Loyal Wingman - Boeing Airpower Teaming System
Working under the title, 'Loyal Wingman' Minister for Defence the Hon Peter Dutton MP, on 21 March 2022 unveiled the aircraft's official service name, "MQ-28A Ghost Bat." Royal Australian Air Force Head of Air Force Capability, Air Vice-Marshal Robert Denney, said that the new name held special significance to the aircraft. "The selection of the new common name Ghost Bat is a key milestone in our continuing advancement of this critical capability for Air Force, and this unique name aligns well with the intent of the aircraft. Ghost Bat reflects the intended mission and operational capabilities of the aircraft. A ghost bat is an Australian hunter which uses sophisticated multi-spectral sensors to detect, hunt and kill prey both in the air and on the ground. They team together in large numbers to confuse and overwhelm their adversaries and are native to Australia".
The Royal Australian Air Force and Boeing teamed up for their first test flight of a pilotless fighter-like jet in South Australia. The "Loyal Wingman" provides new military strategies through its autonomous technology. Australia and the aerospace giant announced Tuesday the successful flight, which took place on 27 February 2021. Loyal Wingman took off under its own power and flew on a predetermined route over the Australian desert, before flying at various different speeds and altitudes to test its systems and demonstrating the performance of design.
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) received the first of three "Loyal Wingman" prototypes delivered 05 May 2020 by Boeing. The Australian industrial team led by Boeing made the drone for the Royal Australian Air Force as part of the advanced development plan of the loyal wingman. It was the first drone designed and manufactured in Australia in more than half a century.
The Boeing Airpower Teaming System [BATS] is the company’s first unmanned system to be designed and developed in Australia. A model of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System was unveiled at the Australian International Airshow 27 February 2019 by the Australian Minister for Defence, the Hon. Christopher Pyne MP. As a research and development activity, the Australian Government and Boeing will produce a concept demonstrator called the Loyal Wingman – Advanced Development Program that will provide key learnings toward the production of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System.
The Boeing Airpower Teaming System is a new unmanned aircraft using artificial intelligence to be that force multiplier. It’s designed to work as a smart team with existing military aircraft to complement and extend airborne missions. The Airpower Teaming System has enough capability to get the job done – from ISR to electronic warfare and more – but with a low-cost design that allows operators to confidently put it on the front line.
The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will provide a disruptive advantage for allied forces’ manned and unmanned missions. It will:
- Provide fighter-like performance, measuring 38 feet long (11.7m) and able to fly more than 2,000 nautical miles.
- Integrate sensor packages onboard to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions and electronic warfare.
- Use artificial intelligence to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft.
- Fly for the first time in 2020.
Designed to provide a transformational capability for global defense customers, it is the company’s largest investment in a new unmanned aircraft program outside the United States. This purpose-built aircraft can be missionized to suit country-specific needs.
This newest addition to Boeing’s defense portfolio will be a force multiplier for global customers. The Boeing team in Australia has developed a completely new unmanned production-ready system, with the inclusion of Australian suppliers. Boeing has invested in a purpose-built system that leverages advanced manufacturing, digital production and augmented reality capability. The program uses Boeing’s global R&D expertise, as well as a strong industry team of agile global suppliers, with the ability to support national prosperity and sovereignty objectives.
“This aircraft is a historic endeavor for Boeing. Not only is it developed outside the United States, it is also designed so that our global customers can integrate local content to meet their country-specific requirements,” said Marc Allen, president, Boeing International. “The Boeing Airpower Teaming System provides a transformational capability in terms of defense, 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.”
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Tactical Technology Office (TTO), posted a Funding Opportunity for Disruptive Capabilities for Future Warfare [HR001118S0028] on 12 June 2018. The U.S. military must pivot from their historic emphasis on dominance to one of lethality – enabling enhanced offensive capability where needed, applied by a more agile and resilient force. DARPA/TTO intends to develop new systems and supporting technologies that will fuel new force structures and in turn, challenge DoD warfighting agencies, the defense industrial base, and the resulting military systems to innovate conflict and engagement. TTO seeks new ideas to drive this enterprise disruption across the seams of traditional warfighting domains.
