Boeing unveils unmanned combat jet developed in Australia

Tue, 2019-02-26 23:00

AVALON, Australia: Boeing Co. on Wednesday unveiled an unmanned,
fighter-like jet developed in Australia and designed to fly
alongside crewed aircraft in combat for a fraction of the cost.
The US manufacturer hopes to sell the multi-role aircraft, which is
38 feet long (11.6 meters) and has a 2,000 nautical mile (3,704
kilometer) range, to customers around the world, modifying it as
It is Australia’s first domestically developed combat aircraft in
decades and Boeing’s biggest investment in unmanned systems
outside the United States, although the company declined to specify
the dollar amount.
Defense contractors are investing increasingly in autonomous
technology as militaries around the world look for a cheaper and
safer way to maximize their resources.
Boeing rivals like Lockheed Martin Corp. and Kratos Defense and
Security Solutions Inc. are also investing in such aircraft.
Four to six of the new aircraft, called the Boeing Airpower Teaming
System, can fly alongside a F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, said Shane
Arnott, director of Boeing research and prototype arm Phantom Works
“To bring that extra component and the advantage of unmanned
capability, you can accept a higher level of risk,” he said.
The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in the United States
said last year that the US Air Force should explore pairing crewed
and uncrewed aircraft to expand its fleet and complement a limited
number of “exquisite, expensive, but highly potent
fifth-generation aircraft” like the F-35.
“Human performance factors are a major driver behind current
aerial combat practices,” the policy paper said. “Humans can
only pull a certain number of Gs, fly for a certain number of
hours, or process a certain amount of information at a given
In addition to performing like a fighter jet, other roles for the
Boeing system early warning, intelligence, surveillance and
reconnaissance alongside aircraft like the P-8 Poseidon and E-7
Wedgetail, said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general
manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems.
“It is operationally very flexible, modular, multi-mission,”
she said. “It is a very disruptive price point. Fighter-like
capability at a fraction of the cost.”
Robertson declined to comment on the cost, saying that it would
depend on the configuration chosen by individual customers.
The jet is powered by a derivative of a commercially available
engine, uses standard runways for take-off and landing, and can be
modified for carrier operations at sea, Robertson said. She
declined to specify whether it could reach supersonic speeds,
common for modern fighter aircraft.
Its first flight is expected in 2020, with Boeing and the
Australian government producing a concept demonstrator to pave the
way for full production.
Australia, a staunch US ally, is home to Boeing’s largest
footprint outside the United States and has vast airspace with
relatively low traffic for flight testing.
The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will be manufactured in
Australia, but production lines could be set up in other countries
depending on sales, Arnott said.
The United States, which has the world’s biggest military budget,
would be among the natural customers for the product.
The US Air Force 2030 project foresees the Lockheed Martin F-35A
Joint Strike Fighter working together with stealthy combat drones,
called the “Loyal Wingman” concept, said Derrick Maple,
principal analyst for unmanned systems at IHS Markit. “The US has
more specific plans for the wingman concept, but Western Europe
will likely develop their requirements in parallel, to abate the
capabilities of China and the Russian Federation and other
potential threats,” he said.
Robertson declined to name potential customers and would not
comment on potential stealth properties, but said the aircraft had
the potential to sell globally.
“We didn’t design this as a point solution but a very flexible
solution that we could outfit with payloads, sensors, different
mission sets to complement whatever their fleet is,” she said.
“Don’t think of it as a specific product that is tailored to do
only one mission.”

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Boeing unveils unmanned combat jet developed in Australia