The first of the RAAF’s MQ-4C Triton drones will arrive in Australia one year late, in 2024, because upgrade work still needs to be completed on two bases.
Defence said the delay in the construction work was ultimately caused by a “production pause” to the program announced by the Trump administration last year.
Australia has currently purchased three of Northrop Grumman’s Tritons, a high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) aircraft employed for surveillance roles.
However, despite a delay in being able to receive the aircraft, the country will still take ownership of the aircraft in 2023 – raising questions as to what they will be used for during the intervening months.
“The production pause announced by the US Navy to their Triton program in early 2020 resulted in a delay to Defence proceeding to Public Works Committee in March 2020,” Defence told ADM.
“This has resulted in delays as Defence works to complete the facilities design process and proceed to Public Works Committee in early 2022.
“Pending Parliamentary approval of the project, construction is expected to commence by mid-2022.”
The work required at RAAF Base Edinburgh is accommodation, operating facilities and supporting engineering services works, while RAAF Base Tindal requires hangars and maintenance facilities alongside pavement works.
“While all options remain open to support Triton transition into service, to date there has been no change to the decision to base the MQ-4C Triton out of RAAF Base Tindal,” Defence added.
The Triton unmanned aircraft system (UAS) will be used for maritime patrol and other surveillance roles.
It can support mission lasting 24 hours and is equipped with a sensor suite that provides a 360-degree view of its surroundings for over 2000 nautical miles.
Seven will be based at RAAF Base Edinburgh and will operate alongside the P-8A Poseidon to replace the AP-3C Orions.
Earlier this week, the US federal government gave the green light for Australia to purchase up to 12 General Atomics MQ-9B SkyGuardian drones.
In a statement, the State Department said it was vital to the national interest to “assist our ally in developing and maintain a strong and ready self-defence capability”.
The Australian government announced its intention to purchase the hunter-killer aircraft in 2018, but the acquisition has been controversial given supposed problems with it operating in urban environments.
The deal is likely to be worth more than $2 billion and is part of “Project AIR 7003”, a program to deliver an armed remotely piloted aircraft system to the ADF.