Coalition promises $454m more for ‘Ghost Bat’ drones

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

A re-elected Coalition government would pour a further $454 million into the Loyal Wingman autonomous aerial vehicle program being developed by the Royal Australian Air Force and Boeing.

The investment would add to the $150 million the government has already made in the program which began in 2017 and has produced the first Australian-built military combat aircraft in 50 years.

Boeing Loyal Wingman
Boeing’s Australian designed and built drone Loyal Wingman

At the Coalition’s official campaign launch in Queensland on Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the commitment, saying it would lead to more unmanned vehicles to support manned aircraft to conduct air combat, reconnaissance and surveillance missions.

“The investment will fund the build of a further seven aircraft and the establishment of more than 120 additional highly skilled engineering and other technology jobs, particularly, right here in Brisbane,” Mr Morrison said.

Known as “Ghost Bats”, the autonomous vehicles are already in testing, with a purpose built manufacturing facility to be established in Toowoomba with support from the state Labor government.

The uncrewed aircraft are considered a “pathfinder for the integration of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence to create smart human-machine teams” by the Royal Australian Air Force.

A Ghost Bat is expected to have a range of more than 3,700 kilometers and has been designed to fly as a partner with crewed Air Force platforms. Defence wants to use the vehicles to further investigate things like automation and autonomy, artificial intelligence, and human machine teaming concepts.

The Coalition said its added investment will see the aircraft in service by 2025.

The project will also be supported by a new Advanced Defence Aerospace Manufacturing Network led by Boeing, which received a $34 million federal government grant last month to pull together 10 small to medium-sized aerospace companies to develop new technology and parts for Defence aircraft.

Defence minister Peter Dutton said over 70 per cent of each Loyal Wingman aircraft will be sourced, designed and manufactured in Australia.

“This investment will more than double the Australian workforce directly associated with the program, generating a significant number of advanced engineering and high-tech jobs in the aviation and Defence advanced technologies sectors, particularly in Brisbane.” Mr Dutton said in a statement.

“In addition to the direct engagement with Boeing Defence Australia, our investment will see the program expand to support engagement of an additional 46 Australian companies, alongside international partners and allies.”

The first test flight of a Ghost Bat took place in February last year. A second Aircraft has been built, with a third being prepared for more tests later this year.

Mr Dutton said the aircraft was based on shared technology from US partners and the vehicles would be interoperable with allies in the region and a potential export market for Australia.

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