Spoiler alert. The US Navy’s MQ-25A has the potential to shake up current strategy and tactics in the multi-domain environment as the first operational, carrier-based unmanned aircraft. The Stingray’s primary mission will be to free up F/A-18s from current Carrier Air Wing refueling duties for strike missions. Once operational and deployed on CVNs, the air vehicle will help extend the ranges and flexibility of Carrier Air Wings and Strike Groups.
Nine Stingrays are in the first tranche of air vehicles on contract to Boeing. The Service has a program of record for 69 MQ-25As. Initial operational capability for the Stingray remains 2025. To date, the MQ-25A test asset 1 has refueled an F-35C, E-2D and F/A-18.
Three primary MQ-25A team members include Boeing as OEM, the Navy as the customer and Lockheed Martin as the lead for the Stingray’s ground control station. The production of these air vehicles will occur at a new Boeing manufacturing facility at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, Missouri.
Jim Young, Boeing’s MQ-25 Chief Engineer, told MS&T that the air vehicle is digitally advanced, simply and efficiently produced, and intelligently supported. Models and other forward-leaning tools will support program requirements and architecture, engineering, analysis, flight modeling, work instructions and sustainment.
Young was asked about the MQ-25 training system, which is simply a work in progress. The executive said maintenance, and enabling training, will be similar to how manned aircraft are currently supported, “but there will be much less maintenance – for example, there is no cockpit.” Similarly, the training program for the pilot/air vehicle operator at the GCS has yet to be defined. “It’s still a bit too early for this part of the program,” he concluded.