Boeing has won the competition to build the first unmanned air system that is to become an integral part of a US Navy carrier air wing. An $805 million contract is for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) of Boeing’s radical MQ-25 Stingray design and the production of four airframes to support initial testing. If successful, the Navy plans to procure an additional 72 air vehicles under an estimated $13 billion project.
Boeing’s initial contract will not only support the first four MQ-25s, but will also include integration into the carrier air wing to provide an initial operational capability in 2024. It’s both an ambitious timeline and budget, with calls for the first MQ-25 to enter flight trials in 2021. Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, said in a statement. ‘The fact that we’re already preparing for first flight is thanks to an outstanding team who understands the Navy and their need to have this important asset on carrier decks around the world.’
The MQ-25A was originally known as the Unmanned Carrier Based Reconnaissance and Strike (UCLASS) project but was restructured. The Stingray was assigned the designation MQ-25 in July 2016. It will provide the CSG with a persistent, multi-mission aerial refueling and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) UAS that will be integrated with the CVW. The Stingray will be capable of delivering around 15,000lb (6,804kg) of fuel while operating 500nm (926km) from the host aircraft carrier, relieving pressure on the Super Hornet fleet, which currently fills this role.
Selection was made in just nine months, with IOC having been accelerated by two years over original estimates. Boeing beat off competition from Lockheed Martin and General Atomics. Northrop Grumman surprisingly exited competition in October 2017.