The Australian Department of Defence (DoD) officially announced its plan to purchase six Northrop Grumman-built MQ-4C Triton surveillance Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) through a cooperative program with the U.S. Navy, on June 26, 2018.
MQ-4C Triton is a high altitude long endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft that will be used for maritime patrol and other surveillance roles. They can fly at altitudes of 55,000 feet for 24 hours at a time and is equipped with sensors that provide high-resolution imagery and near real-time video. The sensor suite can provide a 360-degree view of its surroundings for over 2000 nautical miles.
Pilots and sensor operators fly the Triton from ground stations, which can command flights all over the world.
The system will be operated by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and will complement the surveillance role of the RAAF’s P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft through sustained operations at long ranges as well as being able to undertake a range of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) tasks.
The aircraft also has de-icing and lightning protection systems, which allow it to descend through cloud layers and gain a closer view of ships and other targets at sea, which complements the P-8A Poseidon. Together these aircraft will significantly enhance the country’s anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and maritime strike capability, as well as search and rescue (SAR) capability.
Australia has already taken delivery of seven Poseidon aircraft and achieved Initial Operational Capability earlier this year. The full fleet of 12 Poseidon aircraft is expected to be delivered and in operation by 2022. Poseidons are replacing the RAAF’s AP-3C Orion fleet which will be withdrawn from service in 2023.
The first of the Triton remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) is expected to be introduced into service in mid-2023 with all six aircraft planned to be delivered and in operation by late 2025, based at RAAF Base Edinburgh in South Australia.
As part of the initial $1.4 billion investment in the Triton system, Australia will invest $364 million on new facilities at RAAF Base Edinburgh and RAAF Base Tindal, as well the necessary ground control systems, support and training required to implement a project of this nature.
As part of this investment Australia will also enter into a $200 million cooperative program with the United States Navy for the development, production and sustainment of the MQ-4C Triton.
Northrop Grumman as supplier of the Triton will play a lead role in delivering the capability in Australia. This investment follows Northrop’s commitment to a $50 million advanced Electronic Sustainment Centre of Excellence at the new Western Sydney Airport. Triton is the first Northrop Grumman-built aircraft system Australia has purchased.
The new centre will support advanced electronics such as communications and electronic warfare equipment, and targeting pods. Northrop Grumman will bring together highly skilled technicians, engineers and other professionals whose work will be further supported by the company’s high-end technology and software expertise.
“Northrop Grumman looks forward to bringing the Triton unmanned system with its autonomous capability to Australia,” said Ian Irving, chief executive officer, Northrop Grumman Australia. “Working with the Royal Australian Air Force and the U.S. Navy, we are confident that we can provide the best capability to fulfill Australia’s maritime mission.”
“Triton provides unprecedented endurance and 360-degree coverage through its unique sensor suite,” said Doug Shaffer, vice president of Triton programs, Northrop Grumman. “Australia has one of the largest sea zones in the world over which it has rights to use marine resources, also known as an Economic Exclusion Zone. As a flexible platform, Triton can serve in missions as varied as maritime domain awareness, target acquisition, fisheries protection, oil field monitoring and humanitarian relief.”
Triton in U.S. Navy Service
The U.S. Navy recently acquired two operational Triton aircraft and is under contract for six more. These aircraft will go to Guam later this year and provide the Navy with an unprecedented common operating picture of the maritime environment. Triton can detect, classify and track ships over large swaths of ocean and littorals. The U.S. Navy program of record is for 68 aircraft.