Boeing has revealed out a surprising late contender for the US Navy’s MQ-25 unmanned aerial refuelling system requirement.
After teasing the aviation world for several days by tweeting an image of the stealthy aircraft with a black sheet over it a few days ago, Boeing released a single image on December 19. The single image shows few details apart from a robust landing gear for carrier operations, a large-volume fuselage, and multiple control surfaces.
The MQ-25 is effectively an evolved iteration of an original requirement for an unmanned carrier-borne strike system, for which the Northrop Grumman X-47B UCAS-D system was built for a series of successful demonstrations. An RFT was issued in early October, with bids due to be submitted by January 3.
“Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” Boeing Phantom Works refuelling system program head, Don ‘BD’ Gaddis, said in a statement. “Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.”
Other contenders are expected to be General Atomics with a navalised Avenger/Predator-C, and Lockheed Martin which has shown concepts of a low observable flying wing design. Despite that early success with the X-47B, Northrop Grumman announced in late October that it would not be submitting a bid for the MQ-25 program.
The MQ-25 is designed to fly with a carrier strike package of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers and F-35C fighters, and refuel them in flight. This will free up Super Hornets which currently perform this role using a buddy refuelling system.