Australia will acquire a fourth MQ-4C Triton for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy announced on Monday night. The approval comes just days after the aircraft reached Initial Operational Capability (IOC) with the United States Navy (USN) and commenced a renewed deployment to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
In April, RAAF personnel embedded within the MQ-4C program office (PMA-262) helped Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19 (VUP-19) and PMA-262 deploy support equipment to Guam, ahead of the aircraft arriving on August 18.
The deployment of VUP-19s Tritons to Guam allowed the declaration of IOC on 14 September, a key component of which is the ability to sustain ‘Orbit 1’ operations out of Guam. The deployment marks a return to Andersen Air Force Base for the Florida-based squadron, which previously operated Early Operational Capability (EOC) Triton aircraft from the facility between January 2020 and October 2022.
Commander Jae Kim USN, Commanding Officer of VUP-19, said that the deployment stood as a testament to squadron personnel who “have ensured that our platform is not only prepared for deployment, but will also significantly contribute to the expansion of the [family of maritime intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting systems],” which includes the P-8A Poseidon.
The RAAF, which is a long-running cooperative development partner on both the Triton and Poseidon programs, has committed to buying as many as seven Tritons for the newly reformed No. 9 Squadron RAAF.
While in Australian service the Triton aircraft will be based at RAAF Tindal but will be remotely operated from RAAF Edinburgh, where No. 92 Wing RAAF is headquartered. Due to delays in establishing the necessary infrastructure at Tindal, however, it is possible that RAAF Tritons will initially operate from Guam, alongside VUP-19.
Minister Conroy also announced the government's intention to upgrade the RAAFs entire P-8A fleet with “enhanced anti-submarine, maritime strike and intelligence collection capabilities,” from 2026.
No. 11 Squadron RAAF currently operates 12 P-8A Poseidon, with a further two on order from Boeing.
Notably, Conroy did not commit to upgrade work taking place in Australia. Instead, in a statement, he said that Defence would “work with Boeing Defence Australia” to develop options to “[increase] Australian industry opportunities” during the process which will finish in 2030.
Upgrade work will likely include modification and certification work to enable the RAAF P-8A fleet to field the AGM-154C LRASM and possibly the Kongsberg/Raytheon Joint Strike Missile (JSM).