Boeing mq-28 ghost bat: the latest updates.
The Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat is a drone being developed for the Royal Australian Air Force.
In case this is the first time you have heard about the Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat, it is an uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) built by Boeing Australia in collaboration with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The advanced drone is designed to operate alongside human-crewed aircraft and will provide vital early warning, reconnaissance, and surveillance using artificial intelligence (AI).
The plan is to use the UAV to safeguard and support Australia's most vital combat aircraft like the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and the EA-18G Growler, an electronic warfare aircraft based on the Super Hornet. The Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat has a modular mission package system encased in its nose that can quickly be removed and swapped out for different missions, including armaments for combat and electronic warfare.
The Ghost Bat UAV performs like a jet fighter
Powered by a jet engine, the Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat has fighter-like maneuverability and can fly alongside human-crewed fighter aircraft. Controlled by a crewed parent aircraft, the UAV has a 2,000-mile range and a 900-mile combat radius and can be tasked with scouting and absorbing enemy fire.
Developed to be a part of the Loyal Wingman uncrewed aircraft program, Boeing built a new manufacturing facility for the UAV at Wellcamp Airport (WTB) in Toowoomba, Queensland. The MQ-28 Ghost Bat is the American aerospace company's most significant investment in a new unmanned aircraft program outside the United States. Employing over 100 highly skilled workers, it has helped boost Queensland's economy after the collapse of tourism following the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat UAV was unveiled in 2019
Boeing first unveiled a full-scale prototype of the MQ-28 Ghost Bat UAV in 2019 at the Australian International Airshow at Avalon Airport (AVV), halfway between Melbourne and Geelong in Victoria. Since it was revealed, three prototypes have been built and are currently undergoing testing.
The Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat made its maiden flight at RAAF Base Woomera north of Adelaide on February 27, 2021. The official naming ceremony was held southwest of Brisbane at RAAF Base Amberley on March 21, 2022. Its name comes from a native Australian bat living in the continent's northern part. It is known for hunting with other bats in a pack to detect and kill prey. The RAAF chose the Ghost Bat as it will play a similar role when deployed on missions.
The MQ-28 Ghost Bat UAV may also enter service with the US Navy
When speaking about the company's most significant investment in an unmanned aerial vehicle program outside the United States, a Boeing company statement quotes Australia's then Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying:
"This is a truly historic moment for our country and for Australian defense innovation. The Loyal Wingman will be pivotal to exploring the critical capabilities our Air Force needs to protect our nation and its allies into the future."
As of 2022, the RAAF planned to buy ten Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bats to be operational by 2025. The future of the Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat UAV and its success could lie with an order from the United States Air Force. The United States Navy is also heavily invested in uncrewed vehicles and envisages a future where most of its air fleet will be UAVs.
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MQ-28 Ghost Bat
Mq-28 ghost bat australian industry team.
The MQ-28 Ghost Bat (formerly known as the Airpower Teaming System) is an uncrewed teaming aircraft designed to be a force multiplier in support of advanced multi-mission air combat operations.
Boeing Australia, supported by the Royal Australian Air Force and a local industry team, has produced the first military aircraft to be designed, manufactured and flown in Australia in over 50 years.
MQ-28 Ghost Bat development vehicles continue to be manufactured at Boeing’s Fishermans Bend facility in Victoria. Advanced robotics, composite materials and digital engineering have enabled key manufacturing innovations for the MQ-28 in the areas of robotic drill and fill, shimless assembly and full-size determinant assembly to significantly reduce assembly costs, compared with traditional methods.
Mission system and payload development continues, with Boeing’s digital engineering capabilities used to validate air vehicle teaming behaviours and examine the interaction of the MQ-28 Ghost Bat aircraft with other crewed and uncrewed assets.
The first flight of MQ-28 Ghost Bat was achieved in February 2021, with the test program expanding the flight envelope as the program evolves.
