The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) will become the first export operator of the Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), after the Australian Department of Defence announced awarding of a AUS$1.4bn order for the first example.
According to a statement from the Australian DoD: “The security of Australia’s maritime borders will be significantly strengthened with another major military investment.”
The Triton will be acquired through a co-operative programme with the US Navy. As part of this investment Australia will also enter into an AUS$200 agreement with the US Navy for the development, production and sustainment of the MQ-4C.
The first two operational US Navy MQ-4Cs are now flying from Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu. Assigned to Unmanned Patrol Squadron (VUP) 19, the Tritons were officially welcomed to the fleet with a ceremony at Point Mugu on May 31.
In RAAF service, the Triton will complement the P-8A Poseidon in the surveillance role. It will fly sustained operations at long ranges as well as a range of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) tasks. “Together these aircraft will significantly enhance our anti-submarine warfare and maritime strike capability, as well as our search and rescue capability,” the Australian DoD added.
As part of the initial AUS$1.4bn investment in the Triton system, the Australian government will invest AUS$364m on new facilities at RAAF Base Edinburgh and RAAF Base Tindal, as well the necessary ground control systems, support and training.
Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman has already committed to an AUS$50m advanced Electronic Sustainment Centre of Excellence at Western Sydney Airport. The new centre will support advanced electronics such as communications and electronic warfare equipment and targeting pods.
“Northrop Grumman looks forward to bringing the Triton unmanned system with its autonomous capability to Australia,” said Ian Irving, chief executive officer, Northrop Grumman Australia. “Working with the Royal Australian Air Force and the US Navy, we are confident that we can provide the best capability to fulfil Australia’s maritime mission.”
Australia has already taken delivery of seven Poseidon aircraft and the RAAF achieved initial operational capability earlier this year. The full fleet of 12 Poseidon aircraft is expected to be delivered and in operation by 2022 and the last of the AP-3C Orions will be retired the following year.
The first of the Triton aircraft is expected to be introduced into service in mid-2023 with all six aircraft planned to be delivered and in operation by late 2025. They will be based at RAAF Base Edinburgh in South Australia.
The total cost for the six Tritons, including facilities upgrades and support, is expected to be around AUS$6.9bn.
“Triton provides unprecedented endurance and 360-degree coverage through its unique sensor suite,” said Doug Shaffer, vice president of Triton programmes, Northrop Grumman. “Australia has one of the largest sea zones in the world over which it has rights to use marine resources, also known as an economic exclusion zone. As a flexible platform, Triton can serve in missions as varied as maritime domain awareness, target acquisition, fisheries protection, oil field monitoring and humanitarian relief.”