A stealth and tanking mission will not go hand in hand for the Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray, according to the commander of Naval Air Forces.
Last year, a strategic portfolio review by the Pentagon emphasised the Stingray’s tanking role over a stealthy, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission. The latest round of discussions with the US secretary of defence did not stress the unmanned air vehicle’s survivability aspect, Vice Adm Mike Shoemaker said at a Washington think tank 18 August.
“There was an article recently that talked about stealth tanker,” Shoemaker said. “Those two don’t go together with MQ-25. That’s something we’ll continue to evolve and then figure out where it fits going into that contested environment.”
The Navy recently finished its final concept refinement and is analyzing the results of its request for proposals from industry competitors which include Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. The Defense Department also commissioned a tanker trade study that will examine the design for the UAVs two mission sets, though the tanking mission remains a priority, Shoemaker added.
“As I talk to industry, those two designs to do one or those other mission sets alone are different,” he said. “You drive a high endurance, probably not a lot of fuel on board, large wingspan, very efficient platform for the ISR. If you’re going to be a tanker at range, obviously you’ve got to be able to carry a fair amount of fuel internal to the platform.”
Shoemaker’s comments further cement Stingray’s role as the Navy’s future carrier-based aerial refueling (CBARS) UAV, which the service originally scoped as an unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike (UCLASS) aircraft. Although the Navy has not prioritised stealth in its latest vision for CBARS, industry has approached the service with existing designs that could lend some elevated survivability performance, Shoemaker said.
“Even though we’ve said survivability is not a key performance parameter this time, I think there’s ways to take advantage of some of the shapes already out there,” he said.