NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Navy plans to establish two MQ-25A Stingray unmanned carrier-based tanker squadrons to deploy detachments to aircraft carriers and will next conduct a test refuel on an E-2 Hawkeye early warning aircraft.

Later this year the Navy plans to standup the MQ-25A fleet replacement squadron VUQ-10 to start training operators and maintainers of the aircraft, Capt. Chad Reed, program manager of Unmanned Carrier Aviation, of PMA-268, said Monday during the Navy League’s 2021 Sea Air Space expo here.

The MQ-25A test asset built by aircraft builder Boeing [BA], called T-1, conducted the first unmanned tanker to manned aircraft refueling operation with a Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in June (Defense Daily, June 7).

Last year, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday directed the establishment of VUQ-10 by Oct. 1, 2021 in California (Defense Daily, Oct. 5, 2020).

Reed said the Navy and its industry partners are looking how to train aircraft operators now and the first two fleet squadrons will be named VUQ-11 and VUQ-12. They are set to operate under commander of Airborne Command and Control Logistics Wing, which controls the Navy’s E-2 aircraft.

The two continental U.S. (CONUS)-based squadrons will deploy detachments to E-2 squadrons to operate the Stingrays, with each detachment set to deploy with five MQ-25As.

Reed also noted while the Stingray is about the same size as a Super Hornet one of their charges was to minimize the aircraft’s footprint on the carrier flight deck and operations.

According to slides Reed presented, the MQ-25A is currently planned to be 51 feet long, has a 75- foot wingspan, and be 31.3 feet wide when the wings are folded for carrier stowage.

“So we’ve minimized our footprint as much as possible and do plan to have five Stingrays aboard the aircraft carrier at any one time deployed as a detachment and operating on the flight deck,” he said.

Reed also outlined the near-term plans for MQ-25A testing, with both the T-1 and the first MQ-25 EMD aircraft.

Within the next six months, the Navy plans to take the T-1 to an unspecific aircraft carrier to conduct deck handling, without flight testing.

“We’re going to drive around the flight deck and we’re going to see how well it operates onboard a U.S. aircraft carrier. At the same time we’re going to bring a Ground Control Station from Lockheed Martin, also bring that out to demonstrate the Common Control Station capabilities.”

Reed’s presentation said upcoming milestones over the next six months include the second T-1 aerial refueling test flight with an E-2, completion of an MQ-25A hangar as Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., standing up VUQ-10, and the T-1 carrier deck handling demonstration.

Following that, over the next two years Reed said after the Navy receives the first full MQ-25A it will conduct catapult launches and recoveries in both ground-based and carrier-based flight testing.

Reed reiterated the utility of having Boeing’s T-1 as a resource for early testing.

“T-1 has been tremendous, T-1 has allowed us to learn lessons that normally on a program you don’t learn until you get your test aircraft. Same aerodynamics, same engine as MQ-25” as on production line.

The Navy awarded Boeing an $805 million engineering and manufacturing development contract in 2018 covering the first four aircraft. The Navy expects the first EMD aircraft to be delivered in late 2022, conducting ground and then carrier-based tests (Defense Daily, Aug. 30, 2018).

The Navy plans to ultimately procure 72 Stingrays to free up some Super Hornets, currently used in a tanking role, to move back to strike aircraft.