General Atomics’ Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) announced its MQ-25 Stingray unmanned carrier-based tanker offering on Tuesday, which includes competitor Boeing [BA].

The company said it has designed a “purpose-built” Stingray that is optimized for the tanking mission that will more than double the range of current carrier air wings. It said their offering “exceeds all of the Navy’s requirements.”

General Atomics Predator C. (Image: GeneralAtomics).
General Atomics Predator C. (Image: GeneralAtomics).

The MQ-25 Stingray Unmanned Carrier Aviation (UCA) program is developing an unmanned aircraft to act as an aerial refueling tanker for aircraft carriers and provide intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. It was previously funded under the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program.

The Navy released the final MQ-25 Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) solicitation in early October to only four main contractors, based on laws allowing limited competition: Boeing, General Atomics, Lockheed Martin [LMT], and Northrop Grumman [NOC]. A 2017 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report said the Navy expects to invest almost $2.5 billion into the program through FY ’22 (Defense Daily, Oct. 13).

Then, by late October, Northrop Grumman announced it would not bid on the unmanned tanker because it cannot make a business case that benefits both the company and Navy customer (Defense Daily, Oct. 25).

GA’s MQ-25 offering will include contributions by up to seven companies as well as other segments of GA.

“This collaboration of the best in aerospace industry will provide the U.S. Navy with a fleet ready unmanned tanker with exceptional growth, well within the Navy’s preferred timeline,” David Alexander, president of GA-ASI, said in a statement.

This includes Boeing’s Autonomous Systems unit, where “We look forward to supporting GA with our aviation and autonomous experience,” Boeing Autonomous Systems Vice President and General Manager Chris Raymond said in a statement.

He added the company “is pleased to have the opportunity to collaborate with General Atomics on its MQ-25 proposal.”

A Boeing spokeswoman told Defense Daily in an email that the company is still pursuing the MQ-25 contract as a prime, which is the company’s priority, but it is large enough to partner with GA on their own offering.

“We have a broad array of talent and expertise that can benefit the Navy on MQ-25. Pursuing the program as a prime bidder and a member of the General Atomics team is good for our customer and reflects our focus on doing what’s necessary to compete, win, and grow,” Boeing’s Mary McAdam said in a statement.

Boeing declined to elaborate on what this work involves, saying it was competition sensitive. The company said it could explain more about its contribution if GA ultimately wins the contract.

However, GA-ASI’s MQ-25 program manager provided some details about Boeing’s contribution and characterized it as one of several projects the companies have been discussing working together on.

General Atomics has looked at what Boeing can do to help GA fill in some holes they have or are perceived as having. This includes a “mutually agreeable location” at a good proximity Boeing facility to do final assembly, integration, and checkout, GA’s Chuck Wright told Defense Daily on a phone interview.

He also noted Boeing has a long and good relationship with naval aviation test and evaluation via over 40 years of F/A-18 Hornet, Super Hornet, and E/A-18G Growler work. They are the “program gold standard” for carrier suitability, test, and evaluation so GA “wants to piggyback on that experience as well.”

Wright highlighted Boeing’s writ-large carrier suitability experience. They have the background that can help GA’s team as “sort of a final assist” in design development and fielding of the GA MQ-25.

He acknowledged an early discussion point between Boeing and GA was how to deconflict, largely through internal Boeing firewalls, and that has been done. Wright said Boeing is in a “pretty good spot” because if they win as their own prime contract that’s great and if they don’t they are part of the team of another contender so they can win with GA too.

Boeing's offering for the MQ-25 Stingray unmanned aircraft carrier-based tanker program. (Photo: Boeing)
Boeing’s offering for the MQ-25 Stingray unmanned aircraft carrier-based tanker program. (Photo: Boeing)

Knowing that, GA and Boeing “have to be fair and fair to each other,” particularly with the firewall on the Boeing side, Wright said.

McAdam added Boeing has implemented “stringent data protections” and other security measures “so we have a strong firewall between the competing groups working on MQ-25.”

In the interview, Melissa Haynes, senior manager for communications, said that Boeing is “just one small component” of a team to bring together “the very best of aerospace industry.”

GA and the other participants more directly disclosed what other participants are contributing to the program.

Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies [UTX], will provide its PW815 commercial engine. GA said the engine was specifically designed with availability in mind and “it is designed to be the easiest engine in its thrust class to access and maintain.”

UTC’s Aerospace Systems division is set to design and build the aircraft’s landing gear. Jim Wharton, president of the landing systems business, said that the company “is proud to design and produce the landing system for the GA-ASI MQ-25 Stingray” and highlighted their experience with both landing systems design and “decades of carrier-based application, allow us to custom design an optimized solution for MQ-25.”

L3 Technologies [LLL] will design and build the GA Stingray’s communications system. Dan Gelston, president of L3’s broadband communications unit, said this communications network contribution will be combined “with other discriminating capabilities on the GA MQ-25 including system commonality, allowing the Navy to sustain fleet combat aviation and enable freedom of navigation.”

BAE Systems will provide various software capabilities, including cyber security and mission planning. Kevin Malone, general manager of BAE’s Analytics Systems, said delivering this “mission critical” system “is vital to program success.”

Rockwell Collins [COL] will provide navigation technologies, a new generation of its TruNet ARC-201 networked communications airborne radio, and a simulation framework to support GA’s schedule.

David Schreck, vice president and general manage of airborne solutions at Rockwell Collins, said he is excited to be part of the team “as they build upon our decades of experience in communication, navigation and simulation technologies to bring this transformational platform to the Navy.”

GKN Aerospace’s Fokker will deliver a carrier tail hook for the MQ-25’s arresting hook. The company noted it currently works with GA to provide landing gear technologies for its MQ-9 Reaper UAV.

Moreover, two other GA business units will work with GA-ASI: Electromagnetic Systems (EMS) will provide the up-front carrier integration experience and risk reduction and Systems Integration will provide landing gear integration experience.

GA-EMS builds and tests the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS and Advanced Arresting Gear (AAR) on the Gerald R.  Ford-class carriers.

Wright said GA did not just grab whoever was available for each part, but who provides the best service they are looking for with experience providing products and services for U.S carriers. He noted companies onboard include those that build the F-35 engine, tail hooks for the F-35, landing gear for naval aircraft, Navy mission planning, and more.

He said GA feels well-positioned to win the contract as a company used to going fast, with experience developing and fielding unmanned air systems for the U.S. government quickly. It is “kind of what we do,” Wright said.

The president’s FY ’19 budget request, released on Monday, would fund the MQ-25 at $684 million in the research, development, test, and evaluation account. It said the MQ-25 program is expected to enter into the EMD phase in the fourth quarter of 2018 and the request moves its Initial Operating Capability up two years to FY ’26 (Defense Daily, Feb. 12).