An industry team – led by Boeing Australia and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) – have rolled out the first of three Airpower Teaming System (ATS) prototypes.
The prototype was rolled out on May 5 and is the first military aircraft to be designed, engineered and produced in Australia for more than 50 years. It is also Boeing’s largest investment in the development of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) outside the US.
Prime Minister of Australia, Hon Scott Morrison MP, said: “This is a truly historic moment for our country and for Australian defence innovation… 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.”
Australia has invested up to $40m in the Loyal Wingman – Advanced Development Program, with production work taking place across more than 35 members of Australian-based industry in four of the nation’s states. “Our investment also highlights our government’s commitment to growing and developing our local defence industry, creating jobs, and boosting our global export potential… The Loyal Wingman [programme] has helped support around 100 high-tech jobs in Australia. Such projects will be critical to bolster growth and support jobs as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the prime minister added.
Boeing makes note of the global market demand for affordable, capable unmanned aircraft. To achieve this, the ATS has been engineered through a digital twin to model its structures, systems, capabilities and full life-cycle requirements. The platform has also been manufactured with the company’s “largest-ever resin-infused single composite piece and assembled using proven advanced manufacturing processes”.
Boeing’s ATS has been designed to be employed as a Loyal Wingman platform – an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV), which will act as a low-cost, attritable force-multiplier. The company is producing three prototype aircraft for Australia in its Loyal Wingman – Advanced Development Program and these will serve as the foundation for the system being further developed for the global defence market – where operators will be able to tailor the platform’s sensors and systems to suit their own needs.
The aircraft is 38ft 4in (11.7m) long and has a projected range of 2,300 miles (3,700km). It will multiply the capabilities of its operator, allowing them to increase their ability to project force in the combat zone. It will be integrated with artificial intelligence, enabling the ATS to fly independently or in support of manned platforms. The UCAV’s sensor packages will give it the capability to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), tactical early warning, aerial scouting and it will absorb enemy fire in protection of manned aircraft, if attacked.
Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Autonomous Systems for Boeing Defense, said: “We are proud to take this significant step forward with the [RAAF] and show the potential for smart unmanned teaming to serve as a force multiplier… We look forward to getting into flight testing and proving out the unmanned teaming concept. We see global allies with those same mission needs, which is why this [programme] is so important to advancing the development of the Boeing [ATS].”
As per the current schedule, the first prototype will now move into ground testing, followed by a taxi trials and a maiden flight, all of which are planned to take place this year.