General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) has successfully demonstrated aircraft carrier deck handling of its proposed MQ-25 competitor to include taxi capability and transition to the launch and recovery phases using a Predator C Avenger jet aircraft as a surrogate.
As part of the proposed MQ-25 solution, GA-ASI has demonstrated that the new carrier-based unmanned tanker can integrate with the complexities of existing flight deck operations.
“MQ-25 will need to integrate seamlessly with the Carrier Air Wing regardless of whether the aircraft is conducting flight or deck operations,” said David R. Alexander, president, Aircraft Systems, GA-ASI. “This demonstration proves that the GA-ASI solution will integrate into existing ship operations, and that translates into less time spent steaming into the wind for launches and recoveries.”
Specifically, MQ-25 deck operations will use specially designed director wands that are the same size, shape, and weight as those used today. Directors fully control aircraft taxi operations on deck, including lowering/raising the launch bar, spreading/folding the wings, and raising the arresting hook.
GA-ASI employs unique gesture recognition algorithms in the wands that recognize standard Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures (NATOPS) flight deck director hand gestures and then translates and sends those commands to the MQ-25 air vehicle. MQ-25 receives the commands and converts them into the appropriate aircraft actions.
“MQ-25 will be able to ‘talk back’ to the controller and other flight deck personnel using a small series of LEDs that change colors and/or flash to show that they have received a command and indicate the aircraft’s condition or operating state,” said Alexander. “A safety observer on deck can stop the aircraft instantly any time an unsafe situation is identified. To give you an idea of how the system works, think Wii® for aircraft control.”
MQ-25 Stingray unmanned carrier aviation air system (UCAAS), formerly the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS), is a planned unmanned combat aerial system (UCAV) that resulted from the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program (UCLSS).
On 1 February 2016, after many delays over whether the UCLASS would specialize in strike or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) roles, it was reported that a significant portion of the UCLASS effort would be directed to produce a Super Hornet-sized carrier-based aerial refueling tanker as the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS), with “a little ISR” and some capabilities for communications relay, and strike capabilities put off to a future version of the aircraft.
In July 2016, it was officially named “MQ-25A Stingray”.
Three of these UCAVs could fly with an F-35 for refueling and sensor operation. The MQ-25 can extend the Super Hornet’s 450 nmi unrefueled combat radius to beyond 700 nmi. The Navy’s goal for the aircraft is to be able to deliver 15,000 lb (6,800 kg) of fuel to 4-6 planes at 500 nmi.
The Navy released the final MQ-25 Stingray RFP in Oct. 2017; the competitors are Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and General Atomics. On 25 Oct.2017, Northrop Grumman announced that it was withdrawing its X-47B from the MQ-25 competition saying they would be unable to meet the terms of service for the programme.