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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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International

Australia wants to build a cauldron of Ghost Bat drones with US

May 01, 2023

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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The formation of a NATO-like alliance in the Pacific region continues to pick up steam. In the latest chapter, Australia wants to partner with the United States to field a fleet of flying MQ-28 Ghost Bat drones.

The Ghost Bats are the first drones developed by Boeing Australia, and will be the first Australian-made attack drones in more than 50 years.

“The MQ-28 is really modular. We can tailor it to different things, and we can bring it pretty far forward,” Juan Cajigas said.

Cajigas is an advanced director at Boeing. SAN spoke to him at the Navy League’s SeaAirSpace 2023 at National Harbor, Maryland, in April.

Cajigas said the cost and the size of the MQ-28, and the fact it’s an uncrewed aircraft, means the MQ-28 can be considered attritable.

“Where we can put it at risk that we wouldn’t take with other airplanes,” Cajigas said.

A lethal drone that can be tailored to the mission and is cheap enough to lose if the mission requires. The Ghost Bat definitely checks a lot of boxes for modern militaries.

An artists rendering of MQ-28 Ghost Bat drones flying as "loyal wingmen" to a larger aircraft.
Boeing Australia

Boeing created the Ghost Bat with the ability to fly autonomous missions, or to team up with manned aircraft as part of joint squadrons.

In its 2023 Defence Strategic Review, the Australian government cited these design characteristics as key reasons to pursue a partnership with the U.S., saying the program should be a “priority for collaborative development.”

The United States Air Force is testing the MQ-28 platform as part of its Collaborative Combat Aircraft program.

Boeing is developing the MQ-28 in Australia alongside the Royal Australian Air Force. The United States Air Force is testing the MQ-28 as part of its Next Generation Air Dominance initiative.
Boeing Australia

According to Cajigas, Boeing designed the Ghost Bat for missions that are dull, dirty, and dangerous. Flying over a fixed point for hours on end, monitoring overwhelming streams of data and all while searching for and defending against enemy targets is extremely taxing on pilots. Cajigas said computers don’t get tired, though, so a cauldron of Ghost Bats can help keep pilots fresh and alert during missions.

It’s why the U.S. military and Boeing call drones like the Ghost Bat “force multipliers.” The capabilities they bring to the conflict zone can impact every domain of warfare, and that’s likely just scratching the surface.

“I think the technology is actually outpacing how fast we can integrate it,” Cajigas said. “There’s a ton of technology out there. Figuring out how we can integrate it safely with all of our manned platforms, and safely in a battle space context, is really the hard part.”

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THE FORMATION OF A NATO-LIKE ALLIANCE IN THE PACIFIC CONTINUES TO PICK UP STEAM. IN THE LATEST CHAPTER, AUSTRALIA WANTS TO PARTNER WITH THE UNITED STATES TO FIELD A FLEET OF FLYING MQ-28 GHOST BAT DRONES.

THE GHOST BATS ARE THE FIRST DRONES DEVELOPED BY BOEING AUSTRALIA, AND WILL BE THE FIRST AUSTRALIAN-MADE ATTACK DRONE IN MORE THAN 50 YEARS.

Juan Cajigas: The MQ-28 is really modular. We can tailor it to different things, and we can bring it pretty far forward. The cost and the size of it, and it being autonomous, it can even be to the point where it’s attritable; where we can put it at risk that we wouldn’t take with other airplanes.

A LETHAL DRONE THAT CAN BE TAILORED TO THE MISSION AND IS CHEAP ENOUGH TO LOSE IF THE MISSION REQUIRES. THE GHOST BAT DEFINITELY CHECKS A LOT OF BOXES FOR MODERN MILITARIES.

BOEING CREATED THE GHOST BAT WITH THE ABILITY TO FLY AUTONOMOUS MISSIONS, OR TO TEAM UP WITH MANNED AIRCRAFT AS PART OF JOINT SQUADRONS.

IN ITS 2023 DEFENCE STRATEGIC REVIEW, THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT CITED THESE DESIGN CHARACTERISTICS AS KEY REASONS TO PURSUE A PARTNERSHIP WITH THE U.S., SAYING THE PROGRAM SHOULD BE A QUOTE “PRIORITY FOR COLLABORATIVE DEVELOPMENT.”

THE U.S. AIR FORCE IS TESTING THE MQ-28 PLATFORM AS PART OF ITS COLLABORATIVE COMBAT AIRCRAFT PROGRAM.

BOEING SAYS THE GHOST BAT IS DESIGNED FOR MISSIONS THAT ARE DULL, DIRTY, AND DANGEROUS. FLYING OVER A FIXED POINT FOR HOURS ON END, MONITORING OVERWHELMING STREAMS OF DATA AND ALL WHILE SEARCHING FOR AND DEFENDING AGAINST ENEMY TARGETS IS EXTREMELY TAXING ON PILOTS. BUT COMPUTERS DON’T GET TIRED. SO A CAULDRON OF GHOST BATS CAN HELP KEEP PILOTS FRESH AND ALERT DURING MISSIONS.

IT’S WHY THE US MILITARY AND BOEING CALL DRONES LIKE THE GHOST BAT “FORCE MULTIPLIERS.” THE CAPABILITIES THEY BRING TO THE CONFLICT ZONE CAN IMPACT EVERY DOMAIN OF WARFARE, AND WE’RE LIKELY JUST SCRATCHING THE SURFACE.

Juan Cajigas: I think the technology is actually outpacing how fast we can integrate it. You know, there’s a ton of technology out there. Figuring out how we can integrate it safely with all of our manned platforms, and safely in a battle space context, is really the hard part.

WE HAVE MORE UNBIASED STRAIGHT FACT REPORTING ON WEAPONS DEVELOPMENT AND DRONES IN THE MILITARY AT STRAIGHTARROWNEWS.COM.