Northrop Grumman [NOC] said yesterday it is in the process of building a Triton unmanned aerial vehicle to use as a test bed for the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program.

Northrop Grumman is internally funding the construction of the MQ-4C Triton, a variance of the company’s Global Hawk platform operated by the Air Force. The in-house aircraft will be outfitted with the same intelligence-gathering sensors and communications suite as the Navy’s Triton.

"The aircraft will initially be used to further testing efforts for the Navy as we prepare Triton to be operational in late 2015," said Steve Enewold, Northrop Grumman’s program manager for Triton. "Eventually, we will use the aircraft as a test bed to improve system performance, incorporate new intelligence-gathering capabilities and conduct demonstrations."

Northrop Grumman rolled out the first production aircraft under the Triton program last year. The aircraft are designed to perform high altitude long endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The Navy plans to buy 68 Tritons.