Boeing Australia has announced plans to manufacture a drone with artificial intelligence that can act as a "loyal wingman" for fourth and fifth generation aircraft.
On Wednseday, Defence Minister Christopher Pyne unveiled the Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS), an Australian-designed unmanned platform that flies alongside high-value assets such as the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, Boeing P-8 Poseidon, and Boeing E-7 Wedgetail.
Designed by Boeing Phantom Works in Brisbane, the largest Boeing development center outside the US, the ATS will be the first combat aircraft designed and manufactured in Australia since the Jindivik drone of the 1950s.
The drone was developed in connection with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the Defence Science & Technology (DST) Group. Boeing further partnered with other defense firms such as BAE Systems Australia, Ferra Engineering, RUAG Australia, Micro Electronic Technologies, AME Systems, and Allied Data System, for the ATS development program.
“The partnership will produce a concept demonstrator of a low cost unmanned ‘Loyal Wingman’ aircraft, capable of operating in concert with Air Force’s fifth generation air combat capability,” Minister Pyne said in a statement.
“There is significant value investing in innovative, future leaning initiatives like this, particularly in the early conceptual stages where Defence can explore concepts and define the role such capabilities can play in our national security framework.”
The first version of the ATS will employ electronic warfare sensors. Boeing said future versions of the drone would incorporate various types of advanced weaponry.
The drone's artificial intelligence will allow it to fly independently or support manned aircraft while maintaining a safe distance between other aircraft, Boeing said.
The 38-foot-long, jet-powered drone, with a range of 2,000 miles, will be able to conduct electronic warfare, intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance missions.
“The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will provide a disruptive advantage for allied forces’ manned/unmanned missions,” vice president and general manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems, Kristin Robertson said.
“With its ability to reconfigure quickly and perform different types of missions in tandem with other aircraft, our newest addition to Boeing’s portfolio will truly be a force multiplier as it protects and projects air power.”
Boeing said it would manufacture the drone in Australia, with the future intent to exporting to allied countries once series production begins.