Home » Aviation » Navy Picks Boeing to Build MQ-25A Stingray Carrier-Based Drone


Navy Picks Boeing to Build MQ-25A Stingray Carrier-Based Drone

Tests of Boeing’s MQ-25A Stringray prototype in St. Louis. Boeing Image

This post has been updated to include comments from Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Navy acquisition chief James Geurts.

THE PENTAGON – Boeing will build the first unmanned aircraft to be a permanent part of the U.S. Navy’s carrier air wing, Navy officials announced Thursday.

Under the $805-million contract, Boeing will “provide the design, development, fabrication, test, verification, certification, delivery, and support of four MQ-25A unmanned air vehicles, including integration into the carrier air wing to provide an initial operational capability to the Navy,” according to the contract announcement.

The Navy plans for the first four Stingrays to achieve initial operational capability on carrier decks in 2024, an acceleration compared to previous IOC estimates. The first airframes should be flying by 2021, and the Navy will then have to conduct carrier suitability testing, modify aircraft carriers to support the control station, train the maintainers and pilots, build a sufficient logistics chain, and other criteria to support the 2024 IOC, Navy acquisition chief James Geurts told reporters today at the Pentagon, in announcing Boeing as the winner of the Stingray competition.

“2024 sounds a long way away, but there’s a lot of work we’re going to have to do to get there,” he said.

The contract covers the engineering and manufacturing development of Boeing’s Stingray design and the production of four airframes to be used for these early testing efforts. The Navy eventually plans to buy 72 more vehicles, with a total program cost of about $13 billion – though Geurts noted that cost estimate was calculated prior to receiving Boeing’s bid and would be updated at a later time.

The new tanker could double the strike range of the carrier air wing, with the MQ-25A delivering up to 15,000 pounds of fuel at 500 nautical miles. The contract award comes as the Navy is struggling to keep up the readiness of its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet, which also serves as a tanker for the air wing. Anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of Super Hornet flight hours are devoted to aerial refueling operations, and cutting those hours is part of Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson’s drive to get MQ-25s to the fleet.

Richardson said the announcement today would prove historic for two reasons: one being the operational impact to the fleet, and the second being the acquisition lessons learned that can be applied to other upcoming programs.

Operationally, the CNO told reporters that this was the first step in “integrating unmanned and manned into the future air wing. And then it brings a tremendous capability to the air wing in terms of extending the range of the air wing and not doing so at the expense of strike fighters, which we use to do that tanking mission right now – so you get not only that extended range but also greater striking power out of the air wing by virtue of liberating those F-18s from doing tanking.”

On the acquisition side, the Navy made the unusual move of only including two key performance parameters: mission tanking, and carrier suitability. The Navy also brought together the requirements, acquisition and engineering communities and industry early on in the process, allowing for a more productive dialogue and fewer surprises when bids were submitted.

Geurts said “the level of interaction we had between requirements and acquisition, and working that kind of hand-in-hand, which enabled us to rapidly get through the requirements process several years faster than I would say is standard; it enabled us to clearly articulate in the [request for proposal] what was important to the Navy, with also being able to leave a lot of room for innovation in design; and it allowed us to perform what I believe was a very sound source selection in a period of nine months.”

He said including two only main criteria in the evaluation of the MQ-25A bids helped encourage creativity instead of tamping it down.

“I’m optimistic that will allow us, one, to ensure we get what we need, but also not get bogged down into proscribing designs and removing levels of innovation, affordability, flexibility, creativity that quite frankly industry brings. So I think our element of creativity is, what’s really critically important, and I think to the benefit of this program we were able to describe succinctly these are the two must-haves, everything else is open for discussion and integration.”

Richardson said during the discussion that “the way that we got here will also be an inflection point, I hope, in the way that we do acquisition, requirements definition, bringing industry in early, talking through sort of 21st century acquisition matters such as data rights and everything else.” He added that the process helped the Navy “make the biggest leap possible with the confidence in the maturity of the technology, so we can do cost and schedule with more confidence than before.”

The CNO said he expected the ongoing frigate competition would use the same principles, with hopefully the same positive results.

With the bids reviewed and a selection made in a speedy nine months, and the IOC date accelerated by two years, Richardson said he was proud of the effort but there was still further opportunity to accelerate even more – potentially leading to an earlier IOC and fielding date if all goes well in the coming years.

“Let’s not rest too easy here, because a lot of that learning is still to come, particularly the operational learning. … There’s a carrier part of this: there’s going to be some installations on the carriers, systems for integrating this; how do you move it about the deck; how do you get up and get a manned and an unmanned aircraft together, one tanking off the other; and kind of get into what are the implications for cyclic ops, endurance, use of that tanker when you don’t have to worry about things like pilot fatigue, etc. So I’m very eager to start testing all those things out. I think one of the other things is that we’ve got a lot of that thinking already started down there at [Naval Air Station Patuxent River], so we’ll just continue to maintain this momentum going forward.”

While the airframe is the most visible portion of the Stingray effort, it is only one-third of the overall program. Naval Air Systems Command is developing the carrier-based control station as well as the system to network the aircraft to the carrier and the rest of the air wing in-house, based on the work for the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program.

Geurts had high praise for the program’s decision to use the government as the integrator, outlining various future benefits, to include an ease of adding in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities if the Navy chose to do so. If the Navy wanted to add ISR or any other capability, it would have the option to add the capability onto the airframe – which Boeing has left margins to do so – or via another airframe that could be integrated into the overall system through the command and control suite and the control station.

“As other platforms and technologies become available, we can continue to accelerate the speed at which we integrate those into the air wing at affordable prices, at the speed of relevance,” Geurts said.

Richardson too talked about the possibility of adding ISR capabilities down the line, telling reporters that “the idea, at least as I see it, is, we can very very efficiently and effectively and for a great price put an ISR package on this aircraft and let it do its tanking mission. It was very very important that [ISR] did not become a driver in terms of its … cost and design and all those things. Having said that, these days it’s very easy to integrate some ISR capability, so we’ll take a look at what those possibilities are going forward.”

