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MQ-XX / MQ-25 Stingray
CBARS - Carrier-Based Aerial Refueling System

MQ-25â  Carrier-Based Aerial Refueling SystemThe MQ-25â program successfully conducted the first ever aerial refueling operations between a manned receiver aircraft and unmanned tanker 04 June 2021 from MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois. This successful flight demonstrated that the MQ-25 Stingray can fulfill its tanker mission using the Navy's standard probe-and-drogue aerial refueling method. This flight laid the foundation for integration into the carrier environment, allowing for greater capability toward manned-unmanned teaming concepts.

The MQ-25A Stingray will be the world's first operational carrier-based unmanned aircraft and provide critical aerial refueling and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities that greatly expand the global reach, operational flexibility and lethality of the carrier air wing and carrier strike group. The MQ-25 is foundational to the Navy's Unmanned Campaign Framework and is the first step toward a future fleet augmented by unmanned systems to pace the evolving challenges of the 21st century.

The MQ-25A Stingray Carrier-based Unmanned Air System (Stingray CBUAS) is designed to enhance aircraft carrier capability and versatility for the Joint Forces Commander through integration of an effective, sustainable, and adaptable Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) into the carrier air wing (CVW). The Stingray CBUAS will be the Navy’s first carrier-based unmanned aircraft to function primarily as a mission refueling AV, extending the range and reach of the CVW. The Stingray CBUAS will also provide secondary recovery tanking (refueling close to the carrier), as well as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. The Stingray CBUAS was specifically developed to extend the combat range of the jet aircraft F/A-18 Super Hornet, the EA-18G Growler, and the F-35C Lightning II.

The Stingray CBUAS is 51 feet in length, has a wingspan of 75 feet, and stands approximately 11 feet high. With wings folded, its wingspan is 31 feet, and it stands approximately 16 feet high. The Stingray CBUAS is powered by a single, 10,000 pound-thrust Rolls-Royce AE3007N turbofan engine. The Stingray CBUAS consists of two segments, the AV (aircraft) and the ground control station. The AV is capable of launch and recovery aboard aircraft carriers at-sea and at airfields on land. Stingray CBUAS’ support and handling equipment includes the deck handling system, spares, and repair materials. An AVO uses the ground control station and its associated communication equipment in line of sight and beyond line of sight control of the AV for all phases of the mission, including engine start, taxi, take-off, mission functions, landing, and engine shutdown.

Boeing will build the U.S. Navy's first operational carrier-based unmanned aircraft, the MQ-25 aerial refueler, through an $805 million contract awarded 30 August 2018. Boeing was awarded the engineering and manufacturing development contract to provide four aircraft. Boeing plans to perform the MQ-25 work in St. Louis. "As a company, we made an investment in both our team and in an unmanned aircraft system that meets the U.S. Navy's refueling requirements," said 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."

MQ-25 is designed to provide the U.S. Navy with a much-needed refueling capability. According to the U.S. Navy, the MQ-25 Stingray will allow for better use of combat strike fighters by extending the range of deployed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C aircraft. MQ-25 will also seamlessly integrate with a carrier's catapult and launch and recovery systems.

Combining a large fuel offload with a long-endurance capability is the challenge facing designers of the MQ-25. An aircraft that can offload 15,000 pounds of fuel at 500 NM would enable two F-35’s to operate around 1000 NM from the carrier. The advantages of long endurance are being effectively utilized today in 69 different MQ-9 Predator orbits around the world, 24/7. What ground commanders have found is that persistent ISR leads to a more effective utilization of their manned assets and can provide lethal effects when desired. Interestingly, the most kinetic platforms in the Army and Air Force today are unmanned, long endurance aircraft.

A well-designed tanker/ISR platform will change how America fights at sea. Enabling next-generation aircraft to operate forward will effectively bring the deep-strike mission back to carrier aviation. Persistent, networked, ISR will enable a range of capabilities for the CSG while allowing it to dominate in contested environments. The studies and analysis are clear that both significantly large tanker fuel give at range and long endurance ISR are compatible in the same air vehicle design. It is past time for Super Hornets to get out of the tanking business and for the Navy to move out with the MQ-25 program.

