The Australian government announced it is investing AU$1.4 billion in the acquisition of six MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced on 26 June. The UAS will be acquired through a cooperative program with the US Navy. Australia is buying the UAS to complement the surveillance role of the P-8A Poseidon aircraft through sustained operations at long ranges as well as being able to undertake a range of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks. A $200 million cooperative program between Australia and the US Navy for the development, production and sustainment of the MQ-4C Triton will also be initiated.
As part of the initial $1.4 billion investment in the Triton system, the government 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. The project is expected to create about 70 jobs across South Australia and the Northern Territory. 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.
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. Together with the P-8A Poseidon multimission maritime aircraft, the high-altitude, long-endurance Tritons will replace the RAAF’s fleet of 19 AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft that entered service in the mid-1980s. The last of the Orions will be retired in 2023. The first of the Triton aircraft 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. The current fleet of Orion aircraft will be withdrawn from service in 2023 when the last of these aircraft will be over 40 years old.
The Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) under development for the United States Navy as a surveillance aircraft. In tandem with its associated ground control station, it is considered an unmanned aircraft system (UAS). Developed under the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program, the system is intended to provide real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions (ISR) over vast ocean and coastal regions, continuous maritime surveillance, conduct search and rescue missions, and to complement the Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. Triton builds on elements of the RQ-4 Global Hawk; changes include reinforcements to the air frame and wing, de-icing systems, and lightning protection systems. These capabilities allow the aircraft to descend through cloud layers to gain a closer view of ships and other targets at sea when needed. The current sensor suites allow ships to be tracked over time by gathering information on their speed, location, and classification. The MQ-4C System Development and Demonstration (SDD) aircraft was delivered in 2012 and the MQ-4C was originally expected to be operational by late 2015 with a total of 68 aircraft to be procured. Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for the MQ-4C was achieved in 2018 with Full Operating Capability (FOC) planned in 2023.