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Navy Reportedly Picks Ships for UAV Operations

The aircraft contract isn’t awarded yet, but the U.S. Navy has already decided which of its aircraft carriers will launch and retrieve the MQ-25A Stingray unmanned aircraft.

USNI News reported early this month the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS George H.W. Bush will be refitted with special equipment — control stations and data links — to fly the unmanned plane. Both carriers are now based in Norfolk, Va. The aircraft could be flying as early as 2019, according to the account. USNI News is part of the nonprofit U.S. Naval Institute, which is unaffiliated with the Navy but follows the sea services closely.

The Stingray will be the first unmanned aircraft to take off and land conventionally on a carrier. Four businesses including two with deep roots in San Diego are in the competition to build the aircraft. The local contenders are General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. of Poway and Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE: NOC), which runs its unmanned systems programs from its Rancho Bernardo offices. Contracts for the Stingray could add up to billions of dollars.

The other companies vying for the contracts are Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) and Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT).

The long awaited request for proposals for the MQ-25A may finally come later this year. That could mean a busy 24 months ahead if the MQ-25A aircraft could be flying by 2019.

None of the builders have released images of what their current versions of the MQ-25A candidates look like. Through the years, the Navy continually changed its requirements for the unmanned aircraft.

The Navy currently plans to use the MQ-25A as an aerial refueling platform for fighter jets, and there is definitely a need. Some 25 percent to 30 percent of F/A-18 Super Hornet sorties are to refuel other aircraft, the Naval Institute reported.

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