DARPA is built on a foundation of pivotal investments in high-risk technologies for national security; the Office-wide BAA represents a critical portal for innovation and initial investment towards developing the DARPA portfolio. TTO views the Office-wide BAA as an opportunity to gain knowledge or understanding necessary to determine the means by which a specific need may be met. Submissions should describe how an investment would provide the unique insight into the problem TTO is trying to solve, and quantifiably substantiate those assertions. These insights may include proof-of-concept prototypes, system analyses, or any other work product that identifies the path to a new system concept. TTO encouraged approaches that prove (or disprove) this unique insight as fast as possible – TTO was interested in quickly identifying promising technologies and moving them to the next phase of development.
TTO seeks undeterrable air presence in any environment and theater, from permissive to highly contested, at a time of American choosing. The US acquisition system is finding it difficult to respond on relevant timescales to adversary progress, which has made the search for nextgeneration capabilities at once more urgent and more futile. More fundamentally, platform stealth may be approaching physical limits.
Are there acceptable alternatives to air dominance? Is it possible to achieve Joint Force objectives without clearing the skies of enemy fighters and bombers, and eliminating all surface-based threats? Can this be achieved without placing a high-value, sophisticated platform and crew at risk – reducing leverage potential adversaries currently hold over the U.S.? How can TTO go beyond evolutionary advances in stealth technology and disrupt traditional doctrines of air dominance/air supremacy?
Technical thrusts could include, but are not limited to:
- Capabilities that promote consistently successful mission objectives in a contested air environment – or undeterrable air presence.
- Investments in infrastructure and techniques that enable faster development and adaptation of air capabilities to support undeterrable air presence.
- Diverse weapons technologies that address threats with a limited window of vulnerability and identify, locate, target, and engage appropriately.
- Lethality through a combination of overwhelming performance (e.g. hypersonics) and overwhelming numbers (e.g. swarming low-cost weapons).
- Reduced reliance on increasingly complex, monolithic platforms.
- Greater levels of autonomy and attritability to minimize cost and risk to human warfighters, while increasing overall effectiveness and lethality.
TTO adheres to DARPA’s mission of developing breakthrough technologies to generate surprise and generate leap-ahead military capability. As such, TTO is explicitly not interested in approaches or technologies that offer incremental or evolutionary advancements beyond state-of-the-art.
The "loyal wingman" is an advanced jet combat drone built by more than 35 Australian industrial partners in 4 states in Australia. It is an advanced jet combat drone aimed at the global market and is a combination of Boeing air power. The basis of the system (Boeing Airpower Teaming System). The engineering design of this 38-foot (11.7 m) UAV involves creating a "digital twin" to simulate its structure, system, capabilities, and full life cycle requirements. The UAV itself is made of advanced composite materials. Including Boeing’s largest resin-filled single-piece composite in history.
In April 2020 Boeing Australia achieved two more milestones on the Royal Australian Air Force’s Loyal Wingman – Advanced Development Program: weight on wheels and aircraft power on. The development milestones for the unmanned aircraft come just weeks after completion of the first fuselage, allowing for rapid progress on systems installation and functional and integration testing from the aircraft’s own landing gear. “We’re continuing at pace toward our goal of flying later this year, so that we can show our customer and the world what unmanned capability like this can do,” said Dr. Shane Arnott, program director of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. “The strong contributions from our industry team are powering our progress.”
The design goal of "loyal wingman" is to use artificial intelligence and configurable sensors to fight side by side with manned and unmanned platforms and expand their capabilities. Its flight mileage exceeds 2,000 nautical miles, has "fighter-like performance", and can perform combat and reconnaissance missions. "This project is a good example of collaborative innovation and the results that can be achieved through cooperation with the defense industry," said Royal Australian Air Force Commander Mel Hupfel. "This shows the importance of the Air Force's relationship with Boeing Australia and the broader defense industry. I look forward to exploring the capabilities this aircraft may bring to our existing fleet in the future." According to Boeing, the "loyal wingman" prototype will begin ground testing and then taxi testing until the first flight later in 2020.
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