Lockheed Martin and General Atomics had also submitted bids for the MQ-25A work. Northrop Grumman pulled out of the competition in October.

Out of the three competitors, Boeing was the only company to build a working prototype of their bid. Company officials highlighted the early work in their announcement on Thursday.

“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,” Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, said in a statement. “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.”

The award marks the end of a dozen years of requirements churn in how the service would introduce unmanned aircraft onto carrier flight decks. The final Stingray concept is more modest than the service’s vision for the first carrier UAVs in 2006.

Then, the Navy wanted a stealthy strike platform that could extend the lethal reach of the carrier air wing to hundreds of miles beyond the range of the current crop of aircraft and the physical limitations of pilots.

The service pursued development of an Unmanned Combat Air System that could carry the same internal payload as the then-under-development F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter and penetrate enemy air defenses to strike targets thousands of miles from a carrier

However, the lethality and stealth of the concept were diluted, in part, to create a carrier-based UAV that could be developed quickly to conduct low-intensity counter-terrorism missions in the event the U.S. lost access to its drone bases in Southeast Asia.

Based on a set of late 2012 requirements, Naval Air Systems Command worked on the ISR-oriented Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) until former Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work undertook a comprehensive review of the Pentagon’s unmanned aircraft portfolio.

Following the review, the Navy announced that what had been the UCLASS program would be focused on solely the tanking mission as part of the Pentagon’s broader Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposal.

The following is the Aug. 30, 2018 contract announcement:

The Boeing Co., St. Louis, Missouri, is awarded a ceiling price $805,318,853 fixed-price-incentive-firm-target contract to provide the design, development, fabrication, test, verification, certification, delivery, and support of four MQ-25A unmanned air vehicles, including integration into the carrier air wing to provide an initial operational capability to the Navy. The work will be performed in St. Louis, Missouri (45.5 percent); Indianapolis, Indiana (6.9 percent); Cedar Rapids, Iowa (3.1 percent); Quebec, Canada (3.1 percent); Palm Bay, Florida (2.3 percent); San Diego, California (1.5 percent); and various locations inside and outside the continental U.S. (37.6 percent), and is expected to be completed in August 2024. Fiscal 2018 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $79,050,820 will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via an electronic request for proposals; three offers were received. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity (N00019-18-C-1012).

  • bc

    Good piece, Sam. Will be interesting to see if Boeing Defense can answer the call (schedule, cost). Wondering if the Boeing design is legacy store/pod-based (e.g. D-704) or new solution. Cheers.

    • CharleyA

      The requirements state the aircraft will use the current refueling store / pod.

    • RunningBear

      Cobham 31-301 Buddy Store Series, P/N: 31-301-48310,
      Platform integration: A-4/6/7, S-3A/B, F/A-18E/F
      Operating air speed: 175 to 325 KIAS
      Fuel: JP-4/5/8
      Operating pressure: 2950 to 3050 psi
      🙂

      • Rocco

        You forgot KA-3 tanker

        • USNVO

          KA-3 and KA-6 (and the one KS-3A prototype) did not use buddy tanks, they used a dedicated drogue, deployed in the KA-3Bs case from the bomb bay.

          • Rocco

            I was implying tanker role not what it used! As I already new this. I used to defuel them! Do you always jump down someone’s throat just to make you look smarter!

          • USNVO

            My apologies, RunningBear was discussing the specific refueling pod (he even gave the P/N!) that had to be used on the MQ-25A. Since you indicated he forgot the KA-3, I assumed you meant that it was used on the KA-3 as well. My bad.

  • Duane

    Git’er done!

  • Keith Monteith

    Congratulations to Boeing and their team in St Louis!

    • cc

      As a former McAir guy, I’m thrilled the old plant gets a new contract. Hornet was my home and glad to see Stingray will fly with them.

  • CharleyA

    Yay, now go win the trainer contract.

    • DaSaint

      Agreed!

    • Bill

      You mean Lockheed, right?

  • RunningBear

    Best Wishes to Boeing!

    I hope they can maintain the Specification, Schedule and Budget for the Aircraft contract.
    🙂

  • Ed L

    Northrop does it better

    • Centaurus

      So when do we weapon these things up ? It seems they could carry a lot of AMRAAM, GB-15, Aim-9x and MALD for sneaky evil things. Not individually.

      • Duane

        Every pound of weapons eliminates a pound of fuel it can carry. The Navy made it clear this aircraft is strictly a tanker. Perhaps in a few years when this bird is well on its way to IOC, the Navy may seek an attack version.

        More important for a tanker, besides stealth, is a good countermeasures capability.

        • Centaurus

          Then Kamikaze UAV’s ?

      • USNVO

        They don’t, at least probably. This is a first step.

        If they want to carry weapons down the road, they can always design a new UAV to do that. But carrying weapons, unless you want to talk just dropping a JDAM on a predetermined point (not exactly difficult), is way more complicated and way more expensive.

  • RunningBear

    $200M ea. for the first 4 and $181M ea. for the following 72 MQ-25.

    Boeing should enjoy the Navy’s shot in the arm, financially!

    IMHO
    🙂

    • Al L.

      It s not clear from this article if the $13 billion is for airframes or the total program which includes UAV integration with the CVNs

      • Bubblehead

        Its the total cost. But it is a rough estimate. I wouldn’t even pay much attention to it at all.

        • Duane

          It is more than a “rough estimate” – it is a contracted award price based on extensive cost and price data submitted by Boeing and each of the other proposers, as negotiated with the government.

          Does that mean it will never change? No, of course not. But to justify a change in contract price Boeing will have to prove that the requirements and/or scope of work changed. The military is justifiably known for changing requirements. Sometimes changes are justifiably needed (i.e., the enemy gets a vote when they develop new threats, or technology simply evolves over time), and sometimes the requirements change due to incompetency by military program staff.