Envisioning MQ-25 launching at the end of a typical carrier fly-day and recovering after the next day’s first launch is easy. As aircrew of manned aircraft rest, MQ-25 operators, at sea or ashore, are performing all of the tasks required to keep the strike group safe and operationally informed. In contested environments, the side that knows where the enemy is (and is not) will have the advantage. In considering this, it becomes clear that aircraft operating well away from the carrier will have a counter-ISR role as well, helping the CSG to stay concealed until a time and place of their choosing.

Some have argued that longer endurance aircraft will have less fuel capacity. In fact, relatively long (12 hours or more) endurance and air refueling offload are not mutually exclusive and are both necessary to meet critical Navy operational needs. Aircraft designers have long understood that utilizing proven, high-bypass engine technology can create an aircraft with both significant endurance and fuel offload. A stealth fighter, or F/A-18, is not optimized for fuel give or ISR – it is designed to go fast while maneuvering at heavy g-loads. For the MQ-25, neither of these things is required or desired and would represent a significant “over-design” of the aircraft. Hopefully, the airframe which will be chosen for the MQ-25 will have enough wing area to allow for optimized fuel give and significant endurance.

Navy design objectives are anticipated to be around 15,000 pounds of fuel at 500 NM from the carrier - significantly more fuel offload than is currently offered. In fact, this author’s discussions with industry experts indicate that there are designs that can offer much more fuel while providing better than 12 hours of unrefueled endurance when configured for ISR. This will allow F/A-18’s, and soon F-35’s, to operate at range, threatening enemy targets well away from the aircraft carrier as well as allow for “bridge the night” operations.

Additionally, the Navy’s concept for MQ-25 includes an ability to perform long endurance ISR from the CVN. As with any effective ISR aircraft, it must be able operate at significant range from the aircraft carrier and for extended periods of time. For years, strike group commanders have lamented that their situational awareness is directly tied to whether the carrier air wing is operating or not. While non-organic ISR is sometimes available, it can be episodic or non-existent depending on the mission and location of the CSG. Like the tanker, Naval Aviation needs an aircraft that can not only operate at range, but one that will easily span the “deck-cycle”, the period when the carrier air wing is not flying.

The story of MQ-25/Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) is a long and labored one. Before arriving at the most urgent design needs for MQ-25, many voices were involved. Large defense companies and their surrogates argued that the Navy needed an all-aspect stealth penetration aircraft. Others stated that it should be, or could be, as easy as taking the pilot out of a manned aircraft, put in a few boxes, and “un-man” a Super Hornet. Unfortunately, the voice of Navy leadership was apparently crushed under the stampede of contractors and bureaucrats who sensed an opportunity to sell their own ideas of what was needed. The competing, sub-optimized, and gold-plated offerings from multiple sources effectively killed the design before it began. Research and development, along with procurement, ground to a halt in early 2015.

In March 2016 it was reported that the US Navy planned to “descope” the stealth requirement for its future CBARS - Carrier-Based Aerial Refueling System unmanned air vehicle, now called the MQ-25 Stingray. The changes shifted emphasis from remotely controlled surveillance and strike missions to replacing overworked Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets in the aerial tanking role.

At that time it appeared that a request for proposals (RfP) for the air vehicle segment could emerge in 2016 with an evaluation and fly-off through 2017. The plan in the navy’s fiscal year 2017 budget submission would award an air vehicle contract to one prime contractor in the second quarter of 2018 for first delivery by 2021.

On 10 February 2016 the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) announced plans [N00019-16-R-0036] to issue requests for proposals (RFPs) for air system risk reduction activities related to the UCLASS program, now known as the Carrier-Based Aerial Refueling System (CBARS) program. These efforts will be funded with the appropriated amount authorized for competitive air vehicle risk reduction activities, as set forth in the NDAA for FY16 and the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016.

Contract awards were limited to potential offerors in the follow-on CBARS competition in accordance with 10 USC 2304(c) as implemented by FAR 6.302 (FAR 6.302-1(a)(2)); Only a limited number of responsible sources and no other supplies or services will satisfy agency requirements. Since CBARS is a direct evolution from the UCLASS Program with reprioritized capabilities, these RFPs will be issued only to The Boeing Company, Lockheed Martin Corporation, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, and Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation as they are currently the only companies which have completed UCLASS Air System PDR assessments for unmanned carrier aviation air vehicles.

