Boeing reiterated the plan for the ATS to fly for the first time this year, aiming at the global defense market, with Australia as the potential launch customer.
BAE Systems says it is supplying the flight-management gear, among other items, including technology from its British Taranis and Mantis and Australian Kingfisher experimental drone programs.
The ATS is of fighter configuration and appears designed for high subsonic speed in level flight. It will be powered by a single engine of a type used in very light personal jets. Initial equipment is likely to be for surveillance or jamming, but Australia said last year the aircraft could be armed – presumably in a later version. The concept for such a high-performance drone is widely known as a “loyal wingman.”
Australia is not committed to ATS quantity production, and the RAAF head of air-combat capability, Air Commo. Darren Goldie, seemed to underline that point by saying in a Boeing statement that working with the company would help the air force consider options for manned-unmanned teaming.
The major assembly, of which Boeing provided one photograph, is most of the fuselage of the first aircraft, from the well for the nose landing gear to those for the main landing gear.
“The next major milestone will be weight on wheels, when the fuselage structure moves from the assembly jig to the aircraft’s own landing gear to continue systems installation and functional testing,” Boeing says.
Although this is not a black program, it is at least light gray. Boeing is providing little information about the ATS, not even confirming which company built the major assembly or where. On that issue it referred ShowNews to the RAAF, from which immediate comment was unavailable.
The photograph shows the fuselage assembly mounted in a jig in what looks like a small, new factory. Boeing said last year that the equipment used to build the ATS was not too big to be moved to another country.
“The Australian team has applied digital engineering and advanced composite materials to achieve cost and agility goals for the 38-ft. (11.7-meter) aircraft, which is designed to use artificial intelligence in teaming with other manned and unmanned platforms,” Boeing said in its latest announcement.
The 16 team members include local divisions of BAE Systems and RUAG (providing landing gear) and two Australian companies: Ferra Engineering (precision components and subassemblies) and AME Systems (wiring looms). Globally, RUAG maintains business-jet landing gear, a hint at the origins of the ATS undercarriage.
Another partner is the government’s Defense Science and Technology Group.