    • CharleyA

      The contract includes much more than the airframes.

      • RunningBear

        I’ll bite,

        – FY-19, LRIP13, F-35C is $122.2M ea. (including jet engine) for 9 (this order);
        as a cost reference.

        – Same jet engine as MQ-4C Triton, AE 3007H (F137) @ 1,700lb and 115″;
        should be in common Navy inventory.

        – With JPALS installed on each carrier (separate program)
        – and the flight station should be another Common Display System computer (Navy).

        – The X-47B has pioneered most of this so re-inventing it for Boeing should be a cost saver??

        I’m seeing the price dropping from $187M ea.

        n’est-ce pas
        🙂

        • CharleyA

          Your are comparing a subset of acquisition cost (~URF for the F-35C – which doesn’t even include the $400K helmet) to “provide the design, development, fabrication, test, verification, certification, delivery, and support of four MQ-25A unmanned air vehicles, including integration into the carrier air wing to provide an initial operational capability to the Navy.” Big difference.

          • Duane

            The F-35 costs DOES include the HMD, which is part of the aircraft and is required equipment.

          • CharleyA

            No, the helmet is classified as Ancillary Equipment, thus is not contained in URF – the cost so often quoted as the price of the F-35.

          • Duane

            No it is just much a part of the aircraft as the engine, wing, or computer. It cannot “fly away” without the HMD and the prices quoted are clearly labeled “fly away”.

          • Rocco

            I don’t think so as every helmet is a fit for the pilot & no other person flying.

          • CharleyA

            I believe they procure 2x helmets per aircraft just for that reason.

          • Rocco

            OK something I haven’t heard of .

          • delta9991

            The inner liner is what is fitted for the pilots head and can be swapped throughout their career. The entire helmet is not custom designed for each pilot

          • Rocco

            I haven’t heard this! It’s more about the optics in the visor that matches with the pilot.

          • delta9991

            Which the liner sets. The helmet is a standard from my understanding, the liner changes. It makes no sense the optics can’t be adjusted after delivery

          • Rocco

            Both I have a magazine book on the F-35’S & that’s what it’s said.

          • delta9991

            Even if that was the case in the Gen I helmets, were now on Gen III. That seems like something that would be a required fix. Government orgs are stupid, but not that stupid

          • CharleyA

            You clearly do not understand budget line items. Ancillary Equipment (which includes the helmet) is a non-recurring cost, thus not a component of URF. There are other flavors of flyaway which apparently is the cause of your confusion. The real cost to the taxpayer for each F-35C procured is ~ $149M in FY19 – that is how much Congress appropriates for each aircraft purchased, and it is why the Navy is motivated to keep the Super Hornet line open.

          • delta9991

            Are helmets for legacy aircraft considered part of Ancillary equipment?

          • CharleyA

            Yes, as well as unique PPE and LSE.

          • delta9991

            So I guess I fail to see the point why the cost of the helmet should be included in the flyaway cost of the -35.

          • CharleyA

            All aircraft are accounted for in the same manner as far as line items go. Why should it be any different for the F-35?

          • delta9991

            Agreed. How I read your comment is that the helmet should be included in URF of the aircraft which is why I posed the question I did.

          • CharleyA

            Sorry I was unclear. The issue is that program advocates imply that URF is the “final” cost of the aircraft, when in actuality it understates the costs required to make the aircraft serviceable.

          • Duane

            There is no such thing as a “final cost” – you literally made up that nonsense term.

          • CharleyA

            It is an erroneous concept held by people such as yourself – hence the quotes.

          • CharleyA

            The point I was making is that the URF (for any aircraft) doesn’t account for all items necessary to field and operate it, or what Congress actually pays for each aircraft. In the case of the F-35, a display that provides critical flight information and sensor info / images for the aircraft is not included in URF (the helmet contains the display, and helmet cost is not part of URF,) whereas in other aircraft analogous displays would be. This effectively understates the URF for the F-35 by half a million dollars, and is another illustration why URF is a inaccurate method to quote aircraft costs. URF is used to by program advocates to make things appear to be less expensive than they actually are,

        • Duane

          LRIP 13 is far from being negotiated, inasmuch as LRIP 11 only just got done this summer and even that is an unofficial result.

          Lots 12 thru 15 won’t be labeled “LRIP”, just called “Lots” as they will represent the first full production rate lots.

          The full rate production cost fly away for the C model is anticipated to be somewhere in the $90Ms, with the A model at about $80M.

          • RunningBear

            OK!, I’m sorry, lets use LRIP10 as a cost reference;

            – FY-16, LRIP10, F-35C is $121.2M ea. (including jet engine) for 2 (this order).

            These cost references for a complete Block 3F “manned” (should cost more for manning components, etc.) supersonic fighter/ attack aircraft, straight from the factory, a full tank of gas with taxes and title included!

            The MQ-25A must be less expensive than the a/c it’s refueling, or does that not stand to reason. If not, knock off the dust and sand from 70 odd flyable S-3s sitting in the desert and “unman” them as tankers!

            IMHO
            🙂

          • Duane

            The full rate production cost will definitely be a small fraction of the unit cost for the first four aircraft. Using past experience, a FRP flyaway cost will likely be under $50M. But we’ll know better when they have a few years of development under their belts.

  • Bubblehead

    Owww lord I thought Booing didn’t have a chance after they screwed up the 46. They couldn’t build a manned aircraft, using land runway, on existing design. How the h-ll they going to build UAV refueler, off completely new design, that can take off and land on carrier?

    I’m officially taking wagers (calling LCS Loverboys) this thing is at least a year late and wau over budget. Takers?

    • CharleyA

      Toxic client. They don’t seem to have any troubles with delivering Super Hornets or P-8As.

