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$400m extra investment in Ghost Bat program

The federal government has pledged to invest another $400 million dollars into developing the MQ-28A Ghost Bat.

It said the extra money would be used to fund the next stage of the program, including the delivery of three aircraft that have “enhanced design and improved capabilities”.

It will also enable a focus on “developing sensor and mission payloads, an integrated combat system and autonomous systems”.

Ghost Bat, first unveiled to the world in May 2020, is the first military aircraft to be designed, engineered and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years.

It uses AI to help both manned and unmanned aircraft in mid-air, hence its previous Australian project name, Loyal Wingman.

Boeing has partnered with the RAAF to create Ghost Bat, which measures 11.7 metres long, has a range of 2,000 nautical miles and can deliver fighter-like performance, while also offering intelligence capabilities.

The drones are designed to leverage artificial intelligence to fly independently or in support of manned aircraft while maintaining a safe distance between other jets.

Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy said, “More than 200 Australian companies have already contributed to the MQ-28A program, including more than 50 small and medium enterprises within the supply chain.

“This project demonstrates that with the appropriate support from government, Australia’s defence industry can continue to be a world leader and a key source of jobs.”

Defence said the additional funding would secure more than 350 jobs, with more than 70 per cent of the MQ-28A Ghost Bat delivery program being directed towards Australian industry content.

Originally known as Loyal Wingman, the aircraft was renamed Ghost Bat in 2022. Boeing said the new moniker was chosen because it is “an Australian native mammal known for teaming together in a pack to detect and hunt”.

The animal itself is native to Australia and is reported to be found north of 29°S in Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland.

Australian Aviation reported in 2022 how the head of the US Air Force hailed the Loyal Wingman program.

“The gamble that I’m making in the tech air case is that we’re going to go ahead with un-crewed combat aircraft,” said Kendall.

“We’re going to use technologies that are coming out of programs like the Australian Loyal Wingman program and others, and we’re going to integrate those into our operational capability, and that it’ll be the first time we’ve done that.

“I think the technologies are there to support this now. And I don’t think we need to wait for more development on that. I am more focused on quality than I am on quantity right now.”