The Head of Air Force Capability has confirmed that the final size of the RAAF’s new fleet of Triton surveillance drones will be informed by the upcoming Defence Strategic Review.
Air Vice-Marshal Robert Denney said the number acquired would be a “decision for the government” but added it would be influenced by the earlier decision to cancel the purchase of 12 MQ-9B SkyGuardians.
Australia currently has three MQ-4C Tritons on order but has the potential to purchase an additional four. The first was showcased on Thursday during a ceremony at Northrop Grumman’s production site in California and is on track for completion in 2023 ahead of final delivery the following year.
Northrop Grumman has commenced production of the other two Triton aircraft contracted for delivery from 2025.
In a separate statement, AVM Denney said the project is “pushing the boundaries of air power”, providing a “foundational capability” and a “growth path for future decades”.
He added, “Once in service, the remotely piloted high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) aerial system will significantly enhance our ability to persistently patrol Australia’s north and north-western approaches, in the south-west Pacific and south to Antarctica.
“Triton will complement the surveillance role of the P-8A Poseidon by providing sustained operations at long ranges, and undertaking a range of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks.”
The Triton is a high-altitude, long endurance (HALE) drone that will be used for surveillance missions. It can stay in the air for up to 24 hours and is equipped with sensors that provide a 360-degree view of its surroundings for over 2000 nautical miles.
Once operational, the MQ-4C Tritons are set to be primarily based at RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory and controlled from facilities at RAAF Base Edinburgh.
Head of Aerospace Systems Division, Air Vice-Marshal Leon Phillips, lauded Defence’s ongoing partnership with the United States Navy and Northrop Grumman via the Triton Cooperative Program.
“This project is an excellent example of the successful partnership between our two nations and reflects the collaborative work between Defence and defence industry in delivering this strategic capability,” AVM Phillips said.
“Defence will invest more than $900 million in Australian industry, including sustainment, ICT and facilities.”