Aerospace leader Northrop Grumman was developing its MQ-25 "Stingray" for a United States Navy (USN) Unmanned Carrier Aviation Air System (UCAAS) for the Unmanned Combat Aerial System (UCAV) role. The company gained a tremendous amount of experience and flight data in developing their carrier-based XB-47B UAV (detailed elsewhere on this site) and has proven a leader in the field of unmanned flight. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) was assigned the task of procuring some seventy-two unmanned carrierborne aircraft for the USN service.
It's All in the Name
The project initially designated the aircraft as "RAQ-25" and the USN volleyed between what the true purpose of this aircraft was to be - an ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) platform or a dedicated strike platform. However, the requirement soon changed to that of a dedicated carrierborne aerial tanker under the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS) project name (February 2016). This was then evolved to become the Unmanned Carrier Aviation Air System (UCLAAS).
The Long Road to Nowhere
The aircraft was officially designated MQ-25 "Stingray" on July 15th, 2016. Northrop Grumman received the DoD development contract in October of 2016 and a finalized Request-for-Proposal (RFP) was released in October of 2017. However, Northrop Grumman announced on October 25th, 2017 that it would no longer be pushing its MQ-25 Stringray platform for the USN citing the service's switch from the original ISR/Strike UAV to that of dedicated tanker. The product will receive continued support until the contract expires in March of 2018 and four Stingrays will be delivered for engineering and manufacturing development purposes.
The USN's shift is centered on a perceived future shortage of its fighter fleet so resources have been geared to shoring up this gap in fighter capability.
Dwindling Field of Participants
With Northrop bowing out, the remaining players include Boeing, General Atomics and Lockheed. The USN is targeting the mid-2020s for formal operational service of its unmanned tanker. The field of entrants will be reduced in 2018 to a sole contender.
Project Parameters (So Far)
The MQ-25 was originally intended by the USN as an unmanned aerial vehicle to serve in both the surveillance and strike roles alongside manned aircraft counterparts such as the Boeing F/A-18 "Super Hornet" multirole role, carrier-based 4Th Generation Fighter. It was to have a blended wing-body design and low-observable (stealth) features to penetrate enemy airspaces. The design was carry dimensions roughly similar to the Super Hornet fighter and operate autonomously or under ground-based operator control. In either case, the aircraft was to operate on carrier decks as a typical USN combat warplane, launched from the flight deck and recovered by arrestor hook aboard the Nimitz- and Ford-class aircraft carriers. The X-47B (detailed elsewhere on this site) was developed to prove some of these project concepts sound and, for the most part, it succeeded with mush publicity. The stealth quality was eventually loosened to allow for external hardpoints to carry weapons or jettisonable fuel stores and ISR capability was to be a secondary quality.
The USN is asking the design to be able to fly out to a minimum range of 500 miles from the host-aircraft carrier where it is to begin delivering its 14,000lb fuel load to awaiting aircraft. It should hold provision for a future radar fit and carry an chin-mounted electro-optical / IR sensor. It will no longer require the weapons-carrying capability originally drawn up for the Stingray nor a twelve-hour mission endurance window.
NOTE: Specifications on this page are strictly estimates made on the part of the author.
2017 - Northrop Grumman has removed its MQ-25 Stingray candidate from the USN competition, leaving just General Atomics, Boeing and Lockheed Martin in the running.
August 2018 - The Boeing MQ-25 Stingray has been announced as the winner of the USN refueling drone project. The initial contract is for four air vehicles for testing. The USN expects the first air-worthy vehicle to be delivered in 2020 and a first-flight scheduled for 2021 - opening the path to service entry in the early part of 2024.
(OPERATORS list includes past, present, and future operators when applicable)
✓Ground Attack (Bombing, Strafing)
Ability to conduct aerial bombing of ground targets by way of (but not limited to) guns, bombs, missiles, rockets, and the like.
✓Close-Air Support (CAS)
Developed to operate in close proximity to active ground elements by way of a broad array of air-to-ground ordnance and munitions options.
✓Maritime / Navy
Land-based or shipborne capability for operating over-water in various maritime-related roles while supported by allied naval surface elements.
✓Aerial Refueling (Tanker)
Dedicated or converted airframe used to deliver fuel to awaiting allied aircraft.
✓Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance (ISR), Scout
Surveil ground targets / target areas to assess environmental threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement.
✓X-Plane (Developmental, Prototype, Technology Demonstrator)
Aircraft developed for the role of prototyping, technology demonstration, or research / data collection.
Aircraft inherently designed (or later developed) with an unmanned capability to cover a variety of over-battlefield roles.
53.5 ft (16.30 m)
57.4 ft (17.50 m)
9.8 ft (3.00 m)
14,330 lb (6,500 kg)
44,533 lb (20,200 kg)
+30,203 lb (+13,700 kg)
(Showcased structural values pertain to the base Northrop Grumman MQ-25 Stingray production variant)
1 x Turbofan engine of unknown make, model or thrust output.
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