Australia receives its first ‘Loyal Wingman’

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called it “a truly historical moment for our country and for Australian defense innovation.”

We are speaking of course of Boeing’s roll out of the first of three “Loyal Wingman” autonomous drones for the Australian Air Force.

“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,” said Morrison.

The drones, which Boeing calls the Airpower Teaming System, are part of the Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program, Valerie Insinna of Defense News reported.

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.

According to Defense News, the ATS is semi-autonomous, meaning that fighter pilots will not have to remotely control it, 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.

The drones will be able to engage in electronic warfare as well as intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions and swap quickly between those roles, according to CNN.

The aircraft delivered in Sydney on Tuesday is the first aircraft “to be designed, engineered and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years,” Boeing said.

Prime Minister Morrison said the drones will protect the country’s pricier combat aircraft like F-35 stealth fighters and their pilots in the future, and drone production will help with a current crisis, fighting the effects of the coronavirus, CNN reported.

“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,” Morrison said.

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