Boeing was awarded the contract by Pentagon to build four drone tankers for use by the US Navy on its aircraft carriers. Worth $805 million, the contract is for the development, delivery and support for four MQ-25 Stingray’s that will increase the range of aircrafts aboard US aircraft carriers. Plagued by issues of lesser range on F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-35 Lightning II Fighters, the Pentagon had invited aircraft majors to participate in a competition that would eventually result in the design, development, testing, production and delivery of four drone tankers.
Deliveries of the four tankers are expected in August 2024, with the Navy embarking on an ambitious plan to have 72 more tankers at a cost of $9.5 billion. Refueling of maritime aircraft aboard the carriers had acquired a sense of urgency considering the threat posed by the abilities of China and Russia to hit targets deep at sea. The ship launched MQ-25 will give a force multiplier effect to the aircraft, while dispensing with the need for aircraft to head back to the aircraft carriers for refueling.
The Super Hornets and F-35s would now have long range capabilities as a result of aerial refueling, that will give air dominance capabilities while also improving the performance of the air wings. Boeing will receive $79 million of the contract amount to commence work, while will be undertaken mostly in St.Louis, with a part of the work planned to be undertaken in San Deigo.
The performance of aircraft launched off the ramps of aircraft carriers are determined to a great extent by the long range capabilities – the ability to hit targets deep at sea and on land. The robotic refueling drones are slated to fly 500 nautical miles from the carriers and refuel aircraft midair with a payload of 15,000 pounds of fuel. This mid air refueling will give the fighter aircraft an extension of flying range by almost 400 nautical miles. The drones will be designed to work with the existing catapult launch and recovery systems in place in aircraft carriers.