The U.S. Department of Defense is to award Northrop Grumman a sole-source contract to supply the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) with two more Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). A notification posted on the US government’s beta.sam.gov website on 14 April noted that Royal Australian Air Force is to add to the one Triton UAV for which a contract has already been placed by exercising its options for two more as part of a wider US Navy procurement plan. The Royal Australian Air Force plans to field a total of six such UAVs. The first MQ-4C is expected to enter service in mid-2023, with all six scheduled to be fully operational by late 2025. They will be based at RAAF Base Edinburgh, in South Australia. The total value of the programme is expected to be about $5 billion.
This contract modification establishes two unfunded option lines for five additional MQ-4C unmanned aircraft [three for the USN and two for the RAAF] and two additional main operating bases [one for the USN and one for the RAAF] and related production support, to include but not limited to: the procurement of long-lead material and associated effort; systems engineering; production management; integrated logistics support; and associated technical, administrative, and financial data,” the notification stated.
The Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton is an American high-altitude long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) under development for the United States Navy as a surveillance aircraft. Together with its associated ground control station, it is 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.
On 26 June 2018, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the purchase of the first of six MQ-4C Tritons with consideration being given to purchase a seventh. Seven Tritons will be based at RAAF Base Edinburgh and will operate alongside the Boeing P-8A Poseidon multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). RAAF Tritons and Poseidons will be used in a similar complementary fashion as with U.S. Navy operation, where the MQ-4C performs high-altitude broad area surveillance missions, allowing the P-8A to be more dedicated to anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, search and rescue response, and electronic intelligence missions.