The Royal Australian Air Force is set to receive an additional seven uncrewed MQ-28A Ghost Bat autonomous systems under an investment announced by the Australian Liberal party.
The investment is worth A$454 million (US$316M) and builds upon A$150 million already invested into the program since 2017.
The recently-renamed Ghost Bat program is the result of a joint venture between the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Boeing Defence Australia. It is Australia’s first sovereign-designed and produced military combat aircraft in over 50 years, and is aimed at delivering an air system that will team with existing air combat aircraft and conduct air combat, reconnaissance and surveillance missions.
Australian defense minister Peter Dutton said the seven Ghost Bats would come into service with the RAAF within the next two years.
“Since 2017 the Coalition government has invested more than $150 million dollars to support the joint venture between the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Boeing Defence Australia to deliver a world-leading air system that will team with existing air combat aircraft and conduct air combat, reconnaissance and surveillance missions,” minister Dutton said.
“In just four years our partnership with Boeing has successfully designed, manufactured and flown the first Australian-built military combat aircraft in 50 years. This investment today will see the MQ-28A systems expected to enter service with the RAAF in 2024-25.”
Minister Dutton added that the development of uncrewed air combat capability could offer potential benefits for allies and partners in the region.
“By sharing technology and leveraging the expertise of our US partners, the MQ-28A aircraft will be interoperable with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region ensuring that our combined air combat forces are enhanced and stand ready to defend Australia and its national interests.
The MQ-28A aircraft performed its first flight in February 2021, while a third aircraft is currently being readied for flight testing later in 2022.
The loyal wingman UAV will leverage artificial intelligence to coordinate flight with a manned aircraft. It is designed to be capable of undertaking a range of missions including ISR, but will also be used to shield manned assets such as the F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters and Boeing E-7A Wedgetail early warning and control aircraft currently in RAAF service.
With a range of over 3,700km, the aircraft will be used as a force-multiplier, helping to project power forward while keeping manned capabilities out of harm’s way.