Posted: August 31, 2018 11:51 AM

Navy Selects Boeing to Design, Build MQ-25A Stingray Refueling UAV

By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor

mqARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy has selected Boeing to design and build its first unmanned aerial vehicle intended to operate as an integral part of a carrier air wing, the MQ-25A Stingray, the Navy and Boeing said in separate Aug. 30 releases.

The Naval Air Systems Command awarded to Boeing, a “fixed-price-incentive-firm-target contract with a ceiling price of $805 million provides for the design, development, fabrication, test, delivery and support of four MQ-25A unmanned air vehicles, including integration into the carrier air wing for an initial operational capability by 2024,” the Navy release said.

The initial four aircraft will be built under the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase of the program.

The MQ-25A will join the carrier air wing in the next decade in the role of aerial refueling, freeing up some F/A-18E/F strike fighters for combat duty. The MQ-25A also will “allow for better use of combat strike fighters by extending the range of deployed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler and Lockheed Martin F-35C aircraft. [The] MQ-25 will also seamlessly integrate with a carrier’s catapult and launch-and-recovery systems,” Boeing said.

“When operational, MQ-25A will improve the performance, efficiency and safety of the carrier air wing and provide longer range and greater persistence tanking capability to execute missions that otherwise could not be performed,” the Navy said.

The Navy has stated a requirement for 72 MQ-25As in addition to the four EMD aircraft. The contract includes an option for the first three production aircraft to be System Development and Test Aircraft for $28 million each.

The government will be responsible for developing the command and control system for the MQ-25A, said James F. Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, in an Aug. 30 briefing to reporters at the Pentagon.

He said the total program value is estimated at $13.3 billion — $3.8 billion in research and development and $9.5 billion for production.

The planned initial operational capability for the MQ-25A is 2024, an advance in timeline from 2026. The initial flight tests are planned for 2021, although Boeing is likely to fly its existing prototype by early 2019. Boeing built an air vehicle for the UCLASS (Unmanned Carrier-Launched Aerial Surveillance and Strike) system that it reconfigured as a demonstrator for the MQ-25A competition. Boeing demonstrated the prototype in taxiing tests before Navy officials.

“MQ-25A is a hallmark acquisition program,” Geurts said. “This program is a great example of how the acquisition and requirements communities work hand in hand to rapidly deliver capabilities to our Sailors and Marines in the fleet.” 

“This is an historic day,” said Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations (CNO), during the briefing. “We will look back on this day and recognize that this event represents a dramatic shift in the way we define warfighting requirements, work with industry, integrate unmanned and manned aircraft, and improve the lethality of the air wing — all at relevant speed. Everyone who helped achieve this milestone should be proud we're here. But we have a lot more to do. It’s not the time to take our foot off the gas. Let's keep charging."

The award is the culmination of a competitive source selection process supported by personnel from Naval Air Systems Command and the Unmanned Carrier Aviation program office (PMA-268) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, the Navy said. 

“MQ-25A is an accelerated acquisition program that expedites decisions that will enable rapid actions with less overhead,” the Navy said. “The intent is to significantly reduce development timelines from contract award to initial operational capability by five to six years. By reducing the number of key performance parameters to mission tanking and carrier suitability, industry has increased flexibility to rapidly design a system that meets those requirements.”

“As a company, we made an investment in both our team and in an unmanned aircraft system that meets the U.S. Navy’s refueling requirements,” said Leanne Caret, president and CEO, Boeing Defense, Space and Security. “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.”

Boeing plans to perform the MQ-25 work in St. Louis, the company said.

“CNO and I have full confidence in the government and industry team to successfully develop and deliver the MQ-25A,” Geurts said.

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