Landmark Navy drone deal offers Boeing potential for a new defense franchise

Boeing’s late-summer victory in the bidding war to develop an unmanned refueling tanker for the U.S. Navy offers far more than an initial $805 million in revenue.

It gives the manufacturer a new aircraft-development program that has the potential to become a franchise business, revitalizing a defense unit that relies heavily on production of older models after losing the lucrative F-35 fighter to Lockheed Martin and the B-21 long-range bomber to Northrop Grumman.

“It’s a big research and development program, and a big win within unmanned systems,” Roman Schweizer, an analyst with Cowen Washington Research Group, told the Washington Examiner. “Northrop Grumman, General Atomics and probably Lockheed, in the classified realm, have been the 800-pound gorillas, and this gives Boeing a big anchor in that business.”