Northrop would probably offer the X-47B, Lockheed's solution was based on RQ-170 and F-35C technologies. Boeing also participated in the design phase for UCLASS. Finally, General Atomics would propose its Predator C-based Sea Avenger.

Under these PDR assessments, these companies refined their solutions, matured their technologies, and enhanced their understanding of the Government requirements. These efforts will support additional engineering studies and design maturation. Award to any contractor other than those that have completed an air system PDR assessment would result in significant schedule delays and require substantial duplication of costs which are not expected to be recouped by the Government through full and open competition.

The MQ-XX program was to deliver a high-endurance unmanned aircraft that will replace today's F/A-18E/F aircraft in its role as the aerial tanker for the Navy's carrier air wing (CVW), thus preserving the strike fighter's flight hours for its primary mission. It will also leverage the range and payload capacity of high-endurance unmanned aircraft to provide critically needed, persistent, sea-based ISR capability in support of the CSG and the Joint Forces Commander. The MQ-XX was scheduled to be operational in the mid-2020s. The Navy said the official designation remains MQ-XX until the formal number is approved.

USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) marked a historical milestone 13 April 2016 after installing the first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) command center aboard an aircraft carrier. Capt. Beau Duarte, program manager of Unmanned Carrier Aviation program office (PMA-268), inspected the site and recognized Carl Vinson Sailors instrumental in the security, logistics and installation of the UAV suite.

This marked the start of a phased implementation of the MQ-XX system on an aircraft carrier. The lessons learned and ground-breaking work done here will go on to inform and influence future installations on other aircraft carriers. The work was performed during USS Carl Vinson's recent Chief of Naval Operations Planned Incremental Availability (PIA). The completion of all phases of installation was scheduled for 2022.

During the subsequent two-year [2015-2017] delay, the Navy had an opportunity to conduct a ground up evaluation of the MQ-25 requirements. First, carrier air wings require a better way to tank. In looking at organic tanking, it became clear that tactical aircraft are tanked in the most inefficient way possible. Except for trucking diesel through enemy territory in Afghanistan, delivering fuel to an airborne F/A-18 with another F/A-18 is the highest “fully burdened cost of fuel” of any service, anywhere in the world. Furthermore, the Navy is wearing out their premier fighters by configuring at least 6 of the 44 assigned to a carrier air wing as heavy tankers. It is estimated that around 20% of Super Hornet fatigue life is currently consumed by the tanking mission. Given the readiness challenges facing tactical aviation, we must be smarter. The addition of a carrier-based unmanned tanker effectively returns six strike-fighters back to the carrier strike group while more efficiently tanking aircraft overhead or at range.

The newest plan, revealed in the navy’s fiscal year 2017 budget submission, would award an air vehicle contract to one prime contractor in the second quarter of 2018 for first delivery by 2021. The navy earmarked $2.16 billion for the MQ-25 effort through fiscal year 2021.

Sam LaGrone reported March 21, 2017 while the Navy had initially intended a surveillance and possible strike capability for the aircraft, the current requirement was for a tanker. "Currently, the Navy refuels its carrier aircraft with its Super Hornet fleet. The tanking mission accounts from anywhere from 25 to 30 percent of Super Hornet sorties, further exacerbating the ongoing tactical aviation shortfalls in the service. That demand – in part – is pushing the Navy to get a tanking UAV into service as soon as possible rather than creating a more multi-mission platform, USNI News understands."

On 26 May 2017 the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) announced plans to release a solicitation for the MQ-25 Air System Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) Program to be awarded under a limited competition basis. The MQ-25 EMD solicitation will be issued only to The Boeing Company, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Lockheed Martin Corporation, and Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation. The basis for limiting competition, in accordance with 10 USC 2304(c) as implemented by FAR 6.302 (FAR 6.302-1(a)(2)), is that there are only a limited number of responsible sources and no other supplies or services will satisfy agency requirements. These companies have refined their solutions and matured their technologies associated with the unmanned carrier based aviation need and award to any contractor other than one of these four companies would result in significant schedule delays and require substantial duplication of costs which are not expected to be recouped by the Government through full and open competition.

