Australian fighter-sized UAS unveiled

written by australianaviation.com.au | February 28, 2019
Boeing ATS to act as ‘wingman’

WRITER: Andrew McLaughlin

Defence Minister Christopher Pyne has unveiled what could be the first high performance military aircraft designed and built in Australia in more than 60 years.

On Wednesday morning, Minister Pyne revealed the Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS), an Australian-designed fighter-sized unmanned system designed to act as a ‘loyal wingman’ in conjunction with high value assets such as the P-8A Poseidon or E-7A Wedgetail, or with combat aircraft like the F-35A or F/A-18F.

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The system has been developed in conjunction with the RAAF and the Defence Science & Technology (DST) Group. For the development, Boeing has partnered with companies such as BAE Systems Australia, Ferra Engineering, RUAG Australia, Micro Electronic Technologies, AME Systems, and Allied Data Systems.

“The partnership will produce a concept demonstrator of a low cost unmanned ‘Loyal Wingman’ aircraft, capable of operating in concert with Air Force’s fifth generation air combat capability,” Minister Pyne said in a statement.

“There is significant value investing in innovative, future leaning initiatives like this, particularly in the early conceptual stages where Defence can explore concepts and define the role such capabilities can play in our national security framework.”

Initially, the ATS will employ electronic warfare or sensor payloads, but could eventually be adapted to carry weapons. At 38 feet in length, the air vehicle is about the size of an F-16, and features advanced composite construction and radar cross-section signature management in the form of shaping, materials and aligned edges.

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But cost has also been a key driver of the ATS program, so the use of the expensive composite structures and low-observable shaping and materials has been offset by the substantial use of commercial and military-off-the-shelf (COTS/MOTS) components to ensure the air vehicle remains at an acceptably ‘attritable’ unit cost.

ATS features artificial intelligence to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft. It will have a range of more than 3,000 km, giving it a four to five-hour combat endurance, well beyond that of manned fighter-sized aircraft.

“The Boeing Airpower Teaming System will provide a disruptive advantage for allied forces’ manned/unmanned missions,” vice president and general manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems, Kristin Robertson said.

“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.”

Designed by Boeing Phantom Works in Brisbane, the company’s largest advanced concept development office outside of the US, if ATS successfully proceeds to production it will be the first high-performance combat aircraft of Australian origin built since the Jindivik drone of the 1950s.

That said, the ATS leverages ‘big Boeing’s’ extensive experience in manned and unmanned systems development, including the X-45 of the mid 2000s and, more recently, the US Navy’s MQ-25 program for which Boeing was selected last August.

“This will be Boeing’s first unmanned aircraft designed and engineered in Australia and represents the company’s largest investment of its kind outside of the United States,” said Minister Pyne.

Phantom Works has a team of more than 200 engineers and support staff in Australia. Boeing says Australia is ideally placed to develop such a capability due to its expertise in the various engineering fields, as well as its vast airspace, government’s openness to support an indigenous defence industry, and the airspace regulator’s progressive view towards unmanned systems.

7 Comments

  • B. Harrison

    says:

    This is the way of the future. As long as they can keep the cost down (5-10 million per copy) it will be worth the effort. In saying this, I recall how the new Tritons that we are about to purchase were suppose to be “cheap as chips” but the cost blew out to be almost as much as a manned aircraft. A Growler or F35 with 4-6 armed “loyal wingmen” would be a formidable offensive weapon system.

  • Michael Ironside

    says:

    Very convienent timing. Election/Democracy Sausage season. Poodle getting the bulk of Australian defence procurement built in his electorate too. Bipartisan defence commitment and not Voter Pork Barreling would see these built at Avalon.

  • TwinTiger

    says:

    I wonder if these could also be launched from the LHDs?

    • Mick C

      says:

      No they can not be Launched or recovered from either the LHDs or QEs, there is no recovery system on either classes, Aircraft have to land themselves and that means Vertically as in Helicopters, Tiltroters or STOVL Jets(F35B or Harrier at this time).

  • Tomcat Terry

    says:

    Maybe somebody in Defence will whisper in Minister Payne’s ear about the UK selling the Prince of Wales carrier. 24 F35b and a large contingent of these loyal wingmen fighters in carrier options, would make for a very tempting buy for the Australian Navy air arm. Would even negate the need to buy more AWDs and Future Frigates to help defend them when in war zone.
    Anyway, once the UK gets their finances sorted out they can always buy it back from us. This sounds strangely similar to the Invincible days of early 80’s those of you old enough to remember 😉

  • Mick C

    says:

    Terry
    1/ Payne is no longer the Defmin, Christopher Pyne is since SCOMO become PM.
    2/ There is currently no plan to get rid of the POW from the RN.
    3/ Australia can not afford the POW and a Air Wing to go with it , we could not man it and there is very little Fixed Wing Experience left in the RAN so it would be a massive and very expensive rebuild of the capability
    4/ 24 Jets would mean you could deploy a maximum of 12 Jets on a 65000t Carrier at a time hardly worth the effort.
    5/ You would need to raise at least 1 more Seahawk Squadron and a Merlin AEW Sqn.
    6/ 1 Carrier means you will have this capability no more than 40% of the time even using the LHDs as Trg Plarforms taking them away from their primary role.
    7/ Less AWDs and FFGs? Big Carriers need Escorts, the USN Carriers have 6-8 of them. At a minimum you would need 1 more AWD and 2 FFGs.
    8/ Large much more capable AORs are req for large Carriers just to keep them operating, the RN are getting 4 much bigger AORs than the 2 the RAN are getting.

    Buying the Invincible in 1982 was a great idea as it was a 1 for 1 replacement for the Melbourne, similar Crew size, similar Air Wing size, but in those days the RAN was built around escorting the Melbourne. Buying the POW today and rebuilding a Fixed Wing capability would cost 10s of Billions for 1 under utilised part time Ship.

  • Peter Horniman

    says:

    Interesting system … I have a feeling that there will be a lot of these designs popping up over the next decade but hopefully, Australia teaming up with Boeing will give us the inside lane.

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