On May 5th, an Australian team part of Boeing presented the first unmanned Loyal Wingman aircraft to the Royal Australian Air Force.
This is “a historic milestone for the company and the Commonwealth,” according to Boeing’s press release.
It was developed under the Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program in the interests of the Royal Australian Air Force and designed to interact with manned combat aircraft.
The aircraft, which reportedly utilizes artificial intelligence to cooperate with both manned and unmanned platforms is the first to be designed, engineered and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years.
It is Boeing’s largest project related to UAVs outside the US.
The presented is the first of three prototypes to be rolled out for the Royal Australian Air Force. The aircraft also serves as the foundation for the Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS) being developed for the global defense market.
“This is a truly historic moment for our country and for Australian defence innovation,” said the Hon. Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister of Australia. “The Loyal Wingman will be pivotal to exploring the critical capabilities our Air Force needs to protect our nation and its allies into the future.”
Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force, said the rollout of the first aircraft was a significant milestone in the Boeing Loyal Wingman project.
“This project is an excellent example of innovation through collaboration and what can be achieved working together with defence industry,” said Air Marshal Hupfeld. “This demonstrates the importance of the relationship Air Force has with Boeing Australia and defence industry more broadly. I look forward to exploring the capabilities this aircraft may bring to our existing fleet in the future.”
The aircraft was engineered using a digital twin to model its structures, systems, capabilities and full life-cycle requirements; manufactured with Boeing’s largest-ever resin-infused single composite piece; and assembled using proven advanced manufacturing processes.
“We are proud to take this significant step forward with the Royal Australian Air Force and show the potential for smart unmanned teaming to serve as a force multiplier,” said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Autonomous Systems for Boeing Defense, Space & Security. “We look forward to getting the aircraft into flight testing and proving out the unmanned teaming concept. We see global allies with those same mission needs, which is why this program is so important to advancing the development of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System.”
The Loyal Wingman, as part of the Royal Australian Air Force should be controlled from Lockheed Martin’s F-35A fighter jet, Boeing F/A-18F fighter jets, Boeing EA-18G EW aircraft, Boeing P-8A base patrol aircraft and Boeing E-7A Wedgetail control aircraft, and be used for reconnaissance and strike missions, jamming, used as a false target and more.
The developer of the UAV and the system as a whole is Boeing’s Phantom Works division of prospective and secret operations, but UAV production is almost entirely carried out in Australia, which gives reason to call Loyal Wingman “the first aircraft created in Australia in more than 50 years.”
In the future, Boeing hopes that the production of UAVs in Australia will facilitate its export to third countries, minimizing the impact of strict US export restrictions.
Flight tests of the first Loyal Wingman prototype are scheduled to begin by the end of 2020.
Details of the design and published characteristics of the Loyal Wingman UAV are still very scarce.
It is known that this is a subsonic subtle all-composite jet aircraft with a length of about 11.7 m, equipped with one engine. The flight range is declared at 3700 km.
The aircraft is equipped with a 2.6 m long bow compartment to accommodate the modular target load.
In the future, it is possible to equip the UAV with weapons, however, apparently, on an external sling.
It should be noted that the US Air Force is implementing the Low Cost Attritable Strike Demonstrator (LCASD) pilot program similar in concept to the “loyal wingman”, in which the Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie UAV was developed, and which made its first flight in March 2019.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- Russian Military Released First Ever Video Of Advanced Long-Range Reconnaissance UAV ‘Altuius-U’
- Unmanned Aerial and Ground Vehicles, Combat Laser and Future Aerospace Craft: Russia’s Military Modernization