MQ-28 Ghost Bat Advances Flight Testing
Uncrewed but Not Alone: Meet the team who empowers the Loyal Wingman to fly on its own
Australia’s development of the first loyal wingman aircraft, the hon. scott morrison mp congratulates australian industry.
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Air Force Considers Pairing MQ-28 Ghost Bat Drone With Next-Gen Fighters
Boeing says its drone is the first aircraft designed and built in australia in more than 50 years..
Boeing Australia's MQ-28 Ghost Bat is the first aircraft designed and built in Australia in more than 50 years, the company said. [Courtesy: Boeing]
The U.S. Air Force is considering Boeing ( NYSE: BA ) Australia’s MQ-28 Ghost Bat drone as part of the service’s gameplan of teaming an unmanned platform with the forthcoming Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter.
Air Force officials are in “preliminary discussions ” about purchasing the drone, previously known as Loyal Wingman, which could be a “risk reduction mechanism” for the NGAD platform, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said during an event in Australia last week, Breaking Defense reported. “I think there’s a lot of mutual interest in working together,” Kendall said. “And we’re gonna be sorting out the details over the next few weeks,” he said, according to the news outlet.
The 38-foot-long MQ-28 unmanned combat air vehicle with a 2,000 nm range has been in development for the Royal Australian Air Force since 2019 and is considered a foundation of Boeing’s Airpower Teaming System.
- READ MORE: Air Force Looking to Manned, Unmanned Aircraft Teaming
Kendall has championed the concept of pairing unmanned air combat platforms with piloted aircraft, such as the sixth-generation NGAD fighter, as a cost-effective way to build mass for the service.
“To have an affordable Air Force of any reasonable size, we’ve got to introduce some lower-cost platforms ,” he said earlier this year.
- READ MORE: Report: Air Force Backs Off Pairing B-21 Bomber With Combat Drone
First Flight Test
The MQ-28 completed its first flight test last March when it conducted a takeoff under its own power and flew a planned route at different speeds and altitudes.
“The Loyal Wingman project is a pathfinder for the integration of autonomous systems and artificial intelligence to create smart human-machine teams,” Air Vice-Marshal Cath Roberts, RAAF Head of Air Force Capability, said at the time. “Through this project we are learning how to integrate these new capabilities to complement and extend air combat and other missions.”
The MQ-28 Ghost Bat is the first aircraft to be designed and built in Australia in more than 50 years, according to Boeing.
What’s a Ghost Bat?
Earlier this year, RAAF officials announced the Loyal Wingman aircraft’s new name, which is a nod to the drone’s mission as well as its origin.
“A ghost bat is an Australian hunter that uses sophisticated multi-spectral sensors to detect, hunt and kill prey both in the air and on the ground,” RAAF’s Head of Air Force Capability, Air Vice-Marshal Robert Denney said at the time. “They team together in large numbers to confuse and overwhelm their adversaries and are native to Australia.”
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Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat
- View history
The Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat , previously known as the Boeing Airpower Teaming System ( ATS ) and the Loyal Wingman project, is a stealth , multirole , unmanned aerial vehicle in development by Boeing Australia for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). It is designed as a force multiplier aircraft capable of flying alongside manned aircraft for support and performing autonomous missions independently using artificial intelligence . 
- 1.1 Unveiling
- 1.2 Testing
- 1.3 Service name
- 1.4 Possible USAF use
- 2 Specifications
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Development [ ]
The Ghost Bat is an unmanned aircraft , with a current planned introduction date in 2024-25,  which incorporates artificial intelligence and utilises a modular mission package system in the nose where the entire nose of the aircraft can be removed and quickly swapped for another nose with a different set of equipment or armaments for various missions including combat, force reconnaissance and electronic warfare.  One role will be to support and protect manned Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircraft, such as the F-35A , F/A-18F , E-7A , and KC-30A whilst they conduct operations.  The UAV will be designed to act as a "loyal wingman" that is controlled by a parent aircraft to accomplish tasks such as scouting or absorbing enemy fire if attacked as well as operating independently.  
