The Navy wants a drone tanker that can launch from ships. And Boeing Co. has thrown its hat in the ring with a futuristic design.
On Dec. 19, Boeing offered a public peek at its design for what the Navy is calling the MQ-25 Stingray: an unmanned aircraft system that can offer in-air refueling to the service's fighters, including the F-35C.
A Navy F-35C Lightning II is drogue refueled by a KC-10A during a training mission near Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., April 10, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Kelly)
General Atomics revealed concept art of its proposal for the MQ-25 earlier this year, publishing photos of an aircraft with wide wings, almost fighter-like in silhouette. The prototype aircraft Boeing revealed today has a domed top and thicker body.
In all, four companies were expected to compete for the MQ-25 contract, including Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. However, Northrop, expected to compete with its X-47B blended-wing-body UAS, dropped out of consideration in October.
To date, Lockheed has only published teaser images of what its unmanned tanker prototype would look like.
"Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years," Don 'BD' Gaddis, the head of the refueling system program for Boeing's Phantom Works, said in a statement. "Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded."
According to the Boeing's announcement, the prototype aircraft is now completing engine runs and had yet to take its first flight. Deck handling demonstrations are set to begin in early 2018.
The Navy's unmanned tanker program had been renamed and re-envisioned multiple times as officials juggle requirements and capabilities. The program was formerly called CBARS, Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System, before being renamed the MQ-25.
According to Naval Air Systems Command, the MQ-25 will not only deliver "robust organic" refueling capability, but will also interface with existing ship and land-based systems, including those providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.
The competing companies have until Jan. 3 to get their full proposals in; Boeing expects to pick a design in the second quarter of 2018.