The Albanese government has directed Defence to deliver options to accelerate development of the Boeing Australia MQ-28A Ghost Bat autonomous air vehicle, instructing them to forward options to develop the program and support the production of Block 2 airframes “without delay”.
The sovereign MQ-28A is being developed in partnership with the Australian Government and the acceleration of the program was identified as a priority in the government’s recent Defence Strategic Review (DSR). Then known air the Airpower Teaming system (ATS), or “Loyal Wingman”, the program was unveiled at the Avalon Air Show in February 2019 and the first aircraft made its maiden flight in February 2021.
“The DSR and the Government’s response acknowledge the importance of the MQ-28A Ghost Bat program, and un-crewed autonomous systems, for Australia’s future defence capability,” Defence Minister Richard Marles said.
“We understand the pressures on the (Defence) Integrated Investment Plan (IIP) and that hard decisions will need to be made, but the Government recognises the importance of this program.
“It is a testament to Australia’s ability to develop a cutting-edge sovereign capability and work with local industry to progress Australia’s future air combat system.”
Boeing Australia is already under contract to produce ten MQ-28As for development and testing and ADM understands that four of these have now flown. Testing in both live and virtual environments continues at the Woomera Test Range complex in outback South Australia and recent work has seen the Ghost Bat conducting test flights under the command of the mission system’s “autonomous behaviours” laws. This milestone saw the aircraft perform completely autonomously, without commands from the Ground Control Station at Woomera.
Over 17,000 hours of digital mission system testing in a simulated combat environment have now been completed.
In addition, Defence signed a Collaborative Combat Aircraft Development Project Arrangement with the US Department of Defense earlier this year, which enables the sharing of classified technology and information on the MQ-28A’s sensors and other features, including teaming behaviour and secure data links.
In March, Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy also announced that the amount of local content in each MQ-28A had increased by almost 60 per cent during the life of the program so far.
“Unmanned aerial vehicles are a crucial part of Australia’s future air capabilities. The MQ-28A is not only important in terms of building the ADF’s capability, but also growing jobs in Australian defence industry and maximising the investment at home, which is exactly what we see happening,” he said.
“We intend to maximise investment in Australia, not just for the economic wellbeing of the Australian population, but also for sovereign capabilities to sustain and advance the defence of the nation.”