Airbus will be presenting its new Wingman concept at the International Aerospace Exhibition ILA in Berlin.

In military aviation, a “Wingman” is a pilot in another aircraft that protects and supports the flight lead, delivers more tactical options and thus contributes to mission success.

In the Airbus concept, the Wingman is going to operate very much in the same way – only that it is neither a pilot nor a fighter jet flown by one.

It is a fighter-type drone that will be commanded by a pilot in a current combat aircraft such as the Eurofighter and can take on high-risk mission tasks that would pose a bigger threat to manned-only aircraft.

The 1:1 model, which Airbus will be exhibiting from June 5 to 9 on its static display at ILA, is similar to a “show car” used as a design exercise by the automotive industry. The Wingman model showcases all of the foreseen capabilities required, such as low observability, the integration of various armaments, advanced sensors, connectivity and teaming solutions.

As with “show cars”, not all of what is on display may find its way into series production. In this aspect, the model on display at ILA Berlin will serve as a foundation and catalyst to drive the design requirements for each generation of the Wingman.

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.”

The Wingman’s tasks, say Airbus, can range from reconnaissance to jamming targets and engaging 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 smaller risk exposure that the delegation of tactical taskings to unmanned systems offers. An additional focus is on increasing the overall combat mass in an affordable manner so that air forces can match the number of opposing forces in peers or near-peers in conflicts.

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George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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Jim
Jim (@guest_824177)
1 month ago

Interestingly the US just announced its scrapping Fire Scout drone completely just two years after entering service and the NGAD a drone program in tier 1 has been scaled back to little more than target drones like Banshee.

Starting to look like all the UCAV/Drone hype replacing and or supplementing manned aircraft is starting to die off.

Not to say drones aren’t vital, they are however expensive autonomous drones are looking like they are too expensive and too limited in most regards compared to manned aircraft.

DanielMorgan
DanielMorgan (@guest_824206)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

The Fire Scout drone is a helicopter and has absolutely no relation to the wingman concept. The USAF has not scaled back its wingman program for its NGAD and the Secretary of the Air Force has recently stated that the USAF plans to have two wingmen drones accompany each NGAD aircraft; and, in fact, the USAF plans to procure over 1,000 wingmen drones. There is absolutely no scaling back of the USAF’s plans in this regard.

Jim
Jim (@guest_824209)
1 month ago
Reply to  DanielMorgan

Your info is out of date, CCA had down selected just two low cost options in increment 1 in NGAD. None of which have any real stealth ability and are both sub sonic. This is a far cry from what they were calling for just 1 year ago.

The number of 1000 is still there but the envisaged capability and cost of those drones has been greatly scaled back.

Math
Math (@guest_824329)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

Totally agree and not only for USA. France is also scaling back on this idea.
Connectivity is an issue, GPS is an issue. The war in Ukraine shows what trends are: mass, autonomy of decision and navigation. That’s about it. Mass, mass, mass over all other considerations.

Grizzler
Grizzler (@guest_824344)
1 month ago
Reply to  Math

or as we oft say on here- but not repeated in the MoD… “Quantity has a quality all of its own”

Mark B
Mark B (@guest_824296)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

I doubt it Jim I suspect we are simply seeing the rapid evolution of this new industry. Something better will likely emerge in it’s place.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky (@guest_824367)
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark B

Tends to happen with new innovative technology generally, a lot of hype (that will always be the case to gain investment and give any concept initial momentum and Govt interest). Almost inevitably the hype and hopes out-perform the technological progress and concepts lose some of their gloss. Then as the technology catches up and becomes less costly as it starts to mature the momentum builds again, but this time though usually a little slower it has far more substance and potential. We have seen it with hypersonics, VSTOL, drones and railguns which are gradually coming back into favour.

Shane Ramshaw
Shane Ramshaw (@guest_824190)
1 month ago

I struggle to get the wingman concept right now. I fail to see how a pilot is going to pilot his own plane in a dogfight and some other wingman drone. If he is supposed to sit back out of the danger zone and send the drone ahead, it strikes me you might as well just pilot it from a stationary ground location. So what’s the point?

Hermes
Hermes (@guest_824199)
1 month ago
Reply to  Shane Ramshaw

Here’s my understanding of the concept from what I think is technically possible, so maybe wrong/incomplete:
The fighter will not directly pilot the wingman.
Sure, they can give orders/commands.
But the wingman will follow the fighters on his own (with maybe the possibility to be remotly controlled).
The difference is that he would probably have to base his position on local sensors (his own or those of the followed fighter), using the L16 or any chosen com and not using remote information (sat), which would make it harder to jam.

