ST LOUIS, Mo.Boeing [BA] showed off its MQ-25 Stingray carrier-based unmanned air system (UAS) offering to reporters at its facility here on Thursday and revealed it will use the Rolls-Royce AE 3007N engine.

This is the same engine on the Air Force’s Northrop Grumman [NOC] RQ-4 Global Hawk.

Boeing shows off its prototype for the MQ-25 unmanned carrier tanker offering in St. Louis, Miss. (Photo: Defense Daily)
Boeing shows off its prototype for the MQ-25 unmanned carrier tanker offering in St. Louis, Miss. (Photo: Defense Daily)

The MQ-25 will be the Navy’s first unmanned carrier-based aircraft system and is focused on being a refueling tanker. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) released the final request for proposals (RFP) last October. Last year NAVAIR commander Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker said the aircraft is expected to extend the Navy’s air wing ranges an additional 300-400 miles and maximize fuel  by about 15,000 pounds for 500 nautical miles (Defense Daily, Oct. 13, 2017).

The battle for the contract is limited to Boeing, General Atomics [GA], and Lockheed Martin [LMT], after Northrop Grumman withdrew in October (Defense Daily, Oct. 25, 2017).

Last September the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report stating the Navy expects to invest almost $2.5 billion in the program through FY ‘22 and does not expect total development cost to exceed $5 billion.

Don Gaddis, Boeing’s Phantom Works MQ-25 program director, said Rolls-Royce has been partners with Boeing for the deck handling demonstration, engine installation, running, running high power, and throughout source selection process. “So [they have been] a really good partner with us.”

He noted the prototype showed off to reporters included the actual engine the aircraft will use for flight tests.

Gaddis said, “I’m happy to be working with Rolls-Royce.” He highlighted Boeing conducted a deck handling demonstration of their Stingray model for the Navy in February, delayed from January due to cold weather.

This prototype was originally built from 2012-2014 as part of the Navy’s former Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program (Defense Daily, Feb. 12, 2016).

When the service issued a pause on that program before redirecting to Stingray, Boeing decided to keep the model and convert it for use as the newer tanker aircraft. Gaddis said Boeing decided that their prototype was in the right “wheelhouse” to be used as the tanker.

Boeing shows off its prototype for the MQ-25 unmanned carrier tanker offering to reporters. (Photo: Defense Daily)
Boeing shows off its prototype for the MQ-25 unmanned carrier tanker offering to reporters. (Photo: Defense Daily)

Gaddis noted UCLASS planned for what he called a big ISR platform, whereas Stingray is a big tanker and has a small ISR capability included.

When the program was redirected to Stingray, Boeing used four Navy concept refinement contracts for risk reduction through air vehicle integration and checkout as well as a deck handling demonstration.

The demonstration was part of the statement of work. Boeing also conducted a tanking trait study: how much gas can it give and at what range. Gaddis said this has a lot to do with the engine the aircraft uses, but did not disclose the study’s findings.

Gaddis noted the contract statement of work had very specific conditions like showing day and night operations, replicating a carrier flight deck with painted taxiways, and using yellow shirt personnel guiding the aircraft as if on a carrier. It included requirements for seconds the aircraft has to taxi from the jet blast deflector, operations after landing leading to rollback, hooking up the aircraft, folding the wings, and more.

Boeing showed reporters a promotional video with the prototype’s deck handling demonstration performance ahead of the video’s full public release at next week’s Navy League Sea-Air-Space trade show at National Harbor, Md. The video clearly showed off the design’s unique physical shape – a great contrast to the company’s earlier X-45 UCAV models of the UCLASS program, which featured more of a B-2 or F-117-style large wing shape.

Gaddis said the company is preparing to fly its MQ-25 prototype very shortly after an award, which he expects by late summer.

He highlighted Boeing submitted its source selection proposal around Jan. 3, and praised Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson for “putting the pedal to the floor” on the MQ-25 program. Gaddis said it normally takes NAVAIR 18 months to conduct the source selection process, whereas Stingray could be wrapped up in six.