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Boeing lands contract for air-refueling drones and chance of bigger deal

The tanker drone is also known as the MQ-25 Stingray.
The tanker drone is also known as the MQ-25 Stingray.

Boeing has won a bid to produce test drones for the U.S. Navy. The $805-million deal involves four unmanned aircraft and could balloon into a $13-billion program. The Navy says most of the design and production work in the test phase will take place at Boeing’s operation in St. Louis.

If the testing goes well, the military could purchase another 72 drones. That could lead to more jobs, but Boeing says it does not have plans to add workers during the testing.

“As a company, we made an investment in both our team and in an unmanned aircraft system that meets the U.S. Navy’s refueling requirements,” said Boeing Defense, Space & Security President and Chief Executive Officer Leanne Caret, in a statement provided by the company.

The drones will be based on aircraft carriers. They are expected to have the capability to refuel combat jets while in flight. And they should be compatible with several fighters, including Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, which is built in St. Louis.

The Navy is expecting delivery of the test aircraft by 2024.

Boeing was selected over Lockheed-Martin and General Atomics for the contract.

And it is in at least one other military competition that could be a boon for the region.

Boeing says it would assemble the T-X training jet for the Air Force in St. Louis if it is awarded that contract. The deal could lead to around 1,800 jobs in the area.

DefenseNews.com reports that contract could be awarded in the next few weeks.

Follow Wayne Pratt on Twitter: @WayneRadio

Wayne is the morning newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.

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