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Australia commits to next Triton unmanned ISR aircraft

written by Adam Thorn | June 18, 2020

A file image of a Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton in Australian Defence Force colours. (Defence)
A Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton in Australian Defence Force colours. (Defence)

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has confirmed Australia will purchase an additional Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton, bringing the nation’s fleet to three.

The project provides significant opportunities for Australian defence industry including the construction of facilities in South Australia and the Northern Territory, software integration, engineering, logistics and manufacturing of components.

Minister Reynolds said, “Once in service, this capability will significantly enhance our ability to persistently patrol Australia’s maritime approaches from the north, in the south-west Pacific and down to Antarctica.”

The 2016 Defence White Paper explained the importance of the Triton platform as it fits within the Australian Defence Force: “To complement the surveillance capabilities of the [P-8A] Poseidon, the government will acquire seven high altitude MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft from the early 2020s … The Triton is an unarmed, long-range, remotely piloted aircraft that will operate in our maritime environment, providing a persistent maritime patrol capability and undertaking other intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks.”

“The fleet is being developed and purchased through a Cooperative Program with the US Navy. This program strengthens our ability to develop advanced maritime surveillance capability and ensure our capabilities remain complementary with our security partners, while sharing in the benefits of their technical expertise and project costs,” Minister Reynolds explained.


“Our membership of the Cooperative Program gives us the confidence to acquire our third Triton. We will continue to work closely with the United States to assure our future capability.

“Together we are developing this cutting-edge military technology to the highest standards. This work will help ensure Australia’s maritime region is secure well into the future.”

Remotely flying out of RAAF Edinburgh, South Australia, the Tritons are capable of monitoring 40,000 square kilometres a day and seamlessly flying a round trip for sustained surveillance and in support of allied freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea from the Northern Territory – increasing Australia’s interoperability with key allies, particularly the US.

The Triton is designed to operate in conjunction with Australia’s planned fleet of 12 manned P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft.

The nation’s Tritons provide a quantum leap in the nation’s surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, while the facilities and crew required to operate, train and maintain will be part of the initial $1.4 billion investment, which includes $364 million on new facilities at RAAF Bases Edinburgh and Tindal (in NT).

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Comments (5)

  • Gary


    When do we need to decide on the three P8 options?

  • Craigy


    When are we expected to get the G550 aircraft?

  • Rob Hall


    The three options should be firmed up now. At the very least they will extend the in-service life of all the fleet. Same thing should be done with the A330-based tankers & wedgetails. Cheaper to buy more airframes now than to replace an entire
    fleet years earlier than could be required. A pity we can’t obtain four additional C-17’s – same reason. Those 8 aircraft are being worked hard & are irreplaceable!!

    • Rob


      Especially sad as we had the opportunity to get more before the line closed..

  • What is not clear from the article above is the numbers. It says that Australia i the 2016 White Paper were to acquire 7 MQ4C Triton’s. Then it says that Defence will now acquire a third Triton MQ-4C to add to its existing fleet of two MQ-4C.

    Does that mean that the first two have already been delivered and are already operational based at Edinburgh with this additional one adding to the fleet, leaving a further 4 options (based o the 2016 Defence White Paper of 7 aircraft in total).

    Basically the article seems to suggest the Triton’s will be based in South Australia, implying that none have yet been delivered. If that’s the case why say that the nation’s fleet is three. Surely the Nation’s fleet is none yet, until they actually get delivered.

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