The aircraft will be the first combat aircraft designed and developed in Australia in over half a century.  Boeing has said that it will "depend on the market" whether the aircraft is manufactured in Queensland or the United States.  On 21 September 2021, Boeing Australia unveiled the launch of a new manufacturing facility for its Loyal Wingman unmanned aircraft at Wellcamp Airport in Toowoomba, Queensland. 
The RAAF initially planned to buy three Airpower Teaming System (ATS) systems, as part of the Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program (LWADP).  The three drones were built at an automated production line in Brisbane, Queensland. The production line is a proof of concept for full-scale production.  The order was increased to six with an A$115M contract days after the first flight. 
Unveiling [ ]
After a full-scale mock-up was revealed at the 2019 Avalon Airshow, the first real aircraft achieved a power-on of its systems in March 2020, and was rolled out in May 2020 by Boeing Australia with the release of images showing a detailed prototype of the aircraft and a video to illustrate the drone's operational abilities. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, “This is a truly historic moment for our country and for Australian defence innovation. The Loyal Wingman will be pivotal to exploring the critical capabilities our Air Force needs to protect our nation and its allies into the future.”
Testing [ ]
Boeing announced it powered up the engine of its first Airpower Teaming System (ATS) unmanned aircraft for the first time in September 2020. The engine test is part of ground testing to prepare for first flight before the end of 2020. 
The Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS) prototype moved under its own power for the first time in October 2020, conducting low-speed taxi tests at RAAF Base Amberley .  The Boeing Airpower Teaming System later performed a high-speed taxi test at an unnamed remote location in December 2020. 
The first test flight of the prototype occurred at RAAF Base Woomera on 27 February 2021.  
Two more test flights occurred at RAAF Woomera Range Complex sometime in early November 2021 where a prototype successfully raised and engaged its landing gear while a second prototype completed its first test flight. 
Service name [ ]
An official naming ceremony was held at RAAF Base Amberley on 21 March 2022 to announce the Loyal Wingman would be known as the MQ-28A Ghost Bat in RAAF service, named after an Australian bat found in northern parts of the Australian continent. The ghost bat is an Australian native mammal known for teaming together in a pack to detect and hunt, which reflects the unique characteristics of the aircraft’s sensors and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance abilities. 
Possible USAF use [ ]
In August 2022 it was revealed by United States Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall that preliminary discussions were being held into purchasing the MQ-28 for United States service.  
Specifications [ ]
Data from Loyal Wingman 
- Length: 11.7 m (38 ft 5 in)
- Range: 3,704 km; 2,302 mi (2,000 nmi)
See also [ ]
- Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie
- AVIC Dark Sword
- HAL Combat Air Teaming System
- Boeing MQ-25 Stingray
- Baykar Bayraktar Kızılelma
References [ ]
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Waldron, Greg (2 March 2021). "Australian 'loyal wingman' to form basis of Boeing Skyborg bid" . FlightGlobal . https://www.flightglobal.com/defence/australian-loyal-wingman-to-form-basis-of-boeing-skyborg-bid/142689.article . Retrieved 2 March 2021 .
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 de Git, Melanie; Erwin, Ashlee (1 March 2021). "Boeing Loyal Wingman Uncrewed Aircraft Completes First Flight" . https://boeing.mediaroom.com/news-releases-statements?item=130834 .
- ↑ Australia makes another order for Boeing’s Loyal Wingman drones after a successful first flight - defensenews.com
- ↑ "Boeing Airpower Teaming System" . https://www.boeing.com/defense/airpower-teaming-system/index.page .
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 Newdick, Thomas (2022-08-24). "USAF Eyeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat For Next Gen Air Dominance Program" (in en) . https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/usaf-might-buy-mq-28-ghost-bats-for-next-gen-air-dominance-program .
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 Rogoway, Tyler. "Everything We Learned From Boeing About Its Potentially Game-Changing Loyal Wingman Drone" . https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/33271/everything-we-learned-from-boeing-about-its-potentially-game-changing-loyal-wingman-drone .
