Speaking at the naming ceremony for Boeing’s MQ-28A Ghost Bat (formerly referred to as the Airpower Teaming System, or Loyal Wingman) at RAAF Base Amberley on 21 March, Boeing’s Director Boeing Airpower Teaming System Glen Ferguson revealed mission payload configurations are in the ground test phase.
The flight test vehicle on display at the ceremony (the second prototype, PRV-002) was seen in public with a sensor payload for the first time. A variety of payloads will be carried in the MQ-28A’s reconfigurable nose and ADM understands PRV-002’s current configuration is testing a number of un-named sensors, but these included what appears to be an infra-red search and track (IRST) system on the top of the aircraft’s removable nose.
“We can’t talk to the specific details of those, but that aircraft right now is in ground test,” Ferguson, said,” adding that the payload configurations are selected by the Air Force to meet their specific requirements. “The process we follow here with Defence is we are developing a roadmap together and there are some design reference missions, which is what we’ve focussed our design around, so we put the sensors into the packages that we need to meet those missions.”
Ferguson also said he expected aircraft to be rolling out of the company’s purpose-built facility – now in the design phase – at Toowoomba’s Wellcamp Airport by the middle of the decade. With regard to export potential for the aircraft, he added that Boeing is in talks with several interested customers, including countries outside the ‘Five Eyes’ alliance.
“The introduction of the Air Teaming System into Air Force service will mark a turning point, a highly-advanced capability for Australia.” Head of Air Force Capability Air Vice-Marshal Robert Denney said. “No other nation has developed a teaming air capability, but with this aircraft we are well on our way to producing one – an operational system that can deliver a unique capability for our Defence Force.
AVM Denney also provided a few more details of the mission sets envisaged, saying these included intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), air-to-air and air-to-ground combat roles.
“It started with the generic title of loyal wingman, but it doesn’t have to be a wingman: it can operate without crewed platforms in proximity, opening up new areas beyond their reach. Unlike a conventional aircraft, which gives away its role by what it carries under its wings, there’s a little bit of secret in this aircraft.”
In his address to invited guests to the ceremony, Defence Minister Peter Dutton said the government would “obviously” commit more money to the program [beyond the $155 million it is already spending] but in a media doorstop interview afterwards he stopped short of committing to a timeline.
“It’s a risky undertaking to put taxpayer’s money into a project, that you have no guarantees about; that you don’t know if you’ll continue to the next stage,” he said. “The naming of this aircraft today is the latest milestone, but we’ve already put in $155 million. We’ve got more money to invest and we will do that in this program and a number of other programs and make further announcements about that.”
When asked if the government had any notion of how many platforms it will require, Minister Dutton said the he would not disclose numbers publicly at the present time, “But there is great utility in having scale and being able to launch an aircraft like this, because it complements what we’re doing with our fast jets and our other assets. I think it makes that a huge success story now and into the future.”
Disclaimer: The writer travelled to Amberley as a guest of Boeing Defence Australia.