The U.S. Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray T-1 prototype is now aboard SS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77) ahead of at-sea testing.
“We’re making some great progress with T-1 and reducing risks for the program. And so the primary goal of this (the scheduled tests) is to look at its performance on the flight deck, in relevant flight deck wind conditions,” Rear Adm. Andrew Loiselle, who leads the chief of naval operation’s air warfare directorate (OPNAV N98), told USNI News in a recent interview. “When you look at the intake on that thing up on the top of the aircraft, I’m very interested to know how that thing’s going to behave from an engine perspective with 25 plus knots of wind from all directions.”
The prototype – which Boeing originally built for the Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program that was later retooled into a tanker – has already performed overland tests refueling an F/A-18F Super Hornet, an E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and an F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
Loiselle said the Navy’s approach to unmanned aerial systems includes more autonomy than that of the Air Force.
While the Navy is currently focused on the refueling requirement, Loiselle said the service sees a future for the MQ-25 program to perform more missions like intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
“It’s something that on the last launch of the night, I can shoot that thing. And it’s – instead of me launching all my helicopters from all my destroyers – I’ve got an airborne asset that can stay up all through the night and provide that recognized maritime picture overnight. [It] saves me all the wear and tear on – I mean, I’m still going to be launching some helicopters, but I don’t need as many to be doing that,” he said. “And then I’m working on the manned-unmanned teaming portion of that. Now if the helicopters get a contact here and they can have an MQ-25 overhead moving at five times the speed of a helicopter, then that allows me to get those information points into the operational picture on a much more rapid manner.”