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 Pittaway, Nigel (27 February 2019). "Boeing unveils 'loyal wingman' drone" . Defense News . https://www.defensenews.com/digital-show-dailies/avalon/2019/02/27/boeing-unveils-loyal-wingman-drone/ .
- ↑ "Boeing Will Unveil This 'Loyal Wingman' Combat Drone for Australias Air Force Tomorrow" . The Drive.
- ↑ Greene, Andrew (27 February 2019). "First glimpse of combat drone set to join Australia's military arsenal" (in en-AU). ABC News . https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-27/combat-drone-secretly-developed-by-raaf-and-boeing-unveiled/10851000 .
- ↑ Dowling, Hannah (22 September 2021). ""World First: Wellcamp to host Loyal Wingman manufacturing facility"" . https://australianaviation.com.au/2021/09/world-first-wellcamp-to-host-loyal-wingman-manufacturing-facility/ .
- ↑ "First RAAF Loyal Wingman unmanned combat system rolled out – ADBR" . 5 May 2020 . https://adbr.com.au/first-raaf-loyal-wingman-unmanned-combat-system-rolled-out/ .
- ↑ "Three More Loyal Wingman Aircraft to Advance Uncrewed Teaming" . 2 March 2021 . http://www.boeing.com.au/news/releases/2021/march/three-more-loyal-wingman-aircraft-to-advance-uncrewed-teaming.page .
- ↑ "Boeing ATS Loyal Wingman engine powers up – ADBR" . 15 September 2020 . https://adbr.com.au/ats-loyal-wingman-engine-powers-up/ .
- ↑ "Boeing ATS conducts low-speed taxi tests" . 22 October 2020 . https://adbr.com.au/boeing-ats-conducts-low-speed-taxi-tests/ .
- ↑ https://boeing.mediaroom.com/news-releases-statements?item=130788#assets_20295_130788-117%7CBoeing Uncrewed Loyal Wingman Conducts First High-Speed Taxi Test
- ↑ "Loyal Wingman program hits new milestone with 2 new test flights" . https://australianaviation.com.au/2021/11/loyal-wingman-program-hits-new-milestone-with-two-new-test-flights/ .
- ↑ "Boeing’s Australian-Produced Uncrewed Aircraft to be Named ‘MQ-28A Ghost Bat’" . https://boeing.mediaroom.com/news-releases-statements?item=131020 .
- ↑ Insinna, Valerie (2022-08-22). "RAAF head won't be deterred by 'unsafe' PLAAF; US ponders Aussies' Loyal Wingman" (in en-US) . https://breakingdefense.sites.breakingmedia.com/2022/08/raaf-head-wont-be-deterred-by-unsafe-plaaf-us-ponders-aussies-loyal-wingman/ .
- ↑ Pittaway, Nigel (April 2019). "Loyal Wingman". pp. 12–13. ISSN 0306-5634 .
External links [ ]
- Boeing: Boeing Australia - Airpower Teaming System
Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat
The Boeing MQ-28 Ghost Bat , previously known as the Boeing Airpower Teaming System ( ATS ), is a Loyal Wingman class stealth , multirole , unmanned combat aerial vehicle in development by Boeing Australia for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). It is designed as a force multiplier aircraft capable of flying alongside crewed aircraft for support as part of an integrated system including space-based capabilities, and performing autonomous missions independently using artificial intelligence .
Design and development
The Ghost Bat is an uncrewed aerial vehicle incorporating artificial intelligence and utilising a modular mission package system in the nose of the aircraft. The entire nose section can be removed and quickly swapped for another with a different payload for various missions including combat, force reconnaissance and electronic warfare. Developed under Air Force Minor Program DEF 6014, one role will be to utilise the Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) concept to support and protect manned Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) aircraft, such as the F-35A , F/A-18F , E-7A , and KC-30A while they conduct operations.
