The U.S. Navy’s new MQ-25 Stingray aerial-refueling drone bears an uncanny resemblance to an experimental U.S. military plane from the late 1970s. And that similarity could point to the way for the Stingray’s potential evolution from a tanker into a stealthy surveillance and strike aircraft.
On Aug. 30, the Navy awarded Boeing an $805-million contract for the construction of the first four MQ-25s. The service hopes to acquire as many as 72 MQ-25s as part of a $5-billion acquisition effort.
The Stingray should begin assuming tanking duties aboard the Navy’s 10 aircraft carriers in the mid-2020s, freeing up F/A-18E/F strike fighters currently handling the refueling mission.
But the MQ-25 could do more than merely refuel other aircraft. The Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System competition that produced the Stingray is just the latest version of a drone-development effort dating to the early 2000s. For more than a decade, that effort aimed to