Boeing unveiled a surprise new aircraft yesterday, an uncrewed drone designed to fly alongside traditional aircraft in battle. The aircraft, known as the Loyal Wingman, is being developed in Australia as a rapidly configurable platform capable of a variety of tasks to support manned aircraft on dangerous missions.
The aircraft was announced at the International Airshow at Avalon, Australia. Boeing Australia will develop three aircraft, officially known as “Loyal Wingman – Advanced Development Program.” Loyal Wingman looks like a high wing, cockpitless, stealthy aircraft with two low-profile vertical stabilizers. Boeing says it will be 38 feet long, about two-thirds as long as a F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter, with a range of 2,000 nautical miles (2,301 miles.) Other details such as onboard propulsion, avionics, and sensors are unknown. Defense News, quoting Boeing, claims the aircraft will be capable of “fighter-like” performance.
The new aircraft will have the primary mission set of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, and Boeing claims it can be rapidly reconfigured to suit itself to the mission at hand. It is unknown whether or not the aircraft could eventually carry weapons and if Boeing Australia is planning for such an eventuality. Loyal Wingman will be capable of flying semi-autonomously and also being controlled either from a nearby aircraft or a ground control station.
The Loyal Wingman concept is designed to integrate uncrewed aircraft into the world of crewed aircraft. Uncrewed planes have the potential to act as force multipliers for crewed aircraft, performing tasks too dangerous for manned aircraft to do. Boeing describes Loyal Wingman as an aircraft to “protect and project airpower.”
Armed or not, the flying warbot will be capable of a variety of missions. For example, an uncrewed plane could fly ahead of a strike package of manned jets, identifying air defense radars and missile systems on the ground for the crewed planes to avoid. Another Loyal Wingman could fly alongside the strike package, blasting out radar jamming signals that could make it a target.
The Loyal Wingman concept has been talked about for several years now but this is the first aircraft (that we know of) designed to actually do the job. The first aircraft is under construction in Australia, with first flight set for 2020.