Boeing’s design will compete for a Navy contract to build unmanned tankers for aircraft carriers.
Boeing released a photo of its MQ-25 Stingray prototype, an unmanned carrier-based tanker aircraft. The U.S. Navy is looking for an unmanned tanker that can operate with existing carrier catapult launch and recovery systems. The MQ-25 will fly missions to extend the range of Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, and F-35C Lightning II fighters.
A final request for proposals (RFP) was issued by the Navy. In addition to Boeing’s bid, Lockheed Martin is expected to submit a proposal for the MQ-25 contract. General Atomics, which builds the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper military drones, will also submit a bid, having revealed artist concepts of its tanker drone design in October shortly after the RFP was announced.
“Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” said Don Gaddis, head of the refueling system program at Boeing’s Phantom Works, in a press release. “Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.”
Boeing’s MQ-25 prototype will undergo additional engine tests before flight ramp and deck handling demonstrations that will be conducted on an aircraft carrier early next year. After the handling demonstrations, Boeing will need to launch the MQ-25 off a carrier deck for its first flight.
The image released by Boeing reveals robust landing gear for carrier operations and possibly a low-observable design, although stealth is not one of the primary requirements for the drone tanker. The Navy, however, has been researching a multitude of carrier-launched aerial drone systems for years, from surveillance to electronic warfare to strike operations.