Boeing and Australia's Department of Defence (DoD) are to partner in developing a concept demonstrator for a large unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that will support and protect air combat missions.
Called the Boeing Airpower Teaming System (BATS) but informally dubbed the 'Loyal Wingman', the system will complement and extend airborne missions through smart teaming with existing military aircraft and is intended for export.
The DoD is investing AUD40 million (USD29 million) in the development. Boeing said the system represents the company's largest investment in an unmanned aircraft programme outside the US, but did not disclose the amount involved.
Unveiling a full-scale model of the system on 27 February at the Avalon Airshow near Melbourne, Australian defence minister Christopher Pyne said the programme had "enormous" export potential.
Should the system enter Australian service, it would be used to shield the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF's) manned aircraft, such as the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters and Boeing E-7A Wedgetail early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.
Dr Shane Arnott, director of Boeing's Phantom Works International, said system development had been under way for some time, but declined to say for how long.
The first flight will take place in Australia and is scheduled for 2020. The model unveiled at Avalon was representative of the intended flight vehicle, he said.
Although the platform would be powered by a single light commercial jet engine to save costs, "it will need to take off from the same runways and run the same speeds" as the aircraft with which it was teamed.
The system is not remotely piloted but will be semi-autonomous and controlled from both the ground and the air, he explained. "The intention is the teaming system will be an extension of the air power assets that it will be supporting," Arnott explained.
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