Autonomy & AI

After Boeing Delivered First Test MQ-25, Navy Eyes First Flight In Spring 2025 – April 8

After Boeing delivered the first MQ-25 Stingray to the Navy in February for testing, a lead official said Monday the service is on schedule for the first flight test with that platform in spring 2025.

Rear Adm. Stephen Tedford, program executive officer for unmanned aviation and strike weapons, also confirmed the Navy remains on track to achieve initial operational capability with the future carrier-based unmanned tanker by the end of fiscal year 2026.

“We now have our first fully-built static test article from Boeing, St. Louis. It is actually in the static test fixture now there in St. Louis,” Tedford said during remarks at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space Symposium in National Harbor, Md.

The MQ-25 Stingray aims to replace F/A-18E/F Super Hornets currently designated in refueling roles, so more of those aircraft will be freed up for combat use.

“I always am surprised and bring this up at every opportunity, most people don’t realize just how big an MQ-25 actually is. MQ-25 is the length of an F-18 with the wingspan of an E-2. It is not a small UAV. This is a 48,000-pound gross weight class UAV designed specifically for carrier operations…with a design point of 15,000 pounds of fuel give at 500 nautical miles,” Tedford said. “This is our first step to the air wing of the future, as MQ-25 will do carrier-based, unmanned operations, so we can take the burden of tanking and doing in-flight refueling off of the Hornet and make those F-18s back to being tactical shooters. That’s what MQ-25 is all about.”

Tedford said the flight test with the first MQ-25 test article will take place at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. 

Boeing said on Feb. 21 it had delivered the first MQ-25 to the Navy for testing.

“The unmanned carrier-based refueler will now undergo a rigorous airframe integrity evaluation,” Boeing wrote in a social media post. “Once operational, MQ-25 will extend the range and capability of the U.S. Navy’s air wing.”

Boeing conducted the first flight test with its own MQ-25 test asset in September 2019.

The Navy on March 29 awarded Boeing a $657 million contract modification for production and delivery of two more system demonstration test aircraft (SDTA). 

The new contract modification also includes definitizing “obsolescence phase two for non-recurring engineering to address product baseline obsolescence to support low-rate initial production for the MQ-25 Stingray program.”

A DoD Office of the Inspector General report from last year said the Navy was pushing back the MQ-25 schedule due to production maturity issues and to conduct enough testing before moving on to more production.

A low-rate initial production contract for MQ-25 is likely to be awarded in the summer of 2025 based on the Navy’s current program schedule.

A version of this story originally appeared in affiliate publication Defense Daily.

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