MELBOURNE, Australia — Boeing introduced its Airpower Teaming System at the Australian International Airshow at Avalon on Wednesday.

The concept is designed to perform the role of a loyal wingman to manned platforms and is being developed in partnership with the Royal Australian Air Force. A prototype is expected to fly in 2020.

The Airpower Teaming System was designed in Australia by Boeing Defence Australia and, according to Boeing Chief Technical Officer Greg Hyslop, the project represents the largest investment in the development of unmanned programs outside the United States.

"That is how much we believe in this program, its capabilities, its global business potential and our team here in Australia,” Hyslop said. “Today is a big day for Boeing and a big day for Australia.”

The program is intended to develop the system for use by both the RAAF and ‘Five Eyes’ partners and represents a significant defense export opportunity for Australia.

Speaking at the event, Australian Minister for Defence Christopher Pyne revealed that the Morrison government will contribute AU $40 million (U.S. $28.67 million) to the development of the system under Defence Project 6014 Phase 1 (Loyal Wingman Advanced Development Programme).

“This is the first [military] aircraft concept that Australia has invested in since the Boomerang [fighter] in 1942 to 1945, so it is a red-letter day,” Pyne said.

The funding will be used in conjunction with Boeing’s own investment in the program to develop three prototype air vehicles. Boeing officials say this will be a sufficient number to test the loyal wingman concept, which may see a manned platform operate in conjunction with between four and six vehicles in operational service.

The Airpower Teaming System is a semi-autonomous multi-mission system, capable of carrying (unspecified) weapons and able to be controlled from either a ground control station or from the platform it is escorting. Boeing director of Phantom Works International Shane Arnott said that no modifications to the manned platform would be required to control the wingmen escorts.

Arnott also said that there was interest from other Five Eyes partners, but he declined to reveal whether any additional funding had been provided by them.

According to Boeing data, the aircraft is 38 feet long and will have a range of 2,000 nautical miles. It will be capable of ‘fighter-like’ performance and fitted with on-board sensors to enable it to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and electronic warfare roles.

The first prototype is under construction by Boeing Defence in Brisbane, Queensland, but Arnott would not confirm whether production aircraft will be built in Australia or the United States.

“It depends on the market,” he said.

Nigel Pittaway is the Australia correspondent for Defense News.

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