US Navy & Northrop Grumman Detail Progress
The US Navy’s MQ-4C TRITON will team with the Boeing P-8 to provide a next-generation, globally responsive, 24/7 reconnaissance and surveillance force. In the case of the TRITON, the UAS will initially deploy with a multi-spectral targeting systemme (EO, IR, auto-target tracking, high resolution at multiple fields-of-view and full motion video). Early Operational Capability deployment for TRITON remains scheduled for 2018. Sean Burke, the US Navy Program Manager for Persistent Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office (PMA-262), further noted the baseline TRITON has an automatic identification system and electronic support measures suite. The MQ-4 will receive a signals intelligence package (to be installed in currently vacant space in the nose of the vehicle), supporting the phase out of the EP-3E (ARIES II) signals intelligence reconnaissance aircraft from the Navy’s order of battle, scheduled to complete about 2021. “We’re leveraging those [EP-3E] sensors on Triton and have just completed a design review,” Burke revealed.
Doug Shaffer, Vice President and TRITON Program Manager, at OEM Northrop Grumman, looked beyond the onboard sensors package, and pointed out what gives the platform and its sensors long reach and domain awareness is its high, maximum altitude (56,000 ft (17.22 km)), “and to see below cloud level, TRITON has a ‘dip manoeuvre’ which is supported by strengthened wings and an anti/de-icing system.”
Rolls Royce supplies the TRITON engines. Last September the Navy achieved acquisition Milestone C and entered into low rate initial production, ordering three TRITONs from Northrop Grumman. Two MQ-4s are expected to be delivered under LRIP this September. The MQ-4 is completing and extensive testing regime and as of this March 31 completed 114 (plus) flights and 726 flight test hours. The Navy’s current MQ-4 “laydown” strategy will establish two TRITON squadrons (VUP-19 [Jacksonville, Florida] and VUP-11 [Whidbey Island, Washington]).
The service is using the term “orbits” (four TRITONs at a staging site and control station) to denote the TRITON’s basing locations (Naval Air Stations Signonella, Italy and Guam, and an unspecified Middle East site. MQ-4s will further be based in the US at NRVC Pt. Magu, California and NAS Mayport, Florida). A “sense and avoid” capability will be added to MQ-4 about 2024.
TRITON is gaining interest overseas. This 6 March, German Chief of Defence Staff Gene. Volker Wieker approved the procurement of Northrop Grumman’s TRITON to meet the country’s airborne signals intelligence requirements. TRITON will fill the long-standing gap in the German Armed Forces’ (Bundeswehr) capabilities that has existed since the manned Breguet Atlantic BR1150 was retired from service in 2010. Germany’s acquisition of TRITON remains a “planning case” under the sometimes cumbersome US Foreign Military Sales process. Burke added, “they are buying the aircraft, not the sensors.”