Wingman drone concept

Airbus unveils intriguing combat drone concept

Wingman drone will be presented by the company during the International Aerospace Exhibition ILA in Berlin as an unmanned stealth aircraft commanded by a fighter pilot

Airbus has unveiled an aircraft with intriguing shapes that will be presented during the International Aerospace Exhibition ILA, in Berlin, starting on June 5th.

It is an unmanned combat fighter called the Wingman which, as the name suggests, was designed as a loyal wingman, an aircraft commanded from manned fighters.

Airbus has not confirmed whether the project is stealthy, but its characteristics suggest that the aircraft is capable of not being tracked by radar. There are inscriptions and markings on the fuselage that suggest this understanding.

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Drone canards and engine air intake (Airbus)

Specifications were also not provided although the Wingman appears to be powered by a single engine and be supersonic.

The canards have similar shapes to delta wings and the plane reveals several potential sensors in addition to a receptacle for aerial refueling.

“The German Air Force has expressed a clear need for an unmanned aircraft flying with and supporting missions of its manned fighter jets before the Future Combat Air System will be operational in 2040,” said Michael Schoellhorn, CEO of Airbus Defense and Space. “Our Wingman concept is the answer. We will further drive and fine-tune this innovation made in Germany so that ultimately we can offer the German Air Force an affordable solution with the performance it needs to maximize the effects and multiply the power of its fighter fleet for the 2030s.”

Sensors and supposed aerial refueling receptacle (Airbus)

The Wingman could be commanded by pilots in Eurofighter fighters and take on high-risk mission tasks.

These include reconnaissance through target lock-on and engagement of targets on the ground or in the air with precision-guided munitions or missiles.

“Pilots in manned aircraft acting as “command fighters” will always have control of the mission. They are always the final decision-making authority, while benefiting from the protection and lower risk exposure that the delegation of tactical taskings to unmanned systems offers,” explains the company.

6th generation fighter in service only in 2040

The concept of a loyal Airbus wingman comes amid initial discussions for the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program, which will give rise to a 6th generation fighter to be operated by France, Germany and Spain, as well as possibly Belgium.

The ambitious project, however, comes up against high costs and obstacles between Dassault and Airbus for their leading role in the program.

Furthermore, development promises to take a long time, with entry into service expected around 2040.

Therefore, a loyal wingman could offer an advanced military capability at a shorter cost and deadline while the new fighter is not ready.

A similar initiative has motivated the US Air Force to accelerate several

General Atomics XQ-67A and Anduril Fury (GA/Anduril)

programs using Artificial Intelligence.

The plan is for hundreds of these unmanned stealth jets to be in service by the end of the decade, despite the development of the NGAD, which will give rise to a 6th generation fighter.

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