Australia is funding three additional Boeing MQ-28A Ghost Bat unmanned air vehicles as it eyes a demonstration campaign in 2025.
The three Block 2 MQ-28As will be produced locally, and feature improved sensor and payload options, according to Australia’s minister for defence industry Pat Conroy.
The effort sees Canberra putting A$399 million ($259 million) toward the programme. Conroy says that the funding will “go into developing the unique Australian technology that allows the Ghost Bats to work together with each other and with crewed aircraft as one team to achieve their mission”.
Canberra’s announcement follows news in January that Boeing, which has at least one MQ-28A in the USA, was one of the companies selected for the US Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) programme.
In March 2023, Canberra entered an agreement with the USA to work on CCA development.
The first aircraft developed in Australia since the Second World War, the MQ-28A is seen as a key programme for Australian industry, involving over 350 jobs and 200 suppliers.
Australia’s Defence Strategic Review document in April 2023 also highlighted the importance of the programme, envisaged as operating as a “loyal wingman” alongside Royal Australian Air Force types such as the Lockheed Martin F-35A and Boeing E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft.
Conroy adds that one objective for the programme, following a demonstration phase in 2025, will be the ability to produce MQ-28As at 10% of the cost of an aircraft such as the F-35A.
“The goal is to have the three Block 2 [aircraft] available for the really critical capability demonstration exercises next year,” says Conroy.
“They’ll allow air force to really evaluate how capable these aircraft are, how the systems work in co-operation with crewed aircraft, and then air force and government will look at making decisions about further deployment.”
Formerly known as the Airpower Teaming System, the MQ-28A programme was announced at the Avalon air show in 2019. The aircraft had its first flight in March 2021.
The Ghost Bat is designed so different payloads can be swapped in and out using a detachable nose feature.