Home » Aviation » It’s Official: ‘MQ-25A Stingray’ U.S. Navy’s Name For First Carrier UAV

It’s Official: ‘MQ-25A Stingray’ U.S. Navy’s Name For First Carrier UAV

X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator (UCAS-D) launches from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) in 2013. US Navy Photo

X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Demonstrator (UCAS-D) launches from the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) in 2013. US Navy Photo

After months of deliberation, the name and designation of the Navy’s first carrier unmanned aerial vehicle are now official: MQ-25A Stingray, service officials told USNI News this week.

Approved following a lengthy U.S. Air Force Material Command process for not only for the official “designation” (MQ-25A) but also the “popular name” (Stingray), the service can now have an official title for the unmanned aerial vehicle that’s had several labels since late last year. The word came to the Navy via a July 11 memo from the Air Force.

(Technically, as of Friday, the designation is ZMQ-25A until a contract is awarded for the airframe when the Stingray will shed the Z).

The final name is an indication of marked changes in the character of the program for the aircraft that the service hopes will launch from catapults and recover with arresting wires in the next several years.

In 2006 the program was conceived as a low observable lethal, and deep penetrating strike platform (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle), as outlined in the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review.

In 2011 the tenor of the program changed again with additional influence from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to the less stealthy and lightly armed Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program that could serve as a stopgap for counter-terrorism operations if the U.S. lost their UAV bases in Afghanistan.

Internally, NAVAIR referred to the UCLASS program’s airframe as the RAQ-25A (RAQ = reconnaissance and attack unmanned vehicle), several sources confirmed to USNI News.

Following intense congressional scrutiny the Navy’s UCLASS program was pulled into an overarching UAV strategic program review (SPR) led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work. During the SPR, the UCLASS program was recast to serve primarily as an unmanned tanker and given the hastily assembled moniker from big Pentagon — Carrier Based Aerial Refueling System (CBARS).
Navy leaders were underwhelmed with the choice.

“I’m not sure I’m too much in love with that CBARS name, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said on Feb. 12.

“We’ll come up with something better than that.”

The emphasis on the first airframe in the program is primarily aerial refueling, officials said.
“We’re probably going to drop some of the high-end specs and try to grow the class and increase the survivability [later],” Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, told USNI News in February.
“It has to be more refueling, a little bit of ISR, weapons later and focus on its ability to be the flying truck.”

To tack to the more multi-mission orientation the Navy consulted with the Air Force to change the designation to multi-mission unmanned vehicle (MQ).

Also in February, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus’ office began inserting the term “Stingray” into written testimony before Congress and ceased using the CBARS term to refer to the UAV that was once known as UCLASS.
Though Mabus’ office would not confirm, the name is thought to be a reference to the Navy Secretary who once famously said the F-35B Lighting II would be the last would likely be the last manned strike fighter the Navy would ever buy.

Tongue-in-cheek honorifics through popular names are not unheard of. Perhaps the best-known example was the popular name for the Grumman F-14 – the Tomcat. The interceptor’s requirements were crafted by the late Vice Adm. Thomas F. Connolly and some on the program referred to the fighter as “Tom’s cat.”

Moving forward, the Stingray will only be a third of the components the Navy will use for the first carrier based UAV. While the requirements for the airframe have changed, the service is leveraging the ground control station and the connectivity piece from the original UCLASS effort.

The draft request for proposal for the Stingray air segment is slated to be issued to the four likely competitors – Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and General Atomics by the end of the year. The final RfP for the air segment is set for 2017.

The service hopes to have the first Stingrays operational in the 2020s.

  • TrustbutVerify

    So something that started to be a useful deep penetration attack platform that would add legs to the carrier strike (given the range of current fighters vs missiles) evolved into a semi-useful ISR platform with some arms that could at least provide intelligence for strike that then evolved into a….tanker? So they can presumably keep up manned strike packages by extending the jets ranges through automated refueling? Sounds like there was a big internal battle about manned vs unmanned platforms and the guys who like butts in seats won that round.

    • Rob C.

      Its going to be a tug of war. Truly. No sane pilot wants stop being a pilot. They don’t want to be a cargo hauler, they want to be fighter pilot. To lose that, is reducing value pilots in general.

      Stingray’s role as a aerial tanker is political compromise, which will properly slide to a attack vehicle of some kind in later variant. It needs to bigger to be able use radar, and hold missiles.

      I’d imagine the thing could be a stand-off missile carrier, firing them.

      As much i believe keeping pilots alive, I’m believer the man in the cockpit is more effective asset than someone couple thousand miles away.

      • ArmChairGeneral

        I think this is a true statement. I think it is much easier to build a tanker that is, first of all needed, but much easier to build and deploy than a fighter. Get a solid frame and system and build the complexities from there. An autonomous system is just going to take a long time to perfect.

