Throughout the past 16 years of combat operations, drones have played a significant role in the American military strategy employed in multiple theaters around the world. From the early days of unarmed surveillance drones to the modern MQ-9 Reaper, the role of drones in warfare has grown to envelope an ever-increasing segment of aerial operations, and now the Navy intends to add to the long list of drone-capable missions with the MQ-25 program; a carrier capable refueling drone tanker.

The Navy hopes to field a drone capable of extending operations for carrier based Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets, Boeing EA-18G Growlers, and Lockheed Martin F-35C fighters, and a number of industry heavyweights have their eye on the contract. General Atomics, who built the original MQ-1 Predators as well as the more advanced MQ-9 Reapers, is expected to field an entry, as are Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The deadline for submissions is January 3rd of next year, but some details, and images, have already begun making their way to the public.

In order to suit the needs of the Navy, the drone tanker must be capable of utilizing existing carrier catapult launch and recovery systems, be able to maintain long duration autonomous flight operations, and navigate the complex and dangerous aerial refueling operations required to keep America’s manned combat aircraft airborne.

Although General Atomics took the early public relations lead by releasing concept art of their entry, which appears to be based on their previous Sea Avenger platform, not much has been released regarding the submissions of each of these contenders thus far.

General Atomics MQ-25 concept art (General Atomics)

Earlier this week, however, Boeing released the first image of their own submission: the MQ-25 Stingray.

“Boeing has been delivering carrier aircraft to the Navy for almost 90 years,” said Don ‘BD’ Gaddis, a retired admiral who leads the refueling system program for Boeing’s Phantom Works technology organization in a press release. “Our expertise gives us confidence in our approach. We will be ready for flight testing when the engineering and manufacturing development contract is awarded.”