Combat drones capable of deadly force set to join Australian military arsenal

Exclusive by defence reporter Andrew Greene, ABC News Australia

A large drone designed for electronic warfare, which could eventually carry bombs, was publicly unveiled today after being secretly developed with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).


Key points:

-  The drone is the first combat aircraft designed and developed in Australia in more than 50 years
-  The cost of the project has not been revealed, but it is believed to be Boeing's largest investment in drones outside the US
-  Once fully developed, the drone could eventually be exported to other nations, sources said


The unmanned system is roughly the size of a traditional jet fighter and was quietly developed in Brisbane by aerospace giant Boeing, in collaboration with the RAAF and the Defence Department.

A prototype of the yet-to-be-named unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was unveiled this morning by Defence Minister Christopher Pyne at the Avalon aerospace trade show outside Melbourne.



Details of the classified "Loyal Wingman" project remain scant, but the ABC believes the UAV is designed to fly up to several thousand kilometres.

Its primary purpose would be to conduct electronic warfare and reconnaissance missions, particularly in environments where it is considered risky to send manned aircraft.

On the aircraft's underside is a large payload bay that can carry a sensor or electronic warfare equipment, but industry sources said it could also be used to one day carry bombs.



The UAV could be deployed alongside existing RAAF aircraft such as the P-8A Poseidon to provide crucial support in combat operations.

It is the first combat aircraft to be designed and developed in Australia in more than half a century (the previous being the Boomerang fighter) , and it could be in production by the mid-2020s.

In November the Government announced the American-produced MQ-9 Reaper had been selected as Australia's first armed remotely piloted aircraft system.



Last year former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull also announced Australia would purchase six American-made unmanned Triton spy planes, which do not carry weapons, at a cost of $7 billion.

The cost of the Boeing "Loyal Wingman" project is not known, but it is believed to be the company's largest investment of its kind outside the US.

Once fully developed, the Australian-designed aircraft could eventually be exported to other nations, government sources said.
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