Nigel Pittaway details the Boeing Loyal Wingman recently unveiled at Avalon
A wooden mock-up of the air vehicle was unveiled in front of Australian Defence Minister Christopher Pyne, senior Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) officers and Boeing officials. The Airpower Teaming System is designed to operate alongside manned platforms in the Loyal Wingman role.
The concept has been developed by Boeing Defence Australia, in partnership with the RAAF and Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group (DST Group) and other industry bodies, including BAE Systems Australia and Saab Australia. A prototype is currently under construction at an undisclosed location in Australia and expected to fly in 2020.
The Airpower Teaming System is being developed under the Australian Defence Force’s Defence Project 6014 Phase 1 (Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Programme), although it is not yet an acquisition programme of record. Minister Pyne revealed that the Australian government has contributed AUD 40 million over four years to the continued development of the programme, which will see the construction of three prototype air vehicles - the minimum number required to adequately test the teaming concept. Boeing is also contributing funding to the programme, but the company declined to provide further details and would also not disclose whether the US government had invested in the concept.
Pyne said: “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.”
He added: “This is also the first [military] aircraft concept Australia has invested in since the Boomerang fighter in the Second World War, so it is a red-letter day.” Despite the sentiment however, Pyne omitted to mention the locally-designed GAF Jindivik unmanned platform, which was successfully produced between the 1950s and the 1990s.
Firm details of the air vehicle’s specification and performance were not forthcoming at the unveiling ceremony on February 27, 2019 and even the mock-up’s exhaust nozzle was hidden from view. Boeing’s Director of Phantom Works, Shane Arnott, said the aircraft is 38 feet (11.7m) long, will have a range of 2,000 nautical miles (3,700km) and be capable of fighter-like performance. It will also be fitted with onboard sensors to enable it to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and electronic warfare roles, but Arnott declined to provide any further details, including what engine the aircraft will have or what weapons (kinetic or otherwise) it will be capable of deploying.
The Airpower Teaming System will be offered to ‘Five Eyes’ (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the US) and potentially represent a significant export opportunity.
It is a semi-autonomous multimission system, capable of being controlled either from a ground control station or escorting platform and, according to Arnott no modifications to the manned platforms are required, suggesting a high level of artificial intelligence. The concept will see one manned platform operating in conjunction with between five and six Loyal Wingmen.