Australia’s government announced on Tuesday it is ordering an initial six Northrop Grumman [NOC] MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for $1 billion in a cooperative program with the U.S. Navy.

The Australian government said the new aircraft will complement its new P-8A Poseidon aircraft by helping undertake intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions; aiding in anti-submarine warfare and maritime strike capabilities; and adding to search and rescue capabilities.

The first two delivered MQ-4C Triton aircraft at their new hangar at Naval Base Ventura Couny, Point Mugu, Calif. (Photo: Northrop Grumman)
The first two delivered MQ-4C Triton aircraft at their new hangar at Naval Base Ventura Couny, Point Mugu, Calif. (Photo: Northrop Grumman)

The first Triton is expected to be introduced to service in mid-2023 while all six aircraft are planned to be delivered and in operation by late 2025. They will be based at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Edinburgh in South Australia.

Previously, the first seven of 12 planned Poseidons were delivered to Australia and the program achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC) earlier this year. The ministries said the full P-8A fleet is expected to be fully delivered and operational by 2022.

The P-8As will replace Australia’s AP-3C Orions for its naval support, maritime surveillance, search and rescue, and anti-submarine warfare roles. The government plans to fully retire the Orions in 2023, when the last aircraft will be over 40 years old.

“Our number one priority is keeping Australians safe. This investment will protect our borders and make our region more secure,” the government said in a joint statement by the offices of the Prime Minister, Minister for Defence, and Minister for Defence Industry.

Part of the $1 billion MQ-4C investment will include investing $269 million in new facilities at the RAAF Base Edinburgh and RAAF Base Tindal as well as necessary ground control systems, support, and training needed for this kind of project.

Within the investment, Australia will also enter a $148 million cooperative program with the U.S. Navy for Triton development, production, and sustainment.

“Australia’s alliance with the U.S. is our most important defence relationship, underpinned by strong cooperation in defence industry and capability development. This cooperative program will strengthen our ability to develop advanced capability and conduct joint military operations,” the ministries said.

The Australian government underscored that Northrop Grumman “will play a lead role in delivering the capability” in-country. Northrop Grumman said the Triton is its first aircraft purchased by Australia.

“Northrop Grumman looks forward to bringing the Triton unmanned system with its autonomous capability to Australia. Working with the Royal Australian Air Force and the U.S. Navy, we are confident that we can provide the best capability to fulfill Australia’s maritime mission,” Ian Irving, CEO of Northrop Grumman Australia, said in a statement.

Triton can fly at up to 55,000 feet for up to 24 hours at a time. Its payload includes 360-degree multi-function active sensor (MFAS) maritime radar and electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors with near-real-time video.

Doug Shaffer, vice president of Triton programs at Northrop Grumman, highlighted Australia has one of the largest sea zones in the world and Triton can serve in maritime domain awareness, target acquisition, oil field monitoring, fisheries protection, and humanitarian relief missions.

The U.S. Navy previously received its first two of eight Tritons, which started flight operations last month and are being housed in a hangar at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC), Point Mugu, Calif., while maintainers conduct training and tests (Defense Daily, June 1).  The American Tritons are on schedule to deploy to a forward operating base in Guam and achieve early operational capability (EOC) later this year with two aircraft and reach IOC in 2021 with four total aircraft (Defense Daily, April 9).