      • Bubblehead

        I do agree with that. K46 seems to be an outlier. In general I definitely prefer Boeing to LM. Boeing has a much better track record. But the MQ25 is a refueler and so is the K46. And the K46 from a technical perspective is much much easier.

        • delta9991

          I think we see Boeing as doing a bit better because… well they haven’t done anything truly pioneering or difficult recently. Lockheed, hate them as some may, has now delivered two VLO stealth tactical fighters and the F-117. All three very pioneering and ambitious designs. Northrop did the work on the B-2, same as above reasoning. Ground breaking and hard to do stuff. What’s Boeing really done that’s innovative? P-8 is a specialized 737. KC-46 is a specialized 767. Super Hornet is a redesigned and rebooted hornet. Heck, they’re past 2-3 years of tactical Fighter marketing has been just rebooting their legacy designs and trying to say how they’re just as good and how bad an idea Their competitors stuff is. This MQ-25 win gives me hope for them as this is innovative and necessary for the USN, best of luck to them

          • Rocco

            Well put about LM but just think of every aircraft that LM put out was short lived except for the most famous SR-71. MacDonald Douglas now Boeing has put out great planes that stood the test of time!! F-4’s being the longest!!

          • delta9991

            Except F-4s we’re MD… you’re best example for Boeing would be the B-52. LMs put out plenty of long serving and great aircraft. Lockheed developed the only aircraft to be produced throughout the entirety of WW2. They’re competent designers, with great aircraft designs.

          • Rocco

            Not taking anything away from Kelly Johnson. I know of his reputation. But you made reference that Boeing, X( MD), doesn’t design anything innovative until now. My response is Boeing built jet that stood test of time. OK B-52 The F-4 Phantom is a MD jet but the Hornets fall in the same category. But they have The F-16.

          • delta9991

            F-16 was GD, bought by Lockheed. You cannot associate the successes of MD decades before their acquisition as Boeing successes. I do not understand your comment

          • Rocco

            I know this!, I’ve been around for a while ! Just making conversation.without getting into too much detail I was implying the F-16 ‘s been around & still being built now………by Lockheed!, don’t tell me what I can or can’t associate what with what as your turning this into an argument!

      • Duane

        “Toxic client” – how so?

  • DaSaint

    Congrats to Boeing! Now let’s cut down that 6-year timeframe to IOC!

    • NavySubNuke

      The fact that already have a prototype is a great thing and should help cut down on that.
      The fact it is a fixed price contract with incentives also helps with that — want more money? Do better than you promised in your bid!

      • DaSaint

        Agreed!

      • Bubblehead

        The prototype has only done taxi-ing and ground maneuvering. I don’t think it has even flown yet. Boeing didn’t want to risk a crash.

        • NavySubNuke

          Makes sense – if no one else even built a prototype why risk yours! But hopefully the first flight will be shortly since they have the contract in hand (once the inevitable protest is not upheld of course!)

    • Bubblehead

      I’m really surprised USN didn’t go the safer route and choose the General Atomics plane which is a drone that has been flying for years and GA is pretty much trend setter for UAV’s. On the flip side Booing completely busted on the K46. I do see the Booing plane has the most potential especially compared to the GA, but its a high risk move by the USN. The USN really really really needs a tanker, I hope Booing can pull it off.

      • Rocco

        If you’re so hopeful about Boeing why misspell it twice!!

        • Bubblehead

          I did it on purpose, get it, Boo-ing. Im being a smart a-s.

          • Rocco

            🚬

    • Duane

      6 years is pretty fast.

      • Rocco

        Seriously!!

    • Ed L

      They need to do it 2 years. Operational in 2 years. The C-130 was operational in 18 months

    • airider

      Concur….let’s not turn this into another KC-46 effort. Keep the requirements locked down and get this thing flying.

      • SDW

        re: not turning this into another KC-46 see CNO Richardson’s quote from above–
        “…the way that we got here will also be an inflection point, I hope, in the way that we do acquisition, requirements definition, bringing industry in early, talking through sort of 21st century acquisition matters such as data rights and everything else.”

        Every one of his points had a significant part in the KC-46 fiasco. If the DoD and the USN really mean this then there is cause for hope. Time will tell.

    • vetww2

      WAS THIS A COMPETITIVE BUY, OR DID I MISS SOMETHING?

      • DaSaint

        It was an analysis by the Navy of submissions to an RFP. There were 3 finalists in the submission, as a couple others pulled out.

  • Marauder 2048

    “However, the lethality and stealth of the concept were diluted”

    Not true on stealth; it’s an accelerated program with no detectable LRIP quantity or strategy.

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

    Anyone else smell an under-bid & inevitable cost overrun several years from now?

  • Bill

    “2024 seems a long way off.” Well, yeah……

  • Duane

    I’ve not seen any details yet on the stealth features of the Boeing MQ25, but at least superficially it appears to have a low RCS and presumably IR reduction features as well. Stealth will be critical to prevent these tankers from being primary targets for enemy shooters. Taking out one tanker also effectively takes out the 2 or 3 birds it is intended to tank.

    • Bubblehead

      It’s not as stealthy as it looks from head on. Those wings are not stealthy at all. It might not light up the screen like a K46, but its stealth is limited. Which might be sufficient for refueling though. For intelligence gathering, its not going to penetrate any protected airspace.

      • Duane

        There is no vertical tail on the Boeing MQ25, which is the biggest radar target of any aircraft with one. Boeing’s design is not quite a flying wing, but it is close and the fuselage is obviously designed to reduce RCS. The airframe also shows few appendages that also reflect RF.

        Also check out the wing-fuselage transition which is clearly low RCS, with no sharp angles to reflect RF. Ditto with the engine inlets, another key RF reflector on low RCS aircraft.

        We don’t know what external coatings are used on MQ25, but such coatings are also a key element in stealth.

        Finally, it carries no weapons, so no external weapons to reflect RF.