Coll
Coll (@guest_824210)
1 month ago
Reply to  Hermes

Yeah, I think the best way to think about it is that the pilot will manage the drones. I think it was Sandbox News (YouTube) mentioned that a study that said a pilot can manage up to 6 drones. I guess we will have to see.

Last edited 1 month ago by Coll
Jim
Jim (@guest_824212)
1 month ago
Reply to  Hermes

That’s exactly the concept, put really expensive sensors in low performance drones to give away the position of very expensive manned platforms. Further more hamper the performance of the manned platform by making sure it has to fly sub sonic and have limited range. Better yet pile loads of non stealthy jest into the air circling round a target to give away your objective. Honestly it’s all daft , we have MALD and soon SPEAR EW to act as decoys and stand in jammers already which is the only sensible use for loyal wingman drones and they cost just a… Read more »

Hermes
Hermes (@guest_824217)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

 The drone itself doesn’t need to be equipped with the most expensive sensors. Correctly made, it won’t give away its position as much as the data link of fighters already does. Fighters don’t do as much supersonic in contested airspace, especially as we make IRST always more sensitive every years, so supersonic has a negative impact on stealth. Drones already have a greater range than manned platforms, the weight you don’t lose for the pilot you can use some of it for fuel, and they also have a more efficient engine than the complex engines used by PC capable fighters.… Read more »

Jim
Jim (@guest_824248)
1 month ago
Reply to  Hermes

Yes, read what you wrote and think about it, they are front end vehicles, they are less stealthy than the manned platform. They have sensors on them which are either A expensive and capable with low probability of intercept or B cheap and giving your position away. Now compare all that hassle to a couple of manned fighters flying behind or to the side of a bunch of MALD’s or SPEAR EW for a fraction of the cost. What was the point in pissing away all the money on those drones. Your drone’s might have alot of range but how… Read more »

Hermes
Hermes (@guest_824251)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

Although we are writing this on a computer using binary, do you realize that the world is far from binary?
Especially with your shortcut, which comes from the void… “Trust me bro”.

Grizzler
Grizzler (@guest_824434)
1 month ago
Reply to  Hermes

It been a long time since I programed in bnary or machine code…but I dont think Ive ever written in ever written in it?

I think I heard a joke in binary by Kryton on Red Dwarf once…but I can’t remebmber the punch (card) line.

Uninformed Civvy Lurker
Uninformed Civvy Lurker (@guest_824486)
1 month ago
Reply to  Grizzler

There are 10 types of people in the world.
Those who understand binary and those who don’t.

Last edited 1 month ago by Uninformed Civvy Lurker
Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky (@guest_824372)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

Hang on Jim practically all the strikes of Ukranian (indeed Russian too) strikes involve a range of missiles and drones with different capabilities and performance. Storm Shadow in particular due to its slowish speed have their missions prepared carefully and on occasion over a period of days to allow them to reach the target in sufficient and effective numbers. Often they need to determine location of anti air assets and radars so that they can be taken out or avoided by complex SS flight paths. This process could certainly be a great warning of impending later strikes and yet after… Read more »

Netking
Netking (@guest_824295)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

“That’s exactly the concept, put really expensive sensors in low performance drones to give away the position of very expensive manned platforms.’ What we have here is a failure of imagination. Just because they call it a loyal wingman does not mean they will be flying right next to the manned fighter. They could actually be many miles away and approaching a target from a completely different direction. They could be used as advanced sensors, as a missile truck, decoys (yes these are much larger platforms than a MALD which likely means that they will likely have significantly more range.… Read more »

Jim
Jim (@guest_824211)
1 month ago
Reply to  Shane Ramshaw

Even better, we will spend billions on super sonic manned highly stealth aircraft to be highly survivable then get some low cost slow not stealthy drones to follow them round. The drones will only give away the mission and slow down the manned fighter costing it stealth and speed. I think the geniuses in the Airforce are slowly waking up to this fact. Drones and air forces are bit really the same force. Lower cost drones operating on mass (basically cruise missiles) work well but they have close to f**k all to do with fast jets or airforce although they… Read more »

Jon
Jon (@guest_824223)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

They are talking about teaming 5th and 4+ gen. Given that the whole Gen 6 concept relies on a smorgasbord of drone types, I’d expected wingman drones to take over the 4+ gen part. That means they would neither be all that slow nor all that attritable, just cheaper than the manned element, especially in NGAD’s case, and without risking a pilot. The US has problems designing the low end of the high-low mix. They can’t help adding too much capability. Perhaps the drone wingman is another shot at that. I still don’t get 5/4+ teaming so please don’t ask… Read more »

DaveyB.
DaveyB. (@guest_824356)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jon

5/4+ teaming is a necessity brought about by the small internal air to air missile (AAM) payload of 5th gen aircraft. The idea is that the 5th gen aircraft is the passive spotter, whilst the 4+ gen is the shooter. As it can carry a larger payload of AAMs. This is based around the longer range missiles such as Meteor and AIM-260. Which tries to keep the 4th gen aircraft away from the threat.

