The first Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton uncrewed high altitude long endurance maritime ISR aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force has been rolled out at a ceremony at the company’s Palmdale assembly facility in California.
The rollout of the air vehicle on 14 September marks the latest in a long line of program milestones that is scheduled to see the system enter RAAF service from 2024. It follows the commencement of final assembly of the air vehicle at Palmdale in November 2020, and the wing-fuselage join in December 2021.
“Triton will provide the Royal Australian Air Force with an unprecedented capability to monitor and protect our maritime approaches” Chief of Air Force, AIRMSHL Robert Chipman said in a 14 September release. “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.”
Tom Jones, corporate vice president and president, Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems added, “Today marks a significant milestone for Australia and the MQ-4C Triton program. 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.”
Head Air Force Capability, AVM Robert Denney said the partnership would support intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance roles, as well as a broad range of joint effects fully integrated into Defence’s combat architecture.
“This partnership is pushing the boundaries of Air Power to pursue a truly advanced platform that will provide both a foundational capability and a growth path for future decades,” he said. “Once in service, the remotely piloted High Altitude Long Endurance aerial system will significantly enhance our ability to persistently patrol Australia’s north and north-western approaches, in the south-west Pacific and south to Antarctica.
“Triton will complement the surveillance role of the P-8A Poseidon by providing sustained operations at long ranges, and undertaking a range of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks,” he added.
The Triton is a development of Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4B Global Hawk, but features a stiffer wing, leading edge and intake de-icing, a sense & avoid sensor for uncrewed operations in controlled airspace, an AESA radar optimised for maritime ISR, and a comprehensive Multi-INT signals intelligence sensor suite. Australia is a cooperative development partner on the Triton program with the US Navy.
Australia has so far committed to buy three Tritons out of a requirement of six air vehicles under Project AIR 7000 Phase 1B. It is likely the first two RAAF air vehicles will be co-located with US Navy Tritons at Anderson AFB on Guam while forward basing facilities are completed at RAAF Tindal, and certification efforts and procedures to fly the Triton through controlled airspace to RAAF Edinburgh near Adelaide are finalised.