        This bird is clearly designed to reduce RF returns.

        The tanker does not need to penetrate enemy airspace, but it must evade detection anyway because enemies will search out any tankers and take them out as a defensive measure.

        • RunningBear

          The “coatings” have been replaced by CNRP surfaces and structures. I am interested in seeing what percent of surfaces and structures are composed of the CNRP/ Carbon Nanofiber Reinforced Polymer composites by Boeing in the MQ-25A. The F-35 program has greatly enhanced their aircraft by changing coating and metallurgy in structures and surfaces with CNRP composites. The material in inherently stealthy.

          Yes, this is not paint on stealth but significant structural implementation of superior strength and lighter materials with surface panels of similar technolgy. The bonding is a “specialized glue” and mitigates welding and riveting in assemblies. This process and the materials yield the low RCS attributed to the F-35 “golf ball”.

          IMHO
          🙂

          • RunningBear

            I forgot that LM is replacing coating and panels on the F-22 with the CNRP materials.
            🙂

      • Al L.

        Looks an awful lot like an updated Tacit Blue.

        I suspect there’s a lot more there than meets the eye. Tacit blue was designed to operate close to the forward line of battle with a high degree of survivability and conduct ISR.

        It looks optimized for 3 missions:

        – Tanking obviously
        -non penetrating ISR
        -CVN based MQ-9 type missions over land and sea.

        I think alot went on behind the scenes to mesh this with USAF black programs. The Boeing plane didn’t just show up, and all the Navy carrier UAV back and forth may have involved a lot that could not be disseminated.

  • b2

    After multiple “CBAs”, “COATS”, CNA studies, COD sole source selections, F-35B/C past/present brouhahas, the Strike Fighter Gap (SFG), 50% S/F pipeline woes, UCLASS fits/starts, retiring the S-3B in 2008 and rejecting/ignoring its return as a tanker in 2011-12, I truly hope this award is the answer…. Naval carrier Aviation is in dire straits and unfortunately no one seems to really acknowledge the fundamental issues…

    “Karnac” predicts this will take another 7-10 years before a true, meaningful IOC and any relief/capability for the airwing really is evident. Developmental testing and that amazing simple term “carrier suitable” will take many billions of the taxpayers dollars and time we ain’t got.. Boeing’s last navy aircraft was P-8..How hard was that? This “MQ-25” is F-35B/C “minus” sportsfans… Just you watch..

    • Bubblehead

      Maybe in the interim the USN will again look at adding a bladder to the V22 for refueling. They were talking about this not long ago and it seems like a fairly simple, straight forward interim solution. It isn’t perfect, but it gives them something in the interim.

      • Rocco

        Bad idea.

      • RunningBear

        The bladder is VARS…”Known as V-22 Aerial Refueling System (VARS), the system will utilize Cobham’s existing FR300 Hose Drum Unit with some modifications. The roll-on/roll-off kit will enable the
        Marines to use their land- and carrier-based MV-22B aircraft to
        refuel F-35B Lightning II and F/A-18 Hornet aircraft, thereby
        extending their operational range and loiter times.

        Design and production of VARS will occur at the Cobham Mission
        Systems facility in Davenport, Iowa. Deliveries of VARS will
        commence in 2018, upon completion of rigorous analysis and testing
        of the system.”
        🙂

      • PolicyWonk

        I think the USMC did this already. Regardless, with the LHA-6 class, V-22’s could use a fuel bladder to extend the range of the F-35B’s in one version, and the Brits portable AEW package in another (they use ’em in choppers).

        This would give the LHA-6 class the ability to act very much like a CVL, which could then cruise less volatile parts of the world (thereby freeing up the CVN’s for the heavy lifting). With the advent of smart weapons, an LHA-6 could carry a considerable punch.

        Bolt on a ski-jump, and the F-35Bs could carry more fuel and ordnance – extending the range and fire power even further.

    • Rocco

      Agreed. The S-3 had more life left it them plus could perform collateral duties.

    • Duane

      You’re really going way out on a limb by projecting IOC in 7 years instead of the announced 6 years.

      Nobody knows how long it will take, but virtually everything in MQ25 is evolutionary, not revolutionary, so 6 years from a prototype to IOC is reasonable, though maybe a tad optimistic.

    • Marauder 2048

      Agreed. The lack of an announced LRIP strategy or any production strategy tells you the Navy is not serious; new build Super Hornets with conformals undermines the entire premise for MQ-25.

      • USNVO

        Really? How exactly does adding conformal tanks to the F-18 get you out to 1000nm?

        First, lets assume an F-18E has a 510nm unrefueled strike radius (the advertised 390nm now plus the 120nm Boeing says the conformal tanks add).

        So the F-18 will need to replenish something like 40pct of its fuel at 500nm in order to get to 1000nm and then get back to 500nm to tank again. 14klbs internal plus another 13klbs or so in EFTs and conformal tanks get you to 27000lbs. 40pct of that is about 10,8klbs but lets use 10klbs to make it easy.

        A F-18 can carry 4klbs of expendable load to 510nm in our scenario, so lets say 2.5 F-18s to each striker plus probably another 1.5 F-18s to get them home. So for a four flight of F-18s to get to 1000nm, you need 16 F-18s hauling gas. Add a couple of spares for the tankers and a spare striker and you have half the airwing involved. You can’t even double task your tankers (outbound and inbound because there is insufficient time to get to max range, gas the strikers, recover, refuel, and return to meet the strikers.

        Even with the F-35C and 600nm+ unrefueled strike range and you still have a hard time getting to 1000nm with F-18s hauling the gas.

        Now look at it with the MQ-25A. 2 MQ-25s with 15k at 500NM is enough to get four F-35Cs to 1000nm and another on the return leg gets them home. Add a spare and you have 4 MQ-25As versus 20 F-18Es hauling gas.

