The Australian government has confirmed its interest in acquiring the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft by announcing the issuance of a Letter of Request (LOR) seeking further information from the US.
Minister for Defence Stephen Smith and Minister for Defence Materiel Dr Mike Kelly said in a statement on May 16 that the LOR would give Australia access to detailed information on the US Navy’s Triton, which is built by Northrop Grumman.
But the long-awaited statement – first expected to have been announced at the Avalon Airshow earlier this year – emphasised that the release of an LOR does not yet commit Australia to purchasing the Triton, which is a variant of the Global Hawk intended for maritime surveillance.
“To help assess the suitability of the Triton for Australia’s requirements, the government will establish a Foreign Military Sales Technical Services Case with the United States Navy to obtain detailed cost, capability and availability information to inform future government consideration of Project AIR 7000 Phase 1B,” the ministerial statement read.
Minister Smith and Minister Kelly highlighted plans outlined in the recently released 2013 Defence White Paper to replace the AP-3C Orion fleet with P-8A Poseidon aircraft that would be complemented by unmanned aircraft capable of being tasked for broad area maritime surveillance and fleet overwatch missions.
“The goal is to provide long-range, long-endurance maritime surveillance and response, and an effective anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare capability,” the ministers said in the statement. “The acquisition of high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft for maritime patrol and other surveillance [tasks] is being developed under Project AIR 7000 Phase 1B.”