The UAV is designed to act as a "loyal wingman" that is controlled by a parent aircraft to accomplish tasks such as scouting or absorbing enemy fire if attacked, as well as operating independently. It has a 2000-mile ferry range or 900-mile combat radius . The UAV also has a jet engine which allows it to fly in the high subsonic flight regime and keep up with manned fighters. Boeing has said it has 'fighter-like' maneuverability. The MQ-28A prototype did not use any radiation-absorbent material (RAM) coating and instead relied on its shape to reduce its radar cross section (RCS).
The aircraft is the first combat aircraft designed and developed in Australia in over half a century. In February 2019, Boeing said that it will "depend on the market" whether the aircraft is manufactured in Queensland or the US. On 21 September 2021, Boeing Australia unveiled the launch of a new manufacturing facility for its Loyal Wingman uncrewed aircraft at Wellcamp Airport in Toowoomba , Queensland. Ghost Bat will remain a sovereign Australian program, with aircraft only being produced in Australia and the lead partner on the program being the RAAF.
The RAAF initially planned to buy three Airpower Teaming System (ATS) systems, as part of the Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Program (LWADP). The three drones were built at an automated production line in Brisbane, Queensland, a proof of concept for full-scale production. The order was increased to six with an A$115 million contract days after the first flight. As of 9 May 2023, the Australian government confirmed its commitment to funding 10 aircraft for the RAAF, not including three prototypes that will not be owned by the government or operated by the RAAF, taking the government’s total investment in the Loyal Wingman program to over A$600 million. The uncrewed platforms are scheduled to enter service with the RAAF in 2024-25.
Testing and other possible uses
After a full-scale mock-up was revealed at the 2019 Avalon Airshow, the first real aircraft achieved a power-on of its systems in March 2020, and was rolled out in May 2020 by Boeing Australia with the release of images showing a detailed prototype of the aircraft and a video to illustrate the drone's operational abilities. In May 2022, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said "This is a truly historic moment for our country and for Australian defence innovation. The Loyal Wingman will be pivotal to exploring the critical capabilities our Air Force needs to protect our nation and its allies into the future."
Boeing announced it powered up the engine of its first Airpower Teaming System (ATS) uncrewed aircraft for the first time in September 2020. The engine test was part of ground testing to prepare for its first flight before the end of 2020.
The Boeing Airpower Teaming System (ATS) prototype moved under its own power for the first time in October 2020, conducting low-speed taxi tests at RAAF Base Amberley . The Boeing Airpower Teaming System later performed a high-speed taxi test at an unnamed remote location in December 2020.
The first test flight of the prototype occurred at RAAF Base Woomera on 27 February 2021.
Two more test flights occurred at RAAF Woomera Range Complex sometime in early November 2021 where a prototype successfully raised and engaged its landing gear while a second prototype completed its first test flight.
An official naming ceremony was held at RAAF Base Amberley on 21 March 2022 to announce the Loyal Wingman will be known as the MQ-28A Ghost Bat in RAAF service, named after an Australian bat found in northern parts of the Australian continent. The ghost bat is an Australian native mammal known for teaming together in a pack to detect and hunt, which reflects the unique characteristics of the aircraft’s sensors and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance abilities.
In August 2022, it was revealed by United States Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall that preliminary discussions were being held about purchasing the MQ-28 for US service. The 2023 Defence budget revealed that a Combat Collaborative Aircraft Project Arrangement for greater collaboration on the MQ-28 had been signed with the US in line with the recommendations made in the Defence Strategic Review.
Data from Air International
- Length: 11.7 m (38 ft 5 in)
- Range: 3,700 km (2,300 mi, 2,000 nmi)
- Combat range: 1,700 km (1,000 mi, 900 nmi)
- AVIC Dark Sword
- BAE Taranis
- Baykar Bayraktar Kızılelma
- Boeing MQ-25 Stingray
- HAL Combat Air Teaming System
- General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger
- Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie
- 2010s Australian aircraft
- Australian military aircraft
- Royal Australian Air Force
- Unmanned aerial vehicles of Australia
- Aircraft first flown in 2021
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Clone Of Boeing’s MQ-28 Ghost Bat Drone Displayed By China
The same Chinese company that previously unveiled a mockup aping Kratos’ XQ-58A is at it again with Boeing Australia’s signature design.
