Boeing's MQ-28 'Ghost Bat' drone makes its first US showing on Twitter

Boeing Defense has released the first images of the MQ-25 "Stingray's" bigger brother, the MQ-28 "Ghost Bat," at an American airbase.
Christopher McFadden
The MQ-25 "Stingray" (left) and MQ-28 "Ghost Bat" (right).

Boeing Defense/Twitter 

The first images of Boeing's MQ-28 "Ghost Bat" drone in the United States have been released. A "loyal wingman" type of drone, the MQ-28, which appeared out of nowhere in 2019, is currently in development for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) but will also find a home with the United States Air Force (USAF). The released image shows the "Ghost Bat" alongside its smaller tanker cousin, the MQ025 "Stingray."

Boeing recently shared a photo on their social media accounts featuring the MQ-28 and MQ-25 demonstrator, also called the T1, positioned side-by-side. Though the location and time of the image are undisclosed, it appears that the two drones were captured at MidAmerica Airport in St. Louis, Missouri, where the T1 demonstrator is based.

"Krystle Carr, Boeing's director of autonomous collaborative platforms, acknowledged the drone had arrived for testing but didn't say when or for whom," explained Breaking Defense. "She declined to elaborate, and Boeing officials referred all further questions to the Air Force," they added.

"Our autonomous duo meets at last," Beoing tweeted with the image of the two drones. "The MQ-28 Ghost Bat, developed in Australia, provides fighter-like performance to expand airborne missions. The MQ-25 Stingray refuels fighters to keep the mission going. That's unmatched uncrewed airpower," they added.

For several years, Boeing has been conducting active tests on the T1, which bears the U.S. civil registration code N234MQ, to develop the first production-ready prototypes of the "Stingray" for the Navy. Unfortunately, the construction delays of these drones have resulted in the Navy pushing back its timeline to achieve initial operational capability with the MQ-25 by approximately a year, now expected to happen sometime in 2026.

Once in service, the "Stingrays" will primarily offer aerial refueling support to the Navy's carrier air wings. The MQ-28 "Ghost Bat," which was secretly developed under the Airpower Teaming System (ATS) program for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), made its public debut in 2019. Since then, three prototypes have been constructed and flight tested, with ongoing efforts to enhance its capabilities and expand its flight range.

The RAAF's prototype MQ-28s are receiving new upgrades, including installing an infrared search and track (IRST) sensor system in the nose of one of the drones. The "Ghost Bat's" modularity is showcased by its capability to change entire nose sections, allowing for the integration of diverse sensors and systems.

By May 2022, the RAAF is anticipated to acquire a minimum of 10 MQ-28s and commence their operational use by 2025. These drones are set to collaborate closely with Australia's crewed combat jet fleets, such as the F-35A Joint Strike Fighters and F/A-18F Super Hornets, to execute diverse missions. It is also rumored that the USAF will use the MQ-28 as a "technology feeder" for its future Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program.

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