The US Navy’s MQ-25 unmanned refueler that promises to significantly expand the reach of a carrier air wing has arrived onboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) for its first carrier-borne trials.
According to a social media tease from the US Naval Air Systems Command, the Boeing-built unmanned aerial vehicle was loaded onto the carrier for its first test period aboard the carrier earlier this week. Video footage shared by the command showed the MQ-25 Stingray being loaded onto the carrier and stored inside a hangar.
The upcoming tests will be the latest in a series of milestones for the program that aims to deliver the first operational carrier-based unmanned aircraft. MQ-25 will provide critical aerial refueling and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to support the Air Wing of the Future – a mix of fourth and fifth-generation aircraft, manned and unmanned platforms, and netted sensors and weapons.
Along with organic tanking, the MQ-25 will pave the way for manned and unmanned teaming (MUM-T) of carrier-based aircraft that will extend the strike range and enhance maneuverability.
Program successes so far include the first ever refueling of a manned aircraft from June this year, when the drone refueled an F/A-18 Super Hornet. Later milestones included aerial refueling flights with an E-2D aircraft and an F-35C, the carrier-capable variant of the fifth generation fighter jet.
To prepare for the carrier-borne trials, the navy and Boeing previously sent the Stingray to Chambers Field onboard Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, where they used painted lines to section areas of the flight deck to see how the MQ-25 would be able to maneuver on board an aircraft carrier.
So far, the navy has ordered seven MQ-25 air vehicles, but intends to procure more than 70 aircraft. They will assume the tanking role currently performed by F/A-18s, allowing for better use of the combat strike fighters.
The service is also standing up the fleet replacement squadron, Unmanned Carrier-Launched Multi Role Squadron (VUQ) 10, which will be followed by two MQ-25A squadrons, VUQ-11 and 12. These squadrons will eventually deploy detachments to the US Navy’s aircraft carriers.