Northrop Grumman has unexpectedly withdrawn from the US Navy’s MQ-25 Stingray carrier-based unmanned aerial vehicle competition. Northrop Grumman’s X-47B and the MQ-25 emerged from an early-2000s exploration and proof-of-concept program begun jointly by the Navy and US Air Force underneath the J-UCAS program headed by the blue-sky Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The whole concept of the MQ-25 has been proved via testing of the X-47 and Northrop Grumman has received huge contracts to help mature and develop the concept.
Northrop was until recently still working on the X-47B. In August 2017, photos appeared of the drone at the Air Force’s Plant 42 facility in Palmdale, California equipped with Cobham refueling pods and a drop tank — allowing the machine to carry extra fuel. Therefore, it’s a huge surprise that the company has quit. Boeing is likely to propose its Phantom Ray, similar in shape to the X-47B. For Lockheed’s part, it could offer its stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel. General Atomics has pitched a version of its turbofan-powered Avenger drone.
Read more on the X-47 in the forthcoming December issue of Combat Aircraft.