Australia is expected to receive three MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) by 2025 according to manufacturer Northrop Grumman despite an announcement by the US Department of Defense for a two-year ‘production pause in FY 2021 and FY 2022’ in the Triton program.
The MQ-4C Triton will provide Australia with real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance over the countries large coastal regions. The aircraft can fly over 24 hours at a time, at altitudes higher than 50,000 ft, with an operational range of 8,200 nautical miles – the only drone capable of monitoring the 8 million kilometers of Australia’s exclusion zone.
Based on the proven Global Hawk UAS, Triton’s autonomous operations are supported by land-based command and control mission planners and sensor operators. It has a robust airframe capable of withstanding hail, bird strikes, gust load protection, and de-icing and lightning protection systems. These features allow the aircraft to descend quickly from roaming at over 50,000 feet to low altitudes through harsh maritime weather environments to gain close monitoring of ships and other targets at sea.
From the Royal Australian Air Force:
The Triton Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) is a high altitude long endurance (HALE) aircraft that will be used for maritime patrol and other surveillance roles.
Supporting missions up to 24 hours, the Triton is equipped with a sensor suite that provides a 360-degree view of its surroundings for over 2000 nautical miles.
Seven Tritons will be based at RAAF Base Edinburgh and will operate alongside the P-8A Poseidon to replace the AP-3C Orions. The endurance of the Triton means that it can stay airborne for longer than a traditional aircraft where the pilot is inside.
The Triton will be flown by qualified Air Force pilots from a ground station, supported by a co-pilot. Information gathered by the Triton will be analysed and communicated by operational staff such as aircrew, intelligence, operations and administration officers, engineers, and logisticians (depending on the training or mission requirements).