The UK has already tested and proven the concept using F35 and Typhoons. The US has done the same with F22/F35 and F15s.

Patrick C
Patrick C (@guest_824253)
1 month ago
Reply to  Shane Ramshaw

i think people are overthinking their capabilities. look at the US navys “ghost fleet” which are basically COTS low cost drone ships with Mk-41 VLS onboard and follow along with the battle group and can be remote fired using AEGIS or CEC on aircraft. just a cheap way to increase the amount of VLS cells a carrier group has. It looks like this will be the idea with loyal wingman aircraft- all it really needs to do is keep up with its host manned aircraft or perhaps fly ahead of it while carrying extra munitions. it doesn’t need fancy AI… Read more »

Jim
Jim (@guest_824256)
1 month ago
Reply to  Patrick C

Your exactly right, this is their concept, the massive difference is naval surface ships are not stealthy, the enemy will know they are there. Aircraft are suppose to be stealthy. The drones carrying the extra missiles just give away the position and telegraph the attack just as with Iran strike on Israel.

In air to air you don’t want the enemy even know you are in the vicinity. Army’s of drones and loyal wingman just tells them your there.

Same goes for bombing.

ADA
ADA (@guest_824268)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

This is right, however calling them a scam is misleading. It’s been recently said that Typhoon won’t be replaced by Tempest as it roles off the production line. Typhoon is most likely being turned into a drone. The Americans recently tested a dogfighting F-16, which was completely unmanned. Nobody should’ve expected drones for SEAD. To add additional mass and payload after air dominance is a huge force multiplier. Other auxiliary functions like AEW&C and air to air refuelling are being automated by droned. Let’s not forget that we have satellite imagery and all sorts of reconnaissance. War requires mass. Drones… Read more »

Grizzler
Grizzler (@guest_824347)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

Not a fan of then wingman then I take it Jim.

I think the issue is we don’t realy know the strategic thinking behind their use or development.
We could just say “its a plane Jim but not as we know it ” 🙂
no copyright infringment intended.

Simon
Simon (@guest_824275)
1 month ago
Reply to  Shane Ramshaw

Nice thread guys. I’m confused on uk tempest being maned unmanned. Having both is a big compromise.

Ex-RoyalMarine
Ex-RoyalMarine (@guest_824349)
1 month ago
Reply to  Simon

Knowing the MOD it will be old fitted for…………chesnut.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky (@guest_824370)
1 month ago
Reply to  Shane Ramshaw

‘Dogfight’? Sorry I don’t get that concept in modern conflict, if it happens it’s because things and planning up to that point have gone seriously wrong and more worryingly an aircraft like an F-35 will be in very serious trouble should it occur. It’s a last resort capability at best to build in, ironically manoeuvrability is more important in escaping missiles than in dogfighting in recent times though even there the new gen of missiles, including Meteor are designed to maintain their own powered manoeuvrability in the kill stage. Drones would primarily be incorporated in missions to offer other capabilities… Read more »

SRamshaw
SRamshaw (@guest_824425)
1 month ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

I believe they said something similar in Korea and Vietnam, only to find the good old air to air combat had not in fact gone away. If “something” is controlling a whole bunch of airborne artillery something else is going to be coming after it. Be it AD or another plane. In other words the human pilot has a high probability of being too busy looking after himself rather than a bunch of drones.

I have no problems with drones. See the Ukraine. Just the wingman concept.

AlexS
AlexS (@guest_824264)
1 month ago

The Airbus Vs Dassault fight continues!

Jim
Jim (@guest_824276)
1 month ago
Reply to  AlexS

Funny how France always wants to claim credit for Airbus and call it a French company until it comes to defence.

Math
Math (@guest_824330)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

Not really. We gave parity to Germany on Airbus for no reason. They had DASA, which in total sales (military + civilian) was equal to French Aerosptial, only civilian. Now Germany has increased its share in civilian market, not as strong as the French one, and DASA defense that is all in Airbus. For military planes, we kept the Dassault life insurance + Thales + MBDA that are partly or fully Europeans. This is fine. Airbus represents the interest of Spain and Germany when it comes to fighter jets. Both countries are fine with this arrangement. Scaf may help to… Read more »

AlexS
AlexS (@guest_824351)
1 month ago
Reply to  Math

Yes. Dassault don’t want to loose their strong combat aircraft knowledge to a future competitor next door.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky (@guest_824377)
1 month ago
Reply to  AlexS

Precisely prevents political conflict between French champion Dassault and the German military efforts that exist predominantly within Airbus via DASA.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky (@guest_824374)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

The military side of Airbus is nominally DASA and German headquartered arranged after the Bae/DASA amalgamation collapsed to give Germany the sense of part leadership, obviously the Typhoon investment emphasises that German side. Obviously more nuanced over time but French military leadership lies with Dassault.

