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Skunk Works Details Competing for US Navy MQ-25A Contract

Lockheed Martin’s MQ-25A entry is an attention getter

The message in the Navy League Sea-Air-Space exhibition hall and in conference briefing rooms resonated loud and clear: the US Navy wants its first operational unmanned, carrier-based, aerial refueling aircraft, the MQ-25A STINGRAY, as soon as possible.

This 3 January, Lockheed Martin was among industry companies submitting its responses to the navy’s final request for proposal for the airframe of the STINGRAY. A service selection of a final design is expected as soon as this summer, with the procurement schedule on a fast track at the behest of Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson.

Lockheed Martin’s MQ-25A entry is an attention getter – it is a tailless flying wing that the company says is a new design, but also uses some proven systems in service on other aircraft across the corporate portfolio. Indeed, Rob Weiss, Vice President and General Manager of Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, who will be retiring this June, emphasised: “This a clean sheet design, a purpose-built tanker.”

The Lockheed Martin single-engine flying wing proposal has two under-wing hard points for mounting an aerial refueling hose-and-reel pod and an external fuel tank.

Sensors are mounted in the nose, one a camera for flight deck sailors, “yellow shirts,” to use to taxi the aircraft on the flight deck, and most likely storage in the hangar deck and traversing the elevator. There appears to be a satellite antenna fairing behind the nose. A video of the concept shown during the Lockheed Martin briefing attended by the author shows two spoilers atop the wing, one on each side.

While the video also showed the aircraft dropping two Joint Standoff Weapons, Weiss was emphatic there is no current service requirement for the aircraft to carry ordnance. Lockheed Martin is prepared to integrate ordnance should such a requirement develop.

Proven technologies and a high level of reuse on this airplane, were Lockheed Martin Skunk Works’ business model to select its industry team for avionics, the landing gear and engine. Jeff Babione, who will replace the retiring Weiss this summer, did divulge some details on the Skunk Works-led industry team: GE Aviation delivering its F404 engines (equipping the Boeing F/A-18); the landing gear built by United Technologies Aerospace Systems, is the same as that used on the Lockheed Martin F-35C LIGHTNING II; and Triumph Group’s aerostructures division, which worked on the Northrop Grumman E-2D HAWKEYE, Boeing P-8 POSEIDON and F-35 LIGHTNING II (among others) is building the internal structure.

Weiss said the Skunk Works design would be able to operate at, “altitudes and speeds that are commensurate with the strike assets” – about 30,000ft. and Mach .7, accordingly.

The current Skunk Works leader expects MQ-25 will be a real breakthrough in the learning opportunity it will provide for manned/unmanned teaming, and adjacent technology sectors – artificial intelligence, machine learning and others.

Marty Kauchak

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