Drones have long been an unavoidable factor in modern warfare, but recent developments by Boeing and the Royal Australian Air Force could take the role of robotic aircraft in creating air supremacy to a whole new level.
The company unveiled the first operational copy of the Loyal Wingman, or “Loyal Wing Assistant,” in Sydney on May 5, 2020, which, thanks to artificial intelligence, is capable of flying in pilots with pilots driven by pilots and can also be deployed on stand-alone missions. Shane Arnott, director of the Airpower Teaming System program, said at the presentation that a pilot-led aircraft could be joined by up to 16 drone planes, which could not only provide effective assistance to fighter pilots but also protect aircraft much more vulnerable to attacks, such as the E -7The Wedgetail airspace control aircraft. The real trump card of the Loyal Wingman lies in the nose, which can be easily and quickly replaced, so the drone can be equipped with the tools needed for a given mission in a matter of seconds. “For example, if the mission is to deactivate enemy planes, one drone could be loaded with an infrared search system, the other two with radars, another with a communications repeater station, and one with electronic warfare equipment and a defense laser system.” Whether the Loyal Wingman can be equipped with offensive weapons has not been detailed by Boeing, but some sources say the drone could be equipped with air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, so it could even take part directly in air battles.
The other big weapon in the drone is the price. Although Boeing has not provided specific information on this either, so much has been said that it will be “competitive” with the XQ-58 Valkyrie, a similar concept developed by Kratos Defense and Secutity, which is said to cost around $ 2 million. This means that the Loyal Wingman, unlike tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars of fighter jets, is barely more expensive than a Tomahawk missile, so it can be sacrificed without any particular headache when just in need. As a result, Boeing’s wing assistant puts entirely new tactical possibilities in the hands of strategists, while controlling it is much simpler than that of traditional military drones. Loyal Wingman works with artificial intelligence, so the machine operator has enough general commands to give the drone, such as where to go and the rest the machine does on its own.
For the time being, Boeing is preparing to deliver three aircraft to the Australian Air Force, which will be tested first on the ground and then in the air, and if it proves effective in practice, mass production could begin. To be sure, in the future, this type of technology will become increasingly dominant in air warfare, as it will allow them to perform a number of tasks that previously required traditional fighter jets cheaply and without risking human lives. In addition to the Boeing, Kratos Defense is also developing a similar solution, but the British new fighter, the Tempest Fighter Jet, is also designed to be able to fly without a pilot.