After a months-long competition with the likes of Lockheed Martin, Boeing has won a $805.3 million contract from the Pentagon to build the first four MQ-25A autonomous refueling planes for the Navy.
The MQ-25 Stingray is meant to refuel Navy fighter jets such as the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II in midair to extend their range. It will be tasked with delivering about 15,000 pounds of fuel, 500 nautical miles out from an aircraft carrier. That should give fighters an additional 300 to 400 miles of flight range over what they have now.
The drones will launch and land on aircraft carriers, so they’ll have to integrate with the Navy’s catapult launch and recovery systems.
Boeing was in competition for the contract with two teams that were led by Lockheed Martin and General Atomics. Northrop Grumman was invited to submit a bid, but dropped out of the competition last October.
The contract covers “design, development, fabrication, test, verification, certification, delivery and support” of four MQ-25A vehicles, the Department of Defense said today in its award announcement. Almost half of the work will be done at Boeing’s Phantom Works plant in St. Louis, with the rest performed at a wide range of facilities inside and outside the U.S.
The first four Stingrays are to be delivered by August 2024. Over the years to come, the Navy is expected to buy as many as 72 of the planes with an estimated total price tag of as much as $13 billion.
Update for 5:45 p.m. PT Aug. 30: Today’s award was hailed by Boeing and the U.S. Navy, just as you’d expect.
“This is an historic day,” Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, said in a Navy news release.. “We will look back on this day and recognize that this event represents a dramatic shift in the way we define warfighting requirements, work with industry, integrate unmanned and manned aircraft, and improve the lethality of the airwing — all at relevant speed. Everyone who helped achieve this milestone should be proud we’re here. But we have a lot more to do. It’s not the time to take our foot off the gas. Let’s keep charging.”
Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, was similarly effusive in Boeing’s news release.
“As a company, we made an investment in both our team and in an unmanned aircraft system that meets the U.S. Navy’s refueling requirements,” Caret said. “The fact that we’re already preparing for first flight is thanks to an outstanding team who understands the Navy and their need to have this important asset on carrier decks around the world.”