When we are told about military drones, the first thing that usually comes to mind is an image of the UAV Predator MQ-1 de General Atomics. These systems, although they are famous for their effectiveness in different scenarios, were developed in the 1990s, suffer from electrical failures and there are few qualified pilots to operate them, so the armed forces that still use them are already thinking about retiring them. .
The truth is that in this type of scenario, defense contractors take the opportunity to present their best proposals to win those juicy and desired government contracts. Boeing, an experienced player in the aerospace industry, is developing two drone models that stand out for their high technology. These are the MQ-25 Stingray and the MQ-28 Ghost Bat.
Getting to know the MQ-28 Ghost Bat
The first is a very interesting project for the United States Air Force, although once it enters service it could be expanded to other countries. But in this article we will focus on the second, an active development for the Royal Australian Air Force that stands out for a modular system of equipment and its ability to fly autonomously thanks to its artificial intelligence.
Boeing’s new proposal, formerly known as the Airpower Teaming System, is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed to support manned combat aircraft and perform independent missions. Development of the drone, which is at a very advanced stage, is being spearheaded by Phantom Works International and subsidiary Boeing Australia.
According to Military Factorythe MQ-28, which measures 11.58 meters long, has a sophisticated artificial intelligence system that, unlike old UAVs like the Predator, will not require a pilot to be permanently controlling it remotely. In this way, in some missions you will be able to operate independently.
Another of the most interesting features of the Ghost Bat is that it is a modular aircraft. The nose can be completely disassembled and exchanged for another nose with a different configuration. This characteristic offers the possibility of going from a surveillance aircraft, which has specific equipment for that task, to a combat aircraft, which incorporates different types of weapons, in a matter of minutes.
The final design of the aircraft will be equipped with a turbofan engine (the model has not been revealed) and will have a range of more than 3,000 kilometers. It is not known, at the moment, if this model will also have the capacity to refuel in the air and operate on aircraft carriers such as the American MQ-25 Stingray. It is known, however, that its main function will be to support the RAAF’s unmanned aircraft, such as the F-35A, the F/A-18F and the E-7A.
How much will it start to fly
As mentioned above, the MQ-28 project is well advanced. Although a scale model was presented at the 2019 Avalon Airshow, by September 2020, Boeing had already completed the development of the drone’s systems and the drone had started its engine for the first time. In December of the same year the company completed a high-speed taxi test.
In November 2021, Boeing tested a prototype at RAAF base Woomera. This was followed by an official ceremony in which the Royal Australian Air Force designated the drone with the name “Ghost Bat” (ghost bat) in relation to a mammal native to the country known for its ability to move in packs to identify and hunt prey.
If the development of the drone continues as planned, the FAAF should be able to start using it in 2026. However, this proposal may be extended to other countries. The United States, which is an ally of Australia, could also incorporate this drone into its ranks. Depending on the market, it will be decided if it is manufactured in Queensland or in some North American city.
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