Airbus Unveils Fighter Jet-Like Stealthy Wingman Drone Concept That Can Redefine Aerial Combat

European aerospace powerhouse Airbus has announced that it will present its new fighter-like stealthy Wingman concept at the International Aerospace Exhibition ILA in Berlin.  

In a press release issued on June 3, Airbus provided insights into the Wingman concept: a fighter-like stealth drone designed to redefine the dynamics of aerial combat. The ILA International Aerospace Exhibition will unveil the concept on June 5 in Berlin.

The Wingman concept, as described by Airbus, operates akin to its namesake in military aviation: a pilot in another aircraft who supports and protects the lead aircraft. However, unlike traditional wingmen piloting fighter jets, the Wingman will be an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) commanded by a pilot in a manned combat aircraft like the Eurofighter.

The company said, “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 is engineered to undertake high-risk missions, enhancing the capabilities of manned combat aircraft while mitigating potential threats to human pilots. Its design integrates advanced features such as low observability, diverse armaments, sophisticated 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,” the company added.

Accompanying the announcement was a rendering of the stealthy Wingman concept: a tailless drone with a modified clipped delta wing and lambda-wing attributes.

Key elements of this design include sharply angled wings with extensions at the leading edge, a distinctive chine line (in aircraft design, a chine is a longitudinal line of sharp change in the cross-section profile of the fuselage or similar body) running along the front section of the fuselage, and canards that improve the aircraft’s maneuvering capabilities (a canard is incorporated into an aircraft design for lift, pitch control, longitudinal stability to modify the airflow over the main wing).

Airbus envisions the Wingman as an unmanned fighter-type drone that enhances the capabilities of manned combat aircraft by undertaking high-risk missions.

Despite uncertainties regarding munitions carriage, Airbus hinted at potential ventral payload bays, showcasing the Wingman’s adaptability to diverse operational requirements.

The wingman’s duties may include target engagement with precision-guided missiles or explosives, jamming targets, and reconnaissance.

“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,” stated Airbus in its press release.

The Journey Ahead For The New Concept

Michael Schoellhorn, the Chief Executive Officer of Airbus Defence and Space, emphasized that the Wingman concept is a viable solution for meeting the requirements of the German Air Force.

The German Air Force had clearly articulated the necessity for an unmanned aircraft to fly in conjunction with and provide support for missions carried out by its manned fighter jets before the anticipated operational debut of the Future Combat Air System in 2040.

Schoellhorn further elaborated on their commitment to advance this innovative solution, expressing the intent to refine and enhance the German-developed concept to ultimately deliver a cost-effective and high-performing solution that aligns with the needs of the German Air Force to optimize the effectiveness and augment the capabilities of its fighter fleet by the 2030s.

Aviation journalist Gareth Jennings pointed out that Airbus’s latest Wingman concept is based on previous research and development efforts conducted under the Low Observable UAV Testbed (LOUT) program.

Launched by Airbus in 2019, the LOUT program was designed to deepen the company’s comprehension of cutting-edge, very low-observable (stealthy) design principles, advanced materials, manufacturing technologies, and related disciplines.

A rendering of a Typhoon EK for the German Air Force. <em>Airbus</em>
A concept art of a Typhoon EK for the German Air Force. Airbus

The unveiling of the Wingman concept represents a key stride forward in Airbus’s endeavors to potentially deploy an unmanned aerial vehicle alongside a manned fighter jet.

German officials have already presented plans for an unmanned Electronic Combat Wingman (ECW) to work with the crewed Typhoon EK aircraft. The German government has already authorized the purchase of 15 electronic warfare jets, which will be converted from Typhoon fighters currently in service, as previously reported by the EurAsian Times.

These recently ordered aircraft will replace the outdated Tornado ECR (electronic combat/reconnaissance) swing-wing jets, which are currently responsible for electronic warfare operations and the suppression and destruction of enemy air defense missions.

Meanwhile, Germany is collaborating with France to design and produce the Future Combat Air System.

Airbus has assumed a pivotal role in the development of the futuristic 6th-generation fighter, slated for operational deployment in 2040. The integration and use of a loyal wingman in the next generation of fighter jets is also under consideration.