Promoted by Northrop Grumman
Building independent and sovereign capability has been a driving force behind the Australian Government’s $270bn investment in the ADF. Platforms like the MQ-4C Triton will empower Australia to act independently in support of regional security, while adding critical capacity to the US alliance explains Northrop Grumman Australia, Chief Executive Chris Deeble.
Our region, the Indo-Pacific, is more unstable than at any time since World War II. While the United States remains the world’s pre-eminent power, it relies on its allies to help offset this instability. As a long-term and trusted partner, Australia needs to take on a leadership role in the alliance and the region, backed by a potent military capability.
The reality is that Australia’s long and storied alliance with the United States remains at the core of our defence and security planning. Our shared commitment to freedom and democracy remains unbreakable. Critical to Australia’s national security – and by extension, the peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific – are our allied regional security operations, capability co-development and interoperability, intelligence sharing, and technological and industrial cooperation between our two nations.
If there were any doubts over Australia’s commitment to the alliance, they should have been laid to rest with the historic visit of Australia’s defence and foreign ministers to the United States amid a global pandemic for the AUSMIN 2020 meeting. This set a path for the Australia-US alliance to support regional recovery from COVID-19 and to build a secure, prosperous future for the Indo-Pacific.
This commitment to the United States and the Indo-Pacific is backed by the federal government’s recent defence strategic Update. This strategy acknowledges Australia will continue to strengthen its engagement with regional partners in support of shared regional security interests and to deepen its alliance with the United States. It focuses Australia’s efforts on the Indo-Pacific, committing it to a more substantive role in the region and acknowledging that we will likely act independently more often, while still working with the United States and other allies when required.
Australia’s growing role in the Indo-Pacific aligns with a key message from the United States – that it wants its allies to share more of the security effort in the region. Australia has certainly been doing that. Not only have we restored defence spending above 2 per cent of GDP, we continue to provide genuine, niche contributions to the alliance, which places the Australian government in a stronger position to shape the bilateral response to security challenges, as demonstrated during the 2020 AUSMIN meeting.
But we cannot afford to leave our efforts at that. Part of providing our niche contribution has been Australia’s commitment to the MQ-4C Triton cooperative program with the US Navy, which gives the government greater options to convert our foreign and security policy into operational effects in the Indo-Pacific. Triton’s “unblinking eye” over some of the world’s most strategically vital sea lanes, such as the South China Sea, will allow Australia to act more independently in the region, as well as providing crucial intelligence for the US and our allies.
But Australia’s interests are not solely to the north. The Australian government is working with our neighbors in the Southwest Pacific to help them patrol their maritime regions and protect their valuable natural resources from illegal poaching, as well as assist when natural disasters strike. Australia’s Tritons can survey the exclusive economic zone of the entire Melanesian Arc in a single 24-hour flight.
Triton also enables an effective teaming arrangement with defence ’s Pacific Maritime Security Program King Air aircraft and Guardian Class patrol boats to support greater tasking efficiencies. Australia’s leadership in supporting the security and sovereignty of some of our nearest neighbors in this capacity enables the United States to focus its efforts elsewhere
Not only will Triton offer the Australian government a flexible, unmanned option to conduct freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea and the Middle East, it will also provide a valuable contribution to coalition surveillance efforts in support of UN arms control sanctions against North Korea.
Triton can do all of this without the long lead times of other maritime capabilities identified in the 2020 Force Structure Plan, many of which will not be available within the next decade. This was identified as a key risk in the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Cost of defence 2020-2021 report and will become more urgent as the Indo-Pacific becomes an increasingly contested space. Triton, in contrast, could be online by 2025.
One of the fundamental lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic has been the need to build our national resilience and strengthen our domestic capability. Central to this will be the sharing of technical information, knowledge and know-how between trusted allies and our industries, to support the development of sovereign capabilities.
The Triton cooperative program model is empowering Australian and US industries to work across borders to support the development of advanced unmanned capabilities. This approach is resulting in the sharing of technical expertise and jointly defining new capabilities that benefit both countries. On a financial note, it also provides for cost-sharing of sustainment and parts between Australia and the US. In a time of squeezed federal budgets, that is not something to be undersold.
The timely acquisition of Australia’s fleet of seven Triton aircraft will ensure the government can leverage this world-leading capability sooner, and provide the necessary certainty for Australian businesses to contribute to the capability’s global supply chain. This opportunity will support Australian suppliers to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 during what is already a difficult time for industry.
Clearly, the Triton program offers significant benefits to Australia in terms of sovereign capabilities and our overall contribution to the US alliance. Triton’s ability to flexibly prosecute our agenda in the region, assist our neighbors and contribute to a global intelligence picture are all valuable contributions to this alliance.
With its defence Strategic Update, Australia has signaled its intent to play a more independent and active role in its region. An ideal symbol of our allied efforts, and independent capability, is Australia’s Triton program.