Australia to Acquire Third MQ-4C Triton Remotely Piloted Aircraft

Australia has announced the plan to purchase an additional Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS), bringing its Triton fleet to three.

Minister for Defence Linda Reynolds said the Triton acquisition is an important part of protecting Australia’s borders and making the region more secure.

“Once in service, this capability will significantly enhance our ability to persistently patrol Australia’s maritime approaches from the North, in the South West Pacific and down to Antarctica,” Minister Reynolds said.

Rendering of an MQ-4C Triton surveillance unmanned aircraft system (UAS) in Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) livery.

“The fleet is being developed and purchased through a Cooperative Program with the US Navy. This Program strengthens our ability to develop advanced maritime surveillance capability and ensure our capabilities remain complementary with our security partners, while sharing in the benefits of their technical expertise and project costs,” the Minster added.

“Our membership of the Cooperative Program gives us the confidence to acquire our third Triton. We will continue to work closely with the United States to assure our future capability. Together we are developing this cutting edge military technology to the highest standards. This work will help ensure Australia’s maritime region is secure well into the future.”

The project provides significant opportunities for Australian defence industry including the construction of facilities in South Australia and the Northern Territory, software integration, engineering, logistics and manufacturing of components.

“Over $475 million is set to be spent locally, with several Australian companies already completing Triton production work for Northrop Grumman Corporation,” Minister Reynolds said.

The Triton will complement the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)’s P-8A Poseidon ‘manned’ maritime patrol aircraft to “deliver a comprehensive Maritime Patrol and Response capability”. They will also provide support to national security response activities, both domestically and abroad.

Australia’s 12th Poseidon aircraft was delivered in December 2019. The Poseidon aircraft have since been deployed on several overseas operations and have performed to a very high standard.

The U.S. Navy’s Triton aircraft have recently commenced operations in the Indo-Pacific region and are already demonstrating their operational value.

MQ-4C Triton at Andersen AFB
A U.S. Navy MQ-4C Triton unmanned surveillance aircraft taxis at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. USN Photo.

Australia’s MQ-4C Triton Procurement:

Australia is planning to procure at least six Triton aircraft from the U.S. through a cooperative program with the U.S. Navy. The Triton buy is part of the Australian Defence Force (ADF)’s Project Air 7000 program to replace its Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)’s AP-3C Orion aircraft.

In March last year, it was announced that the Australian Government approved the purchase of the second MQ-4C Triton for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).

Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton is a high altitude long endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft that are used for maritime patrol and other surveillance roles. The Triton builds on elements of the RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance aircraft, with reinforcements to the airframe and wing.

The MQ-4C 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. The aircraft 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.

Pilots and sensor operators fly the Triton from ground stations, which can command flights all over the world.

Australia’s MQ-4Cs will be operated by the RAAF and will complement the surveillance role of the RAAF’s P-8A Poseidon manned maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) through sustained operations at long ranges as well as being able to undertake a range of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) tasks.

Together these aircraft will significantly enhance Australia’s anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and maritime strike capability, as well as search and rescue (SAR) capability.

The first of the MQ-4C 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.

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