An MQ-4C Triton taxis at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, April 29, 2020.

An MQ-4C Triton taxis at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, April 29, 2020. (Michael Murphy/U.S. Air Force)

The Navy has acquired a fourth MQ-4C Triton long-range, high-altitude drone with enhanced intelligence gathering abilities from defense contractor Northrop Grumman ahead of schedule.

Northrop delivered the Triton to Unmanned Patrol Squadron 19, based at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., according to a company news release Wednesday.

The delivery completes a set of drones for the Navy’s first “operational orbit,” or deployment site. The squadron has deployed the Triton to Guam since 2018 and to installations in Japan, including Misawa Air Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, since 2020.

Northrop has received more than $600 million in Navy contracts to produce and modify the Triton since 2017. The Navy trimmed its Triton order in May from 70 to 27, according to a Seapower magazine report.

Northrop, using a manned aircraft as a test bed in May, demonstrated further improvements in Triton intelligence-gathering and long-range targeting capabilities during the Northern Edge exercise in Alaska.

The defense contractor installed the Triton’s payload and communications systems aboard a twin-engine Gulfstream IV jet, according to a June 15 news release from the company.

The Gulfstream — during a week’s worth of flights over the Gulf of Alaska from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson — demonstrated the Triton’s “persistent long-range targeting” capability, Northrop spokeswomen Melissa Cangelosi told Stars and Stripes by email Friday.

“Putting Triton payloads and communications systems on a manned platform enables rapid integration, demonstrations, and tests of new and emerging capabilities to keep pace with the evolving threat,” she said.

The exercise tested the Triton’s developing technologies involving artificial intelligence, machine learning, edge processing and enhanced communications, according to the news release.

The Gulfstream flights also demonstrated advanced, real-time intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting functions the Navy requires of Triton, the naval version of the Global Hawk drone, according to Northrop Grumman.

In addition to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, Triton collects signals intelligence, enhances search and rescue and provides a communications relay, according to Northrop. The aircraft can fly over 24 hours at a time, at altitudes higher than 10 miles, with an operational range of 8,200 nautical miles.

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Jonathan Snyder is a reporter at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Most of his career was spent as an aerial combat photojournalist with the 3rd Combat Camera Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He is also a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program and Eddie Adams Workshop alumnus.

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