Global and American-based defence and aircraft manufacturer Boeing revealed its new “loyal wingman” independent combat drone – the “Airpower Teaming System” at the Avalon International Airshow in Geelong, Victoria last Wednesday, also announcing that Boeing Defence Australia would be designing the new unmanned aircraft.
The 11-metre ATS is an unmanned combat flight vehicle with a range of over 3,200 kilometres and is designed as a “force multiplier” in air combat, engaging the enemy in electronic warfare, intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance, and swap between roles quickly. It can fly alongside manned aircraft in an independent or support role.
Animations of the prospective drones flying alongside a Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18 fighter jet as well as an E-7 Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft were shown during the Airshow.
According to Boeing Chief Technical Officer Greg Hyslop, the project represents the largest investment in the development of unmanned programs outside the United States.
“That is how much we believe in this program, its capabilities, its global business potential and our team here in Australia,” Hyslop said. “Today is a big day for Boeing and a big day for Australia.”
Australian Minister for Defence Christopher Pyne said the Morrison government will contribute $40 million (US$28.67 million) to the development of the system under Defence Project 6014 Phase 1 (Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program). It’s the first aircraft the Australian government has made an investment in since developing the Boomerang attack fighter in World War II.
The first prototype will be constructed at Boeing Defence in Brisbane, however final plans for full production have not been confirmed.
The new drones are part of Australia’s new defence manufacturing export strategy, a 10-year plan for making Australia one of the world’s Top 10 defence suppliers. The aim is to bolster the manufacturing sector in Australia.
“The Boeing Airpower Teaming System provides a transformational capability in terms of defence, and our customers — led by Australia — effectively become partners on the program with the ability to grow their own sovereign capabilities to support it, including a high-tech workforce,” Marc Allen, the president of Boeing International, stated in a release.
The government echoed Boeing’s sentiment, with a statement saying, “Exports will provide our defense industry with greater certainty of future investment and support high-end manufacturing jobs for Australians for generations to come.”
The Royal Australian Air Force accepted its first F-35 Joint Strike fighters last year and plans to operate 72 such fighters by 2023. The ATS is expected to fly support sorties alongside these fighters.