The prototype for the U.S. Navy’s unmanned refueling tanker is now aboard a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier ahead of at-sea testing. The tests for the Boeing-built MQ-25A Stingray are the next steps in providing a capability for the service to operate at longer ranges in regions like the Indo-Pacific, as it adjusts to a strategy focused on conflict with peer competitors like China and Russia. MQ-25 as a crucial component of the Navy’s effort to gear up for operating at longer ranges, like those it would face in the Indo-Pacific region. The prototype has already performed overland tests refueling an F/A-18F Super Hornet, an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and an F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. The mission lasted about 4.5 hours with the two aircraft performing numerous dry or wet connects for more than 10 minutes and 325 pounds of fuel transferred in total.
The Boeing-made MQ-25A Stingray has moved to aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush on 2 December, marking the start of deck trials for the unmanned carrier-borne tanker. The aircraft dubbed, T1, is owned by Boeing and has been conducting early trials with the U.S. Navy for several years ahead of the aircraft’s initial operational capability in 2024. The U.S. Navy plans for the MQ-25A to refuel all receiver capable aircraft in the carrier air wing, beyond that, the aircraft will significantly extend the carrier air wing’s reach, further than is currently possible, while also relieving the strain on the Super Hornets which currently conduct buddy tanking. However, the primary benefit of the aircraft will be the range extension it’ll bring to the carrier aircraft. As adversaries around the world continue to field weapon systems capable of denying the coastal areas to the U.S. Navy platforms.
The Boeing MQ-25 Stingray is an aerial refueling drone that resulted from the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS) program, which grew out of the earlier Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program. The United States Navy began its efforts to develop an aircraft carrier-based UAV in 2006. Boeing secretly finished building its wing-body-tail in 2014 when the UCLASS program was paused, and revived it for the CBARS mission. The MQ-25 first flew on 19 September 2019. Boeing’s MQ-25 design is powered by one Rolls-Royce AE 3007N turbofan engine delivering 10,000 lbf (44 kN) of thrust; this is a variant of the engine used to power the Navy’s MQ-4C Triton. The aircraft is less stealthy than flying wing UAVs. It does feature a stealthy fuselage shaping, flush inlet to shield engine blades from radar and V-tail.
In late April 2019, the first MQ-25 test aircraft was taken by road from Boeing’s technical plant at St. Louis’s Lambert International Airport across the Mississippi River to MidAmerica St. Louis Airport, which is conjoined to Scott Air Force Base. Following taxi tests, the Federal Aviation Administration certified the aircraft and granted airspace for flight testing. The MQ-25 took its first flight on 19 September 2019. In December 2020, Boeing released video showing the first flight of the MQ-25 with Cobham aerial refueling store externally mounted. On 4 June 2021, the first refueling test was conducted, with the MQ-25 providing fuel to a F/A-18F Super Hornet. The MQ-25 originated at MidAmerica Airport in Mascoutah, Illinois, with support by Air Test and Evaluation Squadron VX-23.