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ELECTION 2013 – Coalition backs away from early Triton buy

written by australianaviation.com.au | September 5, 2013
On the backburner?

The Coalition has backed away from its earlier promise to fast track the acquisition of a Global Hawk/Triton UAV if elected to government on Saturday. In launching the coalition’s defence policy on Monday, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said the Coalition would now “consider closely the need for unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles” as part of a new Defence White Paper, a reversal on its previous promise to fast track such an acquisition.

“The acquisition of unmanned aerial vehicles will be dependent on the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force and service chiefs, as well as a clear cost-benefit assessment that demonstrates the value of these aircraft,” the Coalition’s Defence policy document reads.

“We believe there is merit in acquiring new state-of-the-art unmanned aerial vehicles – such as the Triton or equivalent capability. Australia lost its pre-eminent position in the Triton program and delivery schedule because of Labor’s ill thought-out decision in 2009 to delay this program [AIR 7000 Phase 1B] to 2022-23.”

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Comments (7)

  • John N


    Over the last few years I think there has been a distinction (not necessarily an overly clear distinction) on what the Libs have been talking about regarding Global Hawk and Triton.

    On the one hand, since 2010, the Libs have been saying that they will fast track the purchase of a number of ‘Global Hawks’, eg, for Border Protection all tied to the ‘stop the boats’ line, and on the other hand having a go at the ALP Government on the deferral back in 2009 of the ‘unmanned’ component of AIR 7000, eg, a ‘Triton’ type capability till after the ‘manned’ component of AIR 7000, eg, P8A’s, are in service.

    Yes, Global Hawk and Triton might share the same airframe, but they are two different aircraft with different roles and sensor payloads.

    I think this is more about being able to back away from a quick GH purchase and not necessarily walking away altogether from an eventual Triton purchase which will compliment the P8A’s, after all, it was the Libs that created AIR 7000 and it two phases in the first place.

    I might be wrong, but that’s how I read it.

    I get the feeling that until the Libs produce their new Defence White Paper (due in 18mths, eg, in early 2015, probably just prior to the 2015 Federal Budget) we probably won’t see too much in the way of new equipment announcements for the RAAF, or the ADF as a whole, unless that equipment was due to be ordered, between now and then anyway.

    Assuming they stick to the ‘core’ of the ALP’s current White Paper (which also carries over Libs projects from their previous time in Government) up until that time, what we may see between now and then is the order for the next 12 F-35A’s (which are due to be ordered around Budget time next year) and maybe the EA-18G’s too.

    I think it’s a bit early to be ‘reading the tea leaves’ to be working out what the Libs will or won’t do.

    The one promise that I’m happy to hear so far, is that they ‘will’ get defence spending up to 2% of GDP within 10 years, which compared to the ALP’s ‘desire’ to get to the same level, is some good news.

    Maybe our good friends here at AA can have a nice long sit down interview with the new Defence Minister shortly and ask some questions, but as we know it’s hard to get straight answers from a politician!!!


    John N

  • Jeremy


    Thanks for your thoughts John in this issue, appreciate it.
    I thought the Global Hawk and Triton just had a different sensor set and not much more.
    Personally, I’m not enamoured about drones and question just what cost savings there are compared to (for example), fleet of small patrol planes such as the C-295M?.
    I thought it was a shame we went down the track of the G222 (oh sorry C-27 now), when the C-295 could be a workable Caribou replacement, while others could be employed using roll-on/roll-off modular pallets for maritime patrol, anti submarine etc roles.
    In light of six underwing pylons on the C-295, I see much scope for increased versatility.
    Also, I still think there is value in a larger purchase of a set aircraft but with inherent modularity as in business, most things are ‘cheaper by the dozen’.
    Thus, before the C-27 was selected, I think a large purchase of C-295’s for various roles would be good for coastal patrol as well as light transport with the right fit out.
    These options seem to be closed off now though.

    Thanks again John for your learned thoughts.


  • John N


    Hi Jeremy,

    When you say the Global Hawk and the Triton ‘just have a different sensor set and not much more’, well that is the point I think you are missing.

    As I said, yes they share the same basic airframe, but from that point onwards they are two different aircraft, the fact that they do have different sensor packages is what makes the difference.

