NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.Lockheed Martin [LMT] revealed Monday its MQ-25 Stingray carrier-based unmanned tanker offering does not have a completed prototype and will use the General Electric [GE] F404 engine.

Rob Weiss, who recently resigned as vice president and general manager of the company’s Skunk Works development division, told reporters that their Stingray is “purpose-built” rather than derivative of other designs. Weiss argued those kinds of derivations generally leave the other models compromised.

Rendering of Lockheed Martin's MQ-25 refueling an F-35C. (Artist's concept: Lockheed Martin).
Rendering of Lockheed Martin’s MQ-25 refueling an F-35C. (Artist’s concept: Lockheed Martin).

Weiss was speaking here at a company press briefing during the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space expo.

The MQ-25 Stingray Unmanned Carrier Aviation (UCA) program is seeking to produce an unmanned aircraft for aerial refueling and limited amounts of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.

Only four companies are allowed to compete under the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) solicitation based on laws limiting competition: Boeing [BA], General Atomics, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman [NOC]. Northrop Grumman dropped out of the bidding last October (Defense Daily, Oct. 25).

Lockheed Martin is the only competitor that has not produced either a prototype or a stand-in representative aircraft. It is also the only of the three offering a concept that is more like a flying wing than the other two. General Atomics is offering its familiar Avenger platform, formerly Predator C, as a surrogate for the final proposed MQ-25.

General Atomics disclosed details about its model and company partners in February (Defense Daily, Feb. 13) while Boeing unveiled its prototype to the media last week (Defense Daily, April 6).

Weiss highlighted that at first Lockheed Martin considered re-purposing their canceled Sea Ghost U-class surveillance drone, but the Skunk Works team was unsatisfied with the option. Instead, Lockheed Martin started from scratch and the company says its new model can match all of the Navy’s requirements for range and carrier suitability as well as room for future growth. Officials said their MQ-25 tanker will extend the F-35C’s range by 52 percent.

The officials also listed some of their partner companies: General Electric will provide the F404 engine used on the F/A-18 Hornet, UTC Aerospace Systems [UTX] adds the F-35 carrier landing gear, and Triumph Group’s aerostructures division is building the aircraft’s internal structure.

Lockheed Martin would not reveal any partners for internal technology or avionics, but Weiss said they are leveraging internal company work on open-system architecture for mission control systems to give the aircraft the ability to work smoothly with manned aircraft, basic ISR capabilities, multi-vehicle control potential, and the ability to adapt and grow.

Lockheed's MQ-25 modeled on an aircraft carrier. (Image: Lockheed Martin).
Lockheed’s MQ-25 modeled on an aircraft carrier. (Image: Lockheed Martin).

Jeff Babione, who is succeeding Weiss at Skunk Works and recently served as executive vice president and general manager for the F-35 program, claimed that by relying on these familiar technologies Lockheed Martin will cut down the cost and risk of delays or malfunctions. They will use existing supply chains and economies of scale.

Weiss noted the program’s man-unmanned teaming aspect is the most innovative part of the whole project.

“The breakthrough that’s going to occur with the MQ-25? It’s not, frankly, operating an unmanned air system off a carrier. We know how to do that, and the design itself is low risk. But the learning and the opportunity is going to be the man-unmanned teaming that comes with it.”

The company said this teaming is facilitated by the artificial intelligence (AI) in its MQ-25. It will have sensors at the front where an operator can view yellow-shirt petty officers direct the aircraft on a flight deck and indicators to show the lead petty officer (LPO) the operator is watching them.

This two-way sensor aims to facilitate communication and easier landing and parking on a crowded flight deck.

Weiss also said while their Stingray is not a low-observable stealth design. Its flying-wing shape and open architecture systems offer that capability in the future, if the Navy asks for it.

The officials said Lockheed Martin will demonstrate its model to the Navy soon, with Skunk Works confident the configuration model “is very representative” of the MQ-25 capabilities.