Airbus’ stealth drone could assist human fighter pilots in combat

The 'Wingman' will tackle the most dangerous missions so humans don't have to

Airbus’ stealth drone could assist human fighter pilots in combat

Airbus has unveiled an unmanned stealth drone concept that would assist human fighter pilots during armed aerial combat. 

The full-scale model of the prototype aircraft — simply called “Wingman” — will be on display at the International Aerospace Exhibition ILA in Berlin this week.   

Airbus says Wingman’s tasks will range from reconnaissance and jamming targets to shooting at enemies on the ground or in the air. 

In aviation, a wingman is a pilot who flies alongside the leader of a flying formation. These pilots provide mutual support and backup in a mission

However, Airbus’ new drone won’t have a pilot at all. But the French aerospace firm did stress that the human fighter pilot will always have full control of their machine sidekick. 

Unlike the nimble drones that have become ubiquitous on the battlefield in Ukraine, the Wingman appears to be about the same size as a fighter jet. The drone will be able to do everything a manned fighter can but without the risks to human life. This means it can be sent on more dangerous missions. 

German airforce

While still early days, Airbus suggests the Wingman could be paired with Germany’s 4th-generation Eurofighter Typhoon jets. 

“The German Air Force has expressed a clear need for an unmanned aircraft flying with and supporting missions of its manned fighter jets,” said Michael Schoellhorn, CEO of Airbus Defence and Space. “Our Wingman concept is the answer.”

Europe is currently working on a so-called Future Combat Air System (FCAS) to replace the air defence technologies of today. The proposal includes building a new weapons system, a sixth-generation fighter jet to replace the Eurofighter, and remote-controlled swarming carrier drones. 

Airbus is developing the FCAS alongside France’s Dassault Aviation and Spain’s Indra Sistemas. The partners plan to put the system into service by 2045.

For now, Wingman is confined to a bunch of pretty 3D renders and a show model — it’s not certain if it will ever take to the skies. However, what is beyond doubt is that on the battlefield of the future there will be fewer people and more machines. 

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