Last year, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, or CASC, rolled out a new drone design called the FH-97 that looked to be at least heavily inspired by U.S. drone maker Kratos' XQ-58A Valkyrie . Now, the company has rolled out a model of an FH-97A that is a dead ringer for the Airpower Teaming System loyal wingman drone, now known as the MQ-28 Ghost Bat . Boeing's Australian subsidiary developed Ghost Bat first for the Royal Australian Air Force, but the U.S. Air Force has also now acquired at least one example ostensibly to support research and development and test and evaluation efforts.
Pictures have emerged on social media reportedly showing a model of the FH-97A at a pavilion CASC has set up at this year's Zhuhai Airshow, which officially opens next week. Formally known as the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition, this show is typically held in even years. Chinese aerospace and defense contractors regularly use the event as an opportunity to unveil new and otherwise new aircraft and other systems, as well as aspirational concepts.
What, if anything, the FH-97A design shares with the FH-97 that was displayed at the Zhuhai Airshow last year – held in 2021 to make up for the cancellation of the 2020 show due to the COVID-19 pandemic – is unclear. The FH-97 had distinct similarities to the Kratos XQ-58.
By comparison, among other things, the basic shape of the FH-97A's fuselage, wings, and vertical stabilizers are all different, and it features engine intakes on either side of the fuselage rather than a single one top. The intakes look to be of a diverterless supersonic inlet (DSI) design, as well.
The model of the FH-97A also shows two distinct and exposed traditional engine exhaust nozzles at the rear, unlike the stealthy shrouded design seen on the original FH-97 mockup. The FH-97A's exhaust arrangement could, of course, change as time goes on. We've already seen examples of advanced Chinese, as well as Russian, uncrewed aircraft designs that started out with very non-stealthy exhaust systems, but with clear intentions to eventually switch to stealthier configurations .
Beyond the core design's differences compared to the FH-97, the FH-97A's new overall planform, especially the nose section with its downward slant, is extremely reminiscent of Boeing Australia's MQ-28. It's not clear if the FH-97A also has tricycle landing gear and is expected to take off and land from conventional runways like the Ghost Bat. The original FH-97 looked to at least be designed around a ground-based rocket-assisted takeoff concept involving a static launcher like the XQ-58A. The Kratos' Valkyrie is recovered at the end of a sortie via parachute .
From what we can see in the pictures that are circulating online now, the FH-97A differs from the FH-97 in significant ways when it comes to specific systems and capabilities, too.
Perhaps most immediately eye-catching is the repositioning of what is likely intended to represent an electro-optical/infrared sensor installed inside a stealthy gold-plated windowed enclosure, broadly akin to similar systems on the U.S. F-35 and Chinese J-20 stealth fighters , from underneath the nose to on top of it. The model's nose itself looks to depict a serrated low-observable radome.
The relocated sensor enclosure also looks to be larger on the FH-97A. Moving the sensor might reflect a shift in focus from air-to-ground missions to air-to-air ones.
Interestingly, an infrared search and track (IRST) sensor system was also first spotted on top of the nose of one of the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF) MQ-28s earlier this year, as seen in the picture below.
In addition, the FH-97A has a similarly gold-colored transparency on either side of the forward fuselage, as well, which would point to dedicated side-looking sensor systems. The gold color would seem to point to additional electro-optical/infrared systems, though small radar arrays are another, if perhaps less likely possibility.
An array of cameras could allow the drone to spot and track multiple targets from different angles, and do so in a way that is immune to radio-frequency jamming and is passive in nature, the latter feature helping to reduce the chance that opponents might know they have been detected at all. These are, of course, inherent benefits to IRST systems, in general , compared to radars.
