Boeing's unmanned fighter jet is the future of air combat

Shawn Knight

TechSpot Staff
Staff member

Boeing on Wednesday revealed its latest aerial platform, the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. The jet-like aircraft was designed to fly solo, unmanned missions or alongside existing military aircraft in a support role at a fraction of the cost associated with traditional fighter jets.

The Boeing Airpower Teaming System measures 38 feet long with a range of more than 2,000 nautical miles. Boeing said the craft can be loaded with onboard sensors to support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions and electronic warfare.

Kristin Robertson, vice president and general manager of Boeing Autonomous Systems, said the company’s latest will “truly be a force multiplier as it protects and projects air power.”

Developed by Boeing Australia, the project is the company’s largest investment in a new unmanned aircraft program outside the US.

Unmanned aircraft afford a number of advantages over human-piloted fighter jets. Humans, for example, can only be exposed to a limited number of Gs, fly for a set number of hours and process data so quickly. Autonomous aircraft wouldn’t be limited by such factors.

Boeing said the first test flight is planned for 2020.

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Vulcanproject

TS Evangelist
Inevitable future of most fighter operations. There will always be manned patrol flights, but eventually remote control or autonomous fighters will take over the bulk of the work.

Advancements in drone technology, AI technology and the simple fact the weakest link inside a modern fighter is the squishy organic bit in the cockpit.

As the article mentions it is now easily possible to design and build aircraft that would be basically unflyable by humans inside due to the enormous G forces they can pull. Piece of cake for a future fighter to pull sustained 12G+ without falling apart, but with a human in it they would be scrambled eggs.

The downsides being that decision making, instant assessment and situational awareness are delayed by distance. Response time to threats is a big deal. That can be mitigated perhaps by improvements in visual display technologies for remote pilots and other associated improvements in threat detection.

Of course one of the biggest dangers of all is the ability to hack such systems. It's a certainty that every major power spends an awful lot of time looking into this ability.
 

Rock Dirty

TS Rookie
"The jet-like aircraft"

This is not a "jet-like aircraft", this aircraft IS a jet. Unless it is a rocket, which it isn't.

It's a jet manned, or unmanned...
 
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wiyosaya

TS Evangelist
I'll say this: Hopefully, we will never again see another WW. If we do, and this is used, then the command center for this will be subject to nuclear attack. That is one way that this could be defeated - or even with an EMP from a nuke detonated nearby.

Of course one of the biggest dangers of all is the ability to hack such systems. It's a certainty that every major power spends an awful lot of time looking into this ability.
With any luck, Boeing has decided to leave out the IoT devices. :laughing:
 

Capaill

TS Evangelist
I'm surprised that an unmanned aircraft looks so like a normal jet but with the cockpit removed. I was half expecting to see something closer to a flying saucer. Without the need to provide for a person to get into the plane or to have good all-round visibility, surely the main needs are lift, thrust, manouevrability, weapons and fuel storage, with some low-radar angles. Perhaps the wacky designs will come later.
 
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Uncle Al

TS Evangelist
While AI in fighter jets is promising, it still has a long way to go in forms of instant reactions, decision making and applying the "human" factor. It will eventually get here but probably not for a decade or more. Strangely enough, adding that third axis was relatively simple; it's the decision making portion that will take millions of lines of code to develop enough "what if" senerio's to make it ideal, if such a thing will ever exist .......
 

captaincranky

TechSpot Addict
I'm surprised that an unmanned aircraft looks so like a normal jet but with the cockpit removed. I was half expecting to see something closer to a flying saucer. Without the need to provide for a person to get into the plane or to have good all-round visibility, surely the main needs are lift, thrust, manouevrability, weapons and fuel storage, with some low-radar angles. Perhaps the wacky designs will come later.
There have been RC model "flying saucers" for decades. They're pretty much a novelty, not anything that could be flown in a aerobatic competition. To be brief, their flight characteristics might be fine in interstellar space, but would suck when you have to fly them in the atmosphere.

What this aircraft has is the standard airfoil shaped, "lifting body", which is undisturbed by the necessity of a cockpit), a ton of vertical fin area for yaw stability, and a wide chord at the wing tips to prevent tip stall in high G, low radius turns. The jet inlets are a tried and true configuration.

Since we already have high Mach 2+ performance aircraft with these mechanical configurations, I guess Boeing figured "let's not change too much at once, and concentrate on turning it into an RC model".

