The US Navy has issued its latest draft request for proposals for what will be the service’s first operational carrier-based unmanned aerial vehicle.
The draft RFP for the MQ-25A Stingray unmanned aerial refuelling tanker will be the last refinement of the program requirements before the final RFP goes out to four industry competitors in the fall, Rear Adm. Mark Darrah, Program Executive Officer Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons, told USNI News on Thursday.
“What we’re looking for is.. our big next step in getting unmanned [aircraft] in the carrier air wing environment. The intent of this system is to extend the striking capability of the carrier air wing through organic tanking capability,” Darrah said.
“We want to make better use of our combat strike fighters and extend the range of the carrier air wing, and that’s what this system is intended to do. That’s its primary mission.”
The draft RFP for a planned engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract award in 2018 was issued to directly to the four competitors – Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Atomics. The quartet will compete under new acquisition rules that allow the service to provide less specific guidelines for the Stingray as a rapid prototyping effort.
For example, the MQ-25A effort only has two key performance parameters (KPP) for industry to adhere to in their crafting of the airframe for the MQ-25A.
“In the NDAA 2017 language, the services were given the authority to designate one program as a pilot to reduce the number of key performance parameters that would be in our requirements documents,” Darrah said.
“We have requested from OSD that permission in accordance with that language, and this program was selected, and we have two KPPs.”
According to MQ-25A program manager Capt. Beau Duarte those are:
“Carrier suitability. The system needs to be able to operate off of the aircraft carrier and integrate with all of the subsystems of the carrier. That’s catapults, that’s existing launch and recovery equipment,” he told USNI News on Thursday.
“Mission tanking. Sea-based tanker is the second KPP. It needs to be able to deliver a robust fuel offload at range to support an extension of the air wing and add flexibility of what’s available from a mission tanking perspective. There are a number of key system attributes or other requirements lower than that that are subsequent to [those] and are of lower importance and that will allow us to focus on those two key areas on tanking and carrier suitability and let those be the primary design drivers. “
Both Duarte and Darrah were reluctant to outline more specifics on the effort other than to say the bids have to use existing aerial refueling systems already in the fleet.
“We are saying that you do have to use the existing aerial refueling store that F/A-18s [and] S-3s have used – and that’s externally carried – and that’s to reduce development, cost and timeline and risk,” Duarte said.
“But how you configure the air vehicle to deliver that fuel is up to industry.”
Both Boeing and Lockheed Martin have published vague artist’s concepts of their bids showing an existing Navy buddy tank hanging from a wing like the current Super Hornets.