Australia’s maritime approaches will be further strengthened with the purchase of an additional Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton Remotely Piloted Aircraft System, bringing Australia’s Triton fleet to three. Once in service, this capability will significantly enhance Royal Australian Air Force ability to persistently patrol Australia’s maritime approaches from the North, in the South West Pacific and down to Antarctica. The Triton acquisition is an important part of protecting Australia’s borders and making the region more secure. The US Navy’s Triton aircraft have commenced operations in Australia’s region and are already demonstrating their operational value.
Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC said “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. 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. 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. The Triton and P-8A Poseidon capabilities will operate in a complementary way to deliver a comprehensive Maritime Patrol and Response capability. Australia’s 12th Poseidon aircraft was delivered in December 2019.
Australia has considered the MQ-4, both as a military platform and as customs enforcement platform; senior customs officials have doubted the effectiveness of the planned seven MQ-4C to detect small boats in the country’s northern waters, especially through cloud cover. On 16 February 2014, it was reported that the Australian government would seek the purchase of seven MQ-4C Tritons; in addition to locating ships and aircraft, it would also be used to detect seaborne asylum seekers. Alongside the P-8, the MQ-4 is to replace the elderly P-3 Orion fleet. 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.
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. 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 sensor suites allow ships to be tracked 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 expected to be operational by late 2015 with a total of 67 aircraft to be procured. Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for the MQ-4C was achieved in 2018 with Full Operating Capability (FOC) planned in 2023.