MQ-25 Stingray

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The MQ-25 Stingray unmanned carrier aviation air system (UCAAS),[1] formerly the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS), is a planned unmanned combat aerial system (UCAV) that resulted from the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program.

Design and development[edit]

On 1 February 2016, after many delays over whether the UCLASS would specialize in strike or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles, it was reported that a significant portion of the UCLASS 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".[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 autonomous 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]

Although initially designated the RAQ-25, the designation was changed to MQ-25 Stingray. 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. Absent 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 non-stealth 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.

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

Rear Adm. Michael Manazir has suggested that three of these UCAVs could fly with an F-35 for refueling and sensor operation.[7] 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).[8] The Navy released the final MQ-25 Stingray RFP in October 2017; the competitors are Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and General Atomics.[9]

General Atomics has shown their Sea Avenger concept which is enlarged from their Predator-C/Avenger for refueling. The company stated that basing its MQ-25 design on Avenger reduces development time.[10][11]

Lockheed Martin shown Sea Ghost concept based on RQ-170 Sentinel.[12]

On 25 October 2017, Northrop Grumman announced that it was withdrawing its X-47B from the MQ-25 competition saying they would be unable to meet the terms of service for the program.[13] Northrop’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 and Lockheed.[14]

Boeing unveiled a prototype aircraft based on the Boeing Phantom Ray entrant on 19 December 2017.[15]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Trimble, Stephen (20 October 2016). "USN awards MQ-25 risk reduction contract to Northrop Grumman". Flightglobal.com. RBI. Retrieved 25 October 2016. 
  2. ^ LaGrone, Sam (15 July 2016). "It's Official: 'MQ-25A Stingray' U.S. Navy's Name For First Carrier UAV". news.usni.org. news.usni.org. 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". defensesystems.com. Defense Systems. Retrieved 22 December 2016. 
  7. ^ Whittle, Richard (22 March 2016). "Navy Refueling Drone May Tie Into F-35s". breakingdefense.com. Breaking Media, Inc. Retrieved 23 March 2016. 
  8. ^ "MQ-25 Stingray Unmanned Aerial Tanker Could Almost Double Strike Range of U.S. Carrier Air Wing" - News.USNI.org, 31 August 2017.
  9. ^ "Navy Releases Final MQ-25 Stingray RFP; General Atomics Bid Revealed" - News.USNI.org, 10 October 2017.
  10. ^ Masunaga, Samantha. "Competition to build the Navy's MQ-25 flying tanker shows how drone fighters are taking on new roles". latimes.com. Retrieved 2018-05-17. 
  11. ^ Insinna, Valerie (December 20, 2017). "General Atomics is the first to show of its MQ-25 tanker drone". The Drive. 
  12. ^ Insinna, Valerie (December 20, 2017). "Lockheed reveals Sea Ghost concept for USN UCLASS programme". Defense News. 
  13. ^ "Northrop Grumman pulls out of MQ-25 competition". FlightGlobal. 25 October 2017. Retrieved 26 October 2017. 
  14. ^ Insinna, Valerie (December 20, 2017). "Boeing offers sneak peek of MQ-25 tanker drone". Defense News. 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. 
  15. ^ Insinna, Valerie (December 20, 2017). "Boeing offers sneak peek of MQ-25 tanker drone". Defense News. 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.