Boeing wins bid to build the Navy’s carrier-launched tanker drone

Enlarge / A Boeing MQ-25 demonstrator during deck-handling is an unmanned combat aircraft system designed to provide refueling capability to extend the combatBoeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aerial refueler, known as T1, is currently being tested at Boeing’s St. Louis site. T1 has completed engine runs and deck handling demonstrations designed to prove the agility and ability of the aircraft to move around within the tight confines of a carrier deck. (Photo: Eric Shindelbower, Boeing) (credit: Boeing )

The US Navy has awarded Boeing an $805 million contract to construct four prototypes of its design for the MQ-25 “Stingray.” The uncrewed, carrier-based tanker aircraft will help extend the range of the Navy’s future carrier air wings and keep carriers themselves out of range of coastal defenses.

Boeing beat out Lockheed Martin and General Atomics for the contract. Northrop Grumman—which built the Navy’s first carrier-based drone prototype , the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System-Demonstration (UCAS-D)—dropped out of the competition last year. The prototype contract is the first step toward delivering “initial operating capability,” a first production run of the drones, by 2024.

The MQ-25’s design requirements called for an aircraft capable of launching from a carrier deck and delivering 14,000 pounds (6,300kg) of fuel to aircraft 500 nautical miles (926km) away. That capacity and range, along with the low-observable shape of the drone, could essentially double the range of  F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-35C Joint Strike Fighter attack missions. Eventually, Boeing could deliver up to 72 Stingrays at a cost of $13 billion.

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