    The easiest way to explain it is, the Global Hawk is designed more for ‘overland’ ISR operations, it’s the equivalent of a U-2 for example, the Triton is the equivalent of a P3C or P8A in is function.

    One airframe is optimised for overland ISR the other is optimised for Broad Area Maritime Surveillance, it is the payload that each carries that determines it’s role and the difference is quiet significant too.

    And sorry, I really don’t understand why you would want to see short range C-295’s in RAAF service, apart from the fact it is less capable than the C-27J in the transport role, why would we want to significantly reduce our maritime patrol and anti-submarine capability?

    Australia is a massive land mass, with an even more massive maritime area of responsibility too, we need ‘high end’ capability and long range in both the manned and unmanned phases of AIR 7000.

    I believe the path the RAAF is heading down and the desire to have both P-8A’s and Tritons is the correct way to go, the only change I would like to see is more airframes of both in service than is currently planned.

    Jeremy, I respect that you have an opinion on this, I think you are wrong, happy to agree to disagree!


    John N

  • Andrew McLaughlin


    I would suggest it’s more likely the Coalition were talking about “Global Hawk” in a generic HALE sense rather than in specific reference to the USAF version, because the “Triton” name was only really added last year after the MQ-4C’s rollout. It’s also possible they wouldn’t have had deep enough briefings to fully understand the differences yet anyway.

    Don’t forget the USAF used Global Hawk Block 20s/30s to recce Japan after the Tsunami, so even the USAF model does have a valid capability in the littoral arena, plus former EMD Block 10s are still providing maritime ISR to the US Navy in the MEAO under the BAMS-D program.

  • jeremy


    G’day John and Andrew,

    Thank you for that clarification on the Global Hawk vis a vis Triton,its now more clear.
    I assumed the sensor fit for each was different, but I didn’t consider the quota of the airframe and role changes for each version.
    I appreciate your kind explanation.
    As regards the C-295, I apologise I should have expanded and stated that there may be a case for a secondary patrol aircraft to complement a larger (and fewer) as well as more versatile aircraft which seems to be now assiged to the P-8.
    Its the issue of numbers that concern me, where a cheaper but still very capable C-295M with fuel efficient turboprops and a range of several thousand of kilometres could do the ‘green water’ role as well as a handful of drones.
    Are there any studies gentlemen comparing the cost/advantages of a few Global Hawks vs a larger fleet of C-295- type turboprop aircraft to compliment the larger P-8?.
    Finally, I recall talk of the Predator B derived ‘Mariner’ proposed some years ago and the Israeli Hermes 900 now has a maritime version, which are all cheaper that Global Hawk but to what their capabilities are in comparison I know not.
    By extension,its a question of graduated scale comparisons where if not Global Hawk, then what about ‘Mariner’ or Hermes 900, then once in the propellor driven drone area, does one then consider manned smaller turboprop aircraft again to compliment the P-8?.
    I’m interested in at what point is a decision made for what capability one desires and the trade-offs.

    Thank you gentlemen for an intereresting discussion and I again appreciate your explanations and points,



  • John N


    Hi Andrew,

    I agree that the average person (or politician) wouldn’t know the difference between a Global Hawk and a Triton, and equally I’m sure that the politicians who talk about these things probably aren’t always fully briefed too as you suggest.

    But there was a very specific announcement by Tony Abbott at the time of the 2010 election about acquiring ‘3 Global Hawks’ for border protection, as an example of the number articles on the subject, see the link below:


    From memory the proposal to purchase 3 Global Hawks was specifically aimed at the ALP Government on the issue of border protection.

    And this was separate from other comments the LNP said about the Government’s deferral of AIR 7000 Ph1B.

    As we know promises change from one election cycle to the next, so yes this time around Tony Abbott was probably more broadly speaking about not rushing into the purchase of the unmanned component of AIR 7000, but I’d bet my bottom dollar that they also walk away from the purchase of ‘3 Global Hawks” for border protection purposes.

    And yes I fully agree that the USAF did use GH in Japan after the Tsunami, but lets also look at the fact that the Triton wasn’t in service at that time and still isn’t in service yet, so it made the GH the obvious choice.

    Sure there is some overlap in the capabilities of both GH and Triton, but the fact that the USN and the RAAF are looking at Triton rather than a USAF spec GH, I would suggest is for a very good reason.


    John N

  • Andrew McLaughlin



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