspace, but favors budget, General Atomics (a defense contractor specialized in nuclear physics) and Boeing submissions.

Boeing MQ-25 StingrayBoeing’s MQ-25 Stingray prototype

The final MQ-25 Stingray request for proposal was released by the US Navy in October 2017. The competitors are Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Marting and Northrop Grumman. In the same month, Northrop withdrew its X-47B from the competition, telling that they wouldn’t be able to fulfill the requirements of the programme.

Capabilities Of The Refueling Drone

The project addresses the carrier’s requirement for an organic refueling aircraft, freeing up the 30% of Super Hornets performing the mission in a more cost effective manner than upgrading V-22 Osprey, F-35, and E-2D Hawkeye.

It can also fire missiles and drop bombs from drop tank pylons, but destroying targets or surveillance will not be its primary focus. Decreasing the low observable requirement would make things easier for existing UCLASS competitors. In 2016, four development deals were signed with a formal request for proposal expected by 2017, and operational status by the mid 2020s.

This Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) can fly with F-35 for sensor operations and refueling. It can extend the SuperHornet’s 830 kilometers combat radius to beyond 1,300 kilometers. One of the main objectives of the aircraft for the US Navy is to deliver 6,800 kilograms of fuel to 4-to-6 planes at 930 kilometers.

Read: 15 Most Secret and Experimental Military Aircraft

General Atomics conceptGeneral Atomics MQ-25 concept

Boeing has now become the first competitor to formally show off the MQ-25 prototype. General Atomics, on the other hand has released the concept art based on its Avenger unmanned aerial vehicle, which looks very much similar to MQ-9 Reaper. Moreover, General Atomics has mounted an intensive advertising campaign featuring the aircraft rendering.

Budgets and Planned Investments

The Naval Air Systems Command has provided Lockheed Martin and Boeing each $43 million as contract fees to carry out risk reduction activities in support of the MQ-25. The contract covers the concept refinements and development of trade space for requirements generation in advance of the manufacturing and engineering phase.

The Government Accounting Office released a report that shows the current status of the restructured CBARS program. The Navy plans to invest more than $2 billion in the CBARS program from fiscal year 2017 through 2021.

Read: DARPA Invests $100 Million For Gene Drive Research

This investment mirrors the 3 major parts of the original UCLASS program – Air System segment, Aircraft Carrier segment, and Control and Connectivity segment. A more detailed acquisition strategy for this program is yet to be released. The US government will continue to monitory this strategy as more details become available.

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