An Australian-designed military drone that uses artificial intelligence technology to target enemies has been unveiled to the public, the first military plane to be designed and built locally in more than half a century.
Developed by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and US manufacturer Boeing, the Loyal Wingman drone has a range of 3,700 kilometres and is expected to eventually join manned aircraft such as Joint Strike Fighters into battle, providing a significant force-multiplier for current F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and F/A-18G Growlers currently operated by the Australian Air Force. By helping project power forward, these unmanned assets will help to keep manned platforms out of harm’s way
The working prototype of the Loyal Wingman unveiled on Tuesday will begin ground testing, with taxi tests and flight tests due later this year.
The event marked the launch of the first Australian-built aircraft for more than 50 years. The unmanned aircraft was designed and built under a partnership between the Royal Australian Air Force and Boeing Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison hailed the aircraft’s development as 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,” Mr Morrison said in a video message released at the unveiling.
Air Force Chief Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld said the rollout of the first aircraft was a significant milestone in the Boeing Loyal Wingman project.
“This project is an excellent example of innovation through collaboration and what can be achieved working together with defence industry,” Air Marshal Hupfeld said.
Boeing has developed this unique unmanned aircraft as part of its ‘Airpower Teaming System’ (ATS), employing manned and unmanned assets in a complex that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) enable unmanned platforms to enhance capabilities currently requiring human supervision.
ATS is Boeing’s largest investment in an unmanned aircraft outside of the United States. The Australian Government has added $40 million investment in the program.
“We look forward to getting the aircraft into flight testing and proving out the unmanned teaming concept,” said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Autonomous Systems for Boeing Defense, Space & Security. “We see global allies with those same mission needs, which is why this program is so important to advancing the development of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System.”
Anticipating such global market demand for highly capable but extremely affordable unmanned aircraft, Boeing applied advanced design innovation and manufacturing techniques to achieve those goals.
The Loyal Wingman aircraft was engineered using a digital twin to model its structures, systems, capabilities, and full life-cycle requirements; manufactured with Boeing’s largest-ever resin-infused single composite piece; and assembled using proven advanced manufacturing processes.