Boeing Australia has showcased a prototype of a jet-powered drone to the Royal Australian Air Force.
Dubbed the ‘Loyal Wingman’, the drone “uses artificial intelligence to fly independently, or in support of manned aircraft, while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft.”
It is 11.5 metres in length and has a range of about 3,200 kilometres.
Boeing Australia claim the device will be able to conduct intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions.
The prototype is the first of three being produced.
Morrison on the ‘Loyal Wingman’
“The Loyal Wingman program 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,” said Australian prime minister Scott Morrison in a statement.
Autonomous Systems for Boeing Defence, Space and Security vice-president and general manager Kristin Robertson added: “We are proud to take this significant step forward with the Royal Australian Air Force and show the potential for smart unmanned teaming to serve as a force multiplier. We look forward to getting the aircraft into flight testing and proving out the unmanned teaming concept.”
Counting the cost
About $40 million has been invested in the project by the Australian government. This is the biggest investment in unmanned aircraft development outside the United States of America, according to Boeing Australia. The project was first publicised 15 months ago – and has since progressed relatively quickly.
“We can program it to learn, but it learns linearly, it is not emotional and it is in many respects, in an air combat sense, quite inflexible,” Former RAAF air marshal Leo Davies told the Australian Strategic Policy Institute at the time.
“When we look at a pilot’s ability to assess the situation, that brings with it an amount of emotion and creativity that allows us to be agile.
“We need the flexibility and agility of the human meshed with the speed of a machine. When we put those together, we’ve got a quite amazing outcome.”
When and where
Boeing Australia and the RAAF confirmed the aircraft will fly later this year. The prototype is currently in Sydney.