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Game Changer: Why Boeing’s ‘Ghost Bat’ Drone Could be F-35 and NGAD Wingman

U.S. Marines with Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 , Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW), refuel a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 225, Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 13, 3rd MAW, on a Forward Arming and Refueling Point at U.S. Army Yuma Proving Grounds, Yuma, Arizona, May 23, 2022. The weapons configuration consists of six inert guided bombs, four mounted onto the wings and two loaded into the weapons bay, as well as an Air Intercept Missile 9X. Marine Aircraft Group 13 forces are capable of conducting offensive air support, anti-aircraft warfare, and aviation reconnaissance from expeditionary sites in any clime and place. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Samuel Ruiz)

IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS, the F-35 and NGAD fighters will be the backbone of U.S. military power.

Drones will be a key part of these weapons platforms.

Here is what we know right now: 

Aerospace giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin may be rivals when it comes to securing government contracts, but the two companies also operate as partners when it comes to ensuring the nation’s defense. That latter fact was noted a few months back, as the head of Boeing’s defense division indicated that the company’s MQ-28 “Ghost Bat” fighter-like drone initially developed in Australia could meet the requirements of the United States Air Force for a collaborative combat aircraft (CCA).

“We’re developing the MQ-28 to fit into a set of requirements that fit into that category of CCA and hopefully there is an intersection there,” Boeing Defense, Space and Security Chief Executive Ted Colbert told reporters on the sidelines of the Australia International Airshow back in late February, according to Reuters.

Boeing has been developing the MQ-28 ‘down under’ alongside the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), resulting in Australia’s first homegrown combat aircraft being manufactured in more than five decades. There has already been interest in the platform from a number of foreign buyers.

The Bat Ghost With The Most

Previously known as the Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS) and the Loyal Wingman project, the MQ-28 is a stealth, multirole, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that was developed to be a force multiplier aircraft capable of flying alongside manned aircraft. It can provide support and even perform autonomous missions independently by utilizing its artificial intelligence (AI).

Though unmanned, it can reportedly provide fighter-like performance. Its integrated sensor packages onboard can support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, and serve in a tactical early warning role and more.

It was a year ago that Boeing Australia officially named the aircraft the “Ghost Bat” after an Australian native mammal known for teaming together to detect and hunt. This was meant to reflect the unique characteristics of the aircraft’s sensors and ISR abilities.

The MQ-28 made its first flight in 2021. It measures 38 feet long (11.6 meters), and has a 2,000 nautical mile (3,704 km) range. The unmanned drone can be outfitted with a variety of payloads, while it can carry weapons to help protect crew fighter jets.

Loyal Wingman for the F-35 and NGAD

Boeing’s Colbert suggested the MQ-28 Ghost Bat could be teamed with a number of advanced fighters, including the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, and serve as a low-cost force multiplier or “loyal wingman.”

Last August, United States Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall also revealed that preliminary discussions had been held that could see the Ghost Bat adopted for U.S. service.

“I think there’s a lot of mutual interest in working together,” Kendall told reporters last year, and further suggested that the MQ-28 could possibly be utilized as part of the United States Air Force’s Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, a family of sixth-generation fighter systems.

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Author Experience and Expertise

A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.