Boeing is building unmanned combat threats for the Australian military. “We expect them to go into production in the middle of the decade, maybe a little earlier,” said Shane Arnott, director of Boeing’s Airpower Teaming System, presenting three prototypes of the “Loyal Wingman” drones developed in Australia. It is possible that up to 16 of these drones supported a manned aircraft on a mission. The first test flights could take place at the end of the year.
Royal Australian Air Force General Catherine Roberts said the role of “Loyal Wingman” – “loyal companion” – could include the transport of weapons and the protection of other aircraft such as the E-7A Wedgetail early warning and control aircraft, as well as being used as a target for manned fighter jets such as the F-35A and the F/A-18E/F.
The Loyal Wingman aircraft is 11.6 meters long and has a range of 3704 kilometers. It is Australia’s first domestically developed fighter aircraft since World War II and Boeing’s biggest investment in unmanned systems outside the United States.
Defense companies are increasingly investing in autonomous technology as military forces around the world seek a cheaper and safer way to maximize their resources.
The Australian government had invested around 40 million Australian dollars – or just under 24 million euros – in the development of the product, which Roberts said had also attracted interest from the United States and the United Kingdom as potential future customers.
Boeing is in deep crisis – the debacle surrounding the 737 Max short- and medium-haul jet, which was banned from taking off after two crashes, made the situation even more precarious when the Corona pandemic brought air traffic to a near standstill.