Boeing Australia has started ramping up testing of its autonomous systems technology in preparation for the first flight of its Advanced teaming Systems (ATS) Loyal Wingman unmanned system in 2020.
The testing comprises laboratory and field testing of its autonomous systems technology capabilities, including autonomous control algorithms, data fusion, object detection systems, and collision avoidance behaviours.
“Our aircraft and mission system is well advanced in our rigorous design and test program, bolstered by Boeing’s adoption of digital engineering,” Boeing’s Phantom Works International director, Dr Shane Arnott said in a statement. “As a result, we have a live digital copy of the entire aircraft design that we’ve been able to ‘fly’ thousands of times under different scenarios to test aircraft performance and the mission system.
“We’ve flown 10 of those autonomous test beds in formation using our mission system technology,” he added. “We are continuing to increase the speed and complexity of our testing, most recently with five much larger high-performance jets with the capacity to fly up to 300 kilometres per hour, ahead of the full-speed prototype flight.”
The ATS Loyal Wingman was unveiled at the 2019 Avalon Airshow and has been developed in conjunction with the RAAF’s Plan Jericho team. To this end, the RAAF has provided a $40 million injection from Air Force Minor Program DEF 6014 Phase 1 to develop three air vehicles and associated systems for testing from 2020, with a view to possibly having an operational capability ready as soon as 2025.
Many of the systems and artificial intelligence is being tested in Boeing’s Systems Analysis Laboratory (SAL) in Brisbane. Many of these technologies and components have been developed and sourced from Australian entities, while others have come from technologies developed by the Boeing’s US parent on projects such as the MQ-25, T-X, X-45 and other programs.
“That’s making the real difference in ensuring we can maintain an agile schedule, and offer a truly affordable, attritable unmanned teaming solution for global customers,” Arnott said. “This has significantly de-risked and reduced the aircraft test program costs, and improved the robustness of the mission system to support a wide range of possible threat scenarios.
“We’ve placed a particular focus on ensuring our underlying ‘watchdog algorithms’ provide the right level of AI and autonomy for manned-unmanned teaming operations.