The Navy says it expects to release a draft request for proposals (RFP) this spring for its future MQ-25 carrier-based unmanned aircraft.

A final RFP will follow in the summer, and a development contract will be awarded to one company in 2018, said Capt. Beau Duarte, the Navy’s MQ-25 program manager.

The X-47B landing on a carrier. Photo: Navy
The X-47B landing on a carrier. Photo: Navy

Four companies – Boeing [BA], General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. (GA-ASI), Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Northrop Grumman [NOC] – received one-year contracts last fall to refine concepts for the drone. Those contracts, which run through the end of September, could be extended into the third quarter of fiscal year 2018 if funds are available, Duarte said Feb. 3.

The main role of the MQ-25 Stingray will be aerial refueling, which the Navy says will allow it “to make better use of our combat strike fighters and extend the range of our aircraft carriers.” According to a March report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Navy plans to spend more than $2 billion on the program through FY 2021 and achieve an initial operational capability by the mid-2020s.

In a related matter, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., announced Jan. 26 that it is returning its two X-47B unmanned carrier aircraft demonstrators to prime contractor Northrop Grumman’s manufacturing plant in Palmdale, Calif. The company “plans to use both aircraft as test beds for future development programs,” NAVAIR said.

The bat-like X-47B achieved several historic milestones for unmanned aviation, including the first-ever catapult launch from a carrier and the first-ever arrested landing on a carrier.