CANBERRA, (BM) – Developed by Boeing Australia under the Loyal Wingman program, the stealth unmanned multi-role fighter is surrounded by an atmosphere of secrecy on all sides. Until recently, it was not even clear when they would begin to fully test it, but now the first photographs have appeared – and therefore flights to the mountains, learned BulgarianMilitary.com.
The online edition Australian Defense Magazine recently published photos of unnamed spotters [photographers who “hunt” for aircraft], which show that the prototype of the Boeing Airpower Teaming System [ATS] is already rolling out onto the runway. This could mean that ground tests of the drone are either in full swing or are about to begin.
The pictures, unfortunately, are of very mediocre quality – it is clear that the photographer was at a great distance from the airfield. But on them we can distinguish the characteristic silhouette of the drone, which is towed along the airfield, and then it stands on lane one.
Neither Boeing nor the Australian Department of Defense have commented on the photos, disclosed the status of the ATS tests, and did not name the timing of the first flight. It is only known that it will happen before the end of 2020.
The official presentation of “Faithful Follower” took place several months ago. Then, with the participation of the top management of Australia, Boeing presented photographs of the prototype and revealed several characteristics of the drone.
At the moment, all we know about ATS is that it is a fully unmanned platform capable of autonomous flight and controlled by software, which widely uses artificial intelligence technologies. The drone’s glider is made as invisible as possible in the thermal and radio ranges, and the combat radius is 3,700 kilometers. Equipment for each mission is housed in a modular bow compartment that can be replaced within minutes.
The main task of the futuristic flying robot is to accompany fighters, as well as radar detection and target designation aircraft to provide protection, reconnaissance and take over enemy strikes in case of danger.
Australian military develops an AI technology to airborne search and rescue
As we reported on May 4 this year, the AI-Search, Defence’s Artificial Intelligence prototype to transform airborne search and rescue is now in its second phase of development, according the DoD of Australian Government statement.
The prototype is a collaboration between Air Force’s Plan Jericho, the Royal Australian Navy’s Warfare Innovation Navy Branch and Air Mobility Group’s No. 35 Squadron.
The system, which combines a sensor and processor, is highly portable and has the potential to enable any aircraft, including an unmanned aerial system (UAS), vehicle or vessel to become an improvised search-and-rescue platform.
A recent C-27J Spartan sortie from RAAF Base Amberley off the coast of Stradbroke Island, Brisbane, with the assistance of the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard, helped evaluate the AI-Search algorithm to recognise a life raft and other waterborne vessels. This sortie was the second of several phases to develop and evaluate this proof of concept.
The AI-Search algorithms are being developed by machine learning expert Lieutenant Harry Hubbert, of Warfare Innovation Navy Branch.
“We did a sortie off the coast of Stradbroke island and had a few GoPro sensors rigged up to detect a life raft. We had two algorithmic approaches working together to increase accuracy and the likelihood of a detection,” Lieutenant Hubbert said then. “This sortie was pretty challenging as the life raft was upside down making it harder to see for both the human eye and the AI-Search sensors”.
“The sensors are trained to detect an orange top rather than a black top, but the AI-Search still had a 70 per cent detection rate compared to the human detection rate of around 50 per cent”.
“The 30 per cent AI-Search non-detections happened when there was low contrast between dark water and the black underside of the life raft. The good news is that we had no false positives.”
Flying Officer Katherine Mitchell, who piloted the aircraft as part of a search-and-rescue training exercise, said it was hard to see the upside-down life raft.
“We barely saw it 50 per cent of the time,” Flying Officer Mitchell said. “AI-Search is already picking up more than what we are seeing. It’s incredible and it doesn’t get fatigued.”
Plan Jericho’s AI lead, Wing Commander Michael Gan, said they were taking what they had learnt, were finding the strengths and weaknesses, and iterating the next version.
“The next phase will involve testing different sensor and processor combinations, in a range of environmental conditions, with the potential of testing on a range of aircraft – including UAS,” Wing Commander Gan also then said.
Australia is arming itself. What will the ‘kangaroos’ buy with the new defense budget?
According to the recently announced documents regarding changes in the planning of Australia’s defense system since 2020, the country has increased its planned defense spending from approximately USD 135 to USD 187 billion.
Additional funds will be allocated in the coming decade for modernization but also for the acquisition of completely new units.
The previous amount was a forecast from the Australian White Paper of 2016. Since then, as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the change on July 1, the world has become “poorer, more dangerous and disordered.”
