In a recent social media post, Boeing Defense unveiled the first look at the MQ-28 “Ghost Bat” drone on American soil. It was pictured alongside its smaller counterpart, the MQ-25 “Stingray” at an undisclosed airbase.
The MQ-28 “Ghost Bat” is a “loyal wingman” drone, initially appearing in 2019, and is currently under development for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). It is also set to be adopted by the United States Air Force (USAF). The shared photo showcases the “Ghost Bat” next to its relative, the MQ-25 “Stingray” tanker drone.
The image was shared via Boeing’s social media channels and showed the MQ-28 and the MQ-25 T1 demonstrator side by side. While the exact location was not disclosed, it is believed to have been taken at the MidAmerica Airport in St. Louis, Missouri, where the T1 demonstrator is stationed.
Krystle Carr, Boeing’s director of autonomous collaborative platforms, confirmed the drone’s arrival for testing but remained quiet about further details. She refrained from expanding on the topic, and other Boeing officials directed all additional queries to the Air Force.
Boeing captioned the image of the two drones with, “Our autonomous duo meets at last.” They further explained that the Australian developed MQ-28 “Ghost Bat” provides fighter-like performance to expand airborne missions, while the MQ-25 “Stingray” refuels fighters to keep the mission going, culminating in “unmatched uncrewed airpower.”
The T1 demonstrator, which carries the U.S. civil registration code N234MQ, has been undergoing active testing by Boeing for several years now. The goal is to develop production-ready prototypes of the “Stingray” for the Navy. Unfortunately, due to construction delays, the Navy’s timeline to achieve initial operational capability with the MQ-25 has been delayed by roughly a year, now slated for 2026.
When in service, the “Stingrays” will predominantly provide aerial refueling support to the Navy’s carrier air wings. The MQ-28 “Ghost Bat”, initially developed under the Airpower Teaming System (ATS) program for the RAAF, was first unveiled to the public in 2019. Since then, three prototypes have been built and flight tested, with a consistent focus on enhancing its capabilities and extending its flight range.
The RAAF’s MQ-28 prototypes are expected to receive new upgrades, including the installation of an infrared search and track (IRST) sensor system in one of the drone’s nose. The “Ghost Bat’s” modularity is illustrated by its ability to switch entire nose sections, enabling the integration of various sensors and systems.
The RAAF is expected to acquire at least 10 MQ-28s by May 2022 and start their operational use by 2025. These drones are expected to work closely with Australia’s crewed combat jet fleets, such as the F-35A Joint Strike Fighters and F/A-18F Super Hornets, to carry out a range of missions. Additionally, there are speculations about the USAF employing the MQ-28 as a “technology feeder” for its future Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program.