Since the back end of the body is hidden by the vertical fins, we don't know if the craft has a traditional elevator, or multi compound control surfaces on the wing. (Ailerons, elevator, and flaps combined). Since the wing area is large, combined with an (ostensibly) low weight wing loading, it is possible that the stall speed might also be low enough to dispense with flaps altogether.. Keep in mind an out of fuel plane has a lower stall speed than one with a full load of fuel, and ordinance attached
 
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wiyosaya

TS Evangelist
I'm surprised that an unmanned aircraft looks so like a normal jet but with the cockpit removed. I was half expecting to see something closer to a flying saucer. Without the need to provide for a person to get into the plane or to have good all-round visibility, surely the main needs are lift, thrust, manouevrability, weapons and fuel storage, with some low-radar angles. Perhaps the wacky designs will come later.
There have been RC model "flying saucers" for decades. They're pretty much a novelty, not anything that could be flown in a aerobatic competition. To be brief, their flight characteristics might be fine in interstellar space, but would suck when you have to fly them in the atmosphere.

What this aircraft has is the standard airfoil shaped, "lifting body", which is undisturbed by the necessity of a cockpit), a ton of vertical fin area for yaw stability, and a wide chord at the wing tips to prevent tip stall in high G, low radius turns. The jet inlets are a tried and true configuration.

Since we already have high Mach 2+ performance aircraft with these mechanical configurations, I guess Boeing figured "let's not change too much at once, and concentrate on turning it into an RC model".

Since the back end of the body is hidden by the vertical fins, we don't know if the craft has a traditional elevator, or multi compound control surfaces on the wing. (Ailerons, elevator, and flaps combined). Since the wing area is large, combined with an (ostensibly) low weight wing loading, it is possible that the stall speed might also be low enough to dispense with flaps altogether.. Keep in mind an out of fuel plane has a lower stall speed than one with a full load of fuel, and ordinance attached
The USAF did actually test a flying saucer like design from 1959 to 1960. The results were not at all promising due to the aerodynamics of the shape.

Here is some footage - and no, it is not a real UFO :D
 

captaincranky

TechSpot Addict
@wiyosaya I'm aware of that craft's brief existence. I thought it wasn't really intended to be an aircraft, but rather a hover craft, with air from the impeller forced out through slots around the perimeter.

Sadly, for my fellow members in Techspot, the last thing in this world that really interests me is some piece of crap watch from Apple. I rue the day I wasn't born into money, since my interests are way more expensive the even Intel's CPUs

At the very least, this craft actually flew:


The Hawker has been given an engine "upgrade", with Wright "Cyclone 3350" the same engine, (although x4, powered the Lockheed "Constellation").

Part of my bifurcated tangent ATM is draft horses. Going for a saddle ride on one of these is my first (realistic) entry on my bucket list. There's farm in NJ around parallel with Easton PA which specializes in Clydesdales

 
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Mugsy

TS Evangelist
Removing "sparing the life of a human pilot" from the equation till only the cost of the plane is a mitigating factor will only make war easier and more prevalent.

"War w/o risk" is not good for the future of humanity.
 

captaincranky

TechSpot Addict
It looks so beautiful. I just fell in love with this death machine.
You understand this iteration isn't what you could call a "air superiority fighter", don't you? At least that won't be its primary assignment.

Fighter squadrons were / are sent out with an aircraft designed armed or without armament, but rather equipped with ECM (Electronics Counter Measures) capability. The primary idea was to jamb enemy radar, so the armed craft could concentrate on releasing their weapons on target without interference.

Here's a couple examples of such craft

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Dynamics–Grumman_EF-111A_Raven (retired)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_EA-18G_Growler

https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=171
 
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captaincranky

TechSpot Addict
Removing "sparing the life of a human pilot" from the equation till only the cost of the plane is a mitigating factor will only make war easier and more prevalent.

"War w/o risk" is not good for the future of humanity.
I know what you mean. If I were president, I would have cut loose a few nuclear ICBMs at Pyongyang years ago.
 

toooooot

TS Evangelist
You understand this iteration isn't what you could call a "air superiority fighter", don't you? At least that won't be its primary assignment.

Fighter squadrons were / are sent out with an aircraft designed armed or without armament, but rather equipped with ECM (Electronics Counter Measures) capability. The primary idea was to jamb enemy radar, so the armed craft could concentrate on releasing their weapons on target without interference.

Here's a couple examples of such craft

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Dynamics–Grumman_EF-111A_Raven (retired)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_EA-18G_Growler

https://www.militaryfactory.com/aircraft/detail.asp?aircraft_id=171
It could jam my radar and I would still love it.
 

captaincranky

TechSpot Addict
How is launching missiles any different from launching robot drones (other than total casualties?)
It isn't. I just have a funny way of agreeing with people.

On the other hand, certain individuals and nations won't "beat their swords into plowshares". without a little encouragement. I'n the case of NK, I think we should show some initiative and do it for them.
 
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wiyosaya

TS Evangelist
@wiyosaya I'm aware of that craft's brief existence.
I expected as much; however, I thought that others would be interested.

Part of my bifurcated tangent ATM is draft horses. Going for a saddle ride on one of these is my first (realistic) entry on my bucket list. There's farm in NJ around parallel with Easton PA which specializes in Clydesdales

Now this method of transportation cannot be beat, IMO! :D That one is a real beauty!