The Navy is approaching a Gate 4/5 review for its new carrier-based drone, during which the service will define its requirements in advance of the release of a request for proposals([RFP), a service official said March 10.

The Navy's unmanned X-47B demonstrator aboard the USS George H.W. Bush. Photo: U.S. Navy
The Navy’s unmanned X-47B demonstrator aboard the USS George H.W. Bush. Photo: U.S. Navy

Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, said he, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley would use the April review to chart the way forward for the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System—the unmanned tanker Richardson referred to as the MQ-25 Stingray earlier on Thursday.

“Since we’ve done so much work on this program, we want to define with the CNO and Mr. Stackley what are the requirements and quickly get to an RFP so we can get to actual production vehicles [or] some kind of a fly off plan,” he said during the McAleese and Associates FY2017 Defense Programs conference. “The actual acquisition strategy will probably be announced in the summer.”

The CBARS program stemmed from the service’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) effort to procure an unmanned aerial system (UAS) that would deploy from an aircraft carrier to collect intelligence and strike targets.

CBARS is envisioned as a “descoped” version of UCLASS that would focus on a tanking mission, have limited intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and could later be configured for a light strike role. For that reason, the four UCLASS competitors—Boeing [BA], Northrop Grumman [NOC], Lockheed Martin [LMT] and General Atomics—remain viable candidates to build the Stingray, Mulloy said.

“We’ve descoped some of the stealth requirements, but we want the other requirements in there. We may expand the fuel requirements, but we know all four vendors have air bodies that will meet those requirements,” he said.

The Navy has requested $89 million for the program in its fiscal 2017 budget and will be able to roll over the $435 million appropriated in the 2016 budget from UCLASS to CBARS, he said.

Specific requirements have not yet been defined, but the Stingray will not be very low observable, although it will have “some level of survivability,” Mulloy said. It will be equipped with an electro-optical, infrared technology.

When it rolls of the production line, the aircraft will also have the ability to carry weapons using the same pylons on the wings where fuel tanks are attached.

“I still have to go test it and do what they call drop tests,” he added.  “I have to go back to NAVAIR (Naval Air Systems Command) and prove that a drop tank now becomes a JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or weapons. But I’ve already covered 90 percent of it.”  

The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) will conduct its own review of the program. “When that will happen I don’t know,” Mulloy said. However, because of all of the work done on UCLASS, “we think we have all of the JROC (Joint Requirements Oversight Council) data and paperwork done, and we would be able to get that done very quickly.”