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King of the Sky Unveils Game-Changing Boeing Loyal Wingman Drone: The Future of Robotic Fighter Jets

A transformation as significant as the shift from propellers to jets, the next major breakthrough in military aviation will be even more formidable, as it will replace the pilot with silicon. Introducing the loyal wingman, the next generation of military aircraft that will literally remove the human from the pilot’s seat. New drones like the Turkish Bayraktar have fundamentally altered the course of wars, and their future role cannot be overlooked any longer. The technology is swiftly approaching a point where it is more effective to operate a fleet of drone aircraft than human-based fighter pilots. But does this signal a golden age, or are we merely setting ourselves up for a real-life Terminator? Let’s dive in.

Drones have a longer history than you might realize. The first military drone-like object was the balloon bomb that Field Marshal von Radetzky of Austria used, albeit unsuccessfully, to attack Venice in 1849. Their capabilities have grown increasingly advanced, and importantly, drones are being developed to work in tandem with manned aircraft, such as fighter jets.

The emerging class of highly intelligent drones known as the ‘Loyal Wingman’ is already being tested, and their role alongside sixth-generation fighter jets is of particular interest. Over time, UAVs or drones have evolved to encompass missions like manned-unmanned teaming, aerial refueling, electronic warfare, and other military-related functions. In fact, just recently, the US performed the first mid-air refueling with a drone aircraft, breaking new ground in the class’s utility.

A recent report stated that over 5,000 drone aircraft will be built per year by 2027 in over 101 countries as part of their military operations. So far, there are around 50 development programs, but only a few nations have seen, air quotes, lethal results. Top players include world powers such as the US, China, Russia, EU, and UK, but surprisingly, entries also include Australia, Japan, and South Korea, which we will discuss shortly.

The dark horse in the race to build military drones is Turkey, with their new TB2 Bayraktar performing impressively in recent regional conflicts. The Boeing ATS, also referred to as Loyal Wingman, epitomizes a modern UAV, focusing on stealth and multi-functionality. Importantly, it serves the role of a force multiplier aircraft that can fly alongside manned aircraft and can also be used for autonomous missions. Crucially, artificial intelligence, or AI, is central to the design philosophy and various capabilities of Boeing’s Loyal Wingman.

A key technical feature of this military drone is its modular mission package system, with its AI located in the nose. The craft’s nose can be quickly and easily removed and replaced with another nose containing a completely different set of equipment or armament guidance systems, while the spy tech or weapons are loaded in the internal bay. This means the Loyal Wingman can be rapidly deployed for a variety of different and highly specific missions, including combat, reconnaissance, and most specifically for this class of UAV, electronic warfare. The nose, by the way, is 2.5 meters or 8.2 feet long and offers a storage volume of more than 1.5 meters or 5 feet cubed.

But what weapons will it carry? Sorry to disappoint, but so far, Boeing has been tight-lipped, leaving us with only speculation. We know that air-to-air missions might be equipped with Aim-9s for bomber escorts and interceptions, and we would not rule out tactical ground strikes.

Furthermore, another advantage is that its fuselage is made of composite materials that utilize an advanced resin-infusion process, resulting in a lighter and more durable craft. The drone has an integrated on-board sensor package that should more than adequately support its three core functions, namely intelligence

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