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Australia buys more Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton UAVs.

| 2020

The U.S. Department of Defense is to award Northrop Grumman a sole-source contract to supply the Royal Australian Air Force with two more MQ-4C Triton high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Australia buys more Northrop Grumman MQ 4C Triton UAVs Royal Australian Air Force Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton HALE UAV (Picture source: RAAF)

A notification posted on the US government's website on 14 April noted that Australia is to add to the one Triton UAV for which a contract has already been placed by exercising its options for two more as part of a wider US Navy procurement plan. The Royal Australian Air Force plans to field a total of six such UAVs. The first MQ-4C is expected to enter service in mid-2023, with all six scheduled to be fully operational by late 2025. They will be based at RAAF Base Edinburgh, in South Australia. The total value of the programme is expected to be about $5 billion.

"This contract modification establishes two unfunded option lines for five additional MQ-4C unmanned aircraft [three for the USN and two for the RAAF] and two additional main operating bases [one for the USN and one for the RAAF] and related production support, to include but not limited to: the procurement of long-lead material and associated effort; systems engineering; production management; integrated logistics support; and associated technical, administrative, and financial data," the notification stated.

Supporting missions for up to 24 hours, the Triton is equipped with a sensor suite that provides a 360-degree view of its surroundings for over 2,000 nautical miles. The MQ-4C’s primary long-range maritime search radar is the belly-mounted X-band AN/ZPY-3 Multi-Function Active Sensor (MFAS) active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, which enables the air vehicle to cover more than 2.7 million square miles in a single sortie. Other equipment includes the Raytheon AN/DAS-3 MTS-B EO/IR sensor turret and a Sierra Nevada Corporation AN/ZLQ-1 electronics support measures suite.

Seven Tritons will be based at RAAF Base Edinburgh and will operate alongside the Boeing P-8A Poseidon multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft (MPA). The endurance of the Triton means that it can stay airborne for longer than a traditional aircraft. The Triton builds on elements of the Global Hawk UAS, with reinforcements to the airframe and wing. It also has de-icing and lightning protection systems, which allow it to descend through cloud layers and gain a closer view of ships and other targets at sea, which complements the Boeing P-8A Poseidon. The Triton platform has been under development by the United States Navy since 2008.

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).

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