The US Department of Defense has confirmed that it will issue Northrop Grumman a sole-source contract to supply Australia with an additional MQ-4C Triton high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial system for the Royal Australian Air Force.
The announcement made by the US Department of Defense as part of a notification posted to the US government's beta.sam.gov website, is part of the $1.4 billion program to acquire six Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial systems.
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).
"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 announcement of the $1.4 billion acquisition.
Doug Shaffer, vice president and program manager of Triton program, Northrop Grumman, explained the importance of the recent deployment of the US Navy's VUP-19 Squadron, particularly for Australia, saying, "VUP-19’s deployment is a major milestone for the Triton program as we continue to develop and refine the Triton system to meet the US Navy and Australia’s joint requirements for the multi-intelligence configuration.
"This deployment will enable both the US Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force to learn the requirements for sustaining deployed operations of the Triton system, and Northrop Grumman will be in support every step of the way."
This major announcement follows on from other recent announcements by the Australian government regarding the nation’s continuing commitment to contributing to regional peace and security, such as former defence minister Marise Payne’s $22 million announcement of Australian investment at Royal Malaysian Air Force Base Butterworth, which has been a pivotal base for Australian forces rotating through the region for the past 60 years.
It is clear from this and the upcoming announcements around SEA 5000 and LAND 400 Phase 3 that the government is committed to enhancing Australia’s capacity as a regional actor, with a highly competitive, sustainable defence industry base.