Boeing drone made in Australia could become part of NGAD

US Air Force secretary, Frank Kendall, has said the service could use the Boeing MQ-28 drone for its Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) programme.

The stealth drone, previously referred to as a ‘Loyal Wingman’ and Airpower Teaming System (ATS), is made in Australia as part of Boeing’s first aircraft final assembly line outside North America.

“I’m talking to my Australian counterparts in general about the NGAD family of systems and how they might be able to participate,” Kendall said to Breaking Defense.

A Northrop Grumman image render of a sixth generation fighter, alongside autonomous drones
A Northrop Grumman image render of a sixth generation fighter, alongside autonomous drones

The aircraft is the first military combat aircraft designed, developed and manufactured in Australia in half a century.

Kendall said the US and Australia are “having preliminary discussions” about buying the MQ-28 “as a risk reduction mechanism” for NGAD’s drone capability.

“I think there’s a lot of mutual interest in working together. And we’re going to be sorting out the details over the next few weeks,” Kendall said.

RUAG Australia supplied the landing gear systems to the aircraft, and BAE Systems Australia was integral in the design, supply and support of the flight control and navigation systems tested as part of the flights.

The MQ-28 is designed to operate as a team, using artificial intelligence to extend the capabilities of crewed and uncrewed platforms.

It was announced in March 2021 that Boeing and the Australian government will co-develop three more aircraft to advance the air-teaming vehicle, payloads and associated support and training capabilities. This increased the aircraft’s production capability to six aircraft for Royal Australian Air Force and is valued at $115m over three years.

NGAD is a USAF initiative to field a family of systems centred on a sixth generation fighter jet, which will be supported by Loyal Wingman-type drones.

The fighter jet entered the engineering, manufacturing and development (EMD) phase after completing the design in June.

It was widely reported in 2020 that USAF has flown a full-scale prototype aircraft. USAF's former top acquisition official, Will Roper, said at the time: “We’ve already built and flown a full-scale flight demonstrator in the real world, and we broke records in doing it. We are ready to go and build the next-generation aircraft in a way that has never happened before.”

www.boeing.com

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