Australia has announced plans to buy the MQ-4C Triton — a maritime version of America’s largest unmanned aircraft, the Global Hawk.
“These aircraft will patrol Australia’s vast ocean approaches, and work closely with other existing and future Australian Defence Force assets to secure our ocean resources, including energy resources off northern Australia, and help to protect our borders,” according to a joint news release from Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Defence Minister David Johnston.
Australia has one of the largest exclusive economic zones in the world, encompassing vast swathes of the Pacific and Indian oceans. Its proximity to developing Muslim nations in South East Asia means authorities there must grapple with issues such as terrorism and large-scale illegal immigration by refugees in small boats.
Northrop Grumman, the aircraft’s manufacturer, states on its website that the Triton provides real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance over vast ocean and coastal regions. “Supporting missions up to 24 hours, the high-altitude UAS (unmanned aerial system) is equipped with a sensor suite that provides a 360-degree view of its surroundings at a radius of over 2,000 nautical miles,” the website states.
The Triton looks like the Global Hawk — which has seen extensive service in Iraq and Afghanistan — but the resemblance is skin deep.
The front edges of the aircraft’s wings have been toughened to withstand bird strikes, while its electronics are designed to withstand power surges from lightning, according to Capt. James Hoke, program manager for the Navy’s Persistent Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office in Patuxent River, Md.
The Navy version of the drones also have stiffer wings that allow them to dive below 10,000 feet to get a closer look at targets floating on the water.
The drone, in combination with new manned P-8A Poseidon jets, was intended to replace the Navy’s aging fleet of 250 P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft, Hoke said.
Northrop Grumman’s website states that the Navy’s program of record calls for 68 aircraft to be built.
New facilities and infrastructure worth $140 million will be built at Royal Australian Air Force Base Edinburgh, in the South Australian city of Adelaide, to accommodate the new aircraft, Australian officials said. The total number of Triton UAVs to be acquired and their introduction into service date will be further considered by the government in 2016, the officials said.