US Navy MQ-25 Program : Boeing Unveils the Unmanned Aerial Refueling Drone

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The MQ-25 Stingray unmanned carrier aviation air system (UCAAS), formerly the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS), is a planned unmanned combat aerial system (UCAV) that resulted from the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program.

On 1 February 2016, after many delays over whether the UCLASS would specialize in strike or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles, it was reported that a significant portion of the UCLASS effort would be directed to produce a Super Hornet-sized carrier-based aerial refueling tanker as the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS), with “a little ISR” and some capabilities for communications relay, and strike capabilities put off to a future version of the aircraft.[citation needed] In July 2016, it was officially named “MQ-25A Stingray”.

The MQ-25 Stingray evolved from the ashes of the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program.

The program was introduced publicly in the Navy’s fiscal year 2017 budget submission.

The aircrafted was redesignated the MQ-25 (M for multipurpose) from the RAQ-25 – the Carrier Based Aerial Refueling System (CBARS).

Stingray’s primary mission will be airborne tanking, but the aircraft’s pylons will also be engineered to fire missiles and drop bombs.

The tanking mission is necessary to relieve the carriers’ F/A-18s that currently perform that role.  Additionally, the requirements necessary to make UCLASS a low signature (stealthy) penetrating air frame have been removed for Stingray.

The Navy is expected to award an air vehicle contract to one prime contractor in the second quarter of 2018 with the initial delivery scheduled by 2021.

The Navy earmarked $2.16 billion for the MQ-25 program to fiscal year 2021.

Additionally, $350 million was approved for transfer by Congress that had been set aside for continued air vehicle demonstrations in fiscal 2016.

The Navy released the final RFP the week of October 10th, 2017 to the same four primes that were in contention for UCLASS:

  • Boeing
  • General Atomics
  • Lockheed
  • Northrop Grumman

On October 25, 2017, Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush announced that the company was leaving the competition.

“When we’re looking at one of these opportunities, let me be clear, our objective is not just to win.

Winning is great, it feels good on the day of an announcement, but if you can’t really execute on it and deliver on it to your customer and your shareholders, then you’ve done the wrong thing.”

MQ-25 Stingray Headlines

Boeing Unveils MQ-25 Prototype

Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aircraft system is completing engine runs before heading to the flight ramp for deck handling demonstrations next year. The aircraft is designed to provide the U.S. Navy with refueling capabilities that would extend the combat range of deployed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters. (Boeing photo by Eric Shindelbower)

19 December 2017 – Boeing for the first time today is showing what it believes is the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) best suited for refueling U.S. Navy jets operating from aircraft carriers.

Through its MQ-25 competition, the Navy is seeking unmanned refueling capabilities that would extend the combat range of deployed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters.

The MQ-25 will also have to seamlessly integrate with a carrier’s catapult and launch and recovery systems.

“Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” said Don ‘BD’ Gaddis, a retired admiral who leads the refueling system program for Boeing’s Phantom Works technology organization. “Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.”

The UAS is completing engine runs before heading to the flight ramp for deck handling demonstrations early next year.

The Navy issued its final request for proposals in October. Proposals are due Jan. 3.

MQ-25 Program Office Tests Simulated Mission Control System

NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. — The Navy’s MQ-25 program completed its first demonstration representing how the mission control system located aboard the aircraft carrier will control and transmit information to an unmanned air vehicle in the future.

The April 11 demonstration validated the first build of the MD-5 Unmanned Carrier Aviation Mission Control System (UMCS), a combined hardware and software product, using representative shipboard equipment and a simulated air vehicle at NAS Patuxent River.

Captain Duarte, PMA-268 program manager, observed the test event and said he was very pleased with the progress the team has made over the last year.

The government team worked across multiple program offices, Navy and Air Force commands in addition to industry partners to prepare for the demonstration.

“As Lead Systems Integrator (LSI), we have the ability to really drive interoperability and affordability across the program,” he said.

“We have had the opportunity to leverage many existing technologies and capabilities from other Navy platforms and integrate them into this program.”

Within the LSI construct, PMA-268 maintains responsibility for the architecture, configuration, production, development and sustainment of the UMCS. The UMCS hardware builds on NAVSEA Common Display System (CDS) and Common Processing System (CPS) from DDG-1000 and other Aegis ships.  It also incorporates the Navy’s Common Control System (CCS), a software architecture managed by PMA-281 that features a common framework, user interface and components designed for use with a variety of unmanned systems.

The PMA-268 team integrated an open mission systems platform to support the reuse of government owned mission management, mission planning and sensor control applications. UMCS 1.0 demonstrated that third party software can coexist with the CCS framework, thereby proving the UMCS architecture is viable, Duarte said.

During the demo, the UMCS communicated with a Mobile Aviation Interoperability Lab (MAIL) truck, simulating a UAV, verifying command and control.  The team tested connectivity between the UMCS and shipboard network systems and verified voice trunking (internet protocol to serial) capability between the air vehicle operator and the simulated UAV.  The team also performed limited control and data dissemination between the UMCS and simulated UAV to include Automatic Identification System (AIS) detection, Electro-optical/Infrared (EO/IR) Camera operation and dynamic mission re-planning.

“The Surface Aviation Interoperability Lab (SAIL) and System Test & Integration Laboratory (STIL) were integral in making this demonstration a success,” said Jaimie Grubb, UMCS team lead. “By doing demos in the lab first, we are able to prove the control system concept before providing the UMCS to the air system vendor and undergoing test, which provides significant risk reduction as well as schedule and cost savings.”

This demonstration is the first of a continuing, annual series to demonstrate UMCS capabilities as development of the system progresses. Future demonstrations will show the ability to control a small UAS and establish the process for flight and cybersecurity approval s and the integration of software specific to the MQ-25A air vehicle.

The UMCS, part of the MQ-25’s Control System & Connectivity (CS&C) segment, is one component of the system. The MQ-25 effort also includes an air segment and a carrier segment. The program plans to release a request for proposal for the air segment this summer and is working shipboard installations for the carrier segment.

Operationally, the MQ-25 will provide a robust organic refueling capability to make better use of the Navy’s combat strike fighters and extend the range of the carrier air wing.  It will also have a secondary intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability.

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