The Navy has selected Northrop Grumman [NOC] to provide the airborne sense and avoid radar for its upcoming MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial system.

The decision ousts Exelis [XLS] as the primary builder of the radar. The Navy halted development of the Exelis system in 2013 because of problems miniaturizing it enough to meet the size, weight, power and cooling requirements of the Triton.

The Triton arriving at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Sept. 18. Photo: U.S. Navy
The Triton arriving at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Sept. 18. Photo: U.S. Navy

Northrop Grumman, which is also the prime contractor for the Triton itself, began work on the new radar in December 2014, said Cmdr. Jason Rider, principle deputy program manager for Navy persistent unmanned aircraft systems.

Exelis will still have a role in building the capability and continues to be a subcontractor on the program, he said at the C4ISR & Networks 2015 conference.

“NGC is going to build the front end piece,” including the array and the transmit/receive modules, he said. “Exelis is going to build the power components.”

The companies plan to develop the prototype engineering design model, as well as the equipment needed to integrate it with the Triton, by the summer of 2016, Rider said.

Choosing an airborne sense and avoid radar clears one of the biggest hurdles to moving the program forward. The radar, which is a requirement for the MQ-4C program to fly in United States and international airspace, will allow the Triton to detect and avoid collisions with other aircraft and wildlife.

The airborne radar is part of larger sense and avoid package that includes the automatic dependent surveillance–broadcast (ADS-B) and traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS). The two later systems will allow Triton to detect cooperative aircraft that are also equipped with those transmitters.

The service considered various options to replace the Exelis radar, including recompeting the contract. It conducted a market analysis but found that no available off-the-shelf systems could meet the requirements, Navy officials said last year.

The Northrop Grumman-built radar will be able to meet the same requirements specified for the original Exelis system, Rider said.

The Navy will not begin integrating the new radars onto the Triton until at least 2020, two years after the UAS reaches initial operational capability, he said. Northrop Grumman is slated to deliver the first two aircraft to the service in 2017, with initial operational capability occurring in 2018 after the delivery of two additional aircraft.  

Weather permitting, the Navy plans to start MQ-4C sensor flights this week at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., Rider said. All sensors have already been integrated onto the air vehicle, and the service will begin evaluating its AN/ZPY-3 multi-function active sensor radar, which will provide 360 degree surveillance.

The MQ-4C program will undergo an operational assessment this summer, Rider said.

The Navy intends for the Triton work alongside the Boeing [BA]-manufactured P-8A multi-mission maritime aircraft planned to replace the P-3 anti-submarine and maritime surveillance plane. Once fielded, the Triton will conduct surveillance, track potential threats and capture video and imagery, allowing commanders to focus the P-8 on higher-priority missions.