NAVAL AIR STATION PATUXENT RIVER, Md.–The Unmanned Carrier Aviation office (PMA-268) welcomed a new program manager during a change of command ceremony Nov. 21 in Patuxent River.

Capt. Beau Duarte, who will retire in April after 28 years of service, transferred leadership to Capt. Chad Reed at the ceremony held at Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23’s hangar.

“The PMA-268 team…the resilience they showed, the determination, the focus…it was all Beau,” said Rear Adm. Mark Darrah, who oversees the Program Executive Office for Unmanned Aviation and Strike Weapons. “He had every person in his charge focused.”

Under Duarte’s leadership, the PMA-268 team completed numerous firsts for unmanned carrier aviation including completion of the first ever Autonomous Aerial Refueling (AAR) of an unmanned aircraft, the final test objective under the Navy’s X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstration program.  Capt. Duarte also championed the challenging effort of releasing the final request for proposal MQ-25A’s air system segment.

Capt. Beau Duarte (left), Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager, transfers leadership to Capt. Chad Reed during a change of command ceremony Nov. 21 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

Duarte commented during his speech that “because of our efforts in consolidating support across the DoD and Congress for the MQ-25 requirements, and defining and maturing the technical infrastructure for carrier-based unmanned aviation, we have finally made this program real for the Navy and the nation, and there is no turning back.”

Reed, a native from Houston, Texas, previously served as military assistant to Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT&L). Additionally, he served as an action officer on the AT&L staff for oversight of Department of Defense airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance programs.

Reed was then selected as the military lead for the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) Increment (Inc) 1 “Skunk Works” program (PMA-234), to replace mid-frequency ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System pods on the EA-18G. He then assumed lead of the NGJ Inc 2 program, a new start low-frequency tactical jammer.

He will now lead the integration of MQ-25’s three major segments: an air segment, a control system and connectivity segment, and a carrier integration segment.

MQ-25 will be the Navy’s first carrier-based unmanned air system. When operational, it will enhance carrier capability and versatility for the Joint Forces Commander through the integration of a persistent, sea-based, multi-mission aerial refueling UAS into the carrier air wing.

“As one of the CNO’s few MACO  [Maritime Accelerated Capabilities Office] programs we’ve been afforded this awesome responsibility – and opportunity – to turn the science fiction of the past into the warfighting systems of the future,” Reed said.  “The members of PMA-268 are already changing the face of naval aviation.”

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...