        Yep, no reason for the MQ-25A.

    • SDW

      The P-8 was plenty hard but, in an apparent moment of sanity, NAVAIR didn’t muck it up by acting like they knew how to build airliner-scale aircraft better then Boring. NAVAIR and Boring together made their share of bonehead assumptions and responsibility ducking finger-pointing duels but still managed to come through with what is quickly becoming the world’s go-to or want to go-to maritime patrol aircraft.

      (The fact that a greater than usual percentage of this military aircraft development was done in the Northwest instead of the Mid-West is a corporately incorrect observation so I won’t make it here. 😉

  • RobM1981

    For those of you old enough to remember…

    In the 1960’s and 70’s, McDonnell Douglas owned the back cover of Proceedings. Every month the back of the magazine would have an MD ad, and it was invariably about the Phantom. Some of them were really cool…

    “When you have two engines” (tail end picture of F4 in full AB, two orange glows from the pipes)
    “And you lose one” (same picture, one engine dark)
    “You still have one to bring you home” (picture of a three-wire trap)

    or

    “Don’t bother a Phantom” (picture of F4, flank view)
    (Picture changes to head shot of F4, launching an AIM-7)
    “It can turn on you…”

    For the last who-knows-how-long, this web page has been the exact same, only with the MQ-25

    Now that it is being acquired, I wonder how the ads will change…?

    • Rocco

      It’s called Phantom works!! They own the rights to the name. Nothing like the sound of a J-79!!

  • PolicyWonk

    I am relieved that the mission set is restricted to refueling and carrier suitability – now if only they can stick with it and keep their eyes on the prize, the chances of delivering a successful program are pretty good.

    That Boeing was deeply involved in the program at the start, and already demonstrated the capability gives reason for optimism.

    The USN has had an inglorious history of notable and expensive program failures whenever they’ve tried to do too much – but this time it looks like we’re off to a good start. Now we have to see if there are sufficient adults in the room to prevent “mission creep”…

    • Bubblehead

      The way the USN is running the FFGX, MQ25, and next generation destroyer/cruiser, seems to show a positive trend. Maybe just maybe they have turned it around since the LCS fiasco.

      We will see though.

      The US Army is the branch that really can’t put together a successful program to save their life. They can’t seem to get anything right. The US Army shows no sign of turning things around.

      • Duane

        LCS was not a fiasco. It is no accident that most of the capabilities required for FFGX were pioneered on LCS.

        • Bubblehead

          That is about the funniest thing I have ever heard. Duane telling jokes.

        • Kypros

          Do you think they could have figured that out without the need to build 32 of them?

        • E1 Kabong

          Nothing good was pioneered on the Little Crappy Ship, except to serve as a warning to others about what NOT to do.

      • PolicyWonk

        I for one, hope you’re correct. The LCS acquisition disaster wasn’t hard to see coming, given the appalling level of “mission creep” PEO LCS was blathering about at the time. There were plenty of skeptics then, but I opted to give ’em a chance, to see what they came up with: maybe, just *maybe*, these guys had a point.

        Then when I saw what they came up with, it became very clear that PEO LCS and their “Franken-ship” couldn’t be described adequately without liberal use of the term “cluster”.

        Everyone is on board is on board with that assessment, including the USN itself, with the exception being our very own “Duane-o-Laz”.

        I truly hope, that we can one day find a useful purpose for the LCS fleets.

        And I truly hope, that the USN’s acquisition disasters are behind them.

    • Rocco

      Agreed…..In my opinion older prowler’s or at least a C/D Hornets should be doing the tanker job with a human being flying them!

    • b2

      Hoping something will happen aint a strategy. But I guess one billion aint much today in the way these folks think…

      It is true another failure is not an option, especially after all this teamspeak-no one to blame,-acquisition effort by committee effort, presided over by folks who know they will never be around to see it fly…

      No doubt Boeing will deliver something (they always do..)..but can it lift its own weight, dump/offload 10K + fuel in minutes or turn downwind and land heavy, carry heavy weapons and stores up to 3000lbs on the wing and have 17,7500 hours + for an established fatigue life? We’ll see…. That’s what the Viking had and still does sitting there.

      When I tested planes in the old days they said to me, “just make sure its as good as what it replaces”. can we say that today? Or do we say, “thats not my job man”…? A challenge? you bet.

      • USNVO

        Well, lets see.

        An S-3 (not the one KS-3A built that was later converted to a US-3) could deliver 9klbs or so directly overhead. A MQ-25A can, at least nominally since it hasn’t flown yet, deliver at least 15klbs at 500NM, easily 20klbs+ directly overhead. I would say that was better. Has there ever been a carrier capable tanker aircraft with that kind of give? Certainly not a KA-6 or an S-3, maybe a KA-3.

        An MQ-25A has a planned airborne endurance close to 12hrs, way better than a S-3. So it should be able to cover way more cycles than a S-3 being used as a tanker. So fewer cycles. Plus, the MQ-25A will pretty much only be used when required, not to keep the pilots current.

        An MQ-25A doesn’t have pilots that have to be recruited, trained, or kept proficient. An S-3 has two plus. So I would be willing to bet it will end up being much cheaper. Plus, no ejector seats to be maintained, no oxygen systems to be maintained, one newer engine to be maintained instead of two older engines, etc. Probably fewer maintenance hours as well.

        So, superior give overhead, superior give at a distance, superior operational flexibility, superior economics, fewer maintainers, no new pilots. I would call that better pretty much across the board for a dedicated tanker.

        • Rocco

          May it be what it is but your millennial way of thinking is what will eventually make a human being obsolete!

          • USNVO

            So thinking that carrying more fuel, further, at less cost is millennial thinking?

            At least I cited evidence of why the MQ-25A would be a superior tanker.

            You just sound like a Luddite.

