Boeing wins contract to build robotic tanker planes for the US Navy
With a contract of US$805 million, Boeing has been tapped to build the MQ-25 Stingray unmanned aerial refueling tanker for the US Navy. The new production aircraft will be developed and built in St. Louis, Missouri, and will provide the Navy with a carrier-based in-flight refueling capability to extend the range of the F/A-18 Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, and F-35C Lightning II.
Begun in 2006 as a carrier-based, multi-role Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft, the MQ-25 Stingray was originally seen as a stealth strike platform to penetrate enemy defenses. These combat requirements have since been downgraded to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, and in 2016 the ISR requirement was made secondary to turn the Stingray into a support craft that can fire missiles and drop bombs if required.
The Navy's particular goal is to use the MQ-25 Stingray as a refueling platform to extend the range and increase mission endurance for its carrier-based fighter wing. To that end, a competition was opened with Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems submitting proposals.
Under the present contract, Boeing will build four prototype aircraft by August 2024, with the option of producing a fleet of 72 Stingrays costing US$13 billion.
"As a company, we made an investment in both our team and in an unmanned aircraft system that meets the US Navy's refueling requirements," says Leanne Caret, president and CEO, Boeing Defense, Space & Security. "The fact that we're already preparing for first flight is thanks to an outstanding team who understands the Navy and their need to have this important asset on carrier decks around the world."
The promotional video below includes new images of the MQ-25.