The Australian government and Boeing have partnered to develop an unmanned fighter jet, the first combat aircraft developed locally since World War 2.
In a stunning announcement at the Avalon air show, defence minister, Christopher Pyne said Australia was investing $40 million alongside Boeing developing the ‘Loyal Wingman’ aircraft.
Pyne said: “The partnership will produce a concept demonstrator of a low cost unmanned aircraft, capable of operating in concert with Air Force’s fifth generation air combat capability.
“There is significant value investing in innovative, future leaning initiatives like this.
“This will be Boeing’s first unmanned aircraft designed and engineered in Australia and represents the company’s largest investment of its kind outside of the United States.”
Boeing calls this initiative the Boeing Airpower Teaming System.
Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems, said: “(This) will provide a disruptive advantage for allied forces’ manned and unmanned missions.
“With its ability to reconfigure quickly and perform different types of missions in tandem with other aircraft, our newest addition to Boeing’s portfolio will truly be a force multiplier as it protects and projects air power.”
The aircraft will be 11.7 metres long and capable of travelling 2,000 nautical miles.
It will use artificial intelligence to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft.
Pyne has been responsible for revolutionising Defence’s relationship with industry, but the partnership with Boeing takes his effectiveness as a bridge with industry to a whole new level.
Pyne said the research and development opportunity was a further demonstration of the government’s collaborative and maturing relationship with Australia’s defence industry as well as international recognition of our strength and capabilities.
The Loyal Wingman concept is designed to extend the lethality of the F-35 Lightning fighters now entering service with the RAAF, as well as our F-18 Hornets.
As well as taking on riskier roles than would be contemplated with a manned craft, the concept calls for a platform capable of duties such as electronic warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
The new aircraft would be manufactured in Australia, but production lines could also be set up overseas depending on customer preferences.
Boeing operates its largest overseas operation in Australia, where it manufactures carbon fibre composites and all the moveable parts for tails and wings on the Boeing 787 aircraft.
Boeing recently set up a defence business in Australia and had been promising a major announcement, but this news is as unprecedented as it is welcome.
Picture: Boeing/ATS with F-18 Hornet
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