Boeing has presented a first-of-its-kind drone specifically designed to work in conjunction with manned fighter jets by acting as a mechanical wingman.
The drone is theoretically capable of handling an unspecified amount of weapons and can be controlled from either a ground control station or from the plane it is escorting, according to Defense News. Boeing's Director of Phantom Works International Shane Arnott says no modifications to the plane are needed in order to accommodate the Loyal Wingman's controls.
Popular Mechanics provided several possible applications for the drone.
A Locally Developed ‘Loyal Wingman’ to Fly in Australia by 2020… pic.twitter.com/oXpCDi35ek— Collabregator (@collabregate) 27 февраля 2019 г.
"For example, an uncrewed plane could fly ahead of a strike package of manned jets, identifying air defense radars and missile systems on the ground for the crewed planes to avoid," the report reads. "Another Loyal Wingman could fly alongside the strike package, blasting out radar jamming signals that could make it a target."
The first machine of this project is now being constructed in Australia, and its first flight is scheduled for 2020.
"This is the first [military] aircraft concept that Australia has invested in since the Boomerang [fighter] in 1942 to 1945, so it is a red-letter day," Australian Minister for Defence Christopher Pyne said during a presentation.
According to the minister, the Australian government will spend US $28.67 million for development of the drone; the money will be used in conjunction with Boeing's own investment, the Defense News report says.