NEWS
Article by Ben Brimelow
(General Atomics photo)

These are the contenders for the Navy's carrier-based drone

The race to get the contract for the US Navy's first carrier-based drone is heating up.

All three competitors — Boeing, General Atomics, and Lockheed Martin — have released images of what their drones look like, and the announcement of the winner is expected sometime between August and October 2018.


The program, officially known as the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System, or CBARS, is an attempt by the Navy to increase the operational range of carrier-based aircraft with a drone that can perform aerial refueling duties.

The program was originally called the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike, or UCLASS, and was intended to field a carrier-based drone that could conduct air strikes and perform intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, known as ISR.

But after delays over the main focus of the MQ-25's role (strike or ISR), the Pentagon decided to repurpose the program to aerial refueling, in order to help deal with its shortage of pilots and the rise of longer range anti-ship defenses.

Northrup Grumman, once considered the most likely to be awarded the contract because of the success of its X-47B demonstrator, announced that it was pulling out from the competition in October 2017, leaving Boeing, General Atomics, and Lockheed Martin as the only competitors.

Here's what you need to know about each submission:

Lockheed Martin

Concept image of Lockheed Martin's MQ-25 Stingray conducting an aerial refueling mission for an F-35.(Lockheed Martin photo)

Lockheed Martin's design is loosely based on its RQ-170 Sentinel and the overall design does not appear much different from Lockheed Martin's UCLASS offer, the Sea Ghost. That drone was supposed to feature stealth technology to help it conduct strike and ISR missions.

But when the Pentagon shifted the program to aerial refueling, the stealth requirements were dropped. Despite this, Lockheed Martin has decided to keep its flying wing design.

A flying wing design is aerodynamically efficient because it requires less thrust and fuel to fly, and its spot factor is small when its wingtips are folded up.

A flying wing design for a tanker also has the added benefit of having more space than conventional designs, which allows it to carry more fuel. The Navy wants its new drone to be able to hold over 14,000 lbs of fuel.

From a mechanical standpoint, flying wing aircraft are considered slightly easier to maintain as well because they tend to have a lower number of parts.

The drone will also be equipped with sensors and cameras that enable it to carry out limited ISR missions.

Boeing

Boeing's prototype MQ-25 Stingray(Boeing photo)

Boeing's design is based on its Phantom Ray stealth UAV demonstrator. Boeing has the most experience in aerial refueling, as well as naval aviation as a whole — the F/A-18 Super Hornet and the EA-18G Growler dominate the current naval air fleet.

Like Lockheed Martin's design, the drone has a massive fuel tank, meaning it will have no difficulty meeting the Navy's 14,000lbs of fuel and 500 nautical mile range requirements.

Boeing's design is the only one that has a working prototype, though it has not yet flown. The drone has been tested in St. Louis on Lambert Field.

The drone was operating on a painted outline of an aircraft carrier flight deck to test if it could function well in the limited space.

Deborah VanNierop, a spokeswoman for Boeing, said that they had "successfully controlled the aircraft through all of the most challenging flight deck scenarios, including day and night operations," in tests that were "designed to show how the aircraft can be taxied and operated within the tight confines of the carrier flight deck."

Boeing's candidate was also adapted from the original UCLASS program.

General Atomics

MQ-25 Stingray refueling an F-35(General Atomics photo)

General Atomics' design is based on their Sea Avenger, a carrier-based version of their Avenger UAV, a strike aircraft that was intended to succeed its MQ-9 Reaper.

The Sea Avenger was re-adapted for refueling operations after the Pentagon cancelled the UCLASS program.

General Atomics and Boeing are working on the proposal together, and this drone would be among the largest projects General Atomics has pursued.

The drone will be equipped with electromagnetic technology that will enable it to fit in seamlessly with the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System on board Ford-class carriers.

It will also be powered by the Pratt & Whitney Canada PW815 turbofan engines, one of the most efficient and modern engines currently used.

The design is still heavily based on the Avenger, which was designed for strike and ISR missions.

The company has already announced that it will not build a flyable prototype, choosing instead to use its Avenger prototypes for things like ground tests. General Atomics provides the US military with more drones than any other company.

History

6 reasons why being a Roman Legionnaire would suck

The Roman Empire stretched from modern-day Syria to modern-day Spain. To maintain that amount of real estate, you have to have an amazing military to protect it. The Roman Legion was one such force.

But every military that has made its mark on history was notorious for rigorous training and extremely harsh conditions that make today's toughest Special Operations training look like Air Force boot camp. Here's why, in reality, being a Roman Legionnaire would've sucked.

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less

The unbelievable way President Trump cut to the chase with Israel

President Donald Trump reportedly put a blunt question to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by asking if the leader of the Jewish state genuinely wanted peace.

Axios' Jonathan Swan reported that, in a phone call with Netanyahu in 2017, Trump shocked his aides by getting straight to the point and pressing the Israeli leader on making a deal with Palestine.

Keep reading... Show less
History

The Air Force has 'natural' explanations for all these UFO sightings

From 1947 to 1970, the United States Air Force conducted investigations into the increasing number of unidentified flying object (UFO) sightings throughout the United States. The purpose of the investigations was to assess the nature of these sightings and determine if they posed any potential threat to the U.S.

Three successive projects were created to carry out these investigations: Sign, Grudge, and Blue Book.

Keep reading... Show less

How to properly seal a gas mask without shaving your beard

Warfighters have charged into battle throughout history with fully bearded chins. Sadly, the need to survival chemical weapons attacks has overshadowed the need to keep one's chin beautiful.

Today, the most widely stated reason for requiring troops to keep a clean-shaven face is because facial hair prevents the proper sealing of a gas mask. Many studies and personnel trials have proven this true time and time again. That's right, folks. Chemical weapons are so evil that they've even killed beards.

Keep reading... Show less
History

This is why some Civil War battles have two names

The Battle of Antietam is also known as Sharpsburg. Bull Run is also called Manassas. Shiloh is also Pittsburg Landing. Some of these may be familiar to you, some of them may sound weird. But there is a reason for it, and it's mainly because of the Soldiers who fought the War Between the States.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

The Marines’ new heavy lift chopper is performance-enhanced

The United States Marine Corps has, arguably, the best heavy-lift transport helicopter in the world in the Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion. However, the chopper, which entered service in 1981, is getting kind of old. So, the Marines and Sikorsky have teamed up to put the Super Stallion on a regimen of aeronautical steroids.

Here's what they did:

Keep reading... Show less

A brief, deadly history of chemical weapons

On April 22, 1915, a stiff wind outside of Ypres helped loose the first systematic poison-gas attack in history.

On a sunny afternoon in April 1915, outside the Belgian city of Ypres, the wind began blowing in the direction the German troops wanted – toward the French lines. German soldiers set up over 5,000 barrels of chlorine gas along their position, and let loose a rolling cloud of thick, yellow death. More than 6,000 French troops died in what was the first systematic use of poison gas on the battlefield. Its effectiveness caught even the Germans off guard. Willi Siebert, a German soldier, noted in his diary, "When we got to the French lines, the trenches were empty, but in a half mile the bodies of French soldiers were everywhere. It was unbelievable." Just over 99 years later, on June 17, 2014, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed chlorine gas was used by the Syrian government in an attack on its own people.

Keep reading... Show less