Boeing rolls out Australia’s first ‘Loyal Wingman’ combat drone

Boeing is set to roll out the first “Loyal Wingman” drone for the Royal Australian Air Force during a Tuesday morning ceremony, putting the RAAF high on the list of countries experimenting with autonomous aircraft.

“This a truly historic moment for our country and for Australian defense innovation,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “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.”

The RAAF plans to buy three drones, which Boeing calls the Airpower Teaming System, as part of the Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program.

Over a series of flight tests and demonstrations, the RAAF hopes to figure out how to best integrate drones with fighter jets and other combat aircraft, allowing the air force to keep pilots safe by putting lower cost unmanned assets at risk during a fight.

“Autonomy is a big element of this, as well as the incorporation of artificial intelligence. Those two elements combined enable us to support existing forces,” said Jerad Hayes, Boeing’s senior director for autonomous aviation and technology.

The ATS is semi-autonomous, meaning that fighter pilots will not have to remotely control the maneuvers of the drone, said Shane Arnott, Boeing’s ATS program director.

“When you are teaming, say with a Super Hornet, they don’t have the luxury during combat maneuvers or operations to be remotely piloting another aircraft while doing their own,” he said.