Comment by Peter Roberts
It has been a week of big news for the Australian aerospace industry and Boeing in particular.
Boeing is already the most important aviation manufacturer in the country, manufacturing the moveable surfaces for the Boeing 787 all-composite aircraft at its Fishermen’s Bend plant in Melbourne.
It is likely to be even more important in future with the first flight this week of its Loyal Wingman unmanned jet aircraft, together with further government orders bringing the total to be made to six.
And it is likely to be even more important still with reports that Boeing in the United States will use the Loyal Wingman as the basis for an aircraft being proposed for the US Air Force.
The Loyal Wingman is part of the trend in military aviation to cheaper, and more expendable pilotless aircraft that could fly in a swarm with expensive manned craft such as the F-35 Lightning.
Equipped with a variety of sensors and weapons, the swarm would be connected and co-ordinated by the manned aircraft and able to fly and perform missions autonomously.
It has taken the advent of connected fighter planes such as the F-35 and improvements in autonomous systems for it to be possible to keep manned aircraft further from harm’s way.
Just as Australia is developing its own system, the US is funding Boeing, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Kratos Defense and Security Solutions to develop prototypes in what is known as the Skyborg project.
Now Reuters has reported that the Loyal Wingman will be the basis for Boeing’s prototype which will compete for future US orders.
Aircraft ordered in the United States will, of course, be made there but there will no doubt be Australian intellectual property and likely some components and systems included.
Not only that but US development dollars will be reflected in further development of the Loyal Wingman, making it more capable and attractive to the RAAF.
Decades after the Jindivik pilotless drone was developed and manufactured in Australia, technology has advanced and industry has come full circle.
Australia is again capable of building its own military aircraft. That’s something to smile about.
Picture: Boeing Australia
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