Boeing unmanned combat drone "Loyal Wingman"
Copyright: The Boeing Company

Boeing unveils new unmanned combat drone “Loyal Wingman”

Boeing has unveiled its newest unmanned platform “Loyal Wingman”, the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. Designed for global defense customers by Boeing Australia, it is the company’s largest investment in a new unmanned aircraft program outside the United States. The aircraft will complement and extend airborne missions through smart teaming with existing military aircraft.

A model of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System was unveiled at the Avalon 2019 Australian International Airshow by the Australian Minister for Defence, the Hon. Christopher Pyne MP. As a research and development activity, the Australian Government and Boeing will produce a concept demonstrator called the Loyal Wingman – Advanced Development Program that will provide key learnings toward the production of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System.

The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will provide a disruptive advantage for allied forces’ manned/unmanned missions,” said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems. “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.

The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will:

  • Provide fighter-like performance, measuring 38 feet long (11.7 metres) and able to fly more than 2,000 nautical miles
  • Integrate sensor packages onboard to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions and electronic warfare
  • Use artificial intelligence to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft.

This aircraft is a historic endeavor for Boeing. Not only is it developed outside the United States, it is also designed so that our global customers can integrate local content to meet their country-specific requirements,” said Marc Allen, president, Boeing International. “The Boeing Airpower Teaming System provides a transformational capability in terms of defense, and our customers – led by Australia – effectively become partners on the program with the ability to grow their own sovereign capabilities to support it, including a high-tech workforce.

The Airpower Teaming System is the first unmanned aircraft designed and built by Boeing outside the USA, the company says and the first flight is planned for 2020. The Boeing Airpower Teaming System is a new unmanned aircraft using artificial intelligence to be that force multiplier. It’s designed to work as a smart team with existing military aircraft to complement and extend airborne missions from ISR to electronic warfare and more but with a low-cost design that allows operators to confidently put it on the front line.

Imagine dozens of cheap and expendable UAVs flying and fighting alongside expensive manned aircraft a new air force structure intended to greatly expand the lethality of the USA and allies. Capable of teaming with fast-moving manned aircraft such as fighters like the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet or Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II the “Loyal wingman” drones could be sent where air forces would rather not fly expensive aircraft and human pilots.

Photo credits: The Boeing company