Boeing today 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 October, and proposals are officially due January 3, 2018. 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 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 . “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. If Boeing secures the contract for the MQ-25 tanker, they could have a leg up for future Navy contracts for additional carrier-launched drone aircraft.
It is not clear whether the MQ-25 prototype from Boeing Phantom Works was designed with future drone configurations in mind. More information and photos of Boeing's MQ-25 should become available in the coming months as the company conducts additional tests. For now, we are just waiting to see an actual photo of General Dynamic's drone tanker, and of course, to see what Skunk Works has been busy cooking up for the competition.