Boeing Defence Australia’s secretive Airpower Teaming System (ATS), more commonly known as Loyal Wingman, has been spotted by local sources out in the open in the past week.
Until now, the only released pictures of the unmanned platform have been carefully controlled by the original equipment manufacturer, but it would appear that the aircraft is now being prepared for taxi trials at an undisclosed location, possibly Amberley, ahead of its first flight.
Until now Boeing has declined to reveal where the aircraft was being built, other than ‘somewhere in Queensland’ or when and where the first flight would take place, beyond saying ‘sometime in 2020’.
“The first ATS aircraft is currently undergoing ground testing, which will be followed by taxi and first flight later this year,” a Boeing spokesperson said today, but declined to confirm the location of these activities at this time.
The ATS is a joint program between BDA and Defence and known as Defence Project 6014 (Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program) and launched amid much fanfare at the 2019 Australian International Airshow at Avalon by then Minister for Defence Christopher Pyne. Under the terms of the project Defence is contributing $40 million to build three ATS prototypes to further explore the concept of airpower teaming, under which autonomous vehicles operate with manned platforms during a range of air combat missions.
According to Boeing data released at Avalon, the ATS is 38 ft (11.7 metres) long, with a wingspan of 24 ft, a range of 2,000 nautical miles and capable of ‘fighter-like’ performance. It says the platform will include a range of sensors to enable it to perform Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Electronic Warfare roles, but since then very few details been released.
Coincident with the roll-out of the first ATS air vehicle in May, Head Air Force Capability, Air Vice Marshal Cath Roberts revealed that the ATS platform will feature a 2.5 metre removeable and reconfigurable nose, with an internal volume of over 1.5 cubic metres, which will allow ‘a range of sensors and payloads’ to be installed and tested.
In answer to ADM’s specific questions about its capabilities at the time, BDA Airpower Teaming System program director Shane Arnott would reveal only that the sensor and payload suite will be based on the ‘mission needs’ of the customer and that the platform will be powered by a ‘commercial turbofan engine’. He said that BDA would not release any further details of where the aircraft is being manufactured, due to ‘Boeing, customer and supplier sensitivities’.