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US Navy MQ-25A Unmanned Aerial Refueler IOC Pushed to 2026

The US Navy’s MQ-25A Stingray unmanned aerial refueler’s initial operational capability has been pushed ahead by a year due to production delays. 

The Boeing aircraft will now be ready by 2026, USNI News reported citing the program executive in charge of the US Navy’s unmanned aerial systems, Rear Adm. Stephen Tedford.

The carrier-based aircraft is slated for its first deployment aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt. Its primary role will be aerial refueling.

“We are experiencing some production maturity challenges with the MQ-25. People don’t realize how big the actual MQ-25 is,” the outlet quoted Tedford as saying during a presentation.

“It’s as long as an F-18 with the wingspan of an E-2. It’s not a small [unmanned aerial vehicle].”

Boeing Confirms Delay

Boeing confirmed the delay to the outlet: “We have been very transparent with the quality issues faced and notices of escapes in the past associated with coatings applied to metal components.”

“We have owned the challenges that have occurred early in development. Quality escapes combined with the lingering impacts of COVID-19 throughout our teams and supply base have impacted our schedule, but we believe we are turning the corner.”

US Navy Wants 73 Stingrays 

Boeing won an $805 million contract in 2018 to develop four Stingrays by August 2024, beating out Lockheed Martin and General Atomics. 

The company conducted the first prototype flight in September 2019.

In 2020, the US Navy exercised an $84.7 million contract option for three more aircraft. The service aims to have a fleet of 73 Stingrays for $1.3 billion.

Stingray aerial refuelling drone
US Navy and Boeing conducting ground testing of the MQ-25 Stingray at Chambers Field onboard Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sam Jenkins/ US Navy

To Relieve Super Hornet

The aircraft will have a range of 500 nautical miles (580 miles/930 kilometers) and a fuel-carrying capacity of 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms).

The MQ-25A is intended to extend carrier-based aircraft’s range and relieve the F/A-18 fighters of their refueling role.

Around 20 to 30 percent of Super Hornets are deployed in refueling tasks, according to USNI News.

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