The Coalition has announced the Royal Australian Air Force will be acquiring uncrewed autonomous systems with an additional $454m in funding for the Loyal Wingman program.
Uncrewed autonomous systems (UAVs) are colloquially known as drones and are increasingly being seen as a valuable asset by militaries following their use by the Ukrainian army against Russia and the recent invasion of Armenia by Azerbaijan.
The minister for defence, Peter Dutton, said in a statement that the investment would deliver seven UAVs – recently named MQ-28A Ghost Bat – to come into service with the RAAF within the next two years.
Since 2017 the Coalition government has invested more than $150 million to support the joint venture between the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Boeing Defence Australia to deliver a world-leading air system that will team with existing air combat aircraft and conduct air combat, reconnaissance and surveillance missions.
In just four years our partnership with Boeing has successfully designed, manufactured and flown the first Australian-built military combat aircraft in 50 years.
This investment today will see the MQ-28A systems expected to enter service with the RAAF in 2024-25.
Dutton said more than 70% of its components would be sourced, designed and manufactured in Australia, at facilities around the country.
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.
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.
The MQ-28A aircraft first flight took place in February 2021, just two years and three months from the beginning of the project.
A second aircraft has joined the flight-test program, with a third aircraft being readied for flight testing later this year.