The contract provides for the design, development, fabrication, test, delivery, and support of four MQ-25A unmanned air vehicles, including integration into the carrier air wing for an initial operational capability by 2024.
“MQ-25A is a hallmark acquisition program,” said Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition James F. Geurts in the announcement.
“This program is a great example of how the acquisition and requirements communities work hand in hand to rapidly deliver capabilities to our Sailors and Marines in the fleet.”
When operational, MQ-25 will improve the performance, efficiency, and safety of the carrier air wing and provide longer range and greater persistence tanking capability to execute missions that otherwise could not be performed.
“This is an historic day,” said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson.
“We will look back on this day and recognise that this event represents a dramatic shift in the way we define warfighting requirements, work with industry, integrate unmanned and manned aircraft, and improve the lethality of the airwing — all at relevant speed. Everyone who helped achieve this milestone should be proud we’re here. But we have a lot more to do. It’s not the time to take our foot off the gas. Let’s keep charging.”
In 2016, after many delays over whether the ( Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike) UCLASS aircraft would specialise in strike or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles, it was reported that a significant portion of the UCLASS effort would be directed to produce a Super Hornet sized carrier-based aerial refuelling tanker as the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refuelling System, with “a little ISR” and some capabilities for communications relay, and strike capabilities put off to a future version of the aircraft.
In July thay year, the programme was officially named “MQ-25A Stingray”.
The Pentagon apparently made this change in order to address the US Navy’s expected fighter shortfall by directing funds to buy additional F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and accelerate purchases and development of the F-35C.
The introduction of this platform also addresses the carriers’ need for an organic refuelling aircraft, proposed as a mission for the UCLASS since 2014, freeing up the 20–30 percent of Super Hornets performing the mission in a more capable and cost effective manner than modifying the F-35, V-22 Osprey, and E-2D Hawkeye.