Minister for Defence Industry Steven Ciobo and Warren King, chairman of Northrop Grumman Australia’s advisory board, signed the company’s first AIC deed during a ceremony at the Avalon airshow.
Northrop Grumman’s AIC deed establishes a framework to deliver real opportunities for Australian industry in major Defence programs, in particular the MQ-4C Triton program with the Royal Australian Air Force. The company is committed to working with government to develop the highly-skilled workforce required to build a sustainable, sovereign industrial base.
Ed Graziano, director of MQ-4C Triton international programs at Northrop Grumman, told Defence Connect, "Northrop Grumman is proud to contribute to building an enduring aerospace ecosystem in Australia as part of our Australian industry capability efforts."
Defence Industry Minister, Steven Ciobo echoed these comments, saying, "Traditionally, when we buy Defence capability from our allied governments, locking in opportunities for Australian companies is difficult. But our commitment to leveraging that investment to grow and strengthen our industrial base is unwavering.
"The viability, competitiveness and prosperity of Australia’s defence industry is essential to keeping us safe, and building the capability we need to protect our national interests," Minister Ciobo said.
Australia's procurement of the Northrop Grumman designed and manufactured, MQ-4C Triton is part of an initial $1.4 billion contract which will see Australia acquire a fleet of upto seven, MQ-4C Triton high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) autonomously piloted systems.
Designed from the ground up to focus on HALE surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, Northrop Grumman's Triton seemed perfect for meeting the Abbott government's 'Stop the Boats' and border security policies. However, increasing tensions in the South China Sea (SCS) have provided a new suite of mission requirements for Australia's future surveillance drone fleet.
Remotely flying out of RAAF Base Edinburgh in South Australia, the Triton's 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 (FONOP) in the SCS from the Northern Territory – increasing Australia's interoperability with key allies, particularly the US.
Designed to operate in conjunction with Australia's planned fleet of 12 manned P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft, the Triton's 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).
"Through the Triton program, Northrop Grumman is actively seeking to engage with Australian companies for work based in Australia, and develop technologies for future applications. The signing of this deed underscores our commitment to partnerships across Australian industry to deliver products and services in support of defence capability," Graziano added.
"The first of the Triton aircraft is expected to be introduced into service in mid-2023 with all six aircraft to be delivered and in operation by late 2025, based at RAAF Edinburgh, South Australia," then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said at the time of the initial announcement.
Defence Connect spoke with then-CEO of Northrop Grumman Ian Irving in mid-2017 to discuss the Australian government's planned Triton procurement and the way the platform would impact Northrop's operations in Australia.
"Triton AIR 7000 is probably the largest of amongst those that allow us to continue to grow our capability (domestically) with the reachback from North America that we would be seeking to invest in those programs. We're still keeping an eye on acquisition but most of our growth now will be winning programs and investing in ourselves," he said at the time.
"This signing with Northrop Grumman highlights their commitment to partnering with the Government to maximise opportunities for Australian industry," Minister Ciobo said.