Boeing Lifts Lid on Loyal Wingman

 - February 27, 2019, 3:48 AM
A company-produced graphic shows Boeing Airpower Teaming System vehicles flying as loyal wingmen to an F/A-18F Super Hornet during MUM-T operations. (photo: Boeing)

On February 27 the Australian defense minister, Christopher Pyne, unveiled a model of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS) unmanned combat air vehicle. The ceremony took place at Avalon, near Melbourne, during the Australian International Airshow. ATS is a program to develop a UAV that can fly as part of a MUM-T (manned/unmanned team) formation with manned fighters. It is also intended for independent operations or in formations of UAVs, and can also act as a fighter escort for high-value assets such as airborne early warning aircraft.

“The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will provide a disruptive advantage for allied forces’ manned/unmanned missions,” said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems. “With its ability to reconfigure quickly and perform different types of missions in tandem with other aircraft, our newest addition to Boeing’s portfolio will truly be a force multiplier as it protects and projects air power.”

Boeing Australia, partnered with the Australian government, which is sharing development funding, is leading the development of a concept demonstrator known as Loyal Wingman—Advanced Development Program. This air vehicle is due to fly in 2020 and will inform the design of the production ATS UAV.

The vehicle measures 38 feet in length and has a stealthy fuselage mounting outward-canted twin fins. The wings exhibit a planform redolent of the McDonnell Douglas JSF proposal. It will have a range of more than 2,000 nm and is intended to offer “fighter-like performance.” It will have a range of onboard sensors to provide ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) and EW (electronic warfare) capabilities. Artificial intelligence features prominently in its system architecture to allow the vehicle to fly either independently or in support of manned aircraft while ensuring it maintains safe distances between from other aircraft.

ATS represents the largest investment made by the company in an unmanned aircraft program outside the United States. Boeing International’s president, Marc Allen, remarked, “This aircraft is a historic endeavor for Boeing. Not only is it developed outside the United States, but it is also designed so that our global customers can integrate local content to meet their country-specific requirements.”

Although being led by Australia, the ATS provides opportunities for other customers to tailor the system to their own requirements, providing what Allen described as “a transformational capability in terms of defense, and our customers—led by Australia—effectively become partners on the program, with the ability to grow their own sovereign capabilities to support it, including a high-tech workforce.”

A full-scale model of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System air vehicle was revealed at the Australian International Airshow. (photo: Boeing)