      • bw6281962

        When we talk about winning or losing a war based on feelings instead of facts then we will lose.

  • Earl Tower

    As far as use of a deep penetration strike platform, I don’t think anyone has strong faith in the electronic warfare part of the robotic units yet. You get them to far into enemy territory and they are still to easily jammed on the control signal side.

  • Secundius

    I hope to God, that they (the USN) NEVER put an “A.I.” on a Carrier Capable Aircraft. If it EVER found out it was DEMOTED to Something LESS than what “IT” was Designed to be. It’ll Probably Go “Berserk” and SINK the Aircraft Carrier…

    • Donald Carey

      LOL – However, the most it could do (being a tanker), would be to cause a nusance by starting a fire.

      • Secundius

        I was referring to ANY Future Carrier Capable AI Drones, NOT Current Level Technology Drones…

        • Donald Carey

          If you meant any future drones, perhaps you should have said so…

          • Secundius

            Know where in my Original Comment do I mention “Current”. I Mentioned “Never Put an A.I. into a Carrier Capable Aircraft”. Considering “Stingray” already Exists and ISN’T an A.I. Drone. It would have to a Future System…

          • Donald Carey

            Whatever you say, Buckwheat.
            p.s. It is nowhere, not know where – oh yes, and machines don’t have emotions.

          • Secundius

            Same to you “Forena”, and by the way Beam is 106-feet. Not 130-feet…

          • Donald Carey

            Beam? I did not mention, much less specify, a beam. Please clarify, inquiring minds want to know.

          • Secundius

            My Bad, thought you were Rocco (Guest)…

    • publius_maximus_III

      “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave” — HAL

  • b2

    What a tortured roadmap to a “collective name” generated by a whole bunch of folks that don’t seem to want their names attached to it… The same folks that have given us the F-18 readiness status quo and the F-35….

    Wait a minute Mr. Lagrone, are you connecting the dots here? All the emphasis last Spring was on its overhead carrier tanking mission first and foremast. Now open- ended, spongy B.S. like this:
    “It has to be more refueling, a little bit of ISR, weapons later and focus on its ability to be the flying truck.” Hmmmm…
    Requirements wise this is a recipe for failure. Plus, why do you writers keep linking existing plastic $50M drone photos to articles about this “Stingray” program in advance? Why not something else? No imagination.
    There was only one “flying truck/Swiss Army knife” of the carrier air wing and that was the S-3B Viking that accomplished all of Adm Malloy’s “vision” efficiently for years and also had the capability for heavy war-at-sea weapons like Harpoon, laser-Maverick and SLAM-ER. Think about it- none of those plastic drones in your article’s glossies looks like a Viking. Why use any other developmental “truck” and then expect to have something operational in the 2020’s? …Duhhhhh. Use some imagination fellers.

  • publius_maximus_III

    If the X-47B bears any resemblance to the MQ-25A, at least the tanker version will look like a Stingray when the boom is deployed. I bet the USAF-ers had to swallow hard to accept such a nautical name.

  • Rob C.

    I hope Ray Mabus’ prediction of Lightning II being last manned Strike Fighter is wrong. Bit premature to set policy, while not seeing how much better these type vehicles will be.

  • glentherotorhead

    It’s always best to come up with the name first and then decide what it is; easier to get funding that way. But with no legitimate operational need or a set of requirements to support it, I would have gone with “Flying Unmanned Carrier Deployed Utility Platform” (FUCDUP.)

  • preali

    It looks like another boondoggle for the military and congress to keep the defense industry gravy train well lubricated.

  • Borris Kutzyanutzoff

    I think his reference to the duty “Truck” helps in understanding it’s true mission. Area of Denial systems, given NAVAIR’s deficit in F22 level stealth, would indicate the payload as a CHAMP platform such as a JASSM-er”ish” stealth cruise missile and or a MAUL-d missions truck.

  • stephenreal

    The X47b vs the F35. I’ll wage up to ten thousand dollars that X47b will slay the F35 in combat. You can have the pilot of your choice flying the F35 against the X47b. Anytime in any weather.

    And give you ten points in the vig to boot.

    Any US Senator or US Congressman want in on this suckers bet?

    • Secundius

      Depends on “WHAT” the Training Requirements ARE. If the Training Requirements are THAT of being Trained to Fly a Cessna 172 as Compared to an F-18 Pilot. Then it’s REALLY a Very Simple Choice for the US Congress…

  • bw6281962

    I understand the thrill fighter pilots must have but the pilot is the weak point in the system. The planes are capable of doing more than a human can handle. G forces
    can cause the pilot to blackout.+