• Australia's first MQ-4C Triton. 

Credit: Defence
    Australia's first MQ-4C Triton. Credit: Defence

Australia’s first MQ-4C Triton, A57-001, arrived at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Tindal in the early hours of 16 June following a trans-pacific flight from California. 

The aircraft – the first of four ordered by the RAAF – was unveiled by Northrop Grumman in September 2022 and took its first flight on 9 November 2023. 

In February 2024, the aircraft flew from Palmdale California to US Naval Air Station Patuxent River, home of US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), for final fit-out and certification. 

The arrival of Australia’s first Triton comes nearly 20 years after Australia joined the-then developmental US Navy (USN) Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program via a Project Agreement in 2006. In 2018, Australia entered into a cooperative Development, Production and Sustainment (DPS) program with the USN to cover the MQ-4C Triton. 

The agreement has allowed Australia to embed personnel within the Persistent Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office (PMA-262) and provide input into the development of the system. It has also provided Australia with the opportunity to have influence over the development direction of the system. 

Australia’s Tritons will be operated by No. 9 Squadron RAAF, with the aircraft themselves flying from RAAF Tindal, while they are controlled and monitored from RAAF Edinburgh. 

In an Australian-first, while RAAF personnel at Tindal will provide taxi, landing and takeoff services, all maintenance on the operational aircraft will be carried out by Northrop Grumman Australia and L3Harris Australia under an interim sustainment contract. 

The 2016 Defence White Paper committed Australia to acquiring “up-to”seven Tritons, sufficient to maintain a single operational orbit and have an aircraft available for local tasks. However, by the time the project received second pass approval in June 2018, the scope had been reduced to “up-to” six aircraft, according to the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO).

While it’s still possible that the number of aircraft being acquired may grow, the 2024 Integrated Investment Plan (IIP), makes no mention of any additional aircraft, with all funding for Triton buried within the “Air intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” category. 

Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for the platform, defined as being able to maintain one orbit at an appropriate level of effort for initial operations, is not expected to be achieved until at least mid-2025 according to the ANAO. In the meantime, the Defence Aviation Safety Authority (DASA) is expected to authorise an Uncrewed Aerial System (UAS) Operating Permit (UASOP) for the Triton before the end of the year. 








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