The Navy’s long endurance surveillance drone, the MQ-4C Triton, has wrapped up its operational assessment, inching it one step closer to low rate initial production.
After the service completes its final analysis of the data gathered during about 60 hours of flight testing, the Navy will make a Milestone C decision sometime this spring, MQ-4C manufacturer Northrop Grumman [NOC] said in a statement.
During the assessment, a test team—which consisted of Navy personnel from Air Test and Evaluation Squadrons VX-1 and VX-20, Unmanned Patrol Squadron and VUP-19 and Northrop contractors—evaluated the aircraft’s sensors and radars at a variety of altitudes and ranges and confirmed that it would meet endurance requirements for time on station. The team also appraised the MQ-4C’s ability to identify targets and disseminate critical data back to the ground control station.
“Operational assessment for Triton included several flights which exercised the weapon system through operationally relevant scenarios that demonstrated its readiness to meet the Navy’s maritime intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance needs,” said Doug Shaffer, the company’s vice president for Triton programs. “As a result of the flight tests, the program moves one step closer to a milestone C decision later this spring.”
The service began Triton’s operational assessment on Nov. 17, according to Naval Air Systems Command.
The Navy will procure four MQ-4C aircraft in fiscal year 2016 and has requested funding to buy two more in 2017. The first MQ-4C is slated to become operational in 2017, and initial operational capability is scheduled for 2018, after four systems have been delivered.
At the time of fielding, Triton will be equipped with the AN/ZPY-3 multi-function active sensor radar as well as sensors that can classify ships and relay video, but other capabilities will be integrated further down the road, Sean Burke, the service’s program manager for the persistent maritime unmanned aircraft systems program office, said last April.
The service plans to add a high and low band signals intelligence capability to detect radar in 2020, he said. Also around that time, it will incorporate an airborne due regard radar that allows Triton to sense and avoid other aircraft (Defense Daily, April 13).