Boeing unveils autonomous Loyal Wingman Combat Drone That Could Fly Alongside Fighter Jets

Boeing has unveiled a new autonomous fighter jet plane that’s designed to be a sidekick for piloted planes and could take to the skies as soon as 2020.

The unmanned drone, dubbed the ‘Loyal Wingman,’ is 38 feet long, has a 2,000 nautical mile range and is equipped with onboard sensors that enable it to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, as well as electronic warfare.

“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,” said Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems.


The aerospace giant revealed the drone, which it says is part of a new unmanned platform, called the Boeing Airpower Teaming System, at the Australian International Airshow on Tuesday.

It’s particularly suited for long-distance surveillance missions that humans can’t typically perform, according to the firm.

Some basic facts about the Air Airpower Teaming System:

  • It is built in Australia and intended for export around the globe. Exports will be easier without having to go through U.S. FMS process. 
  • A prototype is being built now.
  • Can fly with or without a manned partner.
  • Has a range of roughly 2,000 miles.
  • Is 38 feet long and uses a bizjet class engine.
  • Will team with E-7, EA-18G, F/A-18E/F, and P-8 Poseidon.
  • Modular design for ‘snap-in’ payloads and rapid reconfiguration capability.
  • Initial configuration will be sensor/intelligence and electronic warfare focused.
  • Controlled via ground station, other aircraft, and has some level of autonomy that can scale for the mission. 
  • Design was based mainly on what would be attractive to a global market full of cash-strapped air arms.
  • Will be tested over Australia’s vast deserts where there is tons of room for experimentation. (Probably based out of Woomera)
  • The technology and development will be sourced locally in Australia.
  • Boeing will be able to adapt the technology for foreign customers far easier than developing and building in the United States. 

It’s being developed in Australia as part of a classified program and marks the country’s first domestically developed combat combat aircraft since World War II.

Boeing claims that the fighter jet will cost a ‘fraction’ of a typical manned fighter, but declined to share what it will be priced at, noting that the number will vary depending on the jet specifications chosen by each buyer.

Four to six of the new aircraft can fly alongside a F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, said Shane Arnott, director of Boeing research and prototype arm Phantom Works International. 

Not only can the jets fly for longer periods than humans, but they’re also capable of withstanding higher g-forces and has high-powered computers that can process large amounts of data quickly.  

The UAV is said to be capable of flying up to several thousand kilometres, and can also carrying sensors or electronic warfare equipment on its underside.

The Australian government is investing $28.75 million (A$40 million) in the prototype program due to its ‘enormous capability for exports,’ Minister for Defence Christopher Pyne told reporters at the Australian International Airshow.

The drones could be used alongside existing Royal Australian Air Force aircraft such as the P-8A Poseidon.  

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