Australia to procure an additional MQ-4C Triton

The Australian Department of Defence has announced that it will acquire a third Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

Australia’s Minister for Defence, Hon Linda Reynolds CSC, said that the acquisition is important for protecting the nation’s borders and increasing security in the region. “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,” she said.

The MQ-4C Triton has been developed through a co-operative programme between the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the US Navy. The platform can operate at high altitudes, with a service ceiling of 56,000ft (17,000m), and provides a round-the-clock maritime wide-area intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability.

MQ-4C Triton [US Navy/Kelly Schindler] #1
A US Navy-operated Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton HALE UAV comes in to land at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland, in September 2014. US Navy/Kelly Schindler

According to Northrop Grumman, “Triton can cover more than two million square miles of ocean and littorals in a single flight, bringing unprecedented awareness to operational commanders’ common operating pictures.”

“Our membership of the [co-operative programme] gives us the confidence to acquire our third Triton. We will continue to work closely with the [US] 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,” Reynolds added.

Australia plans to acquire six Tritons in total, which will be headquartered at RAAF Base Edinburgh, South Australia. The type will also operate from a forward operating base at RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory. The former – which is the main operating base for the MQ-4C – will act as a permanent control station, while the latter will enable the HALE UAV to deploy in support of Australian national security requirements.

MQ-4C Triton [US Navy/Chad Slattery] #1
A pair of MQ-4C Tritons resting on the tarmac at Northrop Grumman's test facility in Palmdale, California, in 2013. US Navy/Chad Slattery

Doug Shaffer, vice president of Triton programmes at Northrop Grumman, said: “As a strategic partner in the co-operative development [programme], Australia is a critical part of Triton’s development and production… This game-changing system will boost Australia’s ISR capability and enable them to meet their surveillance needs to manage the world’s third largest exclusive economic zone.”

Australia’s involvement in the co-operative development programme provides opportunities for the nation’s local defence industry, including the construction of facilities in South Australia and the Northern Territory, engineering, logistics, component manufacturing and software integration.

Reynolds added that “over AU$475m is set to be spent locally, with several Australian companies already completing Triton production work for Northrop Grumman.”

The RAAF’s Triton fleet will support and complement the air arm’s already established Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft fleet. The service operates 12 P-8As, with the final example being delivered last December. Australia’s first MQ-4C Triton is expected to be handed over in 2023.