          • Rocco

            Whatever! I expected a remark as such. You have your views which will eventually as I said turn the world into robots! Regardless of how much money is saved ! But when tragedy happens I guess we put the machine on Captains mast!!

          • USNVO

            You know they said the same thing about putting in self-serve gas pumps (fireballs everywhere), two pilot commercial jets (you need that flight engineer), single pilot fighters (F-4s were going to lay waste to F-15s), unattended subway systems, and hundreds of other things.

            People are the biggest constraint the Navy has and if you can reduce the situations where they are doing non-critical roles, so you can use said limited supply where it is more required, you should. Not sure if this will work out but it seems like a good place to start.

          • Rocco

            Fair enough opinions. But what’s next self service gas station in the sky!!!?? I guess this is as close as you get! Check my oil please!! BTW F-4’s were known to turn with F-15’s in mock combat FYI!

        • B2

          Not that it matters but did you ever think about an S-3 as the vehicle, unmanned and tanked up interally to carry about 25k? Already carrier suitable, folds up small and has redundacy built in. Plus 70+ of em would be free..think about it. The development would be halved…
          Cost low, risk low.
          No, we have to start down another venture for the 50 state jobs program….

          • USNVO

            Sure, you could totally rework the S-3 into a UAV that could maybe do what the MQ-25A could do but it would be anything but free. First, it would have to be converted from a manned platform to an unmanned platform. That alone would be difficult since you have to stack an autonomous system on top of a non-FBW system. So computers moving servos to move hydraulic systems. Or you just tear it all out and start over with FBW. Hardly easy or cheap whichever way you go. And please don’t point at a QF-4 which is anything but autonomous. Then you would have an older, more maintenance intensive airframe and two engines instead of one adding dramatically to the complexity of the control system. You don’t really save anything in testing since you will have to do the entire flight certification all over again as an autonomous system. The fact that Lockheed did not offer a S-3 based system when they offered a modified S-3 as the new COD aircraft is pretty damning. But hey, anyone can think of an impossible plan.

          • RunningBear

            Let us agree the USN needs an air tanker, immediately, now! As an interim, the S-3 can fulfill that role for the next six years, while the drone is developed. S-3 crews can be manned from the COD squadrons who are being upgraded to the CMV-22B a/c. Possibly, one or two S-3s could be “droned” to advance the shipboard systems required for the MQ-25A ; heck even bring back the two X-47Bs for systems proving. What is it acceptable is grinding six more years out of the SBug, tanking SBugs!

            IMHO
            🙂

          • B2

            RB,
            Supposedly the Navy has already defined the umanned control system , cvn interfaces and op software… They will control that development. That means it can be integrated with any air vehicle, S-3 or new expensive plastic drone. Like Triton at $120 mil each…
            There is no new cost Delta for reuse of the s-3…..

          • USNVO

            I don’t agree.

            – The Navy wants a STRIKE tanker. The S-3, as currently configured, doesn’t have the give for the mission. It carries a little over 17klbs of fuel total (with 2 EFTs) which is about what a MQ-25A will deliver at 500NM. Now you can make them into KS-3Bs, which based on the KS-3A is about 25klbs fuel total, but that will require a major rebuild. Not only will it be expensive, but it will also take about as long as the MQ-25. Shoot, just bringing the aircraft out of storage and refurbishing them will cost a fortune, ask the Koreans.

            – There won’t be any COD pilots/maintainers available as they are needed to transition to the CMV-22. Shoot, a bunch of them are already transitioning, So where do you find the pilots? But beyond that, you need to train an entirely new group of maintainers as well since the previous S-3 bubbas are largely either gone or retrained on another platform.

            – Finally, given the current plan, the SBugs being used up (Block 1s) are not going to be kept beyond 6000hrs anyway and will be replaced with Block IIIs. So the fact they are being used up is not really as critical as you make it sound. The MQ-25s should (bad word, I know) be available about the time the last of the Block 1 F-18s are used up.

            And just an editorial comment, the Block 1 F-18Es were rode hard and put away wet ever since they were introduced in the fleet, not just because of being tankers. They have had cracking issues since Southern Watch. There is a reason the Navy doesn’t want to upgrade them and instead wants to replace them with Block III F-18s.

          • B2

            Is it really damning of LM to have done that after the C-3 COD offering that was ignored and went sole source to Bell Boeing V-22, or common business sense?
            There is too much ignorance out there re S-3 as an unmanned vehicle or manned to be accepted by anyone other than those that need it and understand Organic overhead tanking. However, they are cowards and just go along with the 50 state option staus quo leaving our Navy less capable…

          • USNVO

            Nice appeal to non-existent authority. Most people would actually cite someone with real credentials and just distort their viewpoint, you used a totally made up criterion that changes if they disagree with you! You took fallacious appeal to authority to a whole new level. Well played.

            Everyone is just too ignorant to UNDERSTAND. Except for my “experts” which agree with me, unless of course they don’t, then they are all cowards.

            You still didn’t answer any of the points raised, I guess that was too hard. Oh wait, I must be one of those ignorant people that just don’t understand.

          • B2

            UNVO,
            Your understanding of the over design of the S-3 air vehicle aero capabilities, knowledge of CVN organic tanking overhead/mission, and your glossy PowerPoint level of believability for unproven capabilities are stunning and lacking in any real world experience. I can prove every fact with known specifications/procedures re carrier tanking and S-3 I mentioned anywhere in these comments..
            The fact that the s-3 was not seriously considered is also a reality with this award but IMO simply proves anther fact that we continue to sail in our approaches to acquisition…
            I was hoping the new administration would dump this stupid third offset strategy and use some reality re what we need.. This just continues the bleeding

          • USNVO

            Nowhere in your comments have you done anything but make assertions, most of which are laughably false, and repeated conspiracy theory platitudes.

            I presented the actual capability of the S-3, both as the S-3B and as a possible KS-3B. I also pointed out the difficulties and limitations inherent in the S-3 platform that make it a tough sell as either a tanker or as a conversion into an unmanned tanker.

