Boeing Phantom Works took the cover off its refueling-drone project on Tuesday, revealing for the first time its entry in the U.S. Navy’s competition. The MQ-25 drone is designed to extend the combat range of fighter jets such as the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Boeing EA-18G Growler and Lockheed Martin F-35C, which are deployed from aircraft carriers. The drone will also have to seamlessly integrate with a carrier’s catapult and launch and recovery systems.Proposals are due to the Navy on Jan. 3. A Boeing official said the drone will be ready for flight testing when the contract is awarded in September.
Boeing is competing with Lockheed Martin and General Atomics for the contract. Northrop Grumman withdrew from the project in October. According to nasdaq.com, Lockheed is likely in the lead, with a versatile design that could be upgraded to expand its capabilities. The design from General Atomics has an edge on cost. The Navy plans to eventually operate a fleet of 72 of the refueling drones.