Airbus Unveils the Wingman 05/06/2024 | Marco Giulio Barone

On June 5 at ILA 2024, Airbus presented its new Wingman concept. According to the company’s official literature, “it is a fighter-type drone that will be commanded by a pilot in a current combat aircraft such as the Eurofighter Typhoon and can take on high-risk mission tasks that would pose a bigger threat to manned-only aircraft.” Based on the current concept, the Wingman is intended to augment the capabilities of current manned combat aircraft with uncrewed platforms that can carry weapons and other effectors. “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 Defence 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 maximise the effects and multiply the power of its fighter fleet for the 2030s”. Hence, the current drone is expected to augment the Eurofighter Typhoon’s combat capabilities, but it will logically be part of the development pathway of remote carriers for FCAS. As a reminder, Airbus has the lead for remote carriers under the agreed design architecture of the FCAS. In effect, Airbus is also working on the System And Teaming Advanced Research (STAR) using a twin-seat Typhoon as flying test bed with a modified rear cockpit and a special pod, intended to develop multi-platform teaming intelligence capabilities and manned-unmanned mission execution patterns. As far as Wingman’s general characteristics are concerned, the drone is designed for mission effectiveness and to generate ‘combat mass’. Furthermore, the Wingman will be capable of operating from dispersed air based. All this hints that more than one Wingman could potentially side the main fighter and accomplish different tasks. Albeit multirole by design, it is likely that the Wingman will have EW and offensive strike duties as core missions, as it is designed for high-transonic flight performance. Airbus has not disclosed any detail on the possible propulsion system, yet. But on the same day, Rolls-Royce Deutschland is signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with ITP Aero to explore a partnership to design and develop a Wingman engine, a state-of-the-art powerful solution for large remote carriers. As part of the ceremony, a mock-up of a Wingman engine concept will be unveiled later today. The Wingman comes in two different, reconfigurable designs: - Low observable configuration: tailless configuration and no external pylons. Two ventral bomb bays can (likely) host 2 air-to-air missiles or 4 air-to-surface weapons in the class of Spear missiles or Spice 250 guided munitions. - Full load: tail planes and wing hardpoints enable for additional payload such as weapons, fuel tanks, and pods. Should configurations suggested by available rendering realistic, the drone may have a 2,500-3,000kg weapons payload. Envisaged EW missions include ISR through passive sensors, escort jamming, electronic attack, and deceiving/deception missions through the launch stand-in jammers. Manned-Unmanned Teaming Intelligence is enabled by meshed network communication with high-level tasking by Eurofighter and thanks to AI for collaborative air combat under development in collaboration with Helsing.

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