Bats out of hell: Toowoomba to become hub for Boeing’s military drone program

 Toowoomba’s Wellcamp Airport has been chosen as the site for the first assembly plant outside of the US to build  its ‘Ghost bat’ unmanned aircraft. 

Mar 28, 2024, updated Mar 28, 2024
Two MQ-28 Ghost Bats completing testing at the Woomera Range Complex in South Australia. (Image: Boeing)

Two MQ-28 Ghost Bats completing testing at the Woomera Range Complex in South Australia. (Image: Boeing)

Preliminary construction work is underway for Toowoomba’s Boeing Ghost Bat production facility, set to be completed in 2027.

Construction of the 9,000 square metre facility is to be undertaken by Wagner Corporation on behalf of Boeing. Wagner Corporation (a privately-owned firm), also owns the Wellcamp Aerospace and Defence Precinct where the facility is to be located. 

“With governments and the private sector in Australia and internationally making massive investment in aerospace, advanced manufacturing and defence capabilities, the timing is absolutely right for us to develop a precinct of this calibre so that investment can be made right here in Queensland at Wellcamp,” said Chairman John Wagner in a statement.

“Smart companies looking for an edge are choosing Wellcamp because it has the right business fundamentals, and a global vision with a local heartbeat.” 

Labor has placed its support behind the facility stating that it represents a significant investment by Boeing and a strong commitment to their future in Queensland. 

It also appears to indicate a commitment to the production of more MQ-28 Ghost Bats than the 13 already ordered by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). 

A flagship collaboration from Boeing and the RAAF, the Ghost Bat is an uncrewed ‘Loyal Wingman’ class aircraft – a stealth combat drone designed to act as a force multiplier capable of flying alongside crewed and uncrewed aircraft for support in surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance and other missions as well as performing autonomously through the use of artificial intelligence.

The use of AI in military contexts is a contentious topic. Professor Toby Walsh, in an article for The Conversation suggests it could represent “the third revolution in warfare”, following the invention of gunpowder and nuclear bombs.

“The Ghost Bat is a momentous project for Queensland’s future and for Australia’s sovereign capabilities,” said Deputy Premier Cameron Dick. He claims that development of the facility will support up to 200 construction jobs, with the addition of 100 highly skilled operational jobs once production in the facility commences – estimated to be within the next three years. 

“It’s estimated the economic benefit to Queensland of this project could be up to $1 billion over 10 years,” said Mr Dick. 

This news comes amid some turbulent times for Boeing, with the mid-deposition death of former employee and whistleblower, John Barnett, and a series of safety-related incidents on multiple commercial flights.

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