Boeing unveiled its Loyal Wingman autonomous combat aircraft which, living up to its name, is capable of flying alongside other jets to provide support. The aircraft was designed for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and uses artificial intelligence to perform navigational actions while it can be controlled by an operator.

The Loyal Wingman is not completely autonomous, but combines artificial intelligence with a remote control system that can be managed from a desktop interface. The drone’s AI would help manage navigation tasks to get into the right position and anticipate movements before an instruction.

The Loyal Wingman is 11.5 m long and has a nose that can accommodate a variety of payloads. The drone can carry an infrared search or tracking system, radars, communications gateways or defensive laser systems. These payloads are interchangeable and can be adjusted during the mission thanks to its modular quick release system.

The Loyal Wingman is the first of three unmanned aircraft in the Airpower Teaming System, a teamwork system that will support other aircraft in specific missions. The idea is to expand a reaction force without investing millions in buying fighter planes, and even to serve as a “shield” to prevent manned jets from being hit by enemy fire.

Shane Arnott, director of Boeing Phantom Works International, said the drone is designed to fly and fight alongside other aircraft such as fighter jets, tankers, reconnaissance systems and more, as well as provide them with protection.

A Loyal Wingman, which costs a few million dollars, would protect fighter jets that can cost up to $100 million each. Boeing’s goal is to create an affordable system that can be purchased in bulk to demonstrate airspace superiority.

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