NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.–The Navy’s new unmanned aircraft system (UAS) for broad area maritime surveillance will achieve early operational capability later this year on schedule at a forward operating base in Guam, a service official said on Monday.

The early operating capability will consist of two aircraft with a baseline sensor capability and the initial operating capability, scheduled for 2021, will include four aircraft with a multi-intelligence sensor suite that brings the sensor suite up to a top secret signals intelligence architecture, Capt. Dan Mackin, program manager for the Persistent Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office, said during media briefing at the Navy League’ annual Sea-Air-Space conference near Washington, D.C.

The Triton arriving at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Sept. 18, 2014. Photo: U.S. Navy
The Triton arriving at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Sept. 18, 2014. Photo: U.S. Navy

The Navy is currently acquiring three MQ-4C Triton UAS annually from prime contractor Northrop Grumman [NOC], which hosted the media briefing. The Navy awarded the company a $255 million contract for three of the remotely piloted aircraft last December and is requesting funding for three aircraft in fiscal year 2019.

The sensor suite for Triton will include a surface search radar that integrates data into a signals intelligence system, electro-optic and infrared cameras, and an automatic identification system to identify surface vessels using an AIS transponder. The camera system is able to provide full motion video and high-resolution imagery in near-real time to a ground segment, which in turn can disseminate the data to tactical commanders worldwide.

At full operational capability, each of five planned forward operating bases worldwide, including Guam, will have four aircraft with each base operating around-the-clock. The aircraft will operate above 50,000 feet and provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data in all-weather conditions. The aircraft will be piloted from three operating bases within the U.S.

Through last September, Triton achieved 1,000 flight hours as part of an ongoing operational assessment. Mackin said that so far, the aircraft are “showing good sensor availability, good operational availability,” adding that the “the platform is flying really well.” He added that there are some minor sustainment issues that include software-related fixes with an opportunity to fix them during the operational assessment.

The Navy is transitioning its flight testing of Triton from its air station in Patuxent River, Md., to Naval Air Station Point Mugu in California. Once the crews there become proficient in operating the system and equipment and facilities are ready in Guam, they will move out to Guam later this year, Mackin said.

Last week, the U.S. State Department approved a potential $2.5 billion sale of MQ-4C Triton UAS to Germany. Mackin expects a decision around May for a potential Triton sale to Australia.

There are a “number of other nations” that are interested in Triton and “at least exploring” their options. He declined to name these countries.