The Royal Australian Air Force has invested an additional $399 million in the ongoing development of the MQ-28A Ghost Bat program.
FILE PHOTO (September 2021): A ‘Loyal Wingman’ prototype – now called MQ-28A Ghost Bat – flies over Woomera, South Australia. Photo by Flight Lieutenant Ricky Treloar.
Defence is now moving forward with the next stage of the program, including delivery of three Block 2 aircraft, which have an enhanced design and improved capabilities.
This funding boost will enable a focus on developing sensor and mission payloads, an integrated combat system and autonomous systems.
“Loyal Wingman” early test flights
Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy said the goal was that these new aircraft would be ready for a capability demonstration exercise next year for the Royal Australian Air Force.
“That will really help establish how capable these aircraft are, and the manner in which we would like to deploy them,” Mr Conroy said.
“A couple of examples of where these aircraft might be used is they [could] emit signals so they appear like they’re another Joint Strike Fighter to an enemy radar, which means that they could act as a decoy.
“They could also be in advance of a strike group from the air force, collect targeting data of where possible enemy ships are so that our planes never have to go into range of the enemy’s defensive weapons.
“These are all things much better to risk an autonomous aircraft that costs 10 per cent of a crewed aircraft, let alone risking the life of a pilot and the huge investment we’ve made in that person.”
Mr Conroy said this was the first military aircraft to be designed, engineered and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years and underscored the depth of innovation and expertise in Australia’s defence industry.
“More than 200 Australian companies have already contributed to the MQ-28A program, including more than 50 small and medium enterprises within the supply chain,” Mr Conroy said.
“This project demonstrates that with the appropriate support from government, Australia’s defence industry can continue to be a world leader and a key source of jobs.
“Giving our air force the critical capabilities it needs to protect Australians, and their interests, is paramount for the prosperity and security of our nation.”
MQ-28A Ghost Bat, known as a Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA), is being developed in cooperation with Boeing Defence Australia.
It is the first military combat aircraft to be designed, engineered and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years.
An entirely new technology, it is designed to act as a loyal wingman which will be able to protect and support our military assets and pilots and undertake a wide range of activities across large distances, including performing combat roles.
This further development of MQ-28A Ghost Bat comes after the government agreed with a Defence Strategic Review recommendation that options be developed for collaboration and technology sharing with the United States.
In line with the government’s response, Defence signed a CCA development project arrangement with the United States on 30 March 2023.
Mr Conroy said the best minds in the United States and the best minds in Australia were working together to develop the platforms, payloads, sensors and system infrastructure to realise the potential of teaming technology as quickly as possible.
“Designed to act as a loyal wing man, we’ll be able to protect and support our military assets and pilots and undertake a wide range of activities across huge distances, and importantly, in contested environments, including performing combat roles.
“This technology has the potential to turn a single fighter jet into a fighting team, a single fighter into a fighting team, with advanced sensors that are like hundreds of eyes in the sky.”
Managing Director of Boeing Defence Australia Scott Carpendale said that as Boeing continued to expand its flight-test window and advance the MQ-28 autonomous capability, the company was also turning its attention to establishing an Australian production facility in Queensland.