Boeing to launch Australia’s first locally built combat aircraft since 1942

29 Mar 2019

The Boeing Company is set to design and build a large, military unmanned air vehicle (UAV) in Australia, with the first flight set for 2020. The Australian government will invest A$40 million in the project.

Named ‘Loyal Wingman’, the UAV will be the first combat aircraft that is entirely designed and built in Australia since World War II, and the project hopes to forge a new export industry for Australia.

Loyal Wingman will be an 11.7 metre, autonomously controlled aircraft with a range of 2,000 nautical miles. It will carry surveillance and reconnaissance sensors, and electronic warfare modules. An internal weapons bay could be adapted for strike missions.

Defence analysts say the UAV will add sting to Australia’s existing Super Hornet aircraft and incoming F-35s. By acting as escorts, the drones will extend the range of Royal Australian Air Force air defence and strike missions while keeping pilots safe.

According to Malcolm Davis of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, the project will also add thrust to the Government’s Defence Export Strategy. This aims to establish Australia as one of the world’s top ten defence exporters by 2028.

‘With Boeing’s commitment to design and build the aircraft in Australia, we can overturn the idea that Australia must be an importer of high-tech air-defence platforms,’ he says. ‘We will demonstrate the ability to create aircraft ourselves.’

Davis adds that the export potential is significant – not just to traditional allies such as US, UK and Canada, but to defence markets across Asia.

‘The capability is being planned with an export market in mind,’ he says. ‘Australia could position itself as a leading defence exporter of UAVs, and this includes the complex, fast-evolving control systems.’

Boeing Australia is already one of the country’s top defence companies, with 3,500 employees in 38 locations. The company’s Australia-based activities currently include advanced manufacturing of composite components for commercial aircraft, plus aeronautical research, development and training.

According to Jane’s Information Group, the global market for UAVs is forecast to grow by 9.4% per year, from US$ 6.7 billion in 2019 to US$ 11.5 billion in 2025. The market value for combat drones – currently negligible – is expected to be reach over US$ 900 million by 2025.