One of RAAF’s most significant unmanned acquisitions over the last year is the MQ-4C Triton. At the time of the announcement, ADM understood that the option for a seventh option had not yet been taken off the table, and was able to confirm this with representatives from RAAF and Northrop Grumman at this year’s Avalon Airshow.
The six aircraft will be based at RAAF Edinburgh in SA and RAAF Tindal in WA to undertake maritime surveillance operations - cruising at 310 knots for up to 24 hours at 46,000 feet, 11,000 kilometres from home, with a 400 kilometre sensor range. According to GPCPT Jason Lind, Director of ISR, EW and Space for RAAF, the platform is also defined by ability to plug into other 5th Gen platforms: “It’s the networking we’re interested in – using the combat cloud to improve our decision superiority.”
As part of the acquisition, Australia is entering into a $200 million cooperative program with the US Navy to develop, produce, and sustain the Triton: an approach that requires RAAF to take on a degree of risk in exchange for a limited ability to tailor the program towards unique Australian requirements.
“The Cooperative Program is different to an FMS in that we’re a partner,” GPCPT Martin Nussio, Director ISR for CASG, explained. “In this case, the decision [to enter a cooperative program] was to do with where Triton is at in its development cycle. That means we share risk, but also share reward.
“It’s genuinely a cooperative partnership.”
The option for a seventh Triton is under consideration an attrition aircraft, although a decision on further platforms awaits the next White Paper.
“We’ve committed to six, but we’ll be looking at attrition aircraft,” GPCPT Lind said. “If another White Paper were to come out then maybe it would be a different decision, but for now it is six with the attrition aircraft question down the track. That’s the government’s prerogative.”
The reason for the split between RAAF Edinburgh and RAAF Tindal, GPCPT Lind explained, was that Defence intended to use the aircraft to fly further south than previously possible.
“This is an asset that can go down to Heard Island and Antarctica – places we haven’t been able to reach before,” GPCPT Lind said. “We’ve got flexibility with this aircraft flying phenomenal distances. Certainly down in Edinburgh we’ll be going south.”
The expanded coverage towards Antarctica means that Triton will represent a unique whole-of-government capability, with data from the platform theoretically accessible to other departments, such as the Antarctic Division and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, in ‘near real-time’.
“We’re not doing this for ourselves,” GPCPT Lind said. “We should be sharing our info as quickly as possible and to whom needs it in government.”