The Loyal Wingman is the latest shiny new toy that the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has received. The Loyal Wingman is a combat AI drone that has been developed by Boeing. Drones have been serving the military for quite some time now but this particular drone is different. This drone also becomes the first in-house aircraft in half a century for Australia.
You’d be mistaken if you thought that the Loyal Wingman is a toy though. It is big enough to accompany a manned aircraft and its intended application is to enhance the RAAF’s power in defending its territory. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, ‘This a truly historic moment for our country and for Australian defense innovation. The Loyal Wingman will be pivotal to exploring the critical capabilities our Air Force needs to protect our nation and its allies into the future.’
As opposed to the regular military drones, Boeing’s Loyal Wingman relies on the use of Artificial Intelligence for piloting the drone. This means that this particular drone is not controlled remotely like conventional drones. Of course, there is some manual control involved but it is done via the minimal interface as opposed to the massive conventional controller that we have become used to over the years.
The Loyal Wingman was presented last Tuesday and is among the three prototypes that are undergoing development for defense purposes. These three prototypes are part of Boeing’s Airpower Teaming System (ATS) and part of the Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program. The RAAF will be conducting flight tests and demos to find the best possible way of integrating these drones into their forces.
Jerad Hayes, Boeing’s senior director for autonomous aviation and technology, said, Autonomy is a big element of this, as well as the incorporation of artificial intelligence. Those two elements combined enable us to support existing forces.’ Shane Arnott who is the ATS program director for Boeing said, ‘There’s a lot for us to figure out [on] what’s that right level of information feed and direction. One of the great benefits of working with the Royal Australian Air Force is having the real operators [give feedback. We don’t have all the answers yet. We have a lot of understanding through our surrogate simulator and surrogate testing that we’re doing, but we will prove that out.’