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MQ-25 Stingray
Role Unmanned combat aerial vehicle
National origin United States
Manufacturer Boeing
First flight 19 September 2019
Status In development
Primary user United States Navy
Program cost US$804 million

The Boeing MQ-25 Stingray is an aerial refueling drone that resulted from the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS) program, which grew out of the earlier Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program. The MQ-25 first flew on 19 September 2019.

Development[edit | edit source]

Background[edit | edit source]

The United States Navy began its efforts to develop an aircraft carrier-based UAV in 2006. The original UCLASS concept was for a stealthy strike platform capable of penetrating enemy air defenses. In 2012, lethality and strike requirements were diluted in order to create an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR)-oriented aircraft that could be developed quickly to conduct low-intensity counter-terrorism missions.[1]

On 1 February 2016, after many delays over whether the UCLASS would specialize in strike or ISR roles, it was reported that a significant portion of the effort would be directed to produce a Super Hornet-sized carrier-based aerial refueling tanker as the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS), with "a little ISR" and some capabilities for communications relay, and strike capabilities put off to a future version of the aircraft.[citation needed] In July 2016, it was officially named "MQ-25A Stingray" after being named RAQ-25A in the Navy previously.[2]

The Pentagon apparently made this program change in order to address the Navy's expected fighter shortfall by directing funds to buy additional F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and accelerate purchases and development of the F-35C. Having the CBARS as the first carrier-based UAV provides a less complex bridge to the future F/A-XX, should it be an unmanned strike platform. It also addresses the carriers' need for an organic refueling aircraft, proposed as a mission for the UCLASS since 2014, freeing up the 20–30 percent of Super Hornets performing the mission in a more capable and cost effective manner than modifying the F-35, V-22 Osprey, and E-2D Hawkeye, or bringing the retired S-3 Viking back into service.[3][4][5]

Stealth requirements will be "descoped" and it can still be capable of firing missiles or dropping bombs from drop tank pylons, but surveillance and destroying targets will not be its main mission. Reducing the low-observable requirement is expected to make things easier for existing UCAAS competitors. With lower stealth requirements the aircraft will probably be a conventional shape with distinct wings, body, and tail rather than the more blended and largely tailless shape common to current stealth designs. This less stealthy shaping will limit its ability to operate in contested airspace, but favors lower cost and Boeing and General Atomics submissions as well as opening the competition to potential new entrants.[citation needed]

Four development contracts were issued in 2016, with a formal RFP expected in 2017, with operational status in the early to mid-2020s.[6][7]

Rear Adm. Michael Manazir has suggested that three of these UCAVs could fly with an F-35 for refueling and sensor operation.[8] Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker said that the MQ-25 can extend the Super Hornet's 450 nmi (520 mi; 830 km) unrefueled combat radius to beyond 700 nmi (810 mi; 1,300 km). The Navy's goal for the aircraft is to be able to deliver 15,000 lb (6,800 kg) of fuel total to 4 to 6 airplanes at a range of 500 nmi (580 mi; 930 km).[9] The Navy released the final MQ-25 Stingray RFP in October 2017; the competitors are Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and General Atomics.[10]

Selection[edit | edit source]

On 19 December 2017, Boeing unveiled its prototype aircraft entrant derived from the Boeing Phantom Ray and its other unmanned aerial systems.[11] The prototype was quietly rolled out in November 2014 during the PDR contract phase of the defunct UCLASS program.[12] Boeing's MQ-25 design is not new for the tanking mission, but Boeing says that was considered when designing it.[13]

General Atomics proposed their Sea Avenger concept which is enlarged from its Predator-C/Avenger for refueling. The company stated that basing its MQ-25 design on Avenger reduces development time.[14][15] Lockheed Martin has shown their Sea Ghost concept based on the RQ-170 Sentinel.[16]

Northrop Grumman announced on 25 October 2017 that it was withdrawing its X-47B from the MQ-25 competition, saying the company would have been unable to execute the program under the terms of the service's request for proposals.[17] The company's departure signaled to some analysts that the Navy's requirements could favor wing-body-tail designs, not the flying wings thought to be proposed by Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin.[18]

On 30 August 2018, the U.S. Navy announced Boeing as the winner of the competition and awarded a $805 million development contract for four MQ-25A aircraft to be completed by August 2024.[1] An additional three test MQ-25As were ordered on 2 April 2020 for a current total order of seven.[19] The program may expand to $13 billion overall and consist of 72 aircraft.[20]

Flight testing[edit | edit source]

In late April 2019, the first MQ-25 test aircraft (T-1 or "Tail 1") was taken by road from Boeing's technical plant at St. Louis's Lambert International Airport across the Mississippi River to MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, which is conjoined to Scott Air Force Base.[21] Following taxi tests, the Federal Aviation Administration certified the aircraft and granted airspace for flight testing. The MQ-25 took its first flight on 19 September 2019.[22]

Design[edit | edit source]