GlynH
GlynH (@guest_824309)
1 month ago

At first glance reminds me of FireFox, the Clint Eastwood spy film? MiG- 31? I know there is a real MiG-31 circa 1980s 🙂

FOSTERSMAN
FOSTERSMAN (@guest_824313)
1 month ago

That is quite the ambitious design there I suspect like most air designs this will go as far as a test demonstrator then be scaled back for something else, like most plans this is all about workshare and budget management. Interesting thing of note however is the next generation is clearly all about the system of systems ideas for all nations developing their projects.

Angus
Angus (@guest_824319)
1 month ago

Yet another FAD just like leaving the manned fighter world was in the past and replaced by missiles etc, didn’t work then and still doesn’t today. The promised drones would need a high degree of AI to do most of the mission on their own as the already over work loaded pilots in the manned fighter just could NEVER manage to control up to 6? others at the same time. Drones have their place but not in the real fight, they should always have human in the loop. Do we really want machines deciding which HUMAN to kill? May be… Read more »

Peter S
Peter S (@guest_824328)
1 month ago

A bit like self driving cars, just because you can do something technically doesn’t mean you should. If the pilot of a combat aircraft, almost always a single seater, is to remain in control of the wingman, is that workload really possible?
And what advantage, in a strike role for example, does a loyal wingman have over a ground controlled UCAV?
Why not eliminate the link to a manned fighter altogether and move from drones that are slow but persistent to ones more like manned fighters?

DaveyB.
DaveyB. (@guest_824388)
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter S

The issue with remote linking is hacking and jamming. If you are bouncing the control signal over the horizon via satellite. By the time it reaches the drone, it is pretty weak. Which can make it susceptible to interference from jamming, but also hacking. Which is the basis of how Iran captured the USAF RQ-170 Sentinel. The other issue that long distance networking has is the divergence of the signal coming down from the satellite. If you are clever and have the correct equipment, then you can detect the drone’s control signal. Which lets you know there’s a drone in… Read more »

Coll
Coll (@guest_824335)
1 month ago

Looks like the HVX Concept V from Rolls Royce and Reaction Engines.

Marcus FARRINGTON
Marcus FARRINGTON (@guest_824348)
1 month ago

Stealthy loyal wingman to follow 5th/6th gen to act as picket/sacrificial jet.And non stealthy bomb/missile truck to carry more ordnance into mission.Probably makes most sense against a peer adversary.Probably just the US can really afford this…How many UK Tempest will actually be ordered/ delivered?THE F35 buy being kicked down the road until it meets Tempest coming the other way.Assets get fewer and more complex it seems.So maybe 30 Tempests in total at £200M a pop??

Jonathan
Jonathan (@guest_824350)
1 month ago

I honestly don’t really understand how a single seater fighter can effectively be the command and control hub for these wingman fighters. Even with fifth generation sensor fusion the pilots going to be overwhelmed…in reality with the concept of wingman and acting as hubs for networked drone swarms 6th generation fighters are going to need to be multi crewed platforms.

AlexS
AlexS (@guest_824352)
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Me neither, it can only work with AI.
I think the single seat fighter can work as communication relay at most to a bunch of controllers on land and/or in a multi crewed platforms as you said.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky (@guest_824379)
1 month ago
Reply to  AlexS

Ai has in tests out performed humans in so many factors that new tests are having to be created so as to be able to record their true progress and capabilities. So where does that scenario in light of the likely acceptance that AGI is attained sometime over the next 5 years. It’s almost impossible to determine as yet but only the legalities of conflict regarding use of self determining capabilities of Ai in such matters will likely have any real effect in preventing Ai being capable of out performing humans in mist military scenarios perhaps overwhelmingly, by the time… Read more »

TonyB
TonyB (@guest_824371)
1 month ago

The twz has also taken an in-depth look at the Airbus wingman concept. Worth a look, as it complements George’s article above.

Frank62
Frank62 (@guest_824398)
1 month ago

So if the host aircraft is destroyed we lose the wingman as well?

TonyB
TonyB (@guest_824742)
1 month ago

For those that may be interested, twz has published a follow-up article on the Airbus Wingman concept, after it was unveiled at the Berlin show.