The Morrison government has bolstered investment in the Loyal Wingman program, requesting the delivery of additional aircraft.
Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price has confirmed that the federal government will invest a further $115 million to procure three additional Loyal Wingman aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force, doubling the size of the fleet.
This is in addition to the $40 million already invested in the program, as part of a broader effort to assess the benefits of enhanced interoperability between piloted and remotely piloted air team systems in support of Australia’s defence and national security objectives.
According to Defence, the investment will ensure ongoing support of the current workforce and key industries, including advanced mission system software development, high technology aircraft manufacturing and uncrewed aircraft flight testing.
The news comes just hours after Boeing confirmed that its first Loyal Wingman completed its inaugural flight, taking off and landing at the Woomera Range Complex, South Australia.
The flight marked the first time in over 50 years since an Australian-designed military combat aircraft performed an inaugural flight in Australia.
“Air Force and Boeing are delivering world leading, cutting edge capability that will help protect and support Australia’s most valuable Defence aircraft, and the pilots who fly them,” acting Minister for Defence Marise Payne said following the announcement.
“At the same time, the program is supporting Australian jobs and boosting Australia’s defence industry.
“Through this government’s investment in the Loyal Wingman program, we have helped secure over 100 Australian jobs.”
She added: “This includes 33 highly skilled aviation engineering jobs in Victoria that would otherwise have been made redundant in the midst of COVID-19.”
Minister Payne said the government’s experience with the program thus far has enabled it to “confidently support” the next stage of development.
“This program is Australian innovation at its finest and presents Australia and our partners with opportunities for critical capabilities to fight emerging global threat systems,” she added.
Minister Price said the investment forms part of the government’s plan to accelerate Defence initiatives in the COVID-19 recovery.
“Through our $1 billion recovery package we are boosting Australia’s defence industry and supporting thousands of jobs across the country,” Minister Price said.
“This new stage of development will deliver an increase in the advanced mission capabilities of the aircraft.
“Here is another high-flying example of how we are backing our local defence industry base, supporting and creating jobs in a range of high technology areas.”
Minister Price concluded: “We are very excited about the export potential of the Loyal Wingman.”
The RAAF and Boeing are expected to continue testing the Loyal Wingman to assess its capabilities, which are designed to support a range of Defence aircraft in various roles.
The Loyal Wingman has a range of more than 3,700 kilometres, designed to project power forward while keeping crewed capabilities out of harm’s way.
Dr Brendan Nelson, president of Boeing Australia, New Zealand & South Pacific, welcomed the government’s announcement.
“The Australian government’s continued investment in the innovative Loyal Wingman program will create jobs and opportunities for over 35 Australian suppliers and small businesses, including BAE Systems Australia, RUAG Australia, AME Systems and Ferra Engineering,” he said.
Boeing said the enhanced contract would support the maturation of the aircraft design, evolution of current and future payloads, and create the sustainment system for the aircraft in operations.
The contract is also expected to support the development of Airpower Teaming System advanced concepts through digital testing and demonstration.
“In addition to progressing the air vehicle design and support system, we will further develop the aircraft’s mission system including advanced AI decision-making capabilities and new payloads,” Dr Shane Arnott, program director of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System, added.
“Continued digital engineering and significantly expanded live testing of the system will provide RAAF and Boeing with the ability to jointly take the concept to the next level, activities that are critical for us to rapidly understand how the Airpower Teaming System can be employed in the future battlespace.”
[Related; WATCH: Loyal Wingman makes first flight]