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Boeing Unveils Fighter Drone that Could Play Wingman to Manned Jets

Dubbed the Airpower Teaming System, Boeing’s drone-jet hybrid would be a multi-mission craft using artificial intelligence to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions to supply pilots with more information. (Image: Boeing)
Dubbed the Airpower Teaming System, Boeing’s drone-jet hybrid would be a multi-mission craft using artificial intelligence to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions to supply pilots with more information. (Image: Boeing)

Boeing Co. has unveiled a new concept for an unmanned fighter that would work autonomously alongside fourth- and fifth-generation fighter aircraft.

Dubbed the Airpower Teaming System, the drone-jet hybrid would be a multi-mission craft using artificial intelligence to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions to supply pilots with more information during a conflict, according to the company.

The aircraft, which Boeing is co-developing with the government of Australia for that country, was unveiled at the Avalon Airshow this week.

The jet is 38 feet long and can fly more than 2,000 nautical miles, the company said. It uses A.I. "to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining safe distance between other aircraft," according to its fact sheet.

Boeing intends to hold its maiden flight sometime in 2020.

The concept is similar to an ongoing U.S. military effort.

The U.S. Air Force has been working to develop its own "Loyal Wingman" program, featuring unmanned fighters that could think autonomously sent out alongside F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, for example, to scout enemy territory ahead of a strike, or to gather intel for the aircraft formation.

The concept is part of the service's Air Superiority 2030 road map, which the Air Force debuted in 2016. The road map outlines next-generation air dominance, defined as advanced fighter aircraft, sensors or weapons -- or all of the above -- in a growing and unpredictable threat environment.

Boeing CEO and chairman Dennis Muilenburg tweeted that the Airpower Teaming System will be the first unmanned aircraft designed and built by the company outside the U.S.

It will be the first Australian-developed combat aircraft since World War II, Reuters said. The country is investing roughly $28 million into the project.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

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