MQ-25 Stingray Tanker Drone Could Be Upgraded to Support Surveillance, Strike Missions

Boeing showcased MQ-25 model outfitted with two Long Range Anti-Surface Missiles during the Sea Air Space-2024.
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  • 01:03 PM, April 15, 2024
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MQ-25 Stingray Tanker Drone Could Be Upgraded to Support Surveillance, Strike Missions
U.S. Navy's MQ-25 tanker drone @Boeing

Boeing is advocating for advanced capabilities and potential upgrades to the Navy's MQ-25 Stingray drone, foreseeing expanded mission profiles beyond aerial refueling.

At the Sea Air Space conference, Boeing presented a modified MQ-25 model featuring Lockheed Martin-made Long Range Anti-Surface Missiles (LRASM), highlighting the drone's adaptability for surveillance and strike operations.

Troy Rutherford, Boeing’s MQ-25 program manager, disclosed ongoing discussions with the Navy about alternative configurations for the MQ-25. Originally designed as part of the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Strike & Surveillance program, the MQ-25 retains inherent flexibility for diverse missions, including weapon deployment and sensor operations, despite its current focus on aerial refueling.

Rutherford emphasized that while deploying the tanker version remains paramount, Boeing and the Navy are exploring additional roles for the MQ-25 in shaping the future carrier air wing. The program is set to achieve initial operational capability (IOC) in 2026, following carrier trials next year.

The Navy's commitment to the MQ-25 program is evident in its plans to procure 76 aircraft under the program of record, with a budget request of $553 million to acquire three MQ-25s in fiscal year 2025. Boeing recently secured a $657 million contract modification for two MQ-25s, underscoring progress in the program's production phase.

Capt. Daniel Fucito, leading the Navy’s unmanned carrier aviation efforts, noted challenges posed by parts obsolescence and efforts to replace components to ensure production continuity. Congress allocated funds to address MQ-25 obsolescence issues in March, reflecting ongoing support for the program's development.

Concurrently, the Navy is contemplating future MQ-25 configurations aligned with emerging concepts like collaborative combat aircraft (CCA). Rear Adm. Stephen Tedford, the Navy’s program executive for unmanned systems and weapons, outlined criteria for potential CCAs, emphasizing affordability and operational longevity.

Fucito highlighted the Navy's evolving approach to unmanned systems, suggesting that experiences with the MQ-25 will inform future CCA initiatives. Although details regarding a formal CCA program remain nascent, the Navy anticipates engaging with industry stakeholders to advance these concepts.

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