The US Navy has deployed two Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned high altitude long endurance (HALE) maritime ISR systems to Anderson AFB on the Western Pacific island of Guam.
The Early Operational Capability (EOC) milestone is a key one for the Triton, and marks the first operational deployment of the system. Originally scheduled for 2018, EOC has been delayed by developmental and operational test issues, and the September 2018 belly landing of a Triton air vehicle at NAS Ventura County at Point Mugu in California.
The two EOC Triton systems are operated by the Point Mugu-based Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19 (VUP-19), and will fall under the command of Task Force (CTF) 72 to provide patrol, reconnaissance and surveillance for forces in the US Navy’s 7th Fleet.
“The introduction of MQ-4C Triton to the 7th Fleet area of operations expands the reach of the US Navy’s maritime patrol and reconnaissance force in the Western Pacific,” commander of CTF-72 Capt Matt Rutherford said in a January 26 release. “Coupling the capabilities of the MQ-4C with the proven performance of P-8, P-3 and EP-3 will enable improved maritime domain awareness in support of regional and national security objectives.”
Rear Adm Peter Garvin, the US Navy’s commander Patrol and Reconnaissance Group added, “The inaugural deployment of Triton UAS brings enhanced capabilities and a broad increase in Maritime Domain Awareness to our forward Fleet commanders. VUP-19, the Navy’s first dedicated UAS squadron supported by an outstanding NAVAIR and industry team, is superbly trained and ready to provide the persistent ISR coverage the Navy needs.”
In a company statement, Northrop Grumman’s vice president and program manager for the Triton program, Doug Shaffer said, “This is a significant milestone in the MQ-4C Triton program. Our partnership with the U.S. Navy has been crucial in developing this system that will help commanders build a better common operational picture.”
The deployment of Triton to Guam brings the system a little closer to Australia and its maritime approaches. The RAAF currently has two MQ-4Cs on order of a requirement for six systems, the first of which is expected to be delivered in 2023.
RAAF Tritons will be home-based at RAAF Edinburgh near Adelaide, although air vehicles are expected to be forward deployed to RAAF Tindal in the Northern Territory to provide a ‘sixth orbit’ to neatly complement the five planned deployed locations for the US Navy Tritons. Apart from Guam and Point Mugu, the US Navy also plans to base Tritons at NAS Jacksonville in Florida, the Persian Gulf region, and Sigonella Air Base in Italy.