Tritons on track

A full-scale mock-up of the Triton, complete with Royal Australian Air Force markings and the serial number A57-001, was on display at Avalon 2019.
Nigel Pittaway

Speaking at the Australian International Airshow at Avalon in February, the Royal Australian Air Force’s Director of Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare, Group Captain Jason Lind, provided details of Australia’s Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton acquisition programme.

Gp Capt Lind said that the first of six Tritons the Air Force acquires will be delivered on schedule in mid-2023.

Australia has an overall requirement for six Tritons and Minister for Defence Christopher Pyne announced an order for the first aircraft in June 2018. Other aircraft will be ordered as the programme matures and there is also an option for a seventh MQ-4 Triton as an attrition replacement at a later date.

The Triton is being acquired under the AUD 4 billion Project Air 7000 Phase 1B, which calls for an unmanned, persistent maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform to supplement the Air Force’s Boeing P-8A Poseidon aircraft. Together, the two platforms are replacing the Air Force’s Lockheed AP-3C Orions, which were recently withdrawn from service in the maritime ISR and anti-submarine warfare roles.

Gp Capt Lind said the initial order, which included the first aircraft and ground control stations, was valued at AUD 1.4 billion.

Australia is acquiring the US Navy’s multi-intelligence version of the Triton and all aircraft are expected to be in service by the end of 2025.

Gp Capt Lind said that Australia has also signed up to a cooperative development programme with the US Navy, in order to influence the further development of the Triton’s capabilities. A similar arrangement exists between the Royal Australian Air Force and US Navy for the P-8A and this has reportedly been very successful to date.

He said: “We have learned a lot of things and derived a lot of goodness out of the Poseidon cooperative programme and we’ll be working closely with the US Navy to further develop Triton, and how we can leverage off some of their methodologies as well.”

The first Australian crews will travel to the United States in 2020, to begin their training with a US Navy MQ-4 squadron.

In Royal Australian Air Force service, the Tritons will be based at Edinburgh in South Australia, but they will also operate from RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory and other deployed locations around Australia. The Triton will be part of the Air Force’s Surveillance and Control Group, but a decision on which squadron will operate the aircraft is yet to be made.

Gp Capt Lind said: “I think Triton brings something incredibly different to the Royal Australian Air Force and the wider Australian Defence Force and the cooperative development programme will deliver something beyond a foreign military sales acquisition. We’re a partner with the US Navy and we’ve started early.”