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Government backtracks on Loyal Wingman order figures

written by Hannah Dowling | May 18, 2022

Footage of the first Loyal Wingman unmanned aerial vehicle in flight. (Credit: CPL Craig Barrett)

The Australian government is set to acquire just 10 Loyal Wingman autonomous platforms for the Royal Australian Air Force, as opposed to the previously suggested 13, Australian Aviation can reveal.

A Defence spokesperson has clarified that the first three Loyal Wingman aircraft developed are prototypes that are not owned by the Australian government and will not be operated by the RAAF.

It comes just days after Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to invest an additional $454 million to accelerate Boeing Australia’s Loyal Wingman project, and fund the development of “a further seven aircraft”.

In March last year, then-acting Minister for Defence Marise Payne announced that Australia would spend $115 million to “acquire three additional aircraft” under the Loyal Wingman program, which seemingly suggested that the three prototypes initially earmarked for development under the program were already enlisted in the RAAF’s future fleet.

However, Defence said this is not the case, suggesting the three additional vehicles ordered in March 2021 were in fact the first official orders placed by the government for the now-dubbed MQ-28A Ghost Bat.


As such, after the Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday, the RAAF will take delivery of 10 Ghost Bats in total.

“Three prototype aircraft produced earlier in the program for concept demonstration purposes are not owned by the Commonwealth of Australia,” the Defence spokesperson told Australian Aviation sister title Defence Connect.

Prime Minister Morrison’s latest election campaign pledge would take the government’s total investment in the Loyal Wingman program to over $600 million.

The funding boost is tipped to accelerate the delivery of the uncrewed platforms, now scheduled to enter service with the RAAF in 2024-25.

Approximately 70 per cent of the next-generation uncrewed aerial systems’ components are set to be designed, engineered and manufactured locally, supported by Boeing Australia’s new facility at Wellcamp Airport in Toowoomba, Queensland.

The Commonwealth is expected to engage with an additional 46 Australian firms, as well as international industry partners and allies throughout the program.

“This investment in world-leading technology further advances Australia’s first-mover status in a highly competitive industry and establishes the Loyal Wingman Program as a serious competitor in key export markets,” Minister for Defence Peter Dutton said following the government’s latest announcement.

Boeing Australia recently advanced the operational readiness of the platform after demonstrating multiple payloads, semi-autonomous behaviours and crewed-uncrewed teaming in the digital environment.

Late last year, two Loyal Wingman aircraft completed successful flight missions in South Australia’s Woomera Range Complex, marking the first time the landing gear was raised and engaged.

This followed an inaugural flight of the Loyal Wingman in February 2021.

Once fully operational, the platform, which measures 11.7 metres long and boasts a range of 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 kilometres), is tipped to deliver fighter-like performance, while also offering intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.

By leveraging artificial intelligence, the drones are expected to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other jets.

The Ghost Bat program has been lauded as an innovation success, including by US Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall.

Kendall noted the USAF is exploring opportunities to further integrate uncrewed capability, leveraging artificial intelligence.

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Comment (1)

  • Lee McCurtayne


    Would any “Sane” individual be surprised with any Defence involvement, nothing is ever what it is proposed to be.

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