In particular, he pointed to the People’s Republic of China, which has now led to irritations with almost all of its neighbors. Against this background, the relationship of this country with more distant Australia does not look better, especially since Canberra is now very assertively criticizing the PRC, growing almost to enemy number 1.
Increased expenses are to serve to increase Australia’s presence in the region at risk of potential conflict, as well as to improve its partnership with the countries lying there.
For this purpose, two additional multi-purpose supply ships are to be purchased, “up to eight” anti-mine and hydrographic units based on Arafura patrol ships, the planned number of which has been increased from three to four. In addition, six Cape patrol boats are to be purchased. New landing vehicles are also to be purchased.
Development plans also include increasing the fleet of C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft and Airbus C-30A MRTT air refueling, which are currently in service with 12 and six units respectively.
The ability to keep the enemy away from Australia and projecting strength away from the home infrastructure are to be increased. In this context, investments in submarines and advanced impact systems are mentioned.
As for the former, the continuation of the new Attack submarine is announced, which is to be obtained in as many as 12 copies. Six currently serving Collins-type ships are to be maintained, to be modernized. The purchase of nine Hunter frigates is also to be continued.
In addition, the new integrated surveillance system is expected to increase the ability to detect underwater threats on approaches to the Australian continent. And the Jindalee radar network (JORN) is also to be developed to include approaches to the east coast of Australia.
The investments are also to include new sea mines, the successor to the large patrol boat of the Australian Coast Guard ADV Ocean Protector and a new vessel to support possible allied operations in the Pacific. This also promises to introduce modernization to both Canberra-type landing helicopters, which can be seen as a desire to adapt them to take on board short-take fighter jets and vertical landing F-35B.
When it comes to advanced striking systems, first of all, the purchase of new long-range aircraft anti-ship missiles AGM-158C LRASM from the US. For now, it has not been said how many copies of this weapon were purchased, but the estimated cost of this purchase is as yet USD 553 million, and therefore it will be a large purchase, especially since this weapon is to replace the fully used currently used AGM-84 Harpoon missiles, increasing the range destruction from 124 to 370 km.
Australian Super Hornets are to start moving LRASMs next year and all 24 machines of this type will be integrated with them. Initial operational readiness is expected to be achieved in 2023. Australian F-35 is also to be integrated with LRASM, the acquisition of which is to be continued until it reaches 72 copies.
Their purchases are to be accompanied by the acquisition of modern weapons with a larger range and greater efficiency. Drone accompanying them, which are now being developed on behalf of Australia together with Boeing under the name Loyal Wingman, are also to be bought.
Purchases are also to include reconnaissance and surveillance drone from the MQ-9B Sky Guardian and MQ-4C Triton programs. Purchases of electronic combat aircraft MC-55A Peregrine and marine patrols P-8A Poseidon will be continued. The E-7A Wedgetail and F-18G Growler early warning aircraft will be sought after. It is possible that F-35 will also perform in the latter role.
The investments will also include programs for future weapons: hypersonic missiles, advanced systems systems for aircraft. Australia also wants to increase its self-sufficiency in the conduct of armed conflict. This is to be achieved by further increasing own industrial capabilities, expanded weapon and fuel storage facilities.
The improvement of the ability to respond to hybrid threats will in turn cover issues related to cybersecurity (as well as “offensive capabilities” in the field of cyber), development of special forces, strengthening reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities, including those conducted through satellites.
The Australian Land Army is expected to receive active defense systems that will be installed on Hawkei and Bushmaster armored vehicles. Two regiments of self-propelled howitzers will be purchased (previously planned to acquire one), which are to be built in their own industry.
The purchase of self-propelled artillery is significant because today the Australian Army has only towed howitzers M777. The successor to the M1A1 Abrams tanks will also be introduced, but these vehicles will be upgraded sooner. In addition, purchases of Boxer reconnaissance transporters replacing ASLAV and the program of the future BWP will be continued.
Purchases of unmanned ground vehicles and a wide spectrum of anti-tank weapons are planned (talked about directed energy systems and “smart” mines, alongside the already purchased pp. Spike LR2). The striking capabilities of army aviation, reconnaissance, surveillance and intelligence, electronic warfare and network-centric command will also be developed.
In addition, the support that the armed forces will be able to give to civil authorities in the area of response to crises such as natural disasters or medical care will be strengthened, which in the current situation is quite understandable.
Read more: Top 5 best combat drones [UAVs] in the world
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