Additionally, NAVAIR intended to release a solicitation for an accompanying contract for studies and analysis supporting the MQ-25 EMD Program. The MQ-25 studies and analysis solicitation was issued only to The Boeing Company, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., Lockheed Martin Corporation, and Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation, and award of this contract would be made on a sole source basis to the offeror selected for award of the MQ-25 EMD contract, in accordance with 10 USC 2304(c) as implemented by FAR 6.302 (FAR 6.302-1(a)(2)); Only one responsible source and no other supplies or services will satisfy agency requirements.

In Janurary 2018, the Navy began the process of examining proposals to design and field an unmanned tanking and ISR system for operational deployment on aircraft carriers. As the procurement journey begins, it is important to define what this aircraft will mean to the carrier strike group, both now and in the future. With MQ-25, the Navy is taking a bold step into the unmanned age and bringing a new and exciting element to carrier aviation.

On 19 December 2017 Boeing for the first time showed what it believes is the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) best suited for refueling U.S. Navy jets operating from aircraft carriers. In late March 2018 Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Programs division, better known as Skunk Works, unveiled conceptual images of its MQ-25 'Stingray' design, an embarked unmanned tanker. The refueling drone will compete against the Boeing and General Atomics projects for a Navy contract to build an aircraft fleet.

On 13 February 2018 General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. announced its MQ-25 Stingray offering to the U.S. Navy in collaboration with a range of highly regarded industry partners that represent the best in American aerospace. Boeing Autonomous Systems is collaborating with General Atomics on its MQ-25 proposal.

On 30 August 2018 the Boeing Co., St. Louis, Missouri, was awarded a ceiling price $805,318,853 fixed-price-incentive-firm-target contract to provide the design, development, fabrication, test, verification, certification, delivery, and support of four MQ-25A unmanned air vehicles, including integration into the carrier air wing to provide an initial operational capability to the Navy. The work will be performed in St. Louis, Missouri (45.5 percent); Indianapolis, Indiana (6.9 percent); Cedar Rapids, Iowa (3.1 percent); Quebec, Canada (3.1 percent); Palm Bay, Florida (2.3 percent); San Diego, California (1.5 percent); and various locations inside and outside the continental U.S. (37.6 percent), and is expected to be completed in August 2024. Fiscal 2018 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $79,050,820 will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via an electronic request for proposals; three offers were received. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity (N00019-18-C-1012).

The Navy anticipates establishing a home base for the Stingray CBUAS on each coast of the continental U.S. and one permanent detachment in support of the Forward Deployed Naval Forces-Japan. Based on strategic guidance, the West Coast squadron would be established before the East Coast squadron. The Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) must be co-located with the first operational squadron to provide initial and follow-on training. This EA focuses on the home basing for the West Coast of the continental U.S. The West Coast Stingray CBUAS Squadron would be comprised of four detachments, each intended to be deployed with an E-2C/D Hawkeye Airborne Command & Control (VAW) squadron.

The Navy proposed to establish facilities and functions at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) Point Mugu, California to support West Coast home basing and operations of the MQ-25A Stingray Carrierbased Unmanned Air System (Stingray CBUAS). Under the Proposed Action, the Navy would home base 20 Stingray CBUAS; construct a hangar, training facilities, and supporting infrastructure; perform air vehicle (AV) maintenance; provide training for air vehicle operators (AVOs) and maintainers; conduct approximately 960 Stingray CBUAS annual flight operations; and station approximately 730 personnel, plus their family members.

The Stingray CBUAS FRS would begin training the first fleet AVOs, and the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training will begin training maintenance personnel for the first squadron at NBVC Point Mugu in FY 2024. Later in FY 2024, the program plans to conduct initial operational test and evaluation at-sea, and should achieve initial operational capability with three Stingray CBUAS and Navy personnel in the unit trained to conduct assigned missions. The first Stingray CBUAS detachment and all supporting elements will begin operation in the U.S. Pacific Fleet no later than FY 2025. The Stingray CBUAS will achieve full operational capability in approximately FY 2031.

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Page last modified: 15-06-2021 16:07:54 ZULU