Boeing's MQ-25 design is powered by one Rolls-Royce AE 3007N turbofan engine delivering 10,000 lb (4,500 kg) of thrust; it is a variant of the engine used to power the Navy's MQ-4C Triton.[23] The aircraft is less stealthy than flying wing UAVs. However, it still features a stealthy fuselage shaping, flush inlet to shield engine blades from radar and V-tail.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 LaGrone, Sam (August 30, 2018). "Navy Picks Boeing to Build MQ-25A Stingray Carrier-Based Drone". United States Naval Institute. https://news.usni.org/2018/08/30/navy-picks-boeing-build-mq-25a-stingray-carrier-based-drone. Retrieved August 30, 2018. 
  2. LaGrone, Sam (15 July 2016). "It’s Official: ‘MQ-25A Stingray’ U.S. Navy’s Name For First Carrier UAV". news.usni.org. https://news.usni.org/2016/07/15/official-mq-25a-stingray-title-navys-first-carrier-uav. Retrieved 18 July 2016. 
  3. Good-Bye, UCLASS; Hello, Unmanned Tanker, More F-35Cs In 2017 Budget - Breakingdefense.com, 1 February 2016
  4. US Navy’s Unmanned Jet Could Be a Tanker - Defensenews.com, 1 February 2016
  5. Pentagon to Navy: Convert UCLASS Program Into Unmanned Aerial Tanker, Accelerate F-35 Development, Buy More Super Hornets - News.USNI.org, 1 February 2016
  6. Osborn, Kris (24 October 2016). "Navy awards MQ-25 Stingray tanker deal". Defense Systems. https://defensesystems.com/articles/2016/10/24/stingray.aspx. Retrieved 22 December 2016. 
  7. Trimble, Stephen (20 October 2016). "USN awards MQ-25 risk reduction contract to Northrop Grumman". RBI. https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/usn-awards-mq-25-risk-reduction-contract-to-northrop-430550/. Retrieved 25 October 2016. 
  8. Whittle, Richard (22 March 2016). "Navy Refueling Drone May Tie Into F-35s". Breaking Media, Inc.. http://breakingdefense.com/2016/03/navy-refueling-drone-may-tie-into-f-35s-f-22s/. Retrieved 23 March 2016. 
  9. "MQ-25 Stingray Unmanned Aerial Tanker Could Almost Double Strike Range of U.S. Carrier Air Wing" - News.USNI.org, 31 August 2017.
  10. "Navy Releases Final MQ-25 Stingray RFP; General Atomics Bid Revealed" - News.USNI.org, 10 October 2017.
  11. Insinna, Valerie (December 20, 2017). "Boeing offers sneak peek of MQ-25 tanker drone". Defense News. https://www.defensenews.com/air/2017/12/19/boeing-offers-sneak-peek-of-mq-25-tanker-drone/. "So far, Boeing has released one photo of the aircraft facing head-on to the camera, proving that the company has fabricated a prototype and that — as expected — it has moved away from the flying wing design it considered putting forward to the precursor of the MQ-25 program, when the Navy prioritized strike and ISR capabilities for its first carrier-based drone." 
  12. http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/19985/heres-our-first-good-look-at-the-crazy-air-inlet-design-on-boeings-mq-25-tanker-drone
  13. http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/19213/we-finally-see-the-wings-on-boeings-mq-25-drone-as-details-about-its-genesis-emerge
  14. Masunaga, Samantha. "Competition to build the Navy's MQ-25 flying tanker shows how drone fighters are taking on new roles". http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-mq-25-competition-20180425-story.html. 
  15. Insinna, Valerie (December 20, 2017). "General Atomics is the first to show of its MQ-25 tanker drone". http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/15037/general-atomics-is-the-first-to-show-off-its-mq-25-drone-tanker-design. 
  16. Insinna, Valerie (December 20, 2017). "Lockheed reveals Sea Ghost concept for USN UCLASS programme". Defense News. https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/lockheed-reveals-sea-ghost-concept-for-usn-uclass-programme-374842/. 
  17. "Northrop Grumman pulls out of MQ-25 competition". FlightGlobal. 25 October 2017. https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/northrop-grumman-pulls-out-of-mq-25-competition-442510/. Retrieved 26 October 2017. 
  18. Insinna, Valerie (December 20, 2017). "Boeing offers sneak peek of MQ-25 tanker drone". Defense News. https://www.defensenews.com/air/2017/12/19/boeing-offers-sneak-peek-of-mq-25-tanker-drone/. "So far, Boeing has released one photo of the aircraft facing head-on to the camera, proving that the company has fabricated a prototype and that — as expected — it has moved away from the flying wing design it considered putting forward to the precursor of the MQ-25 program, when the Navy prioritized strike and ISR capabilities for its first carrier-based drone." 
  19. David Donald (7 April 2020) Navy Orders More Test Stingrays from Boeing
  20. Larter, Valerie Insinna, David (2018-08-30). "US Navy selects builder for new MQ-25 Stingray aerial refueling drone" (in en-US). Defense News. https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2018/08/30/us-navy-selects-builder-for-new-mq-25-stingray-aerial-refueling-drone/. 
  21. Cone, Allen."Boeing's MQ-25 refueling drone moved to air base for flight testing", SpaceDaily.com, 2019-05-01
  22. D'Urso, Stefano (2019-09-20). "Boeing MQ-25 Stingray Carrier-Based Aerial Refueling Drone flies for the first time" (in en-US). https://theaviationist.com/2019/09/20/boeing-mq-25-stingray-carried-based-aerial-refueling-drone-flies-for-the-first-time/. 
  23. Rolls-Royce to power Boeing MQ-25 Stingray Tanker Drone for US Navy. Navy Recognition. 15 September 2018.

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