            Not wishful thinking, fond rememberence of a time that never was, laughably optimistic ideas, or conspiracy nut delusional thinking.

            But I am a reasonable individual. Give me real, verifiable data in a logical argument that provides the needed capability within existing constraints and I will change my opinion. But please spare me the fallacious appeal to authority, the attempts to change the subject, the unverifiable claims of insider knowledge, the complete lack of verifiable evidence, or the false indignation.

        • Kypros

          Just a side comment…the Navy retires the perfectly airworthy S-3 to save money and gives the tanker mission to the F-18. Then the Navy realizes that overworking the F-18 is burning up airframe hours and is concerned about the replacement cost. Then the Navy spends more money to develop a pilotless tanker. Funny how things work, just saying. I wonder if there will one day be a role for the MQ-25 as a bomb or missile truck, being controlled by a stealthy F-35 ahead of it?

      • Rocco

        Agreed especially 3rd paragraph

  • CAPT ALOHA

    I’m sure they’ve thought of it — but I wonder how “they” plan on “hawking” a low-state aircraft on the ball at night? You know; to position the tanker just ahead of the aircraft, on speed, hose streamed and ready to pass gas if a bolter/wave-off occurs?? BTDT .. so I’m just curious how that evolution might “work” operationally with this unmanned technology … ??? If anyone knows — thanks in advance.

    • b2

      Aye, exactly.. “Trick or Treat” on “da bal”l… they’ll use articficial intelligence of course (lol).

      With this contraption maybe the AirOps officer and that band of watchstanders from the airwing can drive the overhead tanker around themselves…as long as they don’t argue… However I remember it differently actually conducting it…Things like making sure the hose was out and being right there, lit up, at his/her10 o’clock after a bolter and 150 beats a minute….. Yeah sure its real easy mission at night in foul weather…Any monkey/automation can do it…Right?

      Not, CNO Richardson/Mr. Guerts…but how would you know? Not many of you gan and the rest have forgotten…

    • USNVO

      Just spit balling here, but why is it important for the MQ-25A to do that mission?

      If that evolution is required, I am assuming they know about it on the carrier somewhat ahead of the aircraft entering the pattern. I mean it is not like the F-18 or whoever just called the ball and then says, “OH S…! I’m out of gas!”. So have a F-18 with a refueling pod in an appropriate Alert posture ready to launch if they are needed for the once in a blue moon evolution (especially with Magic Carpet and Delta Flight Path). Most of the time they would just sit there not accumulating flight hours and launch/trap cycles. It is probably easier with a similar aircraft anyway. Problem solved.

      • Rocco

        If any aircraft in the pattern low on bingo fuel that said aircraft is held in the pattern to refuel so others needing to land can do so without a possibility of a fouled deck occurring. If it can’t be refueled the pilot has to ditch an expensive aircraft!! With a stacked bow no alert tanker can launch in this situation . No time to launch a tanker from the waist cats while recovering aircraft as the tanker is already airborne before recovery started. At least back in my day of hotas!

        • USNVO

          The situation outlined is that the aircraft landing only has enough fuel to land, so little that it must be accompanied in the pattern by the tanker with the drogue deployed so that it can be refueled the minute it can’t land.

          About the only thing I can think of is battle damage (known issue so sending a tanker is easy) or someone boltering repeatedly (lots of gas in the MQ-25A) and both of those circumstances have lots of time to get a F-18 with buddy stores airborne, even if you use the waist cat. It is an emergency situation that doesn’t really need to be met with the MQ-25A. If anything, it seems that it would be an evolution best suited to similar aircraft.

          • Rocco

            Not in agreement at all . I served on 3 Carriers plus 3 shore stations. As I outlined is the normal response for situations that even you outlined. This now may change with this MQ-25. Especially procedure. Now with less jets on Deck & enough room for flight ops & a football game at the same time room to launch a tanker may be possible. But why? The tanker is airborne already!!

    • Rocco

      The tower & Airboss will know who’s low on fuel & get them tanked before the pattern is full. With an unmanned tanker the camera in it has way better eyes than any human can see & would be pretty easy to link up . Today’s flash lights are pretty good!! Lol

  • Leroy

    The CVWs had visits by a Doctor. This is what he ordered! Sounds like our CVNs and F-35C especially have become a lot more dangerous to the bad guys – in particular China. Guess what?

    Use a bow compass and draw circles around your capital cities, military installations and weapons, comm, radar, etc., facilities and see how far 1000nm (plus) goes into the seas and oceans surrounding your country. That’s a whole lot more sq mi of water a carrier can hide in – a whole lot more directions of approach our stealth aircraft can ingress and egress from. Especially in and around the SCS.

    Scare and confuse you? It should! Even more than it did yesterday – before this announcement. Dare to spark a WAR against the U.S. or our allies and watch how your entire society unravels. Becomes confused and devastated. Or for everyone, a whole lot worse! If you catch my drift. And all for what gain? Judging from past major wars, nothing.

  • CharleyA

    How much does each F-35C cost the taxpayer? $149M. No spinning can negate that fact.

  • CharleyA

    Once again, you reveal your ignorance of these issues. The $149M figure (which is the GWSC, Gross Weapons System Cost for the F-35C for FY19) I quoted is taken directly from the FY19 Navy budget submission. Congress uses that unit cost to authorize and fund weapons purchases, in this case the F-35C. It’s simply a fact.

  • vincedc

    For everyone trying to drag a bunch of obsolete aircraft out of the boneyard, remember the state of the political will of this country. This project is about reducing manned aircraft in the fleet, and move on to an unmanned attack capability. The Navy is just starting with a low risk mission to develop the technology. While we all like to dust off our copies of TOP GUN and remember the good old days, our military is in the business of keeping people alive. If than can be done by automating a platform, then that is the way our leaders have decided to go.