Australia is to invest Au$1.4 billion ($1.04 billion) in the acquisition of the first of six Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial systems for maritime surveillance, the government said.
The first Triton is expected to be in service by mid-2023, with the full fleet of six planned to be in operation by the end of 2025, the prime minister and defence ministers said in a Tuesday, June 26 joint statement.
The aircraft will be based at RAAF Base Edinburgh near Adelaide in South Australia.
Of the initial Au$1.4 billion, Australia will spend Au$364 million ($269 million) on new facilities at RAAF Base Edinburgh and RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Terriitory, as well on ground control systems, support and training.
The initial investment also includes spending Au$200 million ($148 million) on a cooperative program with the U.S. Navy for the “development, production and sustainment of the MQ-4C Triton.”
Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said the total program cost was about Au$7 billion ($5.2 billion), the South China Morning Post reported.
“The Triton will complement the surveillance role of the P-8A Poseidon aircraft through sustained operations at long ranges as well as being able to undertake a range of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks,” the joint statement said.
The statement said that together the Triton and Poseidon aircraft will significantly enhance Australia’s anti-submarine warfare and maritime strike capability, as well as its search and rescue capability, adding that the “investment will protect our borders and make our region more secure.”
Australia has received seven of the 12 Poseidon aircraft ordered, with the remainder expected to be delivered and in operation by 2022.
The Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton is considered an unmanned aerial system because it is operated from a tandem ground station by a crew of four, and is designed to conduct real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions over large ocean and coastal regions. It is designed to complement the Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.
The first Triton entered operational service with the U.S. Navy in November 2017. It is to be deployed to Guam this year, but will be flown from Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida.
Northrop Grumman says the aircraft is capable of flying at over 55,000 feet for up to 24 hours, and provides “persistent 360-degree maritime domain awareness through vessel detection, classification and tracking.” The aircraft flies at 320 knots and has a maximum unrefueled range of 8,200 nautical miles (15,186 km).
The system builds on the RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV and includes air frame and wing reinforcement, de-icing systems, and lightning protection systems to allow the aircraft to descend for closer viewing of targets.