Part way through last month, Boeing revealed its submission for the U.S. Navy’s MQ-25 competition that will provide unmanned refueling capabilities, which will in turn give extended combat range for a wide range of fighter jets. The competition called for “robust organic refueling capability to make better use of our combat strike fighters and extend the range of our aircraft carriers.”
Boeing’s official announcement came on December 19, 2017. The aircraft was developed primarily by Phantom Works, which is Boeing’s secretive design development similar to Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works. Phantom Works has not said if their aircraft has an internal nickname.
“Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” said Don ‘B.D.’ Gaddis, a retired admiral who leads the refueling system program for Phantom Works. “Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.”
Boeing said that the aircraft will “be changing future air power.” It has kept most of the details of the drone private, but reports have surfaced that the aircraft will be powered by electricity alone. It is expected to reach speeds of 345-360 miles per hour. Boeing reports that it will be able to deliver about 15,000 pounds of fuel 500 nautical miles from an aircraft carrier, which can give fighters an additional 400 miles of flight range over what they have now.
Revealed and ready! #BoeingMQ25 #UAS future @USNavy tanker will extend the range of combat aircraft from the flight deck to the fight!
RELEASE: https://t.co/tkDt0R84zB #MQ25 #PhantomWorks pic.twitter.com/gSgS8xmIRR
— Boeing Defense (@BoeingDefense) December 19, 2017
Boeing’s entry for the competition is currently undergoing a wide variety of tests. The manufacturer plans to begin deck handling demonstrations early this year.
“Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned aircraft system is completing engine runs before heading to the flight ramp for deck handling demonstrations next year,” Boeing said. “The aircraft is designed to provide the U.S. Navy with refueling capabilities that would extend the combat range of deployed Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters.”
Boeing isn’t the only aircraft maker to be competing for the contract to develop the MQ-25. The Navy awarded MQ-25 development deals to companies including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and General Atomics. Northrop CEO Wes Bush announced, however, that the company was pulling out of competition for the aircraft, saying that the company’s objective “is not just to win.”
“Winning is great,” he added, “it feels good on the day of an announcement, but if you can’t really execute on it and deliver on it to your customer and your shareholders, then you’ve done the wrong thing.”
Finished proposals from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and General Atomics are due on January 3. A contract will be awarded in the second quarter of this year, and delivery is expected to begin in 2021.