No Gerry Anderson is not building the US Navy’s UAV fleet. After months of back and forth, the US Navy has finally confirmed that its first carrier UAV will be called the MQ-25A Stingray. Although known as the Stingray for a while (better than CBARS – Carrier Based Aerial Refuelling System), its confirmation of designation and nickname will confirm its migration from the UCLASS series.
The MQ-25A’s primary mission will be as an unmanned aerial refueller, freeing up fighters to undertake their primary mission. The MQ-25A will also be used for ISR, and may move into attack missions. However, the Navy have lowered its stealth requirements, reducing its use in contested airspace.
With a number of manufacturers vying for the UAV space, Northrop Grumman’s X-47B seems to be the forerunner for the new airframe.
However, with draft RFPs to be sent out at the end of the year, and complete RFPs not due until 2018, it still gives plenty of time for the competitors such as General Aviation, Lockheed Martin and Boeing to unleash their eggheads on the design.
The R&D boffins have undoubtedly been busy, with plenty of hands-on feedback from both Navy and Marine Corp senior staff. With Northrop Grumman leading, expect there to be some serious innovations that could upset the apple cart!
It’s likely that the role of the MQ-XX series will build on the MQ-25A Stingray, stretching and enhancing its capabilities. It’s also likely to be a cross-service product with the US Marines seeking a Group 4 or 5 UAS. Their requirements primarily focus on long TOT, long-range, multi-mission capabilities, something the RQ-21A Blackjack is unable to complete due to its Group 3 rating.
With the remote / autonomous piloting of UAVs, it is likely for Carriers to be the base for multiple services. With this range of mission requirements, it is likely that a number of variants will be stationed on carriers. The Stingray is likely to be at the core of unmanned aerial operations in the near future, although no word has yet been released on the possibility of a VTOL UAV.