The FH-97A also appears to do away with the FH-97's ventral internal stores bay for a pop-down launcher under the fuselage. It is not clear what this launch is intended to fire, but the mocked-up stores loaded on the model look as if they depict heat-seeking missiles of some kind.
If the FH-97A is indeed more focused on air-to-air combat, one potential option might be that these represent miniaturized interceptors intended to knock down incoming missiles, or even hostile aircraft. The U.S. Air Force, among others, has been notably interested in munitions in this category for aircraft self-defense. In 2017, Northrop Grumman was also awarded a patent for a broadly similar-looking anti-missile system for stealthy aircraft, which you can read about here.
This is just one possibility and if the launcher is intended to be multi-purpose, it could launch various types of other payloads, too, including non-kinetic systems designed to act as decoys or stand-in electronic warfare jammers or even small drones.
However, small anti-missile interceptors could make particularly good sense when paired with a platform equipped with an array of electro-optical and infrared sensors to give it a high degree of at least localized situational awareness. Such a drone would be well suited to providing a layer of close-in defense, especially for critical, but typically more vulnerable aerial assets, such as aerial refueling tankers , cargo aircraft , and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance planes, that would be primary targets for any opponent. This could extend to escorting fighters or other drones and providing them close-in defense as part of a larger manned-uncrewed team mix, too.
Whatever the FH-97A's exact intended features and capabilities might be, the clear 'inspiration,' if nothing else, the design has taken from the Ghost Bat points to the drone being primarily intended for a loyal wingman-type role working together with crewed platforms. It is no secret that the People's Liberation Army is pursuing crewed-uncrewed aircraft teaming concepts . There has already been speculation that another previously unseen drone design that has also emerged at Zhuhai could be intended, at least in part, as a pilotless companion to the J-20 stealth fight.
The War Zone , among others, has explored in the past how the two-seat J-20B could be ideally suited to the drone-controller role, with the additional crew member in the back seat being able to take on those tasks. Last month, China's state CCTV-7 television channel, which is focused on PLA-related programming, broadcast a special focused on future crew-uncrewed aircraft teaming capabilities that included a depiction of a J-20B operating together with four stealthy GJ-11 Sharp Sword uncrewed combat air vehicles (UCAV).
That same program featured computer-generated renderings of an H-6K missile carrier aircraft acting as an aerial launch platform for LJ-1 drones. The LJ-1 was at least initially intended as an aerial target, but is also designed to be readily reconfigured into a lower-end tactical uncrewed air vehicle, as you can read more about here in this recent War Zone report . The FH-97 and FH-97A would seem to be positioned to offer performance and capabilities somewhere in between something like the LJ-1 and higher-end designs like the GJ-11.
In addition, though the exact relationship, if there is any, between the FH-97A and the MQ-28 is unknown, the Chinese government does have a long history of engaging in industrial espionage to support military and civilian aviation programs , among other things. Regardless, the clear similarities between the two designs, at least externally, only underscore that China's state-run aviation enterprises, which have made significant strides in their internal capacity to design and produce advanced uncrewed aircraft in recent years, are still equally happy to take relevant influences from other sources.
The Ghost Bat is likely high on the PLA radar, in general, given that the RAAF, a major prospective opponent in a high-end future conflict in the Pacific, is pushing ahead with plans to acquire a significant fleet of these drones for use in combat operations. That the U.S. Air Force, one of the PLA's top potential adversaries, is now at least testing an MQ-28 is unlikely to have gone unnoticed by Chinese officials, either.
All this notwithstanding, it is important to note that, at least so far, there are no indications that the FH-97 progressed beyond the mock-up stage and it remains to be seen whether or not the FH-97A will become more of a reality. It is unclear if another model or mockup of the initial FH-97 design is on display at Zhuhai this year or not, too.
If nothing else, the appearance of the FH-97A at Zhuhai this year further underscores that the PLA is increasingly looking at an uncrewed future with multiple tiers of capabilities that could work closely with various types of crewed aircraft. It will be interesting to see if this capability materializes and if so do we end up with both FH-97s or just one?
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