Contrary to some media reports, the US Navy says has not terminated its Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned long-endurance maritime surveillance program - but it has reduced its requirement for the establishment of five orbits around the globe, to three.
With this comes a reduction in the number of Tritons to be acquired by the US Navy from 68 aircraft to 27.
“The MQ-4C Triton program has not been terminated. The US Navy made (a) decision to reduce FY24 quantity to two aircraft, which will bring the program of record to 27,” Rear Admiral Stephen Tedford, Program Executive Officer for the US Navy’s Unmanned Aviation & Strike Weapons, told ADM.
“This quantity reduction is based on the Joint Oversight Council re-evaluation of world-wide intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting (ISR&T) requirements that resulted in direction to reduce total MQ-4C deployable locations (orbits) from five to three.”
Each Triton orbit is intended to provide persistent (24/7) maritime surveillance over a region of the ocean’s surface.
Rear Admiral Tedford said that the Triton’s 360-degree sensor suite integrated into an air vehicle capable of operating at significant ranges and altitudes at high speed provides a level of capability and operational flexibility “never before possible”.
“Persistent surveillance allows the prediction of an adversary’s behaviour and enables better planning, greatly enhancing joint military responses and operations, all without risking the lives of crew onboard,” he said.
“Triton is the only high-altitude aircraft in the world performing persistent uncrewed maritime ISR&T capability today, and well into the future. The US Navy remains committed to the program, as evidenced by the investment of the multi-intelligence (Multi-INT) pathway for Triton.”
The Multi-INT capability aircraft is the variant Australia is purchasing under Air 7000 Phase 1B and the variant achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC) with the US Navy earlier this month. Australia has committed to the acquisition of four Multi-INT configured Tritons at the present time, with the first due to be delivered in 2024.
“The MQ-4C Triton program represents the most advance maritime ISR&T capability being delivered today,” Tom Jones, Corporate Vice President and President of Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems, told ADM.
“Triton is budgeted to receive US$1.3 billion in Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) funding over the next five years.”
“No other system can fully replace Triton’s capabilities – the range, persistence and coverage area that it delivers is unmatched. Satellites are limited and predicable, offering intermittent overage which can miss – or misinterpret - actions.”
Addressing media reports that the Triton is not survivable in the modern battlespace, Jones asserted that, while survivability is a concern for all military aircraft not specifically designed to operate in high threat environments, it is no more of a concern for the MQ-4C.
“Triton has the benefit of not putting aircrews at risk,” he added.
Both Northrop Grumman and the US Navy say they remain committed to the Triton program and are closely working with Defence here in Australia to deliver the first aircraft to the RAAF next year.
“Lesser capable autonomous systems, when they are developed in coming years, are highly unlikely to provide the territorial coverage through lengthy time on station, the fidelity of imagery, or data that Triton will deliver to the RAAF,” Jones asserted.