Australian Minister of Defense Peter Dutton announced on Sunday that an additional $454 million AUD was being allocated for the Loyal Wingman program enabling the production of seven additional MQ-28A Ghost Bat airframes. With three MQ-28s already produced or in current production, this purchase will increase the fleet to ten. Minister Dutton also announced that the current expectation is for the MQ-28A to enter service in 2024-2025. Australia officially unveiled the Ghost Bat in March.
Loyal Wingman builds off of an existing US Air Force Research Lab concept of the same name for an unmanned aerial vehicle that would work alongside a manned aircraft to accomplish a common goal, part of a paradigm known as “manned-unmanned teaming”, or MUM-T. First tested in February 2015 under the “Have Raider” program, the initial “loyal wingman” concept made use of unmanned QF-16s at Edwards Air Force Base, California flying in formation with a manned lead aircraft. Several countries have invested in developing MUM-T UAVs: China’s FH-97 concept, South Korea’s unmanned modification of the FA-50, and the United States’ XQ-58A Valkyrie. The XQ-58A is currently under development by Kratos Aerospace, and made its first flight at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona on March 5, 2019.
Boeing Defense Australia’s MQ-28A, formerly known as the Airpower Teaming System (ATS), was first unveiled to the public in February 2019, and made its first flight on February 27, 2021 from Woomera Range Complex in South Australia. The second air frame flew its first flight in early November of 2021. Loyal Wingman is the first military aircraft to be developed in Australia in over 50 years, and partially funded in over 70 years, marking a new stage for Australia’s local defense industry. In September 2021, Boeing announced that they were selecting Toowoomba, Queensland for the location of the final production facility for the Loyal Wingman aircraft. The announcement by Boeing came shortly after the announcement of the “AUKUS” partnership, which established information and military technology sharing with a focus on nuclear submarine capabilities, covered further by Overt Defense here.