Boeing's unmanned aerial tanker aircraft system, which it unveiled in December. Photo courtesy of Boeing
Feb. 14 (UPI) -- General Atomics has announced their collaboration with Boeing, among other companies, to develop and build the MQ-25 Stingray carrier-based tanker drone for the U.S. Navy.
Tuesday's announcement comes as the Navy has suggested in its latest budget request that it will only order four of the drone tankers during the next several years, despite years of development on the program.
The Navy has for several years been seeking an unmanned aerial system with refueling capabilities to support and extend the combat range of war fighting aircraft like the Boeing manufactured F/A-18 Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler and Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II.
"As the world's premier quick reaction unmanned aircraft system manufacturer, we are committed to delivering the most effective, affordable, sustainable, and adaptable carrier-based aerial refueling system at the lowest technical and schedule risk," David. R. Alexander, president of GA-ASI, said in a press release.
General Atomics says it has designed a purpose-built MQ-25A Stingray that is specifically designed for tanker refueling missions while exceeding all the the Navy's design requirements, including carrier integration.
In addition to Boeing, General Atomics said it is working with Pratt and Whitney, UTC Aerospace Systems, L3 Technologies, BAE Systems, Rockwell Collins, GKN Airospace's Fokker and GA's own Electromagnetic Systems and Systems Integration divisions.
"This collaboration of the best in aerospace industry will provide the U.S. Navy with a fleet ready unmanned tanker with exceptional growth, well within the Navy's preferred timeline," Alexander said.
Boeing Vice President and General Manager Chris Raymond said the company "is pleased to have the opportunity to collaborate with General Atomics on its MQ-25 proposal," though the company told The Drive it will also continue designing its own entry in the design competition.
Boeing's version of the MQ-25 was unveiled in December 2017, with the company saying at the time that its unmanned aerial system can be integrated with the same catapult, launch and recovery system on U.S. Navy carriers for deployment.
In September 2016, Boeing and Lockheed Martin each received $43 million contracts from the Navy for work on development of the MQ-25, and Northrop Grumman received a $35 million contract for development on the project a month later.
Last October, Northrop Grumman pulled out of the competition, leaving Boeing, Lockheed and General Atomics. The Navy is expected to choose a design sometime later this year.