Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat in United States for testing

by Zach Rosenberg

The MQ-28 Ghost Bat prototype aircraft in flight over Woomera, South Australia. (Australian Department of Defence)

The Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat, which has been flying in Australia since 2021, is in the US for testing. The aircraft was displayed to reporters at Mid-America Airport outside St Louis, Missouri.

Boeing declined to disclose the nature of testing, but Krystle Carr, Boeing's director of autonomous collaborative platforms, said that testing would include internally funded Boeing testing and hinted at but declined to confirm other testing.

“We got it here in partnership with the [Royal Australian Air Force],” said Carr. “It is here to do a number of different sets of testing, we can't really go into the details of those right now. But it's a great opportunity for everyone to learn what a platform of this kind of capability can do and how we can partner together to advance that. And a lot of that is because the programme itself is still evolving.”

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DARPA selects Bell Helicopters as second competitor in Phase 1B of SPRINT programme

by Zach Rosenberg

Bell Helicopters' entry for DARPA's SPRINT contest. (Bell Helicopters)

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected a second competitor for Phase 1B of its Speed and Runway Independent Technologies (SPRINT) programme, the agency announced on 28 May.

Phase 1B is intended to mature Bell Helicopters' design through preliminary design review (PDR). A conceptual image of Bell Helicopters' SPRINT design shows an unmanned, twin-engine tiltrotor aircraft. The tiltrotors are intended to fold into the nacelle, allowing a jet engine embedded in the aircraft's body to take over and propel the craft to high speeds.

“Bell is honoured to be selected for the next phase of this revolutionary programme and ready to execute preliminary design,” said Jason Hurst, the company's executive vice-president of engineering, in a 28 May statement. “We completed our initial risk reduction efforts with our sled test demonstration at Holloman Air Force Base (AFB), and we look forward to building on this success with our continued work with DARPA.”

The company conducted high- and low-speed rotor folding tests at Holloman AFB, Jeff Nissen, Bell Helicopters' High-Speed Vertical Take-off and Landing (HSVTOL) programme manager, told Janes in an 8 February interview.

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UK UAV maker reveals its craft in use by Ukrainian armed forces since 2023

by Sam Wise

A Windracers ULTRA UAV pictured in February 2024. (Windracers Group)

Ukraine is operating the UK-developed Windracers Uncrewed Low-cost Transport (ULTRA) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), Janes has learnt.

ULTRA is a tactical UAV designed to support resupply. Speaking to Janes on 4 April, Simon Muderack, the CEO of Windracers and Distributed Avionics, revealed that its UAV has been conducting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and supporting resupply for the Armed Forces of Ukraine since 2023.

Although Muderack did not specify exact dates or the number of aircraft provided, Janes understands the UK Ministry of Defence procured the aircraft on behalf of the Ukrainian armed forces, supplying it as aid. A defence source told Janes the procurement and supply of ULTRA is part of the UK's GBP325 million (USD413 million) UAV support programme to Ukraine.

According to Janes

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First Replicator unmanned systems delivered to US armed forces

by Zach Rosenberg

A US Army soldier launched an AeroVironment Switchblade. The loitering munition is the only system publicly identified as being selected to be part of the Replicator initiative. (DVIDS)

The first systems under the Replicator initiative, intended to manufacture small unmanned systems en masse, have been delivered, US Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks said in a 22 May statement.

“The delivery of Replicator systems to the warfighter began earlier this month,” Hicks said. “Together with the private sector and with support from Congress, the Replicator initiative is delivering capabilities at greater speed and scale while simultaneously burning down risk and alleviating systemic barriers across the department.”

The first Replicator capabilities include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned ground vehicles, and counter-UAV equipment, according to a 6 May Department of Defense (DoD) statement. Only one such system – AeroVironment's Switchblade 600, a small loitering munition – has been publicly identified.

The programme has largely been conducted in secret, though occasional statements have revealed that the first tranche of Replicator programmes was selected in December 2023. Additional Replicator contracts are expected to be issued in boreal summer.

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The Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat, which has been flying in Australia since 2021, is in the US for testing....

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