Northrop Grumman unveiled the first MQ-4C Triton high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) maritime surveillance UAV for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on September 14. The ceremony, held at the assembly and test facility at Palmdale, California, was attended by military and government officials from both the U.S. and Australia.
Construction of the first Australian aircraft began in October 2020 at Northrop Grumman’s production facility at Moss Point, Missouri. The fuselage and one-piece wing assemblies were mated in Palmdale in December 2021. The air vehicle is scheduled for completion in 2023, with delivery to Australia slated for the following year.
“Today marks a significant milestone for Australia and the MQ-4C Triton program,” said Tom Jones, corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems. “As we get ready for final system integration and flight test, we are one step closer to delivering this extraordinary maritime awareness capability to Australia.”
Developed under the U.S. Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program as an adaptation of the RQ-4 Global Hawk, the Triton is intended to provide long-endurance, real-time intelligence/surveillance/reconnaissance (ISR) over wide swathes of ocean. It achieved initial operating capability with the U.S. Navy in 2018. The Triton partners with the Boeing P-8A Poseidon that is operated by both the U.S. Navy and RAAF. It is also a very useful asset for long-range oceanic search-and-rescue missions, and detecting vessels carrying asylum-seekers.
“Triton will provide the Royal Australian Air Force with an unprecedented capability to monitor and protect our maritime approaches” said Air Marshal Robert Chipman, Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force. “Triton will work alongside the P-8A Poseidon and this unmanned aircraft system will allow us to cover significant areas, at longer ranges and has the ability to stay airborne longer than a traditional aircraft.”
Australia announced that it would procure seven MQ-4Cs in March 2014 as one element of the Project Air 7000 program to replace the long-serving Lockheed AP-3C Orions, and became a cooperative program partner to help shape the Triton system requirements. It will share data and experience with the U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C fleet. In June 2018 the first six were ordered, with the purchase of a seventh to be considered at a later date. The MQ-4Cs will be based at RAAF Edinburgh in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, South Australia, with a deployment base at RAAF Tindal in the Northern Territory. The other element of the Air 7000 requirement has been answered by the P-8A, of which 14 have been ordered. The first arrived in-country for service with No. 11 Squadron at Edinburgh in November 2016.