Defence Minister Peter Dutton has announced the government will invest a further $454 million in the Royal Australian Air Force’s Boeing MQ-28A Ghost Bat uncrewed aerial system.
Formerly called the Loyal Wingman, the program was previously funded to the tune of $150 million under the RAAF’s DEF 6114 program for five prototype and development air vehicles. The program was revealed at the March 2019 Avalon Airshow, the first prototype air vehicle first flew in February 2021 and was joined by a second later that year, while the third, fourth, and fifth aircraft are in build.
“In just four years our partnership with Boeing has successfully designed, manufactured and flown the first Australian-built military combat aircraft in 50 years,” a 16 May ministerial statement reads. “Over 70 per cent of each aircraft is sourced, designed, and manufactured in Australia, by Australians.
“This investment will more than double the Australian workforce directly associated with the program, generating a significant number of advanced engineering and high-tech jobs in the aviation and Defence advanced technologies sectors, particularly in Brisbane,” he added. “In addition to the direct engagement with Boeing Defence Australia, our investment will see the program expand to support engagement of an additional 46 Australian companies, alongside international partners and allies.
“This will result in the number of businesses engaged in this program growing from 35 to 81 companies, along with many more highly-skilled jobs. This investment in world-leading technology further advances Australia’s first-mover status in a highly competitive industry and establishes the Loyal Wingman Program as a serious competitor in key export markets.
“By sharing technology and leveraging the expertise of our US partners, the MQ-28A aircraft will be interoperable with our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region ensuring that our combined air combat forces are enhanced and stand ready to defend Australia and its national interests.
Minister Dutton said the MQ-28A is expected to enter RAAF service in 2024-25.